USER REPORT: The 35mm Voigtländer Nokton f/1.2 ASPH II meets the Leica M8. By Elie Bescont

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USER REPORT: The 35mm Voigtländer Nokton f/1.2 ASPH II meets the Leica M8.

By Elie Bescont

Hi Steve,

Opening this review section was a really good idea. I discovered very talented people here lately, like Neil Buchan-Grant who stroke me with his review about the OM-D E-M5 and E-M1. His portraits are amazing. Brett Price, also, delivered fantastic vintage looking images in his review about the M240. Bravo.

A few months back, I read your review about the 35mm Voigtländer Nokton f/1.2 ASPH II lens. You seemed to like it, and you made me want this piece of glass, because it’s a f/1.2 lens which delivers quite good images for a fraction of the price of the 35 Lux 1.4.

So, it’s done. I got it for around six months now, I shot thousands of pictures with it in France, Australia, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Japan, and I’m ready to share my thoughts about this lens. I decided to buy it after reading a review about it on this website, so I thought I should debrief about it here. Of course, since this is about the 35 Nokton 1.2 ASPH II and since I shoot it on the M8, all pictures of this review were taken with this combo. Here we go.

First remark, it’s quite a big lens for a rangefinder camera:

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Bigger than the 35 Lux 1.4 Yanidel uses:

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And nothing like my tiny 35 Summaron f/3.5 my girlfriend Marie shots on her M2:

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Still, it’s way smaller than a DSLR lens and its size is not a problem at all. I’ve been carrying it with me everyday for around six months and it was never bothering to do so.

Second remark, the finish is not that good. The paint goes away very easily, and ‘lens made in Japan’ quickly became ‘lens made in apan’. I don’t know that country. The ‘1.4’ indication on the aperture ring disappeared after three months of using this lens. But is it that bad? I could just get some white paint and get it fixed quickly, and considering the price of the lens, I prefer it to have a bad finish than a bad image quality or bad ergonomics.

And talking about this… Third remark, this lens feels really good in hands. Focus is smooth and easy, the aperture ring clicks, everything about this lens feels just right. Actually, it feels like having a Leica lens in hands. According to some friends who got the first version, this second one has a way better feeling.

The other important point is image quality. I use it on the M8 without an IR-cut filter and I fix eventual chromatic aberrations on Adobe Lightroom. As you may know, the sensor of this camera doesn’t have any IR-cut filter on it. The M8 sees the infrared spectrum, and this can cause chromatic aberrations. Black synthetic clothes look purple under artificial light, for instance. So, why do I use this camera without any IR-cut filter? As the camera sees infrared, its spectrum is not red + green + blue, but infrared + red + green + blue. As a consequence, the Leica M8 is one of the best digital cameras for black and white photography, because infrared adds dynamics in greys that other cameras can’t possibly get. Well, that’s all about the camera, now let’s talk about the lens. Images at f/1.2 are not razor-sharp, but you have to take in account the fact that this is a f/1.2 lens wide open. So, I think they are sharp enough. And you? This is a portrait of a random guy I don’t know, at f/1.2:

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Marie and the cat, big time, at f/1.2:

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A friend, Stan, at f/1.2 and ISO320, 1/45th:

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At f/1.4, it gets sharper. The portraits of Yanidel and Marie with her M2 above were shot at 1.4. Another one at 1.4, a portrait of Didier Bourdon, a famous French humorist:

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Colors are nice, the contrast is good, sharpness is there, the bokeh is quite nice, for around 1/4th of the price of a 35mm Summilux. I’m very happy with it, and even if it’s big for a rangefinder lens, it’s still small. Remember, rangefinder lenses are tiny. So, it’s a pretty good travel lens.

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But let’s get back to the jazzy city of Paris for the last ones:

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And a final bokehlicious picture:

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Here is what you can get with this lens.

Let’s summarize a little bit. Pros and cons:

+ It’s cheap for a 35mm f/1.2 lens.

+ It feels good and looks solid.

+ Good image quality for such a price.

 

– It’s big and quite heavy compared to other RF lenses.

– The finish is pretty bad, even if the lens looks good.

 

That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed this review, and if you got this lens, I hope you agree with me on this. If you liked the pictures, you can follow me:

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DigitalFragrancePhotography

On Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

On Tumblr: http://digital–fragrance.tumblr.com/

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElieBescont

Or in the streets, but don’t scare the shit out of me.

