Taming the Nokton 50 1.1 By Manikarnika Kanjilal

Neko Case

Taming the Nokton 50 1.1

By Manikarnika Kanjilal

My name is Manikarnika Kanjilal. I am a doctoral student and I devote my almost my entire (lately dwindling) free time in pursuit of photography. I was always interested in photography but started being seriously into it for the last couple of years – after I found a Digilux 2 on ebay. It was Steve and Thorsten Overgaard’s reviews that made me acquire the camera and thus start exploring my photographic vision. This post is however not meant to wax poetic about that cult camera but on another “controversial” lens about which the photographic community seems to be divided.

Last summer I acquired a second-hand Nokton 50 1.1 in a moment of insanity and went on to use it in a one-lens-one camera challenge to myself. What was even more insane was that I did this while covering a four-day music festival in my city.

Edmonton Folk Music Festival is quite the religious experience for a huge number of music lovers in this town. People queue up at the gates for a chance to place their tarp as close to the main stage since 3 am or some ghastly time like that. The main stage is at the bottom of a hill and people sit on the hill as a natural amphitheater. For four days tarps and their placements become an extension of the private space and ego for many of the audience members. For someone like me that attends the festival alone and spends most of it standing or walking or crouching to not get in the way of other photographers, tarp politics is fascinating. There are six side stages that hold simultaneous workshops during the day and the main stage performance starts at around 7 in the evening when audience from all these side stages come back to their tarps and settle down for the evening like homing pigeons.

My motivation for choosing a Leica film body and the Nokton f1.1 came from the fact that carrying a backpack full of stuff up and down a hill very soon starts to feel like I am carrying a backpack full of sins from all my past lives. In short, I wanted to travel light and be able to capture decent photos on stage after dark. I did carry my Digilux 2 as a backup but I liked the images from the film set-up way more. It was at times disconcerting because I had no immediate feedback like that in digital. I was being extremely cautious with achieving focus as well as not shooting too much and wasting film. It was quite the lesson in constrained optimization. I had a couple of rolls of Portra 400 in my pocket along with a 4-stop ND filter for when the sun was too strong. This was pretty much it. I ended up using a total of 4 rolls of Portra over four days. I shot everything either wide open or at f1.4. A huge advantage of working with such a constrained/minimalist set up is that this year I had a lot of time to enjoy the music instead of being glued to the camera viewfinder. Often I pre-focused and waited for the musicians to hit the spot instead of trying to track them in their movement. The other advantage of shooting a film rangefinder is that the photographer doesn’t hide behind the camera. With a little practice one shoots with both eyes open and it does wonders when actually connecting with the subject – be it musicians on stage or people on the street.

I ended my nokton-festival challenge with the portrait of a very young music-lover and her mom holding the Forever Folkfest candles in the dark. Nokton 50/1.1 is a beast that needs to be tamed. Using it on a film rangefinder feels almost like writing with a brush pen blindfolded and the challenge could be a source of constant excitement for any photographer.



Website: http://kanjilalmanikarnika.com/

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chhayanat/

Havana d'Primera

Avett Brothers

Portrait by the candlelight

Neko Case

Neko Case

John Butler Trio

John Butler Trio

John Butler Trio

Forever, Folkfest

Fatoumata Diawara


Delhi to Dublin

Delhi to Dublin

Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones with Vioux Farka Toure and Amos Garrett

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  1. Neko Case! Also, very nice. I especially like the daylight crowd scenes with the narrow DOF which have something of a view camera tilt/shift feel. I will have to get a ND for my Sonnar 50 f1.5.

    Regarding the cost of film, you might consider playing around with the Fuji Superia films, which are quite cheap – $10US for 4 25 exposure rolls on Amazon. More of a Martin Paar/Pop Art palette than Portra, but that works too.

    C41 development is usually cheap too, especially if you can find one of the remaining one-hour mini-labs and do develop only.

    I agree, there’s nothing like the real viewfinder experience with both eyes open – you’re actually in the world you’re photographing. There’s some wonderful You Tube footage of Joel Meyerowitz street shooting in NY – quite amazingly fluid.

