Guest post: Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 MC lens review by Xavier Lhospice

Today's guest post about the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 MC lens on Leica M8 is written by Xavier Lhospice:

I used the Leica 50mm Summilux lens on my Leica M6/7 cameras for years. Now, that I use a digital M8 with a crop factor of 1,33x, my favorite lens became a 65 mm. I needed a 35mm glass in order to get my 50mm back. In addition, I wanted a fast f/1,4 aperture so I can use the camera without flash. Not able to afford the Leica 35 Summilux ASPH (any one of them, new or used), I was told by my favorite Leica store in Paris Photo Suffren that I should try the Voigtlander Nokton 1.4/35mm MC lens:

So I did, I tried it around the neighborhood and found that in terms of performance, it "looked" better than the old non-apsherical Summilux: way too soft for my taste. The big "Plus" was the price - €500 ($579) shade not included (extra $69). I bought the Nokton 1.4/35mm before I went to Louisiana last year to cover the oil spill. During my trip, the lens stayed in my bag - I was mainly using the amazing Leica 2/28mm and the 90mm Summicron which I had for years.

Recently, I took the Nokton out of the bag, put it on one of my two Leica M8 and started to walk on the streets of Paris with my camera around my neck. Today, the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 MC is definitely staying on my camera, the quality and performance of that lens are what I was looking for:

Old sink for an old building in the 3rd district of Paris. Very few left.

Pros :

  1. The price/performance ratio cannot be beat.
  2. The pictures are saturated, and have more depth in color. This is good because I work with DNG and I do not have to do much in post processing.
  3. The focal length on a M8 is closer to a 45 mm (46.5mm to be exact), which makes the lens even more useful.
  4. The size is really compact and allows you to put the camera with the lens attached in the pockets of your jackets.
  5. Built quality: I had the old Summilux and as usual Leica was and still is making the best lenses in terms of performance and built quality. The Nokton also has some heavy glass inside and the diaphragm ring is just the way it should be: with half stops. The focusing ring is tight and precise.
  6. The lens is sharp at f/1.4, corners sharpness is also good (probably because of the crop factor).
  7. The lens shade fits tightly on the lens and still allows filters to be mounted.

Behind the Montparnasse train station, contrast between the fur coat and a man living in the street

I am not a "maniac" in photography but I have been doing this job for over two decades and I know very well what I like or dislike and what I am looking for in a photograph. Few years ago I had the Nokton 40mm f/1.4 mounted om my old Minolta CLE but my slides were flat, not contrasty enough and lacked sharpness. The Nokton 1,4/35 lens is the exact opposite: sharp, contrasty, saturating the colors beautifully, light and well built.

My dog Rose always finds something to play with. I wonder how she can run toward me with her head in the bucket.

Cons :

  1. Value: I am not sure what this lens will be worth on the used market few years from now (Leica has aways a better resale value).
  2. The focusing ring is a bit tight. This can be good because it won't move easily but makes fast focusing difficult. I suppose it is because the lens is brand new and hopefully it will loosen up over time.
  3. The lens is small which makes it difficult for use with gloves.
  4. The lens hood costs extra - it should be included in the price. Buying a lens without the hood is like buying a car without a windshield!

Near Pigalle, a man speaking to himself but with such a face.

Special thanks to Xavier Lhospice for this guest post. All images were taken in January of 2011 and are copyrighted by Xavier Lhospice.

If you had any experiences with the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 lens, I would like to hear your feedback.

Some more info on the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 lens:

There are two versions of this lens: SC for “single coated” and MC for "multi coated.

Focal Length 35 mm
Aperture Ratio 1:1,4
Smallest Aperture F16
Lens Construction 6 groups,8 elements
Picture angle 63 ˚
Aperture blades 10
Closest distance 0.7 m
Diameter 55 mm
Length 28,5 mm
Weight 200 g
Mount M-Bajonett - Mount
Filter Size 43 mm

Lens design:

Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 lens with the hood on:

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  • BO

    Thank you for the review. Totally agree with the writer that this is probably one of the more interesting non leica lenses out there.

    Speaking as a owner of this lens for a couple of years. There might be room for a bit more discussion of the lens character, this is one of my very favorite lenses, but it is one you gotta know a little about, it is famous for back-focusing when stopping down, generally it is tack sharp at 1.4 then back-focus a bit when you stop down and the dof seems to catch up around 5.6 – so really use it for shallow dof stuff, or stop down to 5.6 and use it with much more dof. It is my feeling that this is a characteristic of the lens which should be considered, however it do not ruin the experience. 🙂

    Personally I find this lens to be very close to a “normal” walk around lens for the M8, though many users pick a 28mm for the wider fov.

    Last year I finished refining a hood for the lens specifically for my M8, it is much tighter than the OEM hood. Moderator feel free to zap link if inappropriate.


    • Discontinued

      Hi Bo,

      thanx for sharing your experience. I’ve never heard of any lens before, that changes point of focus when stopped down and did search my mind (unsuccessfully) for a technical explanation. One question:
      I assume that you are aware of DOF-characteristics and therefore know that DOF increases unequally in front (1/3) and behind subject/point of focus (2/3) when a lens gets stopped down. You did not mistake that for back focusing by any chance?

      • BO

        Hello Discontinued,

        Yes I do understand DOF, and without getting into the finer points, the issue here is that when you start to use only the center part of a lens, in some designs the focus of that center part may not actually where the overall “average” focus of the design is. being able to focus close and far and also have a f 1.4 wide open requires several compromises, unfortunately backfocus when stopped down is one side effect.

        Honestly this is not a deal breaker, and the real issue of the op is how useful the lens is. I have this lens and have learned to live with its personality, compare this to the new leica 35lux, which at roughly 10x the price have managed to tame the backfocus, the previous leica 35lux did in fact suffer backfocus like the nokton lens. (you could say the nokton 35 is in good company)


        • Discontinued

          Thanks BO.

    • as always, thanks Bo

  • Choke

    Hi Discontinued,

    try googling with “focus shift”. This phenomena is inherent with some lens designs.

    • Discontinued

      Hi Choke,

      thanx for the hint. I am now aware it is inherent but I still not sure where this technically comes from. I didn’t find any explanation, just lots of samples.

      @ anyone,

      any explanation or link towards useful information is highly appreciated.

      So far I can only guess that not all elements of a lens are equally focused all over their entire surface (towards the rim different than towards the center). Stopping down one or two stops therefore does not just influence the general performance of a lens but also slightly shifts focus at the same time.

      So far so good and all very well known …

      BUT what really puzzles me is the fact, that some lenses’ focus apparently still gets shifted further when stopped down even farther (4 to 5 stops) and despite the fact, that the lens already had reached razor sharpness before.

      From what I believe to understand technically this can only happen, if the aperture does not close correctly centered. Is that assumption correct ? ? ?

  • Choke
    • Discontinued

      Thanks again Choke.

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