The Voigtlander 50 1.1 Lens for Leica M – Don’t rule it out! By Jason Howe

The Voigtlander 50 1.1 Lens for Leica M – Don’t rule it out! By Jason Howe

It’s fair to say I have a “thing” for 50mm lenses…….when I recently landed an “Access all Areas” photographic opportunity at a horse racing event I found myself having to rely on the 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.1 as my main 50mm lens. This was primarily because I had sold my 50 Summarit and the 50 Summilux was still another week away from being delivered. Let me say at this point that whilst I’ve always been happy with the Voigtlander Nokton f/1.1 I’ve never fallen in love with it. So I had already made the decision to part with it once the 50 Lux arrived. To that end I knew this would probably be the last time I shot with it.
I have attached some images from the day, all taken with the Nokton f/1.1.  The lens performed so much better than I had hoped, indeed it outperformed anything I’d shot with it previously and I have to say it has made me stop and think, surely there is still a place for this lens in my kit? Especially given the cost of the lens and its resale value. I used this lens for the majority of the day, only occasionally switching to my 35 Cron f/2 Asph and 75 VC Heliar f/1.8.
All these images are shot on the Leica M9 with 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.1 either wide open or at f/1.4
 
I have mentioned before on HERE that I tried to follow a sensible route when purchasing my lenses, to quite literally start at the bottom and work up. I have tried the Voigtlander’s and even though I have ultimately gone on to purchase Leica glass I can say in all honesty that the 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.1 is an excellent lens that deserves a fair chance, one I almost didn’t give it.
There’s much talk at the moment about fast 50’s, especially as the SLR Magic Hyperprime 50mm T0.95 will soon be readily available, I should add at this point that despite what I have seen recently from the CV Nokton f/1.1 I will still be getting the SLR Magic Hyperprime 50mm T0.95, it’s clearly very special and hopefully it will suit my shooting style.
Thanks and all the best, Jason
More of my images from this event and my photography in general can be seen on my website HERE.

46 Comments

  1. I think part of the problem people perceive about the brokeh is definitely the photographer and not the lens. One of the main tenants I stand by is to remove as much detail from a background as possible. No out of focus area is going to look good with a collection of randomness sitting behind the subject. Sparse foliage (I.E. urban areas) is one of the worst offenders but also cars, signs etc take away from the cohesiveness no matter what the lens. Expecting the gear to fix every image by gausing over everything you don’t like about a scene isn’t the right way to go about it. The shots I’ve seen here and the review on Luminous Lanscape prove that point.

  2. I don’t understand why some people are disparaging about this lens. True it is not a Noctilux but then again its one tenth of the price. And most of this lack of Noctilux character manifests in a more harsh bokeh than the Leica lens. It is true that the bokeh can sometimes be a little “caffienated” as some have called it. But not always. Apart from that its a very nice lens that is sharp wide open and which is great fun to use. Kai of Digital Rev TV fame (youtube) was critical of it in a review of the lens but I always through that reveiw was unfair as he was clearly comparing it to a Noctilux and said so. I agree with the author of this post. Do not write this lens off.

  3. Hi Jason, thanks for this nice Nokton test! (Sorry for any mistranslation in my reply) I read, at this moment, everything nailed down the Nokton. I’m about to buy one. There has been much criticism about focus shift of the Nokton. Sharp pictures may look like a miracle, by some testers 🙂 Specially between 2.0- 8.0 ?.This hold me at the moment from buying the lens. What are your experiences with this? I am a M8 owner with some different glass as the summicron-C (love it) Zeiss 25 mm (love it to :))) Heliar 75- love it :)) etc.
    Sincerely
    Rudy from Netherlands

    • Hi Rudy, your lucky to get a reply, I just saw this post while searching for something else and decided to take a look!! I would say trust your instincts, all my VC lenses are superb, sure they are not Leica but you only know the difference if you have had both!! The VC 50/1.1 is excellent quality, value and performance.

      There are more images taken with this lens on my blog, they also look sharper on there.

      Cheers

      Jason

  4. Thanks for this article!
    I own the Nokton 50/1.1 for several months now, but always thought is is too heavy for every day usage. I tried to replace it with a pre-ASPH Summilux but the Nokton outperformed the Summilux easily in contrast and sharpness. Only my current Summilux ASPH can outperform the Nokton at overall sharpness (especially when looking at the edges).
    I think I will keep the Nokton beside the Summilux ASPH. I love the special look and the f-stop 1.1.

  5. I like this post and these photos and agree with you about this lens. Used for this type of people photography it works very well. I think you shouldn’t sell it at all given that you are obviously very capable at getting the most out of it.It seems to me that one of the main advantages of these fast lenses is to isolate individuals from groups of people. Content is so much more important than optical quality that any improvement in the noctilux over this lens is largely negated. If the content is great either lens will produce a good image. Voigtlander have produced a range of great lenses for the M camera and should be commended for producing well made products at affordable, sensible prices.

