The Voigtlander 40 f/1.2 Nokton Lens Review. A Noctilux for your Sony A7 or A9?
By Steve Huff
Hey guys! I have just arrived back from a trip to Whistler Canada where I visited friends (non photo) for a weekend getaway with Debby. We did not go there to shoot photos, but rather to hang out in a nice Chalet with close friends and chat, enjoy great food and good times. But I did have some time to get out and about during the weekend, just once or twice for an hour or so and what I brought with me this time was my Sony A9 and new Voigtlander 40 f/1.2 Lens. Yes, you heard that right.. a new Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 Aspherical lens made just for SONY! I was all set to bring my Olympus and 25 1.2 but could only bring one system, and only one due to having to keep my baggage light. This lens arrived just in time, so it was a no brainer to make this decision.
So it was the Sony A9 and 40mm, along with my 28mm f/2 which I have been enjoying the heck out of lately. I also brought along my GoPro and Karma grip which is what I used to make this 1st Look video on this new lens.
The growing line of Voigtlander lenses for Sony E Mount. Photo courtesy of CameraQuest.
After truly looking over the lens, and attaching it to the A9 I started to appreciate what it was and what it offered. Those who truly know me and have followed me for years know I love lenses that have something about them..something special. Character, something different or unique along with great build and feel, and if manual focus, easy to use and smooth focus action. After reviewing the gorgeous and tiny Voigtlander 50 f/3.5 a while back (see that review HERE and the video HERE) I started to fall in love, seriously, with Voigtlander lenses. Sure, I really enjoyed some of the older Voigtlander lenses. The 35 f/1.2 (of which this lens beats, for sharpness, wide open performance and color) has been a long time favorite of mine, and while only for Leica M mount, it was easy enough to use adapters with. That lens offered a dreamy soft glow when shot at f/1.2 and had a traditional “Leica style” build and feel. This new 40mm f/1.2 is much sharper wide open, does not have the “glow” wide open and also improves upon the color, contrast, and to date, I have not seen any CA or real issues with performance other than some vignetting when wide open.
These Two were shot on the A7RIII
So what we have here is a lens with modern-day performance in color and sharpness with a very usable and amazing f/1.2 aperture. Low light, look out. The combo of a Sony A7 or A9 series with an f/1.2 native lens means you can shoot in any light. While not a huge difference over f/1.4 just mentally, knowing you have an f/1.2 lens will make you feel like you can create miracles in low light, lol. Honestly though, f/1.2 always sounds better than f/1.4 to those who love fast aperture glass.
The 40 1.2 on the Sony A7. Lens comes with a Hood.
To those who know me, you also know I do not do “scientific” reviews of any camera gear, as there always have been and always will be sites just for that and for those who enjoy the more pixel peeping kind of stuff. I feel it has nothing to do with what the lens was designed for (which is, going out and taking photos) as most issues that some find in the scientific testing realm, well, usually can not be seen or found when using the lens in reality by mere mortals. If there is something really bad about a lens, it will show up in real photos. If it doesn’t then to me, it is not a real issue. Hence, “real world reviews” of which I was the first site to offer this back 10 years ago now.
A quick B&W conversion, looks great. Click it for larger.
I expected this lens to arrive, be a tad soft wide open, have duller colors, low to medium contrast, busy bokeh and be you typical “old school” Voigtlander style of lens. But I seemed to have forgotten that Voigtlander has stepped up their game lately with lenses like the 65 f/2 APO and now that they are making lenses for the Sony E Mount it just re-affirms what I have said all along about the Sony A7 and A9 cameras. THEY ARE THE MOST VERSATILE CAMERAS on the market, and technically, most impressive. Yes, I love other cameras as you guys very well know but when we really study what each camera system can do, it is always Sony who comes out on top for just about everything, at least in my opinion. Speed? CHECK. Smaller than a DSLR? CHECK. Nice EVF Quality? CHECK. Amazing AF Performance? CHECK (A9), Can take almost any lens made? CHECK (via adapters), Great battery life? CHECK (a9), Dual SD Slots? CHECK (A9), Manual controls? CHECK (A9 mostly), Great Video? CHECK, I mean, the list goes on and on.
