For the love of the lens- A ode to the Hipolion
Ludger Weß really loves his MS Optics Hipolion lens. So much so that he has decided to tell us his story about this remarkable lens by MS Optics.
Why I am fond of the new Hipolion 18.5 mm lens
I have a faible for Miyazaki lenses ever since I tried the first one, a Perar 4.5/17mm which I acquired used in a Leica shop. It was small, lightweight and affordable and I thought it was a good opportunity to buy an ultra-wide lens at a bargain.
Over the years, I acquired further lenses made by MS Optics: the Apoqualia 2/28mm, the H-Prot 6.3/40mm MC Macro, and the Aporia 2.0/24mm. All these lenses are small and lightweight and I can carry them with me even if I do not plan to use them. They are with me „just in case“ and more often than not I use one of them. They do not match the quality of the Leica lenses, in particular when used wide open, but I’d rather take a picture than passing on it.
Up to now, the H-Prot was my favorite lens as it can focus all the way down to 0.6m. It’s an interesting lens, based on the 1890 formula of the Protar lens, the first lens ever without astigmatism and curvature of the image field.
The Protar gave rise to the Planar and Tessar lenses still being used today (even in smartphone cameras), and modern direct descendants are the Schneider Angulon and the Leica Super Angulon lenses. The lens is quite sharp at an aperture between 8 and 11 and results in b&w pictures of great tonality. It’s a wonderful combination with Leica’s CCD Monochrom and I use it mainly for plant and still life photography when there is plenty of light and I want depth of field.
But now I bought the Hipolion 18.5 mm. Why on earth would I do this? I still own the 17 mm Perar. Even more, between f2.8 and f5.6 it’s a ridiculous lens, even worse than the lomography plastic lenses that are at least sharp in one area. The Hipolion’s pictures at these apertures are not only not sharp, they are foggy as if vaseline is covering the lens. The only use I can imagine is ICM photography which I didn’t try yet with this lens.
However, between f11 and in particular at f16 the lens is stunning. Just like any other ultra-wide angle lenses, a 19 mm lens usually is prone to producing prominent converging lines if not held parallel to the structure you want to picture. But this is not true for the Hipolion. Miyazaki-san has designed his lens using the Hypergon formula, which was developed in 1900 by Emil von Höegh, chief optical designer of Berlin-based camera firm C. P. Goerz (fun fact: there is a mountain in Antarctica named in Höegh’s honor).
The Goerz Hypergon, developed for the large format (5 x 7 and 8 x 10) cameras of this period, consisted of two mirror-symmetrical, very thin hemispherical lenses with a very small aperture (here: 1:48 or 1:96). It provided excellent image quality at an angle of around 135 degrees. Astigmatism, spherical aberration and curvature of field were completely corrected.
The most important property however is that the symmetrical design of the Hypergon ensures complete freedom of distortion of straight lines. That is a yaw-dropping effect and many famous photographs have been taken with this lens.
As an example, Andreas Feininger used it to photograph New York’s skyscrapers, and because of the distortion-free images, Hypergons were being used by Italy’s historic monument preservation services until the 1970s. They were best to provide distortion-free pictures of the interior and the ceilings of the many Italian chapels, churches, basilicas and cathedrals.
Interestingly, the first versions of the lens had such a strong light fall-off towards the edges that the lens maker decided to compensate this vignetting by a rotating, star-shaped spinning mask that was driven by compressed air, for which the lens had a nozzle at the side. The air was coming from a ballon that was connected to the nozzle and squeezed when taking a picture. That spinning mask was attached to a thin arm with a joint and was folded in for about one fifth of the exposure time to equalize exposure.
Every time one of these historical Hypergons is showing up for sale on eBay, discussions are going back and forth why no one has ever copied the lens for use in contemporary cameras, and some doubt it would be possible to design a Hypergon-type lens for digital cameras at all.
Now Miyazaki has accomplished this feat. The lens has a light fall-off but it is not much stronger than that of other ultra-wide lenses and one that can be corrected in post-processing easily. Given the enormous recording power of Leica’s monochrome sensors, it is astonishing to see what comes up in the dark parts. The lens is highly recommended for use with Leica Monochrom.
The color rendering is quite unique and creates pastel-colored images. This makes for interesting effects in particular when shot wide-open, but this is more for occasional shootings unless you want to cultivate this as a style.
I have not yet tried the lens with film yet, but after using it on a couple of occasions with a Leica Monochrom I highly recommend exploring this lens and its incredible properties in architecture, interiors, panoramas and for landscape photography.
Thanks to Ludger Weß for this love piece. The Hipolion is certainly an interesting lens. Whilst not for everyone it is a remarkable little lens.