  6. Hi guys,

    obviously this lens costs 1 100 $ US. For this money you can buy a real good camera (for ex a DSLR -Nikon 5 100) plus a very good lens (zoom? -for ex 18-105 mm).

    With this kit you can shoot real good photos in good light (for ex better than No.3 -jockey sitting on the floor) but kids running around in the night as well.

    This budget is now (prices for the 5 100 are falling) even enough to buy an additional super cool toy lens
    if you really want to mess up focus and color.

    As you now have a camera with 2 lenses (you still need a body for the Voigtlander, otherwise no photo!) you can take a few days off, travel somehwere and shoot hundreds of good photos.

    Life is great as it always offers alternatives.

    Best regards
    Heiner

    • Sure. And you can take good photos with a compact, so why bother with the DSLR at all. And you can take great pictures with a phone camera. You don’t even need a compact. So what?

      The Nocton is the cheapest ultra fast lens available. It’s faster than anything made by Canon Nikon Sony etc. you may not be able to appreciate its unique qualities, but many can.

      Gordon

      • Hi Gordon,

        that’s exactly right, I do not appreciate the qualities of expensive super fast lenses.

        For ex the pohtos on this thread are ok but not an inspiration for me. Probably the best photographer for me (as far as I know) is http://blog.mingthein.com/.

        Maybe I am wrong but if you shoot with a entry level DSLR and are good on the computer you can create these photos here in PP. I like the photos I shoot with my walk around camera Lumix FZ 28 more (has a Elmarit zoom – although the whole camera costs a fraction of the cheapest Leica lens it has a difficult to desribe character)

        I know that this hobby is boring for many people because the gear is so good nowadays that even if every 1.5 years a new super camera comes out you don’t need to buy them for IQ. Ming Thein posts frequently ” new photos by an old friend” using acient cameras that are 5 years old.

        I went through this phase of gear addiction for several months, then laid back and noticed that it is all about photos! A simple truth mostly hidden as we all talk about gear.

        Last year I bought all this magazines testing all fancy new cameras, there are dozens on the market. Now I mostly go to the mall and come home without any new mag because they are not about photos!

        I subscribed to several for example Leica’s LFI and B&W etc.

        30 years ago I played guitar, bought some fancy ones, but in the end I never became even an average player!
        Some punk friends played on 100 $ guitar, I should have donated my Les Paul to them!

        I am vey critical (maybe sometime people think I am cynical), her on Steve’s side erything is “great” etc….

        So for what we need fast lenses for high prices? Todays camera’s and software and high ISO etc. provides good quality at low light. I guess that my Nikon with my beloved zoom lense (haha) is a least not inferior to a M 9 with a super duper 0.95 or 1.4 f lense.

        Also I am not a fan of this small part of the image being sharp and the rest ist blurred, I call this “Death of Field”.

        BTW I like Ken Rockwell, more his attitude than his photos.

        As I have been living in Thailand for 17 years maybe “light” does not mean anything important for me (I have to dial down exposure all the time). Before I buy some expensive gear I would like to book a flight to Paris, London or Rome (maybe Leica Venice) as I haven’t been to Europe for 13 years ( I used to be German)

        Keep on shooting.

        Best regards
        Heiner

        • I’d have to utterly dissagree with you on that one, but hey, to each his own. There’s no way you’re going to manipulate a crop frame dslr with kit lens image into something that looks like it was taken with an m9 and a noctilux….haha

  7. A big thank you for all the positive comments and kind words, its really appreciated.

    I’m pleased the attention of the post was on the 50mm Nokton f/1.1, it is great value for money.

    This post was submitted some time ago, so I’m also pleased it did not get sidetracked by my final comment relating to the SLR Magic Hyperprime, which I did indeed go on to purchase. I’m not going to elaborate on that lens here but if anyone is interested in my experience with it you can email me directly, email is on my website.

    Thanks again.

    Jason

  8. Great work Jason, it shows that the man behind the camera plays a much bigger role towards the result rather than the lens that attaches to it.

  9. Stunning set of images and I love them all equally.
    Incredible image quality with beautiful bokeh.
    Brilliant post- thanks.

    • Thanks J.V.

      Can you take my word for it that the .jpg’s I converted and sent in for this post look considerably sharper than these images, I had started to compare them this morning before reading your comment, I’m not sure why though…..cheers

  10. The fact that these modern day manual focus lenses are nice is not a surprise to me. In fact, even the old third party legacy lenses are nice. the biggest issue i have is the fact that manual focusing with these lenses on CSC cameras is a pain. And I know, Iv’e done enough manual focusing to potentially give me cataracts later on in life.The lens makers today have to understand that Af cameras are for AF lenses. When you focus on an EVF and with a wide aperture, if you;re doing work on the street , there’s a good chance your going to miss focus. i used to love the legacy lens ideal, not anymore. I wouldn’t go near a manual focus lens ven if it was the best in the world, not for AF cameras that is. The Leica M9 i can understand as that is a manual focus camera, not for any of the CSC’s though.The pain of missing photos outweighs the performance for me that is.

