Guest Reviews Lenses

The Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 50mm LTM – Guest Review by Hern Tan

Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 50mm

The Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 50mm is a lens that has long been compared to, unfairly, as the lesser of the two 50mm f/1.5 lenses offered in M mount (or in this case LTM), being shoved aside by the Zeiss ZM C-Sonnar (Hamish’s review of that lens can be found here) in terms of size and eclipsed by the Leica Summilux Asph 50mm f/1.4 in terms of raw biting performance. However, I have always maintained that this oft-overlooked lens is not just a superb performer in its own right, but one that can hold its own against the other two giants. It may well be the crown jewel of Cosina Voigtlander, and considering the many great lenses they’ve pumped out over the years, that’s no small feat.

Right, a little disclaimer at the start: I’ve almost exclusively used this lens on film, and have basically zero experience with it on any sort of digital camera, so for all you digital M mount or mirrorless users, here’s an apology in advance!

Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 50mm – Specifications, and all that

The Nokton is no small lens, with its huge diameter to accommodate that light sucking front element, even though it has roughly the same length as the Summilux. Both the chrome and the black versions of the lens are made out of solid brass, weighing in at about 250g.

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One thing to note though, the black version is black paint, and will develop a patina over time to reveal something of the classic worn photojournalist’s tool look, which is nice if you are part of the Black Paint Admirers’ Club. Unlike the newer M-mount version of this lens, this has a slightly different optical formula, incorporating not one, but two aspherical surfaces. Eat your heart out, aspheric lovers.

Moving away from the numbers, the lens really is a looker, seeing as it was modelled after the V1 50mm f/1.4 Summilux of old, and put that together with black paint and you have got one sexy piece of glass.

General Ergonomics

The lens has a very convenient filter thread of 52mm, giving you the option of using filters from less exclusive systems, unlike the jacked up prices for filters made for 39mm. It also means you can ditch the annoyingly easy-to-lose original slip on lens cap, and use a snap on Nikon one instead.

The lens is just small enough that it doesn’t get in the way when using the Leica M3, but there is some finder cut-off when using a 0.72 magnification finder such as the M4-P. Fortunately, the cut-off does not extend into the 50mm framelines on the M4-P, so it should be of little concern. With a hood, there is very significant cut-off, so it would be advisable to use the lens with a vented hood, or let the lens handle the flare, which will be touched on later in this review.

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With the Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 50mm, there is a ruddy huge scalloped focusing ring, and the focus throw is about 100 degrees, with good dampening for accurate focusing that is absolutely vital when shooting wide open. The scallops aren’t very deep though, and sometimes sweaty fingers can slip on the smooth metal. The aperture ring also has half stop clicks, and it is easy to turn with literally a flick of a finger. I’ve had to constantly check which aperture I have been shooting at because it can very easily get knocked out of place when in the bag!

Focus Shift

Nada. Zilch. Thank the double aspherical surfaces for that. And the modified double-Gauss design.

Sharpness

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If sharpness is what you seek, you have come to the right place. Anything caught within the depth of field will be rendered razor sharp, a very traditional double-Gaussian sharpness in fact, quite similar to that of the Summilux Asph and the Summicron. It does tend to lose that sharpness by a smudge approaching the corners, along with a slight vignette.

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The sharpness gives off the feel of a thoroughly modern lens design, and it might get slightly over the top with finer grain film and stopped down, but open the aperture up and throw some HP5 in there, and all should be fine.

Bokeh

The out of focus bits of images shot with the Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 50mm have a tendency to melt away like butter left in a hot pan, with some occasional crunchy bits appearing in the form of misshapen bokeh balls. Vegetation, especially grass, causes some Summitar-esque swirling to suddenly appear, which may be a side effect of the minor barrel distortion the lens suffers from.

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The bokeh seems to be at its best right from the start at f/1.5, and provides that great creaminess up until f/2.8, at which any bokeh balls will start to turn into bokeh polygons.
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Flare Control

The lens handles flare very well, even when the user stupidly points it straight into a sun or a spotlight. There is just enough glow to give the sense that it is a very bright light source, yet there are no blotches or spots appearing anywhere else in the frame. Voigtlander have really done a home run with managing ghosting on this lens.

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My verdict on the Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 50mm

Ruddy good lens, and even more so for the prices they are now going for. If you don’t mind a larger lens that can make your beautifully petite film M look a bit like a chunker, the Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 50mm will give you a lot for your penny. I am not going to say it is the best fifty out there, but this is one quite underrated lens that frankly should get a lot more attention.

One more thing: Use the Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 50mm at night. It’s magic.

