Everyone lusts after the coveted speed lenses, wether it be an old set of Zeiss Super Speeds at T1.3, or the dreamy Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux, we all have a fast lens of desire. The low light capability and the crazy shallow depth of field are the primary draw to such quick lenses, not to mention their inherent “measuring tape” bragging rights. Voigtlander recently released their 25m f/0.95 Nokton. A company usually affiliated with 35mm film cameras, Voigtlander is the first company to offer a native Micro 4/3″ lens without pairing it to a camera, a practice usually reserved for the “little three”: Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina. Bearing a price tag of about $1500 depending on where you get it since supply and demand plays a huge part in the price, it far cheaper than the Leica Noctilux with extra-hefty price tag of around $10,000. Voigtlander Really hit the nail on the head with this lens, at least for my line of work. I had been trying to get my hands on one since I first heard about it and had a few opportunities that didn’t pan out. But luckily, a client asked if I would be able to perform the Duclos Lenses Cine-Mod to his brand new Nokton. These lenses are in extremely short supply and very difficult to get a hold of, so I had no prior experience with this model specifically, I told him I would give it a go and see if it’s possible. The lens arrived a week later and I began the Cine-Mod process.
For the most part the lens is a perfect candidate for the modification. It has all manual control, solid aluminum housing, common filter thread, good surface for mounting a gear, but something stood out to me right away. Usually the iris control is at the rear of the lens and is fairly easy to access for the de-clicking portion of the Cine-Mod. Not on the Voigtlander… It’s toward the front of the lens meaning I would either have to disrupt the optics by removing a few front components or disassemble the entire lens to get to the click mechanism in the iris. Either way, a good opportunity to determine the build quality and materials used in the 25mm f/0.95. I proceeded to do what I do best. A few components into the lens and I could immediately tell that this lens was designed and built with professionals in mind. All of the internal and external components are billet aluminum, except for the focus helical which is machined from brass. Very common in manual focus lenses including professional cinema lenses. Everything is lubricated with nice, viscous grease and tolerances are held fairly tight. The mechanical design isn’t anything special, but it doesn’t need to be. Focus is smooth and consistent as is the aperture, after de-clicking. The focus marks are accurate and flange depth from the factory was very close, a little bit long, letting the lens focus a tad past infinity at the end if travel.
As for optical quality, the lens performs well but not great. Obviously with such a large aperture, details begin to fade after f/2. Chromatic aberration is minimal but still present at most f-stops. With eleven elements in eight groups, the optical design is nothing revolutionary.The shallow depth of field makes focusing pretty difficult unless you are an experienced focus puller. The rotation of the focus ring is approximately 300° with clean, solid stops at both ends of travel. The low light capability of this lens makes up for it’s slightly less than perfect image quality. I would rather have a tiny bit of color fringing and soft details than have to bump the ISO up to 3200 just to get a shot. I wanted to compare the Voigtlander to a similarly fast Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 but I didn’t have one handy at the time I shot the test photos. However, I did have my Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7. This little pancake powerhouse is my go to street lens when I shoot on my Olympus E-PL1 for funsies. I’ve always been pleased with the results I got from my Lumix 20mm, but I would never consider it for motion picture use as its far too small for any real world setup, the focus and aperture are entirely electronic, controlled by the camera, and it’s all plastic… So how does the rare Voigtlander stack up against the Lumix, optically? See for yourself.
Not much difference in resolution from a distance, we’ll get to that in a minute. The first thing I notice is the barrel distortion from the Voigtlander. However, the Lumix photo is cropped a bit so that it matches the Voigtlander. But even then, the full image from the Lumix exhibits almost no distortion. Now we get down to the resolution in some large crops below.
Based on these cropped samples, the Lumix is a clear winner in terms of resolution. These images were cropped from the center of the test chart. The Lumix used it’s snappy auto focus to lock onto the test chart, but for the Voigtlander, I used the 10x focus assist on my E-PL1 to rack focus as accurate as I possibly could, so there isn’t any user error in focus accuracy. I would consider it a complete victory for the Lumix image quality since the Voigtlander was shot at f/1.7 to match the Lumix’s max aperture, had I opened the Voigtlander all the way to f/0.95 then the resolution would suffer even more. Both lenses perform very well up to this point and these charts are really nitpicking the details, but hey… That’s what I do. Now onto some of the pretty stuff. The comparison photos are just that, shot wide open on each lens simply to demonstrate the different characteristics of each lens.
So yes… The Lumix provides sharper, more accurate images, but the Nokton renders beautiful, soft and dreamy images. the two really can’t be compared when it comes to motion picture application. The Lumix is pocket sized and lightweight but lacks the manual controls and superior build quality of the Nokton. If you’re looking for a go to low-light lens for your Micro 4/3″ video camera, the Voigtlander Nokton is an excellent choice for under $2000 (if you can find it).