  11. Nice seeing these shots again Jason, love them!

    The Nokton 50mm f/1.1 has taken a lot of stick in some quarters but yet again a good photographer like yourself comes along and frankly disproves all that guff, it’s how you you use it almost every time. Why even consider spending $4000.00 (the price of a used car) on just one single lens when in the UK the Nokton can be had for under £700 used? Won’t get one myself though, still using & loving my Nokton 50mm f/1.5 on both digital & film to even think about getting rid and that only cost me £250 used! 😀

  12. When I first saw these pics a couple of months ago I was entranced. Dreamlike. Thanks again for sharing and accepting me as a friend on FB

  13. Oh hey Jason,
    Great Article…Stellar shots !!

    Mind You I have Loved them All since I saw them on RFF & Flickr
    You did the Nokton a Great Justice…Applauds !
    Best- H

  14. Really nice work man

    Well I’ve had one sitting for about 6 months when it hits focus it really is a nice lens
    I’m really starting to wonder if it’s the Leica m9 compatibility even with Leica lenses
    I had a friend just buy a brand new m9p and 35 lux FLE it didn’t focus properly wtf
    14000 and he had to send it in I guess what I’m trying to say here is if your lens is
    matched well to your m9 you will get good results and that’s so annoying for the
    price of Leica equipment sorry for the rambling but I’m starting to get annoyed by
    Leica obviously

    • Thanks Summo Lux, I think there is plenty of evidence to suggest this happens perhaps a little more often than it should. I have started to try my purchases, not always possible with Leica glass though…cheers

    • Thanks Peter, I was in Auckland yesterday and managed to get my hands on the Nokton 40mm f/1.4. A purchase inspired by your use of the lens….Cheers

  15. I had that lens for a while when I owned an M5 (Leica), I enjoyed the extra shallow DOF as well. The OFF areas are very nice, not quite as smooth on gradation from sharp to OOF as the Leica Noct., But very good, and very close. For an under $1000 50mm f/1.1, it is a great deal., Throw it in a M4/3 and you have 100mm f/1.1 FOV, although, you loose a little DOF, (DOF of f/2 at f/1.1) but, still plenty a good separation if you know what your doing.

  16. like your work. i had the 50mm nokton but found that i didn’t use it after i bought it and recently sold the 50mm nokton. however, i’d make a pitch for the 35mm 1.2 nokton v2. i find the 35mm nokton stays on my m9 the majority of the time. if you get the chance, try the 35 nokton out.

  17. Very nice work indeed and I like yourself had a Nokton for several months and in retrospect should have given it a better chance.
    Ross

  18. Great post and soo true, perhaps there are some bad examples out there; but I can personally vouch from my 1.1 the Nokton is a legend.

  19. Beautiful work! I really like the Nokton 35mm 1.2 as well, contantly impressed with the results it gives.

    • Thanks Jeremy, thats good to hear, I have had the Nokton 35mm f/1.2 on my radar for a quite a while, we’ll have to see what the future brings.

  20. Hey Jason. Really, this lens does exactly what I’m looking for. This is the nicest way that I ever saw somebody use this lens. (I also visited your site.) It’s like it’s ment to be used for pics like this. Clearly it’s a lot better than I have been thinking. After seeing pictures with the SLR Magic, I was seriously thinking of spending some 4K on it, but really, that atmosphere in your shots is simple incredible. This lens surely is good enough for me! I also love the colors a lot! I’m gonna buy it!
    Thank you so much for this post.

  21. I really like your shots with this lens. Back when I was really interested in the Nokton 1.1 it was severely panned in various reviews for having this and that wrong with it.

    Knowing that I was not going to spend thousands on a Noctilux, I pretty much set aside my desire for a fast 50mm lens. But Jason, I do admire the work you have done with the Nokton.

  22. Wonderful images! Reall beautiful, brilliant colour.

    I had the Nokton for a while, on an M5, found it frustrating, sold the lot. My fault.

    Your images have shown me how a 50mm can provide brilliant images. Have to think again about my forthcoming trip to Ukraine…

    Thanks for this post!

  23. I love the colour photograph of the old guy in the blue jacket and hat. It looks like a scene from a film.

    • That is a great shot of of the gentlemen in hats and jackets. I think your lens is a lot better and faster than you think. It seems to have gone and broken the time barrier and thrown us into the past, late 50’s early 60’s. When I look at that foto, I think of my father’s generation (and I am 60 years old). I love it!!!

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