The Voigtlander 50 1.5 Aspherical VM Lens Review
Man oh man oh man! If you are someone who has been reading this website for the past few months then you know I have been doing refresh reviews on different Leica mount 50mm lenses from old to new to obscure gems from the 50′s. From the Zeiss Planar and Sonnar to the old classic Canon 50 1.8 LTM to the 50 Summicron and Summarit, 50 Summilux ASPH to the crazy Canon 50 0.95 and Canon 50 1.2! Yep, I love me a good 50mm lens. Can you tell?
The Voigtlander 50 Nokton ASPH VM Lens on the M240 at 1.5
The 50mm focal length is a very popular choice and that is probably one reason why there are so many 50mm lenses that are in existence. There are so many good choices it is hard to pick just “one” but the good news is there is a stellar 50 for almost any budget or camera system.
For example, the Leica 50 Summicron is a legend..a classic. It has been in production for well over 50 years and even today is considered a gem, and to be honest, it is one of my top 3 lenses for the Leica M 240. It is sharp, contrasty and also has the most extreme 3D separation I have seen in a lens. It is not creamy or dreamy but instead sharp and classic all at the same time. The 50 Summicron is still made today and comes in at $2295 (or less), and honestly, it is all the lens you would ever need with a Leica rangefinder if you want to keep it simple.
Many go for the 50 Lux ASPH for their Leica due to the cult status but the cron will always perform. No vignetting, no distortion, no focus shift, color that pops, super sharp and classic bokeh, all with fantastic build. The Lux ASPH is $3995, NOT cheap and it will have some CA in certain situations (purple fringing) but it is really the ultimate when it comes to a cost no object 50mm f/1.4 lens design.
Bokeh example at f/1.5
Even at $2295, the cron is expensive for a 50 f/2 lens. The Zeiss Planar competes with the Leica Summicron head to head and comes in at around $900, and is well worth that cost. While it does not have the build of the cron, or the signature look, it does have its own look with bold Zeiss color that is warm and rich, good sharpness and 3D separation and no focus problems. Made in Japan, the Zeiss ZM line is beautiful and provides great performance for much less than the Leica counterparts.
But as much as I love most of the 50′s that I have tested there is a new kid on the block from Voigtlander, the new classic inspired 50 1.5 ASPH in Leica M mount, or “VM mount” which is what Voigtlander calls their Leica mount line of lenses and guess what? It is yet another 50mm lens for Leica mount that I just had to test.
Wide Open Character of the 50 Nokton 1.5 ASPH
Voigtlander have introduced this new lens after discontinuing the old Screw Mount version some time ago. That old lens was well reviewed and liked but it did have a flaw or two. Namely, it was not M mount and needed an adapter to mount to an M camera which is fine, but a full-out M mount would have been ideal. It also had a minimum focus distance of 0.9 meters instead of the .7 of modern Leica glass. It also had wonky Bokeh at times but overall, for the price, it was a fantastic lens that many raved about as being equal to the Leica 50 Summilux pre-asph.
With the new version, Voigtlander went back to the 1950′s for the design and created what I feel is one hell of a gorgeous lens in chrome and a pretty handsome one in black. When I saw the images of these lenses I knew I drooled a little and then knew I had to give it a shot, and if I loved it, keep one in chrome as that is a limited edition from Voigtlander and to my eyes and brain, the best looking of the two options.
The focus point is very sharp. Wide open there is only softness in the corners with the Nokton, which goes away by f/2
Voigtlander has been on a roll lately. They now have the beautiful 35 1.2 II, the worlds fastest 35mm lens, and by that I mean Aperture speed. The 35 1.2 II is a VERY nice lens that renders in a beautiful way. It competes with the Leica 35 Lux but is even faster with a 1.2 vs 1.4 aperture though it is huge for a 35mm lens and does not have the micro contrast of the Leica lens, which is a true masterpiece but damn expensive at $4500. But the size, well, that can be a problem because for some shooters it is too large and bulky for every day use. Well, at least for me.
