Voigtlander 40 1.4 Review on the Sony A7r by David Farina

Voigtlander 40 1.4 Review on the Sony A7r

By David Farina

Hi everyone, I am David.

I am checking out this site since some time and thought that I would finally write something up myself. First of all, I want to thank Steve for this great site. For enthusiasts and professionals it is really the best way to evaluate new cameras, lenses or even bags and accessories, as everything here is real world testing!

Little Introduction: I am 22 years old and live in Zürich, Switzerland. My INTEREST in photography was always there, but it came over me when I went to Hong Kong, Thailand and China in 2012. I simply was not satisfied with what I got with my old Nikon (mostly because I had no clue). I got myself a Canon 650D, then a 6D, and with the Full Frame my LOVE for photography was born. Gear lust was always a big factor in my development of learning and making pictures as I really enjoy trying out new things and new lenses etc. As I was a bit tired of taking the 6D with 5 lenses with me around the globe, I got myself an A7R and fell in love again. Converting more and more from the Canon lineup to a Mirrorless lineup has a lot of advantages, but that is something I will not cover here. Since moving to Sony I built my setup containing of an A7R, A7S with the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 and the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4 MC. This makes a great travel kit, as well as a very light weight option without too much compromises.

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What I’m going to do here is giving you an idea of how well an adapted M-Mount lens can do on a Sony A7 body. So let’s take a look at the physics of the Voigtländer 40mm 1.4:

This lens is extremely small and light. It weights only 6.2 oz (175 g) and is built nicely with an all metal barrel. Unbelievable for an f/1.4 lens! I find it to be the perfect size for a walkaround lens on my A7’s, and that’s why it is!

But what’s it all about with the unusual 40mm focal length? In my Canon days I was a die hard 50mm fan and the Canon 50L was glued to my 6D when I was traveling. But when I got the Fuji x100s I found 35mm (which is the equivalent of its 23mm lens on full frame) quite handy, as you don’t have to back up that much when space is limited. The 40mm fits in between those two more conventional focal lengths, making it really versatile.

The lens itself features a grippy aperture ring on the front of it, and a focus ring which has a tab to place the finger on it for focusing. The operation of those rings is very smooth and feels well made. The focus turns from close focus to infinity in a bit more than 90 degrees, which is nice because you can focus fast as the travel is short. The aperture ring clicks in half stops.

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Many people asked me how I manage to use a manual lens as my everyday shooting and walkaround lens. The answer is, I don’t! Really, with the Sony A7’s focus peaking help and magnifier feature it feels very easy to nail the shots, even on moving subjects. And this is not coming from someone who’s been shooting manual glass 20 years ago, this is my first manual lens, and I really have fun with that. Off course I missed the one or the other shot, but for each I missed, I gained 3 others because if I still would use my 6D + 50L, I would not have taken it anywhere with me as I do with the A7R/S and this tiny lens. And manual focussing is somehow like when I first used a prime lens – it makes you think what you do! You can’t just snap away a few pics like some do with smartphones, and this influences the quality of the photographs taken. When I would have to measure the amount of images I’ve taken until I felt really confident with manual focusing this lens, I’d say I’ve shot maybe 100 shots until I fully got the hang of it. It really takes not a lot of patience and fiddling, so if you’re having problems deciding whether you need AF or want to benefit from a small and light wide-aperture lens, just take the plunge. I’ve had the same doubt and am now glad I did.

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But I guess what you are all wondering is if this lens is capable to deliver sharp results, right? I was sceptical at first, because of the size and the wide aperture. Since looking out for lenses I learned that quality glass is never cheap, and only very seldom it is small and light. Man, were I wrong! This lens is top notch. It is very sharp in the center, maybe even outresolves the A7R in the center of the frame at wide open aperture. The edges don’t look smeared, but are not very crisp at all. But hey, does it really matter on a lens like this? Obviously you’re not going to shoot landscapes with it, and for uses as a street photography, dreamy portrait or candid lens the center is the most important part of the frame, I’d say. However, stopping down improves the sides greatly. At f/8 we are able to get an overall crisp look. I don’t pixel peep (anymore, lol) and of course the sides and edges won’t be as sharp as the center, but overall the sharpness is highly convincing. Now we have a lens which is small, light, has an all metal body built to high standards, has no operational flaws on the aperture and focus rings and is amazingly sharp! The only trade off is autofocus, but I can live with that!

