Sony A7 and the Nokton 40mm f/1.4 By Andrew Kaiser

Sony A7 and the Nokton 40mm f/1.4

By Andrew Kaiser

I’m going to share a dirty little secret that is hard to admit. My favorite M-mount lens of all time is not made by Leica. It’s not made by Zeiss either. No, it’s not a vintage Canon or Nikon screw mount lens. It’s a lens made by that red headed step child of a manufacturer Voigtlander and it comes in the form of the 40mm Nokton f/1.4.

I purchased this lens along with a Bessa R3A more than a decade ago. To this day I am primarily a film shooter, mostly medium format. However, at the time I wanted something small I could carry around on occasion and the Bessa was an affordable option. I loved that camera and still own it to this day. Even more importantly I loved the lens. The 40mm focal length is as close to the field of view as my actual vision as I’ve ever used. The lens is sharp but not too sharp. The bokeh is smooth but not dreamy. It’s slightly gritty and feels very authentic to me. Best of all, the lens is ultra-fast and yet comes in a very tiny package making it easy to stick in the side pocket of a camera or messenger bag. When paired up against my medium format gear, I need any and all additional equipment to be small and easy to pack away.

These days I rarely shoot with 35mm film. I like the large negative of medium format and when I want something smaller I go with digital. Unfortunately, using the 40mm Nokton wasn’t much of an option in the digital universe without compromise. Digital Leica M cameras don’t have frame lines for 40mm lenses (yes I know I can approximate with 35mm or 50mm, but considering the price of a Leica I want precision). Adapting the lens to an APS-C camera wasn’t much of an option either as the lens becomes closer to 60mm, a focal length that feels very awkward in my creative brain. Even in the world of 35mm film, the 40mm Nokton was a bit of an oddball. To my knowledge, only the Bessa R3 camera line, the Leica CL, and the Minolta CLE had frame lines for a 40mm lens. So sadly, for a few years my 40mm Nokton sat on a shelf untouched and unloved.

All of that changed when Sony released the A7. I am not ashamed to say I bought the A7 with the primary purpose in mind of using my 40mm Nokton in a digital medium at the focal length the lens it was intended to be. That might seem silly considering the Nokton is typically considered more of a budget lens and not the kind of equipment a photographer should obsess over. But hey, to each their own!

The Nokton pairs beautifully with the A7. The overall package is small and compact, and yet I don’t feel like I am holding a toy or compromising on creative control when I use it. After spending a little time setting the camera up to my liking, its operation is completely intuitive. Nearly everything I want is accessible via its own dedicated dial or button on the outside of the camera. Why it took so long for digital camera designers to grasp the importance of this I will never know, but they are certainly getting it right with the A7.

I admit, having the majority of my photographic experience rooted in the film world made me very apprehensive about the EVF on the A7. Thankfully these fears were put to bed after using it for about two days. It takes some getting used to, but as with most things photography related, there are advantages one quickly learns to embrace, and some disadvantages one learns to overlook. I still don’t love the feeling of looking at my subject through a digital screen, but I have learned to appreciate focus peaking and focus assist when using vintage glass as well as being able to gauge depth of field in real-time.

If I have any complaints about the A7 they are relatively minor. The first would be a purely cosmetic one. I very much wish Sony would drop the bright orange color accents on its professional grade cameras. It’s ugly and sticks out painfully against what is an otherwise attractive camera design. The second is more functional. I would have really appreciated if Sony would have made the shutter release button threaded. This is not only nice when one wants to use a cable release, but it also gives photographers the ability to use a soft release. I’ve become completely addicted to soft release adapters in recent years and consider them an essential part of any camera purchase. Luckily I managed to find a mini-soft release that adheres to a flat shutter button via an adhesive method, but I’m still a little annoyed my choices were so limited. Sony got this right with the RX1, I don’t know why they didn’t do the same with the A7 line.

Still, minor nitpicks aside, the A7 paired with a 40mm f/1.4 Nokton has become my go-to travel companion, and a permanent fixture as a back-up camera next to my medium format film gear. Sony has really made something here that I can see myself owning and utilizing for years to come.

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24 Comments

  1. This is the exact lens I have been using on my A7 from the very start. Incidentally I also got mine with my Voigthalnder Bessa R3M ( a camera that I love and use to this day ). As I mostly enjoy Black&White photography I don’t care that much about the colours. But one thing I noticed is that it has a very high amount of barrel distortion and vignetting. I am very curious to know how do you cope with these “features” of the lens?

    Very nice work btw

    Thank you

    • Thank you!

      I don’t get much barrel distortion or vignetting on mine. In fact, the lens I get the most vignetting on with my A7 is a Leica lens!! Goes to show the variation in different copies of the same lens I suppose.

  2. I completely agree with your observations. I bought both the 40 1.4 MC, and the 35mm 1.4 SC for my Leica digital bodies when they first came out. Between unreliable frame lines for the 40mm, and horrible back focus on the 35mm, I couldn’t compose anything properly. Now with the A7s, everything is wonderful, and the camera is completely quiet. I tend to like the old school “glow” of the 35mm a bit more for BW, but the 40mm is a wonderful lens for general photography.

  3. I’ve been considering this lens for quite some time, and I think your article might seal the decision 🙂

  4. Not sold on this one, I’ve got the 35mm F/1.2 VII and the 50mm Nokton f/1.5 and they both ROCK! I love Voigtlander, but this one just doesn’t tick any boxes :S Not being a stick-in-the-mud, just giving my personal opinion 🙂

  5. Nice photos, Andrew. I’m also a Nokton 40 fan – the focal length just seems right; a tight 35. And it’s tiny. And it has less barrel distortion than the Nokton 35 and WAY less than my 35 pre-asph Lux. In regards to the 50mm frame lines it brings up on a Leica M, this is easy to correct. Use a metal fingernail file and file down the flange (directions on the web) so that it brings up the 35mm lines (which fit the lens almost perfectly on an M). It will literally take you 10 minutes.

    Thanks for bringing this fine little lens to the board’s attention. It’s a gem.

  6. Nice pictures, I like the B&W tones in the car. I don’t have the 40mm but have the nokton 1.4/35 and A7 & A7S cameras and I love this lens. 40mm was an option for me too but since I’m a 50mm guy I just tried to force myself to shoot something a bit more.. different.. like 35mm and I really like it.

    • I’m trying to decide between this lens and the Nokton 1.4/35 Luis is using. Luis, how do you focus the 35 on the a7? I read that peak focus doesn’t work with this combo?

  7. Nice work. The way you compose does indeed would seem to suggest that you shoot with camera that ‘makes’ you think before you push the button – courtesy of the medium format I guess 🙂

  8. The B&Ws are really nice. The transition from light to dark tones in the car image is lovely. Of all the recent camera releases, the A7 is the one that keeps tempting me and when I see what it can do when paired with some of these slightly out of the ordinary lenses, it’s call is certainly loud…

  9. wonderful. My dream lens for the e-mount is a native 40mm f/2.0 lens. Unfortunately I don’t see that coming anytime soon (or maybe never).

  10. Nonthing wrong at ALL with Voigtlander glass, really nice pictures. I love the last one especially…always been a fan of images like that!

  11. I’ve been looking at this lens and recently tried a second hand version. Haven’t bought it yet as although it is ‘cheap’ I know Photokina is around the corner and I’m eagerly awaiting Zeiss’s new FE range of manual focus primes.

    I especially like the last photo and want to ask whether you’re using the sc or mc version of the lens?

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