I owned the 35 1.2 II and I grew tired of the size rather quickly but when I sold mine and then I missed the unique rendering the lens gave. In fact, I find that most Voigtlander glass gives a similar style of rendering, just as Leica glass and Zeiss glass does. This new 50 keeps that look but brings it up a notch with what I feel may be better color performance than older Voigtlander glass. Either way, Voigtlander has some jewels in their line and I wanted to know if this new 50 was indeed one of them. I suspected that it just might be, or at least I said “It better be” ! Lots of hype has surrounded this release.
When it comes to image quality and lenses, I usually I rate Leica as #1, Zeiss ZM as #2 and Voigtlander as #3. Leica is super crisp and has amazingly good micro contrast, the best you can get in a lens. I can spot a shot taken with a modern Leica M lens just due to the color, crispness and micro-contrast.
Zeiss is easy to spot as well because the ZM line, when used on a Leica body, will give us that amazingly warm color and rich 3D presentation. Some think it goes over the top with that and many also think the build/durability of the Zeiss ZM line lacks a little. I can agree to that as well (the build does not match Leica).
Then we have Voigtlander…
Voigtlander has been around a long time and the 1st lens I owned of theirs was the little 35mm f/2.5 pancake that I used on the Epson RD-1. I LOVED that lens and I have photos taken with that setup that rival my M8 and M9 shots for tonality and quality. I have reviewed quite a few Voigtlander lenses from the 50 1.1 Nokton to the 35 1.2 II low light monster to the 21 1.8 wide angle and I always really like the lenses but usually I do not LOVE them enough to plunk down my cash. I usually find something “missing”, which is a side effect of using the worlds best lenses..authentic modern Leica M lenses.
So they have some good lenses and they also have some stellar lenses that rival Leica’s own German-made optics. The main differences is in the micro contrast when it comes to Voigtlander vs Leica. Other than that, Voigtlander glass is a HUGE bang for the buck for any Leica owner. Spent all of your cash on your Leica M body? Then go for a Voigtlander lens and know you have a capable and well made lens.
But this new 50 1.5…So I thought…“Hmmm, maybe this new Nokton is one of those Voigtlander Jewels”. I was excited to see.
I fell in love with the style, the build, the chrome as well as the legend of the original 50 Nokton 1.5, which is a lens I have never even used! So I was pretty excited and had high hopes with this lens. I placed a pre-order through Stephen Gandy at CameraQuest.com and I was able to be one of the 1st to get the lens in my hands just last week. Ever since it has been glued onto my M 240, which is the combo that has taken every shot you see in this review.
Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton Leica M mount Aspherical Specs
Leica M Mount – No adapter needed for your M
Close Focus .7 Meter – YES!
5 Groups, 6 elements
Filter size is 49mm
f/1.5 to f/16
Black or Chrome. The chrome is a brass lens. Nice.
Metal Lens Hood and metal lens cap (for the hood) included
Now that I have spent some time with it I can state that I adore this lens! It is NOT perfect but that is quite OK with me as I do not need “perfection”, I enjoy a bit of character with my images :)
Wide open this lens is sharp but vignettes slightly and has soft corners..but I LOVE that about the lens. Stop it down to f/2 and the slight vignette and soft corners are gone. So wide open you get a classical/modern rendering and stopped down we get sharpness and the Voigtlander smoothness. No harshness with this lens at all. Contrast is about in the middle, not too low and not too high.
If you hate vignetting when shooting wide open, then this lens is not for you. The Leica 50 Lux ASPH does not Vignette BTW but will set you back $3200 more.
The only image in this review with extensive PP. Basically some contrast and shadow enhancement. M 240 and 50 Nokton at f/2.8 or f/4 – Not sure which one :)
In fact, speaking of Leica lenses, this 50 Nokton reminds me of a certain Leica lens! That lens is one I had a few years ago in a special black paint edition..the 50 Summilux Pre-Asph latest version that focused to .7 meters. If I had to pick a lens that this new Nokton rendered the most like, it would be that Leica lens. That Leica lens happens to sell for $2500-$3000 when it goes up for sale so you can get much of that flavor for $899 with the Nokton. Pretty incredible.
The Nokton also comes with a metal hood, unlike the Zeiss ZM line of lenses and the cheaper Summarit Leica line of lenses. That is a good thing. It also comes with an all metal front cap that fits over the hood. For $899 (black version) this is a lens any Leica M owner or mirrorless camera owner should seriously consider.
