Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2
Lenses

Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 Nokton Aspherical Review

September 23, 2019

I’ve owned the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 Nokton Aspherical for nearly a year now, and I feel that I have to open this review by saying that I think it’s an absolutely fantastic lens. It’s small – at least for a lens with an f/1.2 maximum aperture – it’s “sharp”, it has great bokeh, little in the way of noticeable aberrations, it feels well made, and for an ultra-fast m-mount lens it’s not too expensive either. In fact, it’s taken me this long to review it because I didn’t want my writing to be too influenced by my initial over-excitement about how great it is.

The funny thing is though, now I’m over that initial excitement, I’ve decided to sell it – which probably seems a bit daft considering the first paragraph of this review. But – whilst I do think it is pretty much everything many people could ever want from a fast 50mm m-mount lens – long term, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s not for me. Regardless of how compelling it is, I just don’t need what it offers me.

That said, the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 is the first 50mm m-mount lens I’ve owned that’s tempted me away from the Zeiss 50mm ZM Sonnar. Those who read this website regularly will know that I absolutely adore my ZM Sonnar. I love that lens so much, that when I got the Voigtlander and began to realise just how good it was, I started to get a little bit stressed about the idea that another lens might have begun to usurp it.

I just don’t feel that there’s a strong case for two fast, modern 50mm lenses in my arsenal. I rarely shoot at apertures wider than f/2 with a 50mm lens, and – as I talk about in my Sonnar review – I also love what the Sonnar does at those apertures. As such, for the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 to truly de-throne the Sonnar, it would have to do something pretty magical at those wider apertures.

In fact, it is indeed what the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 does at those apertures that initially made me question my dedication to the Sonnar. The Voigtlander does have a couple of pretty impressive tricks up its sleeve, and I was totally drawn in by them when I first got my hands on the lens… so much so, that when asked by a few people what I thought of it, I used a phrase I absolutely hate… I called it a “game-changer”!

Wide-open performance

Shooting any 50mm f/1.2 lens wide open is, of course, not without its challenges – the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 is no exception to this. Interestingly though, it’s predecessor the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 was a bit of an exception to this rule. That lens was – at least as far as my understanding of optics stretches – quite well corrected for spherical aberrations. Because of this, it’s wider-open depth of field didn’t seem to be all that narrow, and the bokeh was a little more wiry and distracting.

The Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 – despite being a fraction of a stop slower – has an apparently shallower depth of field. It would seem, I guess, that correction for spherical aberrations was less of a priority in this lens design. The result is much smoother and much more creamy bokeh that the f/1.2. What initially got me particularly excited about this fact was that this also means that the transition zone is characteristically glowy. It doesn’t have the almost double-image glow of the Sonnar formula lenses that I like so much, but the way the in-focus melts into the out-of-focus is, nonetheless, quite aesthetically attractive to me. Wide-open, the bokeh is also arguably smoother than the Sonnar at f/1.5 which can – given the right circumstances – be a little wild.

Worcester xmas Fayer 2018

f/1.2 – Leica M240 – Connie at the xmas fayre 2018

One final possibly notable trait of its wide-open performance – and again also perhaps because of the spherical aberrations – it is a little soft wide-open – not catastrophically so, but it’s definitely fair to say that resolution drops quite a bit at f/1.2.

f/2 Performance

Initially, this all seemed more than slightly appealing. I’m not worried about a little bit of wide-open softness, and the other character traits I found certainly appealed to me – despite the fact I don’t often shoot wide open, I liked the idea that I could if I wanted to and get really nice results without much issue. But, it was when I stopped down to f/2 that I felt things got really quite interesting. I shoot my Sonnar at f/2 more than I do wide-open. There are many reasons for this, but they include the bump in “sharpness” and “improved” bokeh.

I was expecting the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 to sharpen up a bit by f/2, but what I found was a lens that sharpens up quite a lot. I suppose I’m probably used to the lower-resolution and higher-contrast type of sharpness that the Sonnar gives me, so when I found the Voigtlander to give me a lot more resolution when only slightly stopped down, I was very impressed.

Konica Hexar RF, Voigtlander 50mm 1.2

f/2 – Konica Hexar RF & Portra 800

Stopped down

How impressive the lens was at f/2 was only built upon by the mid-range apertures too. At f/4, the Sonnar starts to suffer a bit from focus shift. It’s not a big issue really – as I talk about in the review – you get used to it, or you work around it… but for as much as I have read there are some minor issues with focus shift with the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2, they aren’t nearly as much of an issue as they are with the Sonnar. In fact, where I have been caught out by the Sonnar in the past, I’ve not noticed issues with the Voigtlander at all in my photos.