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So far so well, the lens is great built and sharpness is satisfying. But what about the colors? What about rendering of out-of-focus areas? What about the dimensionality?

Okey, lets start with the colors. On the A7R the lens has very natural, almost uber-natural colors. It renders colors appealing and has a bit of a warm touch. On the A7S I feel like it is not as saturated or clean like on the A7R, but still has a wonderful tone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m talking about minor differences. But where this lens shines on the A7S is when you raise the ISO beyond 6400. This makes it a perfect companion for the A7S in lowlight, and the colors are kept great all up to ISO 51200. Beyond that, it gets really noisy, but what do you expect at that high ISOs.

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When I did research prior to getting this lens, a lot of reviews claimed that this lens had a tad of a nervous bokeh. I see what they meant, but to me this is in no way bad. The background melts away nicely while keeping sharp details on your subject. This lens is able to open up the aperture to f/1.4, which makes the 40mm lens also suitable for portraits. I expected this lens to have a lot less bokeh (quantity) due to the fact that it is actually a wide angle lens. But I find the amount of background softness not that different to my 50L at f/1.2. Highlights in the background can end up a bit nervous, showing some onion-ring bokeh, but only in certain occasions. After using this lens extensively the last 3 months I must admit that I had occasions where the bokeh was not as smooth as with the 50L, but 99% of the time it renders nice, big and round out-of-focus balls.

But what I like the most on that lens, is not how it melts away the background. It’s about how this lens has a certain pop! It is hard to describe, and for that purpose I have selectively chosen a lot of images which demonstrate that pop. What I’m talking about is how the separation from subject and background makes the subject stand out. It has a 3D look to the pictures if you want so. I think this comes down to the fact that this is a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture, but is still resolving incredible sharpness and details on subjects. This is, in my opinion, the most valuable feature of this lens. How often do I look at a nice picture I’ve shot, but think that something’s missing or that it looks rather flat. This lens is the opposite, as it is able to make even uninteresting subjects pop out of the picture, giving you a nice overall look and feel of the image.

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I will not dive down deeper on topics like flare and abberations. But I can tell you that this lens is not bad in both aspects. I have the multicoated version, but flaring occurs from time to time. But it is really not that “ahh that flare looks ugly and lowers the contrast tremendously”. More of a “hey theres a flare, maybe I can use it for artistic purpose?” 🙂
I did not notice any abberations, but like I already said, I’m not anymore a pixel-peeper (excuse the 200% crop on the trumpeter, but I couldn’t resist as this really shows how amazing sharp this lens can be!).

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All in all, this lens is my perfect walkaround lens. Due to its rather unusual focal length it is pretty versatile, has a nice 3D look and melts backgrounds away nicely wide open, but still resolves great when stopping down, all in a very light, very small package. Paired with a Sony A7 body this is in my opinion one of the best combinations for travel, street and everyday photography.

I hope you enjoyed my review and pictures of the A7R/S with the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm 1.4, and wish you good shooting!

You can buy the 40 1.4 at Cameraquest or B&H Photo. 

43 Comments

  1. Awesome review! Do you know why such a big price difference between 35mm and the 40mm lens???

    Just curious.

  2. Nice picture especially the first portrait being most impressive with extraordinary mood.

    Can’t spot major focus problem as it depends. The gentleman’s portrait is with his nose as a focus and the effect is fine.

    Thx for sharing your enjoyment.

  3. Really nice photos. I especially love the marching guys and those browns. I own the VC 35.14 SC, and love it, too, though it goes a bit crazy wide-open in some conditions. We need a little crazy in our lives from time-to-time, IMO.

  4. If I were to have one size lens it would be a 40mm. I almost bought this over my 50mm Sonnar but didn’t like its rendering as well. Your skillful photography makes me question that decision some, but I think it is you rather than the lens.

  5. Nice photos and writing. Well done, David.

    This is a really great lens with a lot of character, including – yes – sometimes nervous bokeh. I own a lot of (too many) lenses and find that this is my everyday go to. It’s a slightly tighter, less distorted, pre-asph 35 summilux with more modern, contrasty coatings (and, yes, I own and love the summilux – my other go-to lens).

    Today, as lenses get larger and larger in the search for sharper corners, I’ll take a tiny, well made lens with character anytime.

  6. A very nice group of well composed colorful shots taken with a handy, compact lens that doesn’t require a second mortgage to buy. Someone might post a few shots with the Leica 40mm Summicron-C or its Rokkor clone. It is a slower lens but had a pretty good reputation back in the day and was fairly inexpensive – often with the camera for under $ 400 – until the great interest in legacy lenses for mirrorless cameras. By the way, regarding the above post, isn’t bokeh supposed to be out of focus?