 

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As usual, you can find me on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/hernium_hern/


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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Rory Jacobs
    December 29, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for the review. I have the latest version of this lens and can’t fault the image quality one bit. The build is also amazing, surpassing even Leica.

    One thing though, the focusing ring is very stiff – which makes for accurate focusing – and makes you miss the odd shot. The ring is a bit thin too which makes things a bit more difficult. But hey, you learn to live with it. On price and performance you can beat this M mount 50mm 1.5 lens.

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      December 29, 2016 at 2:41 pm

      I hear the new lens is smaller and lighter as well, and from Bellamy’s posts on JCH, the black one looks swell on a black M body…

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    December 29, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Nice review Hern Tan, it does seem to be an excellent choice. Some good pictures to illustrate it too, I love the night time shots especially.
    Just one thing confuses me though, you say it is LTM but it appears to be an M mount.

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      December 29, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      This version is in LTM, I used an adapter to mount it on the M3!

  • Reply
    ecdy
    December 29, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    I wonder how this lens compareds to the Canon ltm 50/1.4.

    Also, what does this mean:
    “it might get slightly over the top with finer grain film and stopped down, but open the aperture up and throw some HP5 in there, and all should be fine.”?

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      December 29, 2016 at 5:02 pm

      Oooh. The Canon is a lens I have seen a lot of, but never used. Might have to get back to you on this one, or maybe someone else here may know the answer to your question.

      Concerning the sharpness of the Nokton, I tried it at f/8 and on Fuji Acros, the sharpness was extreme. Perhaps it might be good for someone seeking this particular characteristic. I find it sharp enough from f/1.5 to f/5.6.

  • Reply
    ed
    December 29, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    thanks for the informative review. what really resonates with me is the clarity of the night shots. a film shooter who is considering a new 50mm may not realize that other lenses (like my leica 50mm 1.5, or even that canon 1.4) DO NOT handle flare nearly as well as the lens you’ve reviewed here.

    it’s remarkable how clean the rendering on those night shots is (wide open on the m3, 1/15s??). When I shoot & can’t block out the light source in the frame, anything can happen & its usually a mess 😉.

    great review, great images

    ig: @ntirie

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      December 29, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      Oh indeed, I’ve come to trust the Nokton when it comes to having a strong light source in frame. I love the Nokton for low light scenes, there’s a certain reliability to it.

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    December 29, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Hi Hern,
    Thanks for a great review! Good pics. I like the comparison shot with the Elmar; nice way to make a good point on size. I’ve got a Nikon FE2 w/a marco, so I fully understand the diameter of the 52mm filter & the bulk of the lens on the M-series. At this point, I’ve just fitted a 40mm M-Rokkor (sourced through JCH) on my M2, so I’m tending to go into a smaller/lighter direction.
    However, what caught my attention were your comments on the ability of this lens to work in low, available light. Nice examples of it’s capabilities. I won’t buy one, but I will rent one for a low-light project I’m planning to work on later in 2017.
    Continued good shooting & Happy new year!

  • Reply
    Yeer31
    December 31, 2016 at 1:17 am

    Hi Hern, if you’d like to do a comparison of the Canon LTM 1.4, get in touch. I have a copy you can borrow for a bit as you’re local to me. I don’t use it much these days as I find the CA a bit too pronounced on digital and prefer my 40mm Summicron when shooting film.

    • Reply
      Hern Tan
      December 31, 2016 at 10:35 am

      Hello, thanks a lot for the offer! I do have my hands full with putting a new lens through its paces, and another very nice chap has offered to lend me his C-Sonnar, so perhaps a 3-way clash might be in store for the future? I’ll get in touch soon!

  • Reply
    Ali
    January 1, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Bought this in the summer when I got my m3, the lens does wonders at night time at 1.5 with a roll of Tri x, sharp from corner to corner, fantastic performance for 300£, my only complaint is how easy it is to knock the apperture ring without realising

  • Reply
    Arne Marco Kirsebom
    January 4, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Thank you for your good review. I got the lens when I bought a Voigtländer Bessa R2 in 2003. I have always been very happy with it. Meanwhile I do also have the VL 21mm F1.8, 35mm F 1.4 and 75 mm F1.8 lenses. But last year I bought Sony A7 II to use the lenses also digitally trough a Metabones adapter. It is very satisfying to use manual focus lenses on a digital camera. And with the magnification of 12 times in the EVF, makes it easy to focus.
    My favourite is the 50 mm F1.5. The images are so good form the lens, either analog or digital, so to me it is a gem I will keep. And after so many years, you are starting to see the brassing on some spots …

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