In fact, stopped down, I really couldn’t pinpoint a single optical aberration or shortcoming that’s impacted my photography whilst shooting with the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2. I’ve read a large chunk of the mega-thread by Fred Miranda here, but whilst I respect Fred’s views a great deal, there’s nothing that he highlighted in his impressions as a negative that impacts negatively on my results in real terms. I just don’t shoot in a way or of subject matter that demands such objective quality.

Konica Hexar RF, Voigtlander 50mm 1.2

Sucked in…?

That said I was, I must admit, sucked in by the objective “improvements” the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 presented me over and above what the ZM Sonnar offers me. It is faster, has nice bokeh from wide open, it’s sharper quicker down the apertures, has less notable aberrations and is easier to shoot. It also has a good chunk of 3D pop which is definitely something I look for in a lens. And to top it off – as I said at the beginning of this post – it’s not that big and not all that expensive for what it is. So what’s not to like?

Where did it go wrong?

I do genuinely think that the lens could be the last m-mount lens a lot of people will ever need. The issue for me is that I think I’ve come to the conclusion – largely because of what the Sonnar does for me – that I’m a multiple 50mm lens kinda guy. I’ve talked about this before on my YouTube channel here. But for the benefit of those who don’t want to see my flapping jaw, the gist is that I don’t always have the same goals from a 50mm lens. Sometimes I might want something of what the ZM Sonnar does, sometimes I might want something more reliable and modern in the way it renders, and sometimes I like something that’s a lot more “classic” and lower contrast.

In the video, I talk about the ZM Sonnar, a Jupiter-8 and a Voigtlander 50mm f/2.5. Those three lenses don’t step on each other’s toes at all. They all offer something the others don’t, and so provide me with a near-perfect trio. In fact, I’ve decided to move the Voigtlander on and try a Zeiss ZM Plannar instead, but that’s by the by – it simply offers a slightly different flavour of what the Voigtlander f/2.5 does for me.

The Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2, on the other hand, covers two of the bases. It does the stopped-down easy-to-shoot thing, and does the wider-open lower-light nice-character thing too. So what’s not to like? Surely less kit is better – with my recent inspiration issues and desire to strip back my kit, less kit definitely feels like it could be the way forward. The problem is – at least for my very specific tastes – what the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 offers me isn’t quite what I want, especially when shot wider open.

Discovering the “flaw”

The first hint I had of this being the case was quite a long time ago now, and actually quite early on in my experiences with this lens. I’d paid a visit to a chap called Padraig, a very talented violin maker in nearby Malvern. I wanted to take some photos of him at work and had taken my now-sold Leica Monochrom with the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 mounted to the front of it. The whole experience was incredibly inspiring, and I came away feeling very positive about my photography, and indeed pretty much everything else in my life. The only thing that took a slight edge off the experience was the results I got from the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2.

Objectively speaking, I honestly couldn’t fault them. I shot a fair bit at f/2 and was astounded by the sharpness of the lens. The issue was, I didn’t really want sharpness. When processing the results, I craved the lower-resolution high-contrast look the ZM Sonnar gives me. The sharpness of the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 just didn’t fit the feel I was going for. I ended up softening the results in Lightroom – I had to reduce the sharpness and add a bit of artificial grain to take the edge off the detail. I was trying to get more of the look that I get from the ZM Sonnar into the results, and so found myself cursing myself for just not using the Sonnar in the first place. To me, the way the ZM Sonnar renders is just perfect for that sort of environmental portraiture.

I can’t find the original raw file to show how it looked like un-edited – so you’re just going to have to trust me

This was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 for me. Every time a similar job came up, I found myself reaching for the Sonnar. And then, eventually, when it came to choosing a lens for less “character”, I would reach for something smaller and lighter than the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2. As I say, it’s not that it’s a big lens for what it offers, but if, like me, you don’t need or feel that what it offers at its wider apertures suits your creative desires, then all of a sudden it does start to feel like an unnecessarily large lens.

More photos

Worcester xmas Fayer 2018

Norah

F8 xmas beers

Konica Hexar RF

First Roll of Ektachrome

First Roll of Ektachrome

First Roll of Ektachrome

First Roll of Ektachrome

Connie & Norah

Final thoughts

As I expect is quite clear, I genuinely think the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 is a stunning bit of glass. I said everything I think most prospective purchasers probably want or need to hear in the first paragraph or this post. Yes, as Fred points out in his dissection, there are shortcomings to the design that will no doubt frustrate those with a penchant for objective perfection, but for most “normal” photographers I stand by what I said to a few people on social media about this lens being a bit of a “game-changer”. The combination of it being good-enough optically, its smaller size, very fast maximum aperture and relatively low-cost present it as an excellent option for a lot of people.

