Voigtlander Nokton 1.2/35mm

October 10, 2009

Nokton with the standard hood

Nokton with the standard hood

After much deliberation, I finally took a chance on the super fast Nokton 1.2/35mm. I say “took a chance” because I was not able to handle this lens, much less shoot with it. The two things that made me hesitate before the purchase were the physical size of the lens, and the image quality (dah!). After all, I have shot with the Leica Summicron 2/35mm for some time, and it is a nice little compact lens with fantastic sharpness across the entire frame, even wide open. But I find that it is not fast enough for some fo the situations that I encounter shooting weddings.

So let me first address the issue of size. Before shooting exclusively with rangefinders, I shot the majority of my weddings on Nikon SLR bodies. I have used the F4, F5, D2x, D200, and the highly regarded D3. All of which performed well for the particular tasks that they were required to undertake. I am not going to go into the reasons why I switched from Nikon to Leica here, but what I am trying to do is give you an indication of the size and weight of these outfits. When shooting with the D3, it was the only body that I shot with. I had a backup D200 in my bag, but if that was ever used it meant that the D3 had failed. Now fortunately that never happened, but it meant that with only one body, zoom lenses were my preffered choice. So for six hours on a Saturday I would lug around a Nikon D3, with a 70-200mm lens attached, and an SB-800 flash unit, totalling over 3kg.

I am sure that the size and weight of the Voigtlander Nokton 1.2/35mm has deterred alot of people. I have also noticed a few owners selling their Nokton’s due to this very reason. It is true that some of the appeal of shooting with a small format rangefinder system, such as the Leica M, is it’s size and weight (or lack thereof). But this lens is a specialty lens, much like my Leica Summilux 1.4/75mm. Both are large lenses for the M system, but the Nokton is about the same size as a Nikon or Canon SLR 1.4/50mm lens, and much less cumbersome than my previous Nikon rigs. I love to shoot wide open, and rarely will this lens go above F4. But there are times when I will shoot the odd landscape, or something that may require a smaller aperture, so I beleive that a lens like the Voigtlander Colour Skopar 2.5/35mm is the perfect partner for the Nokton. It can sit at the bottom of your bag, unnoticed, until required.


I was really surprised when the Nokton arrived in the mail. I had anticipated, from the comments I had read, a much larger lens. Yes, my Summicron is smaller and lighter, but with my large hands and fingers, it is not always an advantage. I have the grip attached to my M7, and in combination with the Nokton, it really balances nicely. It has the usual red line on the bayonett housing which allows you to line the lens up for mounting, however I do prefer the large red half-round dot protruding from the Summicron. It is quicker to attach, and allows for accurate alignment, even in the dark. The standard hood is metal, and fits securely to the lens, locking in with a thumb screw. Removing the lens from the camera is an awkward affair on anything but an M3. The M3 lacks the guard that protects accidental activation of the lens release button guard. As I mentioned above, my fingers are quite big, and I have to use my pinkie finger to depress the button, and even that is a challenge.

The lens/hood combination does intrude into the viewfinder (.72), but it doesn’t bother me enough to warrant the optional LH-3 vented Leica style hood. The lens cap is a ripper! It is a felt lined push on type, which fits firmly over the attached hood. My Summicron has the most annoying rubber lens cap that will get lost…..it’s just a matter of time. The aperture ring feels nice and solid and there are clicks for half stops up to F11, and from there to F22 the clicks are full stops. I don’t plan on shooting above F11, and without testing this myself, I’m led to believe that peak performance comes at around F8.

