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