    • Thank you for your kind words!
      I think he does not like the nervous bokeh there, but actually it doesnt occur that often. I also believe it gets better midframe. The shot with the plates is really an extreme example.

      • I really like the “nervous” bokeh. Since I’m using the beautiful X100T I think a creamy bokeh sometimes looks too much like it has been photoshoped. So I learned to love lenses with character. Considering Voigt 40mm 1.4 vs Voigt 35mm 1.4, not sure yet which to get for my future A7ii.. (;

  7. Sorry to be negative here but to me, your images with CV 40 1.4 just confirmed the really unpleasant out of focus/bokeh. If you look at the 2nd picture where you were taking a photo of the food, on the top left corner, the edge of clothes to wrap the bread looked pretty bad to me 🙁

    Thanks for sharing!

    • I understand what you mean, but this really is an extreme example. I also think the corners perform less good as the center which makes the bokeh more nervous as it usually does. Also take into account that this lens is super small, so it is not a lens which gives you maximum quality, but still amazing detail in a lightweight package.

      • I agree with you completely 🙂 I loved my VC 35 1.4 MC but decided to keep the VC 35 2.5 along side with the new Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 after so many years of hunting good 35s.

      • I was going to say the same like Frank did. First I wanted to come here and say how lovely the images are which I saw on my handset. But now, viewing them on my desktop, I can’t say that anymore, rather than the subject, colors and the mood itself.

        You see the nervous and distracting bokeh rendering in the food images first, but also in the third image with the soldiers marching (the type face, highlights, the out-of-focus front soldier) and on the 4th image with the trumpet man. Actually every image that uses out-of-focus area to create DOF. The structure on the 6th images is completely gone and the 7th images is to noisy to show any details. It’s the ghosting that detracts from the subject.

        You said, you don’t do pixel-peeping. Fine. That’s why we all read this blog. But the image rendering of this lens doesn’t even hold up for a 700px width. Not to mention prints.

        You said, you like the manual focusing and that it’s fast and reliable, even on moving objects. Yet, five of your shown seven images aren’t proper focused.

        Alright, I don’t want to sound rude. Actually, I came here to congratulate you. But than again, you talked about the camera and the lens and how great they are. And I just don’t see it. If you had written that you liked the small package, price and focal length, but out-of-focus rendering sucks, as well as manual focusing could be a task, I’d be fine. But you presented us this as a great lens. And I’d even go so far to say, with a A6000 and the Zeiss Touit 32mm or 24/1.8 Zeiss, you’d get better results, in a smaller, lighter and cheaper package – maybe.

        • First, what do you compare it with? Leica? Zeiss? I mean it should be clear for every photographer with a functioning brain that a lens in that price segment and weight/size cannot be on a level of a Leica lens.

          For your concerns about distracting bokeh, it is present sometimes, sometimes not. I’ve clearly stated that this will happen in certain circumstances. Furthermore, there are people who dont think its a big deal.

          I always stated that this lens is an amazing piece of glass for what it is – extremely small, light and is f/1.4. I never said its perfect in all occassions, nor have i said that it is on a level of a leica.

          Then about your line saying ive not hit focus on 5 out of the 7 pictures. This really made me laugh, as I asked myself, how do you judge that? I can tell you that every picture has the focus where i wanted it to be, except on the one with the skateboard (there was almost no usable light and shutter speed was low plus f/1.4). So how can you say i’ve missed focus when you cant even know where i wanted the focus?

          Food for thoughts.

  8. Great post! Anywhere i can check more pictures you took with this lens? I’m highly considering it for my a7

    • Thanks! Check my reply to the first comment here, there is a link to my 500px. There is not a lot with this lens but more is definitely coming!

  9. Very nice.

    I have the CV 40 1.4 single coat version. Same lens apart from the coating. I find that the corners are blurry even at f8 on my M240 so it is not that great for architectural shots on digital, but one would not notice it in ‘regular’ photography. I bought it for my Minolta CLE and it is perfect on that camera.

    These little lenses are so nicely made and a joy to use. Highly recommended.

    Best regards
    Huss

    • I have the MC version. If you shoot mostly B/W you could also consider the SC version as it has a little more classic look.