But I didn’t buy this lens to shoot at F8, and that leads me to the second of my pre-purchase concerns; image quality. Sharpness is something that my Summicron does not lack. It is tack sharp, and it is so across the entire frame, even at large apertures. I find that, especially for black and white work, it is too contrasty and clinical. What I wanted was somthing that rendered much like my 75mm Summilux. The Summilux is sharp yet smooth and creamy, has beautiful boke, can be used wide open without reservation, with lower contrast than the Summicron. After only a few rolls shot with the Voigtlander, I knew I had found that lens. Now I haven’t tested this lens in all situations, but the results so far are very promising. I did a few side by side tests with the Summicron, and whilst the Nokton can’t match the Leica for sharpness in the outer zones, it has to my eye, a more pleasing rendition. It has the Leica look of old, with the advantage of modern coatings and aspherical lens elements; the best of both worlds. Flare resistance is incredible, and resistance is far better than I could expect on my Summicron.

Shot into the sun.  This lens is great inside and out.

Shot into the sun. This lens is great inside and out.

These test were done on a tripod however, and in real world situations, the sharpness of the Leica in the edges will hold little advantage over the Nokton. After all, you are shooting with the fastest lens made for handheld 135 format. This lens will likely be used by most at under F5.6, so the depth of field comes into play. For most of my shooting, those outer zones will be rendered as beautiful boke. And I should point out that these differences that I spotted in sharpness were viewed at 100% on my monitor. Under real world conditions, hand held shots on with a Summicron would yield no better results over the Nokton. In fact, being able to shoot over twice as fast with the Nokton, the Voigtlander would likely come out on top most of the time. For tripod shots of landscapes or similar, that is when you pull the Skopar or Summicron from the bag. For those who love their lenses to have bucket loads of contrast, and do not need the speed, the two afformentioned lenses may be a better suited.

So what were my alternatives for superfast 35mm lenses? There are two; the Voigtlander Nokton 1.4/35mm, and the Leica Summilux 1.4/35mm. The extra half stop of the 1.2/35mm Nokton wasn’t really what attracted me, it was its fingerprint. The 1.4/35mm Nokton certainly hasn’t received the acclaim of it’s bigger brother, and it seems to render more like an aspherical Leica. That is to say, that it is not as creamy as the 1.2/35mm, and has similar contrast to the Leicas asphericals. It doesn’t have the edge to edge sharpness of the Leica’s, nor does it control the distortion nearly as well. The Summilux, on the other hand, is a very well regarded lens and if money was no object, then I likely would have done some more research, and made an effort to test the lenses. However at $6 105 for the Summilux, and $1 395, this price difference cannot be ignored.


There will be times when I will require a smaller 35mm lens, and I do think that a partner lens is a good idea for the Nokton. However, this lens will, in all probability, not remain the Leica Summicron. Whilst I will never part with my Leica Summilux 75mm, I can see myself flicking with the Summicron, and maybe replacing it with the even smaller Colour Skopar 2.5/35mm PC-II pancake lens.

If you are looking for a super fast lens that has a perfect combination of the “old Leica look”, with the benefit of advances found in modern lenses, then look no further. There are a few caveats, as I have outlined above, but they aren’t enough to disuade me. I purchased my Nokton from Mainline Photographics, and Scott has a two week, no questions asked return policy. This gave me some piece of mind, but this lens is staying with me.


Voigtlander Nokton 1.1/50mm

Looks like Scott over at Mainline Photo has just received his first shipment of the new Voigtlander 50mm lens, which sports a maximum aperture of f1:1.1. A few images are showing up on the web and so far it looks to be a good little lens. Now I say little, and it is by SLR lens standards, but really this is large for a rangefinder lens. It is not as big as the Voigtlander 1.2/35mm but it still blocks about 1/8th of the viewfinder on an M series camera. That’s no big deal, and an optional vented lens shade can be purchased to help with visablitly. That is the pay off if you want or need a super fast lens.


Optional vented hood

You can purchase the lens here on Scott’s website. I have no affilliation with Mainline apart from purchasing gear from them. I am always impressed with their product knowledge and service, and I like to recommend people who make things easy for me.

It is hard not to compare this lens with the Leica Noctilux 1/50mm, and some have said it is a close match is some regards, but the new Nokton is around $10 000 cheaper than the German beast. Now that sort of money can buy a lot of film.