First Look Video from a few days ago!
So it is nice to see that Voigtlander is releasing amazingly good quality glass for the Sony E Mount system, and yes, you can use this lens on the other great Sony cameras, the A6000 series. You will get a 60mm FOV due to being APS-C but even so, 60 f/1.2 (light gathering) is also quite nice. So this lens will be wonderful on Sony full frame, and great on APS-C where you will only lose some of the character as it will be cropped out so to speak. With 10 aperture blades, and a pretty nice close focus distance of 10.5 inches from the lens, along with two aspherical elements optimized for Sony sensors… it is no wonder this lens is so good.
Nice colors right from camera, and lovely sharpness even when wide open.
So while my expectations were lower (in my mind) for this lens, I could not have been more surprised when I started to shoot with it.
I was seeing fantastic sharpness wide open, much sharper than the 35 f/1.2 and while not brutally sharp wide open, it’s much sharper than I expected. I was seeing a nice crisp rendering and gorgeous colors, no casts or off “dirty” color. I was seeing a nice contrast and great subject separation without being too crazy or wonky. The bokeh was much nicer than expected and the images had that “snap” and I was not seeing any CA or issues besides softer corners when shot at f/1.2. Even this was minimal. While I would not buy this lens as a landscape lens, as I feel it is made for street, portraits, low light and walk around, stop it down to f/8 and it can indeed be used for landscape (though again, there are better lenses for this on your Sony system).
I am happy to say this lens exceeded my expectations in every way.
I was driving and just held the camera up, set to infinity, as I approached a red light.
As I teased in the title and mentioned the word “Noctilux” I figured some of you would laugh and say HAHAHAH, yea right. Well, no laughs here as this lens reminds me a little bit of the original Noctilux f/1 but with better color, sharper wide open and with a little bit of the same character, but not fully there. For $1059 one can get closer to the Noctilux than ever before without spending $6-8k for one of the older versions. What we have here for our Sony cameras is a lens that reaches to 40mm vs 50, and offers f/1.2 vs f/1 so I see it as an original “Noctilux Light”. Almost there but not quite, yet in some ways, even better than the old f/1 version that yes, sells for crazy money used.
THIS LENS HAS BETTER COLOR THAN THE OLD NOCTILUX!
This lens, for some, may even sell a Sony A7 or A9 or two. This could be a tipping point lens for a few out there who wanted these kind of manual focus lenses without having to break the bank for a Leica M or go to a huge fat DSLR and huge lenses.
On the Sony A9, this lens feels fantastic. Not large, not small but right in the middle and it feels just right. If one wanted to spend $2k, you could go for a brand new Sony A7 for under $1000 and then this lens for $1059. A few bucks over $2k but a powerful low light manual focus combo for street, or whatever you like.
But look at the color from the next two shots…wowzers. Click them to see them larger, and in a much better way.
Look at the creamy bokeh and shallow DOF here. I focused on the leaf at the upper part of the image, easy to see. Click it for larger. 2nd image has lovely colors and was also shot wide open.
So this lens, IMO, shows Voigtlander is getting serious. I guess they have to as if we look at the competition today in the lens world, there are so many lenses being released from all kinds of manufacturers and many of them, are very cheap and affordable (though not up to performance levels like this). I remember with some older Voigtlander glass, like the M mount 40 1.4 for example, the colors would be more muted, contrast would be low, sharpness…meh, and the bokeh would be wonky at times (see a nice user report on that lens here). These days Voigtlader is making glass that rivals lenses that cost much more. I think this is wonderful as I have always like Voigtlander as a company and the fact that they always offered those who shot Leica a lower cost alternative.