For me though – at least in the long term – it has just reinforced my strong feeling toward what the Zeiss 50mm ZM offers me… at least when combined with something else a little more conventional. In a different world where the ZM Sonnar didn’t exist, I think I’d be happy with a combination of the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 and some sort of classic Sonnar for more my more “character lens” based photography. In this world though – as much as it feels counter-intuitive to say this about a lens that I think is as good as this – there’s just no room in my bag for the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2.

Support 35mmc

For as little as $1 a month, you can help support the upkeep of 35mmc and get access to exclusive content over on Patreon. Alternatively, please feel free to chuck a few pennies in the tip jar via Ko-fi:

Become a Patron!

Learn about where your money goes here.
Would like to write for 35mmc? Find out how here.

15 Comments

  • Reply
    TrevorNC
    September 23, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    Erm… er… well. can I’ave it then?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 23, 2019 at 5:48 pm

      I sold it last week 👍

  • Reply
    Brian
    September 23, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Breaking up with a lens using the old “It’s not you, It’s me” line. The shot of your Daughter would be reason enough for me to keep it.

    I have the C-Sonnar, and most every 50mm Sonnar ever made. Somehow I always go back to a pre-war 5cm F1.5 Sonnar, coated and uncoated.

    I’ve held off getting this lens, the Cosina/Voigtlander 50/1.2- I believe this is their answer to the 50/1.2 Noctilux of the 1950s.
    I have, and like the 50/1.1 Nokton. Just picked up the 7Artisans 75/1.25.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 23, 2019 at 10:00 pm

      Haha, I did have to break it to it gently…
      The look I can get from that 75mm wide open did help make the choice though

  • Reply
    Johnny Martyr
    September 23, 2019 at 9:45 pm

    I like that you admit to being a “multiple 50mm lens guy,” Hamish. For some time now I’ve felt a bit too “collectory,” owning multiple Leica mount 50’s, unable to whittle my arsenal down below four. But each offers me something different and I enjoy some on some bodies and not as much on others. Funny how I really never feel this way about SLR lenses. I will pass on adding the 50/1.2 Nokton to my pile but based on your images, it IS tempting! 😉

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 23, 2019 at 9:58 pm

      Cheers, Johnny. Do you have a fixed 4, or do they vary? My sonnar is at the core, the “modern reliable” and “classic character” seem to change…

    • Reply
      Callum R
      September 24, 2019 at 11:22 pm

      ‘Funny how I really never feel this way about SLR lenses’ maybe because of the lack of variation in the design of SLR 50mm lenses? They’re pretty much all Double-Gauss designs as far as I know. On rangefinders you have far more, such as Tessar and Sonnar derivatives.

      • Reply
        Hamish Gill
        September 28, 2019 at 1:48 pm

        For sure – you have to look a little harder to find interesting SLR lenses. They are out there though. The Pentax 58mm f/2 for eg is a sonnar 😉

  • Reply
    eric
    September 24, 2019 at 10:57 am

    One more great review.
    I have not tested this lens but I can really feel your opinion. This is the reason why in my kits, I use the same logic. Sharpness sometimes does not match/fit the subject. This is what we call : the character of a lens ! For example my Canon Ltm 50mm/1’4 called the “japanese Summilux” has a great character which works for a lot of subjects. This the main reason I have left 20 years ago my beautiful G2 and G Zeiss lenses for other kits : too sharp does not please me.

