It’s a while since I’ve done a post – too long in fact, but the last six months have taken a lot of focus and energy as I’ve established a new business. And although I’ve managed to get out in the wilds with the camera a bit of late, this post delves more into a question of equipment, and the modification of equipment in particular – it goes like this:
In shifting from my previous Olympus M43 system to a Sony full-frame system (A7R), I was concerned to keep my gear costs to a reasonable level. My Olympus kit included two very nice wide angle prime lenses, the last of which is just going out the door. The catch with the Sony system is not so much the availability of such lenses, but their cost – an equivalent Zeiss wide-angle to my previous Olympus wide-angle sells for around 2.5x the cost!
After looking at a variety of wide-angle options I decided to check out the Voigtlander Ultron 21mm F/1.8, a lens reported to have good performance and that sells for around half the price of its Zeiss equivalent. This cost saving then opened up the possibility of also buying the newly released Voigtlander 15mm Heliar III – a super wide angle optimized specifically to work well on mirrorless cameras such as the Sony. Two wide primes for the cost of a single Zeiss Distagon looked very attractive, except for one snag – both of the Voigtlanders come with permanently built in lens-hoods that prevent the use of a filter holder and neutral density and/or graduated filters.
After casting about on-line, I eventually found a cryptic description by one home handyman who had manually removed the lens hood on his Ultron, though he gave only the barest details of how he achieved it. However, after trying the two lenses in the shop, I decided to go ahead with an order for both, with the possibility that I might try and remove the hoods in due course. Both lenses duly arrived, and both performed very well on the A7R – some magenta tinging around the corners with the Ultron 21, but that was easily corrected in Lightroom – now that I’ve traded up to an A7RII, that problem has gone completely, and both lenses are a delight to use. However, the hoods remained an issue…
After a couple of months contemplation, and encouraging discussions with an engineering friend, I began to assemble the necessary equipment to tackle the job – a small, fine toothed hobby hacksaw, a small triangular metal file, a fine-cut flat metal file, and several grades of wet and dry emery paper for finishing. Finally, a day arrived when I could avoid the issue no longer, so I set to work with the following procedure – photographs of the key steps and equipment can be found here:
- Avoiding any damage both to the lens front surface and to the internal focusing and aperture mechanisms was clearly imperative. I first cut a small circle of soft cloth, taped it to a slightly larger circle of light card, and then carefully taped these to the front of the lens, cloth side against the lens surface, and using plastic masking tape to seal the join between the card and the metal front plate that surrounds the front lens element.
- I then wrapped the bulk of the lens body with plastic film, before putting it into a small plastic bag, taping around the top of the bag to attach it to the lens just forward of the aperture ring. At this stage, all that was left exposed was the hood and the filter attachment ring.
- I then proceeded (with heart in mouth!) to cut the fins off. To achieve this, I first marked a light groove with the triangular file just forward of where I wanted the final cut surface to be. This made it much easier to get started with the hacksaw, which I used to cut off each fin in turn, taking around 45 minutes to do each lens – the main challenge was fatigue in my hands and forearms, as I could not find any easy way to clamp the lens to hold it steady. I also regularly used a vacuum cleaner to suck up the filings, figuring that the less of this was left around the less chance there was of it ending up where it wasn’t wanted.
- With the four fins off, I then set to work with the fine-cut file, cleaning up the rough edges from the cut surfaces, and filing them back until they protruded only very slightly above the rest of the front ring. I then moistened some 180 grit wet and dry paper, laid it on a flat granite bench-top, and carefully sanded down the last remnants of the hood, finishing off with 400 and then 800 grit paper.
- Finally, I used some metal primer and semi-gloss enamel, intended for model car builders, to paint the sanded surfaces – the paint has stuck well on the Ultron, but on the Heliar, the filter adapter I used marked it, so I removed it, after taping up the lens again.
The end result is brilliant! My filter holder and filters fit both lenses, with no vignetting at all, even on the 15mm. Yes, its slightly nerve-wracking taking a hacksaw to a lens that you’ve just purchased for around $1000, but anyone competent with their hands should be able to accomplish it, provided that you take a lot of care, particularly in the planning. I’ve used both lenses extensively since, and neither have shown any issues resulting from this little procedure – both seem resistant to flare without their hoods, and so the absence of a hood has not been a problem. However, I did find a cheap plastic wide angle filter that fits the Ultron, but use this more to protect the front surface of the lens when out and about.
Finally, I’ve also become a real fan of the Benro filter holder – its ability to mount a circular polariser between the lens and the main filter slots is very well thought out, and the glass ND and graduated ND filters work beautifully. The version I have mounts straight onto my Canon tilt-shift 24mm, and a 58-82mm stepping ring allows me to mount the filter holder straight onto either the 15mm or the 21mm Voigtlander. I’ve not had any vignetting with any of these lenses, even with extreme movements on the tilt-shift. The two images below illustrate the performance of the two Voigtlander lenses used in this way.