The Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.1 is a very special lens. A super fast 50mm prime at a price of around 1000 euros, many times cheaper from the mighty Leica Noctiliux. I had purchased the Nokton 50mm f1.5 (a fantastic lens at a fantastic price!) but unfortunately I managed to break it beyond repair. When I decided to go for another one it was discontinued, so the obvious choices were either the f1.1 or a used pre asph Leica Summilux.
I finally decided to go for the Nokton due to f1.1 feature. With a camera like the Leica M8 even a third stop counts (the M8 iso performance is lousy), it can mean shooting with ISO 640 instead of 1250. Also, the f1.1 can provide even narrower depth of field.
The Nokton f1.1 is huge and heavy when compared to other rangefinder lenses. Compared to a Summicron 50 or my collapsible 1950s Elmar is a hog. But it’s a f1.1 lens, what did you expect !!
Build quality is OK and the aperture and focus rings are firm and easy to operate.
With a lens like this of course you spend most of the time shooting it wide open. I add a 3 stops ND filter during daylight to able to shoot it at f1.1 (especially with Leica M7 which has a top shutter speed of 1/1000). Also, a 1.4x magnifier on the viewfinder helps me focus more precisely.
Generally, it’s a great lens for available light and when you want to take with images with narrow depth of field. At this price there is nothing else to choose from.
Now, there are a couple of issues that you get with the Nokton f1.1. First of all, there is focus shift which some times prevents you from precise focusing. I compensate for this by focusing and then take a second shot after I gently move the focus ring. In digital focus shift shows more than film.
Of course when mounting it on my Sony NEX you get to see a live view so focus is always precise (especially with the peaking feature of the NEX).
The second issue is the bokeh (out of focus areas) quality. I don’t like the bokeh of the Nokton, it’s harsh and many times it distracts you from the main subject of the image. It’s not bad but it’s not the smooth velvet bokeh of the Noctilux (but for a few thousands of euros less, I can live with it).
The Nokton 50mm f1.5 was a much sharper lens, a fantastic fast prime, and its a pity it’s discontinued. A used Summilux also might have been a better choice but at the time I was looking for a fast 50mm I didn’t manage to find one at a price near the Nokton.
Despite these flaws, I really like using the f1.1 Nokton, it’s a specialty lens which gives you the opportunity to shoot at low light and produce very interesting images using the thin depth of field.
In a couple of weeks I will have the opportunity to visit a friend who owns the new aspherical Summilux 50, so it will be a good opportunity to shoot both lenses side by side with the Leica M8 and the Sony NEX and see the results.
The images below were all shot with the Nokton 50mm f1.1 with the Leica M8 and Sony NEX 5 cameras.
(c)2011 Konstantinos Besios. All Rights Reserved.