With this lens at $1059, while not cheap, it offers color performance in the $2k range. It offers the color and sharpness of more expensive lenses and as a bonus, we get that f/1.2 aperture for when the lights get low. Not too shabby my friends.
As for the A9, I still love it to pieces and use it almost daily wether it is for video or photo. With my 16-35, 28 f/2, 65 f/2 APO and other lenses, it offers me anything I need. While not as satisfying to use as something like a X1D, it is a technically better camera, a more “all rounder” that can do anything I need it to do. To date, since launch, this Sony A9 has not let me down in one area. It has instead, excelled in every area from AF to Video to Photo quality to speed and response, etc. The $4500 I paid for it has already paid off for me, and it still looks brand new, so holding up very well. I love my A9.
WHY DOES ONE NEED f/1.2?
A valid question I often get. Usually it is “Why do I need an f/1.4 Lens”? Well, you do not need a fast prime unless you need it. By that I mean, and I will talk about this lens in general here…:
- Do you often shoot in very low light? If so, you will benefit from a lens such as this.
- Do you like shallow depth of field and “bokeh”? If so, this lens will be worth a look.
- Do you enjoy manual focus, manual aperture dials and classic build quality? If so, this is a lens to look at.
- Do you enjoy a lens that gives nice results out of camera? If so this lens is beautiful.
- Do you shoot a Sony A7 or A9 and want all of the above? Well, here you go.
Basically a fast prime will offer you two worlds. They are sometimes like a “Jeckyl and Hyde” and by that I mean when wide open at f/1.2 you will get a nice lovely feel and look. A teeny but of softness wide open at your focus point but much sharper than you would expect for a lens at this kind of price tag.
At this wide open aperture you will also get lovely shallow DOF, nice subject separation and nice colors.
Stop it down a tad, to f/2 or f/2.8 and get sharper performance and the look of a more traditional lens. With a fast prime, well, a good fast prime you get the best of both worlds.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE LENS
What I enjoy about this lens besides the obvious is well, everything. The Size is perfect, not too big, not too small. Weight is nice. Focus barrel is smooth and the aperture dial is solid yet smooth. No slop anywhere. This is a 40mm Aspherical lens, so not quite 50 and more reach than your typical 35. This means we also get more shallow DOF than a 35 and less than a 50 of similar aperture. Being an f/1.2 design, we will get very close to the DOF of a 50mm f/1.4 but with a wider reach, slightly. I have always found the 40mm focal length to be interesting, as it is not what I am used to nor what most of us are used to. But different is good, and can be good for pumping up your creative juices.
I also like the fact that the lens triggers the auto magnify feature of the Sony A9 EVF. Turn the lens, and the EVF magnifies to allow you to nail focus much easier. This can be turned off of course but it is my preferred way to shoot. Makes it quick and easy once you get the hang of it. It will work with focus peaking and you can set the aperture dial to be silent for video use.
The lens is also priced right. If Voigtlander skimped on the lens to make it a $699 special then it would have suffered. We would have suffered. The colors would be dull, we would see CA and we would get softness wide open. So at $1059, this lens is priced just about right. $999 would have been a GREAT number and a steal but at $1059, it is also a great buy for what you get.
I love that the lens is so easy to use on the Sony and while it does not have the all out pop of the Sony 50 1.4 Zeiss, it does give a more gentler approach to the way it renders images. Maybe not quite as digital in appearance. While still looking digital, because it is, this lens renders in a way that will show you a little bit of classic and a lot of modern. That little bit of classic thrown in makes it what it is. Special and unique.