Farewell and all the best,

Elie

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43 thoughts on “USER REPORT: The 35mm Voigtländer Nokton f/1.2 ASPH II meets the Leica M8. By Elie Bescont

  1. Elie,
    I’ve been considering this lens for a while, ever since I saw the first version on a past M8 and saw the glowing reviews on the new version, and considering that I have an M8.2, seeing something like this was inspiration. I love your photographs, and a fast lens has always been a dream of mine, and now I feel ready to pull the trigger.
    Thanks for everything you do 🙂

  2. Hi Elie,

    I purchased my M8 last year, because of one of your posts, to use exclusively for B&W. As might be expected the RF was out of sorts. I had Leica NJ calibrate the RF and two of my lenses: 35 FLE, 90 ELM. The result: outstanding!

    As it turned out I am keepinig more color photos than I am converting! I am not sure that there is any one reason that I love the color files from this camera so much. I certainly did not expect to- esp. considering other cameras I owned. Post process is primarily done with VSCO Film and LR5.

    Interrestingly enough, because of this camera I have divested of a rather complete m4/3 set up, my Sig SD15 and, believe it or not, my M9. All were great cameras but there has been a distillation process. It was completely unexpected, but the color files from this M8 have me head-over-heals. Coupled with the mechanical rangefinder experience, the allure is exclusive.

    So bottom line- thanks for posting here. You are indirectly responsible for me finding my groove.

    1. Hi,

      I’m glad to read that 🙂
      Yes, color photos from the M8 look awesome. You have to fix the magenta issues if you shoot without IR-Cut filter but when it’s done, the pictures look gorgeous.

      All the best,
      Elie

  3. Nice review, indeed, and nice pictures.

    I would like to point out that Leica lenses are not so well “finished” at present. My not very old 1,4/35 FLE is already loosing some “black paint” for a hell of a price, as does also my WATE and some others when compared to pre-digital lenses I am keeping for film photography.
    By the ways, the lens it self is not perfect if one comes to scrutinize it : vignetting, non uniform focusing at some apertures, not to be mistaken for focus shift, and so and so. However, it is still a very good lens but not flawless.
    So, be careful when buying a lens and do not think that the most expensive is the best one !!!

  4. Happy to see people traveling and experiencing the world.

    I purchased this lens in Hong Kong which has a longer standard CV warranty than offered in the UK and here in the US. I’ve taken the lens around the world five or six times and had no Finnish issues whatsoever. Sweaty fingers in Thailand, the heat and sand of UAE, Vietnam, Australia. It still looks new despite thousands of shots taken. I did find a spot of something on an inner element at one point which was serviced under warranty at a CV representative shop in Hong Kong. No questions and no problems.

    Last year I purchased an additional 35mm lens. The SLR Magic 35 T0.95. It’s a beast but wonderful to use and produces lovely results.

  5. Hi Elie..

    I agree most on you. I had the 35 N f1.2 II some time on my M9.
    For me compared to the Summilux 35 at 1/4th of the price it’s a no brainer.
    This product of mr Kabayashi (Cosina) is simply outstanding, both from a Mechanical and Optical standpoint.

    But ‘The Leica Man’ just will pay in most of the times the 4000+ euro’s for the Summilux to meet his 6500+ euros M 240. Which is the reality.
    I did continue the 35 Nokton because I just like 28mm more.
    But sometime I look back at the Voigt 35mm shots at f1.2….fabulous !

    You made some nice shots here !

  6. Could you give us some details or photo`s of the `bad` finish. I`m surprised by this. It seems to be due to the heavy use? Would Leica lens stand up better? Is it the paint? I`d contact Cosina, and get their opinion…they`d be happy to hear from you, or get your feedback anyway

    1. Hi Peter,

      Yes, it’s just the paint. I have an old Leitz lens from 1955 and all the inscriptions are still here. It’s no big deal though, it can be easily fixed with some white paint.

    2. I’m very surprised, too. I have a CV 28/1.9 Ultron and it has an excellent finish and build quality. Having once dropped it onto bitumen from waist height without it suffering in the slightest I can attest to its great engineering as well.

  7. The author seems confused, the M8 does indeed have an IR filter, it’s just thin (therefore weak). Also, the weak IR filter does not cause chromatic aberrations, it merely allows IR pollution of color photos for the “Black synthetic clothes look purple under artificial light” effect that he describes (this effect also happens in direct sunlight, btw).
    A Chromatic aberration is when a lens is unable to focus all wavelengths of color to same convergence point and is often called “color fringing”. This has nothing to do with IR filters and is strictly a lens distortion artifact.
    Clarifications aside, great article and wonderful photos! The rendering reminds of the VC Nokton 50mm f/1.1, which I don’t love but many do.