Wide open sharpness
The Nitty Gritty…
Sharpness, Vignette, Distortion Test
I set up my trusty tripod and took a shot of my back wall. Since this is a lens review and I noticed some slight barrel distortion from the lens using it wide open and up close I decided to see just how bad it was.
You can see the distortion here (the post was not bent) – shot at 1.5 and up close. If I stopped the lens down or backed up, this would not be visible.
As you can see below (and you can click them for larger versions) when using the lens wide open at f/1.5 you will get some vignetting and a little bit of barrel distortion. The distortion is only noticeable when up close and shooting wide open or close to it. The corners sharpen up at f/2 and more so at f/2.8. Wide open there is some softness to them.I was up close to the wall so the distortion is at its worst in the 1st shot.
See for yourself. The images below are labeled and range from f/1.5 to f/5.6
See the CA (purple fringing) in the 1st two shots? Well that is not a problem with the lens, it is inherit in ALL fast lenses on Leica digital bodies. The 50 Lux has it, the 35 Lux has it and the Noctilux is the worst offender ever. It happens when shooting wide open fast glass against a harsh transition like the top of this fence. The high contrast from dark to light will do it every time. So this is not a Nokton issue, it would happen with every other fast lens on this camera or the M9. Leica does not correct in body for it like some other cameras do.
Crazy Comparison: Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 vs M 240 and Nokton 50 1.5 ASPH
OK, since I have a Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 Lens here I figured “Why not, could be fun”. Since the Zeiss 32 1.8 is just about a 50mm equivalent and pretty close to the Nokton 50 1.5 I decided to see just how close this Fuji is to slaying the M240 and a lower end 50mm lens. So many Fuji owners tell me their X-Pro and X-E1 give better output than any Leica M and lens, so let us see how it goes.
I call it Crazy for two reasons. 1st: The Leica M and 50 Nokton is an $8000 set. The Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss is about an $1800 set. A difference of $6200. The Leica should win easily and by a large margin for that kind of cash, but we know it is not a $6200 difference. Those of us who shoot Leica do it for more than the IQ that it brings. We shoot it for the RF experience as well as shooting with a finely crafted tool. With that said, the Leica M is indeed more enjoyable to use and shoot, that is not even a question for me. But lets see the images! Remember, just for fun guys and girls :)
Set #1: The Leica M 240 with 50 at 1.5 vs the Fuji and Zeiss Touit at 1.8 – click them for larger and 100% crop
EEK! To me this one is no contest. The Leica wins EASILY. The Leica/Nokton image is much more pleasing, the Bokeh more pleasing and the color more pleasing. It looks like a Leica image. The rendering, the pop, the detail. The Fuji looks like a Fuji shot. An APS-C sensor shot and the Bokeh from that Touit is quite nervous IMO.
Set #2 – Same as above, Both wide open
Ok, color differences extreme here. Also, you can see the vignette of the Nokton here. If you click on the images to see the real versions you will see teh silky smoothess of the Leica shot vs the sort of harsh rendering of the Fuji. BUT! The Fuji has no vignette, and has the accurate color. The Leica shot is more pleasing to my eye and has that glow. Fuji wins on the technical side but Leica on the pleasing side.
Set #3 – B&W Portrait – wide open at 1.5
Both cameras and lenses do great here. When you click on them and look at the real photos you will see the Leica signture. Smooth, some glow, big bad bokeh which shows the difference between APS-C and full frame. With APS-C we have to use shorter focal lengths for an “equivilant” of 50 which leads to MORE Depth of Field. You can see this in the shot above. Some parts of me prefer the rendering and the B&W conversion from the Leica, and others prefer the Fuji here. If you like the APS-C look, you will prefer the Fuji look. Both are nice.
This one is much closer but when clicking the images and looking at them in their larger size it is easy to pick the Leica/Nokton shot. It is just more pleasing to the eye..more “wow”. Not that this is a “wow” shot but it shows what a good lens can do to a scene, just as the shots above have shown. For me, another win for Leica/Nokton. Remember though, this Leica combo is much more expensive! When you view these larger you will see the flatter looking Fuji file vs the one from the M 240.