  10. The 40mm f/1.4 has a very unique color signature wide open. As if all the colors were slightly blurred while the image retains it sharpness. I can tell from the first image that it was shot by the voigtlander.

    In terms with the difference from 40mm f/2 SL II I have both lenses and the f/1.4 can do everything the f/2 can do but better. Stop down the 1.4 to f2 and it’s slightly sharper than the f/2 with better bokeh than the f/2. Go wide open and get some great classic looking image (not what I would say dreamy bug classic)

    • I agree. The lens has also its stregth with warm brown colors. I really like the way the browns look and how its nicely sharp on subjects.

      Interesting comparison, thank you!

    • Thanks for your comparison, Donsantos! Hard times ahead for the 6D and it’s Ultron…

  11. As other commenters have pointed out, 40mm is not that unusual. Canon has a very nice 40mm and it is very inexpensive. Probably not up to the Voigtlander; but for those using Canon, a fun lens.

    • Yeah, i loved the 40 pancake on my 6D. Still have that lens but the voigtländer is in so many ways different.

  12. Hi David

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures! Love the skater and the last (bw) portrait.

    I own an a7 and a bunch of Voigtländer lenses. I love their classic line – I can also mount them to other mirror-less cameras, they also perform well on the Leica M8 I recently swapped for my Canon 24-70 L and on my Bessa R2A. So, very versatile!

    Funny enough I do not own the 40 1.4 but I am tempted by the size of it. I do have the (tiny) Leitz 40 Summicron-C f2. So 40mm is not that unusual ,-)

    Grüessli, ebefalls us de Schwiiz.
    Dagmar

    • Thank you very much 🙂

      I dont own a leica to try, so i cant tell how it would work on the M8. But i think alone its compactness makes it worth a lot

  13. Completely agree! Additionally, this lens is great from both landscape and portrait angles. IMO, I feel a 35mm lens is just a tad too wide from a portrait perspective. Great write up and shots!

    Cheers!

    • Havent tried it a lot for landscape, but i imagine it would work as good as it does for street photography. Thank you very much!
      Best,
      David

      • Aaah…my apologizes. I was referencing the angle of the camera while taking the picture…it’s an effective lens for taking photos on a horizontal plane or vertical plane. I have the SC version with my Bessa, and find that most of my keeper shots are taken from a vertical perspective.

        • Ohh totally missed that lol. But yeah thats something i noticed too. I dont shoot portrait orientation a lot but with this lens I felt like it would work better in many situations. Of course in the cases where landscape orientation would work better this lens does as good as it should, like you say, very versatile.

  14. Grüezi David

    What a nice writing and pictures! The vintage rendering on modern digital cams is very appealing. Voigtlander lenses are the secret weapons of photography IMHO. These lenses are technically good and avoid the sterile perfectness of modern glass. I wonder if you ever checked out your 6D with the 40mm Ultron and what you think about this combo in comparison with your A7/40mm Nokton. Your writing was that interesting to me that I’d wish to see more. Flickr or something somewhere??

    Best regards from Zürich’s 2nd reader

    d.

    • Hi Dave 🙂
      Thanks for your kind words! I have not tried any vintage lenses on the 6D, as I was pretty happy with canons lenses. But playing with manual lenses on the A7 cameras seems to be a preffered way of using them it seems. Unless you have a focus screen on the 6D its quite difficult to nail the critical focus i guess…

      You can check out my 500px: http://www.500px.com/david_farina

      Very best!
      David

    • I’ve seen this comment before about famously sharp lenses, that they can be “sterile”. I don’t understand what that means. That the bokeh is smooth rather than “nervous”? What is interesting about lenses that are NOT that sharp?

      • Hi SOS. Like I already said, this lens IS plenty sharp. It just is pretty soft to the edges up to f/2.8 and has field curvature. Sterile is more about how the lens renders colors, details, different light, flares etc…

  15. Nice images David. I was always a fan of the 40mm FoV (I guess from my film days of shooting the Minolta Hi-Matic rangefinder with it’s beautiful 40mm f1.7 fixed lens).

    Where 50mm can be a little tight, and 35 a little wide (or slightly lacking in DoF) the 40 just seems to fill the gap so perfectly.

    Since Sony went from 35mm to 55mm in the FE lens line-up I’m hopeful they’ll some-day add a 40mm (though I know it’s unlikely since that FoV seems to have gone out of vogue). I may have to pick up the Voigt. instead – based on your shots it looks like a ‘gem’ of a lens!

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