  • Reply
    Marcus Gräslund
    September 24, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    I do agree with what you write. Even though I haven’t tried the “new” Zeiss Sonnar (but I would love to as I’m also a sucker for Sonnars, but I must say that I hate that focus ring) I do think that I wouldn’t be able to sell the mighty f1.2 for any other lens… But I get your point (even though I also see your struggle against your own “less is more” concept, which this lens would help you with according to the text) To me, this lens did the exact opposite. After my purchase of the mighty f1.2, I went and bought the Ltm Nokton version of the f1.5 AND not much after that; the older F1.1 Nokton (…because of reasons) and now I’m thinking; Well that new, very small f1 from MS Optics that not is a Sonnar design, that one would be really interesting lens to compliment these other lenses with. Don’t even get me started on the old M-mount version of the SLR MAGIC 50mm t0.95.
    Well, okay. I wouldn’t wanna blame the mighty f1.2 for all of those cravings, but the thing is that it put the lights on (and really highlighted) the need of the many different 50’ lenses for my many different photo purposes.
    The Nokton f1.2 is a mighty all rounder and perfect tool for indoors/dark days here in Sweden. A bit too heavy to be swinging around town all day/every day though and not as fast working (because of obvious reasons/size/f-stop/accuracy. The Nokton ltm f1.5 is my everyday carrier. Perfect size/f-stop and quick focus. Modern look (as the f1.2) but not as sharp or “perfect” as the f1.2 and it comes with lower resolution. It’s also a real pain when it comes to spherical aberrations. Haven’t used the Nokton f1.1 as much yet, but that lens would be considered a fallout if things would come down to it. My version is recalibrated to fix the small shift focus issues that the model has and is pretty nice close up at f1.1. Different rendering and perhaps a bit to busy, but much sharper compared to the 7artisans f1.1 and not as busy or “shitty” as I’ve been told beforehand. Actually I was quite surprised… They’re two different species though. The 7artisans is considered somewhat a portrait lens in my book and it goes in the same category as my Leica Summarit f1.5.
    Mentioning all this lenses in a review about just one, has a point; The Nokton f1.2 would be one of the very last lenses to go, if I had to choose. And I got plenty of more 50’s in Leica mount then these. The Nokton f1.2 gives me the same feelings as another favorite; the Leica 50mm Summicron Rigid. As perfect as it gets. It’s very sharp, it’s small considering the f-stop and it got a great feel to it/easy to use in almost all areas. Heard rumors about Voigtländer wanted/tried to copy the legendary Leica 50mm Noctilux f1.2. True or false, (never tried that lens for pretty obvious reasons #wallet) It definitely got its very own character.
    Is it perfect as in -perfect-? No. But near.
    You mentioning the spherical aberrations and I agree. Even though I don’t see it as a huge problem, almost all lenses with this type of speed that I own/owned seems to have this “problem” more or less. I’ve used the Nokton f1.1 far to little to say how much they differ from each other in this area. It’s also vignettes quite heavily shot wide open and; it’s very sharp. That is not really a problem, but as you also mentioned; sometimes it’s to sharp for the situation. I never soften any images before, but using this I sometimes ends up softening it down, just a tad, using it on my M9P. It’s also got a very modern rendition (especially shot at f2/2.8 and below) and comparing it with my other favorite; Summicron Rigid, or pushing it even further; The Leica Summarit f1.5, it’s very obvious it’s 50-60-70 years apart.
    And finally; I would love to see this in brass. Yeah I’m a brass fan (hence the Nokton f1.5 in ltm version) but I also see the immediate downside of that to. It would be a lot heavier.
    So there might not be a -perfect- lens, but this one is a pretty perfect all rounder and comes as close as It can get to be a -perfect- lens, I think.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 28, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks Marcus, I’d agree – at least a “near-perfect-all-rounder” – thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Reply
    Zach
    September 25, 2019 at 11:00 am

    I am also a multiple 50mm kind of guy. For my Leica system I have: 50mm Sonnar ZM, Leica 50mm Cron III, and a 5cm Nikkor f/2.

    I was really excited about this lens when I first heard about it. But I am glad that I held off and this review reinforced my decision. I don’t tend to shoot situations where I would need f/1.2, and am satisfied with the looks I get from my current lens collection. I think this lens will work well for man people; but just like I sold my Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 because I liked the look of my Cron or Sonnar better, I don’t think the 1.2 is a lens for me.

    Keep up the great work, I always appreciate your viewpoints.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 28, 2019 at 1:41 pm

      Cheers, Zach

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    September 27, 2019 at 9:04 am

    I like very much the colour images, this lens produces a lovely palette

  • Reply
    Chris Coppola
    October 30, 2019 at 12:30 am

    I have too many 50s and the Sonnar has really kept me from buying a summilux and recently kept me from buying this new 1.2. I tend to look at the images I get from it and come to the realization that in my eyes, it doesn’t get much better. It’s the perfect blend of all the aesthetic elements that make up a photograph. Accepting that and sticking to it has gotten easier the longer I use it. I do still really enjoy some classics like the vastly underrated collapsible Cron, and even the 50 3.5 Elmar is a stellar performer. My go-to 50 is and likely will remain the Sonnar coupled with a 28mm Cron. I even had a bug to get a summilux today, so I shot a couple photos of my son with the Sonnar, took a deep breath, and said “nope, I’ll keep the Sonnar”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.