      • I was unclear – the Fuji is color C41 – there are a number of speeds including an acceptable 800 (known as “press film” in some markets). But the colors are less saturated than the Portra. They have a “professional” 400 – 400H (name from memory) you might like, but’s twice the price of the Superia – same as the Kodak. \

        • I will love to try them all. Someone gifted me a roll of Provia 100F which I am waiting to try. It’s funny how using film has slowed me down in general even when I use digital.

  2. Hey!

    Gorgeous stuff! And from my city, nonetheless!

    Congrats on a great post. We should have an Edmonton meet-up some time…

    All the best,

  3. You did very well in taming the Nokton. Images look very good even though the scan wasnt the best. focus is good, depth of field was adapted well and colors (under difficult conditions) are nice. it seems the Nokton is quite a nice lens for film. On a digital body one get get dissapointed if you look for perfection. With your analog camera this is a great combination. Thanks for sharing your article with us.

  4. Nice shots, well captured! I have tried the 50/1.1 a couple of times, but I think it wasn’t as good as the 35/1.2 Which film body did you use by the way?

  5. Impressive shots, I know what you mean – more like getting a lens under control. I use the 50/1.1 Nokton and 35/1.2 Nokton on the M9 and M Monochrom, placed one layer of copper tape to fine-tune the focus for the Digital cameras. also leave a “Hot Mirror” filter in place, left over from Kodak DCS days. The Noktons are bargains, and under-rated. I have a pair of Canon 50/0.95’s in Canon Breech-Lock mount, never felt the need to convert either after getting the Nokton.

    Roger Cicala at lensrentals just did a comparison of the 50/1.1 Nokton and 50/0.95 Noctilux- the Nokton did quite well.

  6. Photos as such are very nice and they have the bit. As far as taming the Nokton, I regretfully may say that I cannot see any taming. The hissing in the blacks and in the contrast areas between lights and dark background, speak for themselves. I assume that the film undergone a low resolution batch scanning, as for such difficult captures a very high quality film scanner and a special technique are required.
    I recommend to select a couple of your favourite photos and get a high quality high resolution scan by a pro lab. Then you will see for yourself if the Nokton was really tamed.
    Inter alia the Nokton may be a very good lens for the price but it is nothing extraordinary for the real purpose it was designed for, which is low light photography.
    It would be better to use it for B&W along with the Delta 3200 orthe Neopan 1600 pushed by 1 stop and developed in Rodinal for better control of the grain.
    Best regards,
    Dimitris V. Georgopoulos
    Photographer at Large
    Athens, Greece

    • Thanks Dimitris, you are right. These photos are all cheap scans and I didn’t have the resources to do high quality scans at the time. I don’t claim to have actually “tamed” the beast. Just was happy to see that some of the photos were presentable. I am still exploring the black and white with this lens but thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Thank you so much for the comments! They are very encouraging. For someone whose first set of real film camera with a monster lens is this, it was a really big challenge for me personally. I am glad you guys liked the photos.

  8. Beautiful set! This is truly concrete proof that, in the right hands, film cameras still produce photos with a distinct look that’s nearly impossible to recreate on digital.

  9. Nicely atmospheric concert photos. Re the Nokton: I finally sold mine last year, simply because I hadn’t been using it very much, but it had never struck me as a “difficult” lens (compared to, say, the Canon 50mm f/0.95, which gets weird very quickly when light sources get into the frame.) It’s true that the Nokton has smoother “bokeh” in front of the focus plane than behind it, but that only annoys portraitists who want blurry backgrounds; it’s actually an advantage for documentary shooters such as myself, who need to blur out objects that might bob up unexpectedly between the camera and the subject. Other than that, what’s the deal about it?

  10. Nice pics, but there is no such thing as “sun too strong” for Portra 400, that thing can handle over exposure so well it’s a wonder why people shoot digital in sunny days 😛 Portra 400 @ 100 looks great

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