  8. Hello Elie,

    Great shots! I recently purchased the new Nokton f/1.2 as well, to try with my A7r, but was ultimately disappointed with its performance. It was extremely soft wide open, so much so that I returned the lens and got another copy….but no,that’s just how it is. Like you say, sharpness increased as it is stopped down to f/1.4 and f/2.0, but I bought the lens to use wide open and I couldn’t. My expectations were set very high from using the Nokton 50mm f/1.5, which I find very sharp wide open and a beautiful lens to use on the A7r. I have returned the f/1.2.

    1. Actually it is very sharp wide open when you nail focus..but only at the focus point as the rest of the image will be soft from the shallow DOF but it is just as sharp as a 35 Lux on a Leica or the A7/A7r. You either mis-focused, had a dud lens or something else was going on. Focusing the lens on an EVF camera wide open is not that simple. Here is a shot at 1.2 wide open and this is as sharp as you can get (again, at the focus point)

      http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/DSC00129.jpg

  9. Yes, still smaller than, the usual spiel. Anyway, seen just slightly apart from your obvious (and still catchy) Leica enthusiasm, these are great and imaginative images! I loved looking at them.

  10. Nice shots, I enjoyed the series! I’m glad that you posted this as I have been wondering about this lens. Although I like your photos for me personally I like a lens that is a little sharper wide open than what you have here. Your last shot is probably the sharpest of the bunch (as far as pics with shallow DOF), but the rest wide open all look a little soft. Personally I like the ‘pop’ you get from a sharp lens wide open with a smooth bokeh and nice transitions.

  11. Nice!! shots but for me the bokeh is way too busy.. Removes the”pop” from the subject rather than isolates it. Matter of taste for sure but I definitely prefer a creamier out of focus rendering. The third from last shot is a good example of how my eyes can’t relax looking at the image… Almost painful.

    1. I agree about the girl in the tan coat — that’s the most distracting bokeh of the lot.

      On the other hand, I happen to enjoy the bokeh very much in many of the shots. In the colour shot of the musicians, the bokeh is not far behind my favourite blur-meister, the Lux 50 ASPH! (IMHO, of course.) I also like the women and kids of African descent, that’s creamy enough for me.

      Just another individual’s opinion.

  12. Whenever a Leica user says “This wide-aperture lens isn’t razor-sharp wide-open,” the first thing I want to ask is, “Well, is your rangefinder coupling accurately? Are you sure? HOW are you sure?” (“Because it’s fine with my other lenses” isn’t really an answer.)

    Inaccurate RF coupling shows up worst with wide-aperture lenses, is more likely to be blamed on the lens, and is a problem Leica has never really completely solved. (Contax and Nikon solved it, but at the expense of less-convenient lens changing.) I have the first version of the Voigtlander 35/1.2 and have learned it’s very demanding of accurate focus. Looking at Elie’s beautiful but slightly hazy photos, I can’t help wondering if his RF is wandering a bit…

    1. Again, I have done extensive side by sides with the Voigtlander 35 1.2 and Leica 35 lux. The Voigt is just as sharp as the Leica at 1.4 and at 1.2 is sharp as well. The lens is gorgeous and when it is not sharp then the RF is off, as I have seen that a million times. But do not blame the lens if it is soft on a Leica because it is 100% the RF on the body (and they go out/off on a regular basis yet most never realize it).

  13. Elie,

    I always enjoy your photos! (Last year I was very enchanted by the look of your Summaron shots.)

    I adore the tone and contrast of your b&w shots. Beautiful and satisfying separation of the lights and darks. :^)

    Can you tell me please:
    What is the source of the grain pattern in the first photo (kissing couple)?
    Is that from some PP filter or Lightroom? Or is that what came out of the M8? (It can’t be…)

    J’aimerais bien voir ici davantage de vos noir et blancs chez Steve H!

  14. Fantastic! Thanks Elie for the pictures. I also have an M8 and I also thought about buying this lens after I read the review by Steve. I think you made me go for it….

  15. I’m not particularly interested in bokeh for its own sake, no manufacturer will sell me a lens based specifically on how good its bokeh is. With the older Leica designs one simply got this as par for the course along with a certain quality of image reproduction that simply looked natural.

    But how this lens has handled the out of focus neon signs of the Moulin Rouge is very appealing. Now if night shots with lots of electrical lighting within the frame were my game, I don’t think I could go wrong with this lens.

    Altogether, a nice series of images. The little rowing boat on a clear blue sea I find particularly appealing as it doesn’t look as if it is in the sea. Magic.

      1. Well I’ve the 35/1.4 on my M8 and it’s great. I’ve the Ultra 21/1.8 as well. For portrait I use the Heliar 75/1.8.
        All great glass from Voigtländer.
        Your pics are great!

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