A QUICK COMPARISON, JUST FOR FUN
I own the Olympus EM1 MKII and 25 f/1.2, which is a fanatic combo that delivers a 50mm FOV to your Olympus Micro 4/3 camera (the lens). While we are only getting the DOF of a 25 1.2, we are getting that light gathering which is so valuable. Even so, the DOF will not be as extreme as the 40 f/1.2 as we are using a 25mm lens. Hence, DOF of a 25mm at f/1.2. Sound confusing? It’s not if you think of it in this way. When not using full frame sensors, such as APS-C and Micro 4/3 lenses will have a sort of magnification effect, so wth a M 4/3 sensor and crop factor of 2X, a 25mm will give you the reach of a 50mm lens, but the character and bokeh of a 25mm lens. So the Olympus being a 25mm lens will give us more DOF than the Voigtlander 40mm. Below is an example of the same shot taken with the A9 and 40 1.2 and then the EM1 MKII and 25 1.2 :
1st shot is the Sony A9 and 40 1.2 at f/1.2 – close up focusing will deliver an even more shallow DOF effect as the closer you are to the subject, the more background blur you will achieve. Here we do not even have enough DOF to get the entire can of “TAB” in focus ; ) Who here remembers TAB? ISO 100, 1/40s, f/1.2
The next shot is with the EM1 MKII and 25 f/1.2 which will give the magnification of a 50mm lens, but the DOF of a 25mm (as it is a 25mm lens and never should be labeled as a 50 as some want). At f/1.2 we have a larger DOF (less blur) because we are using a wider focal length lens. As we know, the longer the lens (more telephoto) the more shallow DOF we can achieve at the same aperture. ISO 200, 1/60s – We still get the light gathering of that f/1.2 aperture.
As you can see the Olympus combo will give you a more “usable” DOF with am ore modern look. The color of the Sony combo is a little more flashier. I’d say the color is somewhere in between these two in reality. Both will deliver in low light but the performance will depend on the camera hardware and high ISO capabilities. This is where the Sony would win. But for a more modern look, the Olympus would take it. For a mix of modern and vintage, the 40 1.2 wins.
MORE INFO ON THE LENS (FROM CAMERAQUEST.COM)
The FASTEST production full frame 40mm lens ever made!
Manual Focus Short Super Fast Normal lens providing limited depth of field at f/1.2
Advanced optical design with TWO Aspherical elements optimized for Sony mirrorless cameras
Selective Aperture Control allows click-less aperture selection for video
Chipped to take advantage of Sony’s electronic interface:
Providing EXIF, Focus Peaking, 5 Axis Image Stabilization if camera supported, Lens correction
60mm field of view on APS-C sensors
Precision 1/3 click f/stops
8 elements in 6 groups
Filter size: 58mm
Close focus 13.78″ or 1:6.2 (or 10.5″ from front of lens)
10 Aperture blades for dreamy bokeh
f/stop range f/1.2 to f/22
Size: Weight 14.6 oz, lens extends 58mm from camera body at infinity,70.1mm diameter
Lens hood and Lens caps included
WHO IS THIS LENS FOR?
This lens is for anyone who wats a well made, great feeling and solid manual focus lens for their Sony A7 or A9 or A6000 series camera that will offer them an f/1.2 aperture and one that is great at that aperture. No low quality here when shooting wide open, nope. Instead we get a beautiful rendering with all of the qualities we look for in a lens. Let’s face it, lenses these days are not cheap, and to find one like this, with this kind of versatility (amazing wide open or stopped down) for about a grand is fantastic. So if you want a classic feeling and beautiful lens for your Sony and do not mind Manual Focus, this lens comes highly recommended by me. It’s gorgeous and would offer you something different in your lens arsenal. I love it. Two more shots below to show the Bokeh and color, straight from RAW’s.
WHERE TO BUY?
This copy came from them, for review. But I am trying to scrape the funds to purchase for my A9! It’s a lovely lens. A few more samples as shot on the new Sony A7RIII
UPDATE: I have now had this lens for about a month or more and WOW, I can not take it off of my A9 nor did I want to remove it from the A7RIII I was testing this past week. It’s been my fave lens for my Sony since it arrived as it offers a dreamy, beautiful image quality with nice colors and a tiny bit of glow. This lens is so nice for the Sony system as it is made for it, and integrates perfectly. The size is also perfect. HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS LENS!!!
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