Goes to show that the color of the M 240 is just fine :)
This time it is closer. But the Fuji is missing the glow and magic of the Leica shot above it, and this is using the ‘cheaper” Voigtlander lens. The M shot has more life, a more 3 dimensional feel and again, less DOF.The Fuji file is flat here.
So to me, this is no contest at all. Shooting both cameras side by side with a 50 on the Leica and a 50 Equiv on the Fuji was fun but the Leica was MUCH more enjoyable to use as it just has a way of inspiring you to shoot. It has a feel, a heft, a sound as well as a way that draws you into it. The Voigtlander 50 Nokton ASPH makes for a fine companion, even as a one lens kit. This little gem will be glued to my M for a while.
Full size sample
Below is a full size sample from the 50 at f/4 – just click it for full size download. Focus was on the boys face.
I recommend this lens easily.
WHERE TO BUY!?!?
My Bottom Line Conclusion on the 50 1.5 Nokton VM
When I 1st opened the box of this lens I smiled. When I saw that old school chrome on brass build I was very happy as I am a huge fan of classic glass as I feel you do not need to spend a fortune to have a lens that takes great photos. I think that sometimes we get caught up in buying the latest and greatest and I have been just as guilty of that as the next guy but in my older age (43) I feel that I am starting to see the pleasure of shooting a lens like this Voigtlander with my Leica M.
If I can not take a good picture with this lens, I can not take one with any other 50mm. Period. A Summilux or Noctilux will not make me an instant artist or make me see with magical eyes, but they will put their Leica mojo onto the images with their unique rendering or “draw”, which is exactly what this Voigtander Nokton will do as well, just in its own flavor that some will love and some will not.
With this Nokton classic you will get a smooth rendering about on par with the old Leica 50 Summilux Pre ASPH and in reality, it is just as sharp as the Lux ASPH wide open at the focus point. Smooth, sharp – yet not clinical, some classical looking Bokeh and medium contrast. The corners are soft at 1.5 and there is some slight barrel distortion if shooting wide open up close. By f/2 this lens gets really sharp and by 2.8 it is as sharp as you could ever need.
The lens provides good color reproduction though it is different from Leica and Zeiss. It has its own “Voigtlander Style”. There will be some CA in high contrast situations when used wide open, but that goes for any Leica fast lens as well..Lux, Noctilux, etc.
At $899 for the black version, it is a steal of a deal. It is a small, compact 49mm filter thread FAST 50mm that is a great performer. Amazing images can be made with this lens, and while it does not offer the biting “perfection across the frame” of the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH, it is over $3000 less expensive, which is quite amazing. If I were buying this lens though, and I did, I’d go with the Chrome Limited edition and it will go up in value so no need to worry about another lens in your collection to lose money on one day. Keep it for a few years and it will be an in demand item.
As for the Nokton vs the Zeiss Planar or Sonnar, two fast 50′s in the same price range, they offer totally different renderings as well as a different BUILD. The Voigtlander is built MUCH better than the Zeiss ZM line, at least the Chrome version is. Makes the ZM Planar feel like a toy and the Planar has had issues with the focus barrel loosening over time. Still, the Zeiss Planar is a super lens and comes in at $850 or so. The Sonnar is $1100 and has focus shift issues and a 1m min focus distance, but has a gorgeous rendering when you nail it. I would say the best bang for the buck would be the 50 Zeiss Planar ZM if an f/2 lens is good enough for what you need. If you want a more classic look with a tad faster performance and much nicer build and feel, the Nokton rocks it.
Am I disappointed in the Vignetting and distortion when used wide open? Slightly, but if the lens did not have these things it would be 99% of the 50 Lux ASPH. That would just be too good to be true :) You have to decide if these things are worth $3000 to you. If so, then spring $4000 for the Lux APSH and call it a day.
I love the Nokton 1.5 and I also ADORE my M 240. I still stick with my initial verdict, it is the best digital M to date, hands down no contest and while in a perfect world the M 240 would have a 50 Summilux ASPH glued on to it, the Nokton is a nice workable alternative at 1/4 the price.
I will leave you with a few more shots from this gorgeous little lens! Enjoy!
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