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Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton

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Last updated February 24, 2013 (published October 16, 2011)





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Important Specifications

Focal length 50 mm
M8 equivalent 67 mm
Aperture range 1.1 - 16 (1/2 steps)
Aperture blades 10
Focusing range 1.0 m – infinity
No. of elements/groups 7/6
Angular field, diag./horiz./vert. 45/38/27 °
Filter M 58 x 0.75
Dimensions (with caps) ø 70 mm, length 57 mm
Weight 428 g

Introduction

A full review of the Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton lens, including specifications, performance charts, overview, sharpness and vignetting tests as well as sample images and links for further research.

The Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton is a lens that is most often compared directly to the Leica Noctilux 50mm f/1 and in fact, is often referred to as "the poor man's Noctilux." At 1/10th the price, this wouldn't be inaccurate. The differences are a matter of opinion and debate - but suffice it to say, this lens compares favorably in many ways... But falls short in others. By specification this lens could be a drop-in replacement for a lot less coin. In practice however, it doesn't have the same mojo of the Noctilux (or its sibling, the 35mm f/1.2 Nokton unfortunately).

Considering the crazy prices on used Noctiluxes these days - unless you absolutely need that "Noctilux look" - the Nokton will suit you well if you crave the speed. If you want the character, albeit in a smaller lens, consider the Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM or Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 pre-ASPH. Those preferring a more modern "everyday lens" might consider the Zeiss Planar T* 2/50 ZM or Leica Summilux 50mm f/1,4 ASPH and Summicron 50mm f/2 ASPH lenses. Another good alternative is the Voigtländer 50mm f/1.5 Nokton LTM lens. All about a stop (or two) slower and much smaller/lighter. The point is, you must want that speed and be willing to compromise to get it. Compare the Nokton to some other 50mm lenses:

Physical Aspects

The Nokton is a large and relatively heavy lens as far as rangefinder lenses go. It's fat, but of medium length - just what you'd expect from a fast 50mm. Because of its dimensions, it blocks the viewfinder a bit (less so with the optional LH-7 vented hood). There are two reasons you'd consider this lens over smaller, slower ones. You either need the low-light capabilities - or you like to flex that wide open look. If neither of these are a priority and you value higher image quality and a smaller package more, you would be well advised to consider the alternatives.

It's a shame that Voigtländer did not make the (optional) LH-7 vented hood the default as it does make a bit of a difference with viewfinder blockage. Not huge, but it does help. Instead of screwing into the lens as the stock hood, it attaches with a friction ring and thumbscrew. Typical of many Voigtländer hoods. I have to admit, I prefer bayonet mounts such as those found on Zeiss ZM and some Leica lenses. Much faster and less fiddly - and no thumbscrew to get in the way and catch on things. However, these hoods are on solidly! There's no movement, no rattling and no give. Mechanical protection for your lens doesn't get much better than this.

The aperture ring has positive detents and feels pretty typical of Voigtländer lenses... Functional, though perhaps not as refined as Zeiss or Leica. There's a distinct "clack" when you hit the wide open end, but not fully stopped down. The apertures run from f/1.1 to f/1.4, then down to f/16 in half-stop clicks and are evenly spaced. Focusing action is smooth and very nicely damped - the throw is about 90 degrees from lock to lock.

Optical Qualities

Since we're looking at shooting this lens at or near wide open most of the time, how does it perform? Rather well, all things considered - but you have to keep things in perspective. The quintessential Noctilux, the f/1 version that most know and has been around the longest, has heavy vignetting and is fairly soft wide open - but defines that "Noctilux look." The Nokton is sharper than the Noctilux but still vignettes quite a bit. Finally, Leica's newest Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH is the new benchmark. It's the sharpest of the bunch, but of course still has some vignetting. It should be, considering the price! Vignetting can be handled quite readily with in-camera corrections (advantage: Leica) or in post-processing but if you shoot film, it's something to consider.

A brief note about wide open with these lenses and vignetting. The Nokton might be an f/1.1 lens - but that's only in the center! Because of the vignetting, you're losing quite a bit of light in the periphery. You need to be cautious when handling vignetting in post (by brightening the corners) as this can cause noise to flare up. Not that the Leica lenses are immune to this either; in fact they have the same issue. Speaking of controlling light... Many people use a 4x (2 stop) or 8x (3 stop) neutral density filter in daylight to allow opening up more. If you're looking to exploit that look, in daylight, this is essential equipment. The Nokton uses a rather large and uncommon 58mm filter size.

One thing that you can't fix in post is sharpness. The Nokton is quite good here, from wide open as mentioned. It's not great... But it is wide open at f/1.1 and still better than the Noctilux. Stopping down to even f/1.4 improves things dramatically - and it continues to improve as you stop down. At smaller apertures such as f/2.8 and higher, the lens is very much as you'd expect from a modern lens. It sharpens up and across the field up until diffraction sets in. One thing to keep in mind, as with most fast lenses is that the Nokton only stops down to f/16. This isn't much of a negative however, as diffraction would weigh heavily on your image quality at this point and beyond on even film and full frame cameras.

Bokeh is always such a subjective thing, but we can generalize a bit on more-or-less commonly used markers. First off, and unlike some lenses - the Nokton is a bit unpredictable here. Camera to subject distance, background complexity (or specular highlights) and obviously aperture all play a part here. But the Nokton can go from wiry, nervous nisen-bokeh (double line) to completely "creamy" (diffuse and abstract). When it's the latter form it's actually very pleasant and reminiscent of the Noctilux. When it's not however; it's rather jarring and a bit... Ugly. There's also quite a bit of spherochromatism in the bokeh in such cases. Whether or not you see it depends on your display/print size and depending on your RAW (DNG) processor, might be largely fixable with a single click of a checkbox. In ACR for example, you can select "Correct chromatic aberrations" during import and it will fix this for the most part. The bokeh however, remains questionable. When it's good it's good - but when it's bad... We often liked to shoot at f/1.4 for both sharpness and better bokeh/less aberration reasons.

Focus Shift

We felt this required a separate section. Like a few of Voigtländer's latest lenses (e.g. 28mm f/2 Ultron), the 50mm f/1.1 Nokton exhibits focus shift. At its worst, it has a slight backfocus (the opposite of the Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM). Your typical shooting practices would determine if this will be an issue or not - as the shift occurs in the f/stop range roughly from f/2 to f/5.6, with the strongest shift from f/2.8 to f/4 - and at closer distances. If you shoot subject matter that's farther away or shoot the lens mostly at or near wide open (why else own this lens?) then the focus shift is mostly a non-issue. The fact is, if you want such a fast lens - your options are limited and unless you plan to utilize this speed more often than not, there are better choices out there. Like the Noctilux, this is a lens that's shot at or near wide open most of the time for it to make sense.

Coding for Digital Ms

This lens is typically given the 6-bit code of the Leica Noctilux 50mm f/1 (11821/11822) - which works okay on both the M8 and M9 bodies. The code for this is 011111 and can be either marked with a template and a Sharpie marker or machined into the flange and properly painted for a more permanent solution via a third-party. Voigtländer does provide a machined groove on the flange to better hold temporary coding, which is nice. The 50mm focal length doesn't typically need to be coded for in-camera corrections, at least - but is still useful for the EXIF info and to differentiate between lenses. As for corrections, as can be seen below - vignetting is only marginally improved.

Conclusion

The Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton is a decent lens at a reasonable price. If you need the speed in a 50mm and don't want to break the bank it's the obvious choice. While we'd probably recommend sticking with a slower lens for many reasons... For the same reason that people enjoy Ferraris, people enjoy fast lenses - speed thrills! The downsides are typical of such lenses however... Large, heavy and blocks the viewfinder. The wide open quality, while better than the old Noctilux - doesn't measure up to the new. Then again, considering the cost of these other options - the Nokton represents tangible value. It's a fairly typical Voigtländer lens in most all regards.

Bottom line is; if you really want f/1.1 you'll get it (in the center) at decent quality. But unless you really need that speed - there are better options.

Vignetting

Vignetting was tested using the M9 at ISO 160, firmware version 1.162:

Lens detection set to OFF

f/1.1

f/1.4

f/2.0

f/2.8

f/4.0

f/5.6
 
Lens coded as a Noctilux 50mm f/1 (11821/11822) and lens detection set to AUTO

f/1.1

f/1.4

f/2.0

f/2.8

f/4.0

f/5.6

Sharpness

This test is preliminary, and only tests the center performance - but it should give you an idea of what to expect. It was conducted by shooting a test target at MFD (1m) which represents a worst case scenaeio as non-macro lenses are generally optimized for infinity. Images were shot at the various apertures with an M9, mounted on a tripod. No alterations were done to the image except for auto level and they are 100% crops:

f/1.1 f/1.4 f/2 f/2.8 f/4
f/5.6 f/8 f/11 f/16  

Sample Images

Flickr Pool Images

Further Research

Sample images thread in forum

50mm f/1,1 Nokton
Cosina Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.1
The Voigtlander Nokton 50 1.1 Lens Review
Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1
Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.1 - A Field Report
Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.1 (M)
Ruminations on a 50mm f/1.1 Nokton
Nokton 50mm f1.1 - Review
The Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 Nokton
Voigtlander 50mm Nokton - "f/1.1 and be there"

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