The Voigtlander 58 f/1.4 II Lens Experience. A BEAUTY for your Leica SL or Sony.
By Steve Huff
Click on any of the images in this report to see them larger, and better!
My renewed love affair with the Leica SL brings more and more curiosity, namely in the way of lens possibilities. As I use the Leica SL more and more (more than I ever have in the past interestingly enough) I have come to realize that for me, THIS CAMERA, the Leica SL, is without questions, hands down, the best mirrorless camera ever made for using older or modern day manual focus lenses. M mount, Nikon mount, whatever. I can tell you why this is but first, we must look at what other modern day dgital cameras can do the same thing, as in, offer a full frame sensor, and allow almost any lens to be mounted and used.
The only cameras that compete with the SL that meets this criteria is indeed the Sony a7 and a9 series of cameras. But after testing this lens on both the Leica and the Sony, my respect for the SL grew even deeper.
All images here with the Leica SL and Voigtlander 50 f/1.4 II Nikon Mount Lens. As always, you MUST Click them for larger!
The best Sony cameras are indeed the newest MKIII versions, as well as the a9. Yes they cost less than an SL, and yes they can mount Leica M glass, Nikon, Canon, you name it. While there seems to be an app for everything these days, there also appears to be adapters made to mount all kinds of lenses to mirrorless cameras. Yes, Fuji and Olympus can do this too but they are not full frame, nor will they allow the full lens character to shine through, so they are not contenders in this area, at least for me. So we have the Sony, let’s just say the A7RIII or A9, which are both tech and feature filled jam packed camera. With an adapter and an M lens, or even the Techart AF adapter that allows M lenses to Auto Focus, we can get some nice results, especially with the longer lenses. 35mm and wider will have more issues such as soft corners or color issues or severe vignetting.
The A9 EVF is nice, the best in any current Sony offering today but still not quite to the SL level. I can and have mounted Nikon and Canon lenses to the Sony and they work pretty well. At $4000, the a9 is about $2000 cheaper than the SL and offers much faster AF for native glass. So why would I pick the SL over the a9 for using a lens like the one here I am talking about today, the Nikon mount Voigtlander 58 1.4II? Easy.
The SL feels much nicer to me in the hand, is more solid, is minimalistic without the slew of buttons on the back and without the endless menus. The EVF is the #1 reason, as it is huge, large and crisp with excellent color. That alone makes the SL one amazing MF camera. (Manual Focus). The Leica also gives me better IQ with these alternate lenses. Better color, much less vignetting and no issues with corner smearing. So all in all, it is the better camera for this, though more expensive.
BTW, the SL feels like no other 35mm digital camera made today, or ever. It’s unibody construction is simply amazing. It is a hefty camera compared to a Sony but with small manual lenses, this, to me, is a good thing. I can seem to hold it more steady, and I love the huge dial up top for dialing in EV comp on the fly. Even after three years and being an “old” camera, it is still just as good today as it was then, and I appreciate it more than ever before as it is indeed a special camera in the history of digital, IMO.
So yes, I love the SL, and have since it came out three years ago. I have had moments of bliss with the a9, a7III, and a7RIII but even with those technically superior cameras, the SL just sings. While it does not have the dynamic range of the Sony or the all out high ISO/Low light abilities, it still rocks and rocks hard even in tough scenarios.
I have been enjoying using this camera with M lenses, and I have written about my experiences with that many times here, but most recently with the Voigtlander lenses I have acquired, and love. I am about to speak some words that may ruffle some feathers, but if I can be honest, I am enjoying some of these Voigtlander lenses more than any Leica branded lens I have used now or in the past. There are reasons for this, and I will explain it in a way that will be quick and to the point.
For starters, todays Voigtlander lenses are not like the ones of yesterday. Not that the old ones were bad, but they were mostly soft wide open, vignetting was evident wide open on most, and CA was awful as well with some of the lenses. Color was not their strong point either. They were always known as the poor mans Leica. Fast primes, well made and much less expensive than any Leica lens. Not up there in performance but not too far off and most of them gave loads of character. No biting corner to corner sharpness with those old Voigtlanders, but nice Character for sure.
Today Voigtlander has stepped up their game dramatically. Their more recent lenses have all been just gorgeous in build, feel and image quality. Lenses like the 40 f/1.2, the 50 3.5 and even the older 35 f/1.2 II all perform so well on the Leica SL, I feel that they were made for it. Of course they were not but man, they feel and perform like it. I have ZERO complaints about the IQ from these lenses on the Leica SL. With the handling, gorgeous large EVF and joystick positioned perfectly on the SL, using these lenses is as easy as pie, and makes shooting with them fun and inspiring.
The best part is these lenses can be had for thousands less than an equivalent Leica branded lens. Here is an interesting tidbit as well…in over 10 years of reviewing lenses and cameras, I have had three Leica lenses fall apart on me, one time, the Noctilux. I have never had one issue with Voigtalnder. I had one issue with a Zeiss ZM 50 Planar once that became sloppy. So the least expensive lenses, never an issue, and they are made beautifully. Not to say I will not have one fail in some way eventually, as I am sure some have had but in my experience, so far so good with Voigtlander.
Shooting these M lenses on the SL got me to searching for some killer Nikon mount lenses, as yes, you can mount Nikon to the SL as well. I had one on mind actually, so away I went, searching out for the legendary 58 f/1.2 Noct Nikkor. The classic lens that often gets compared to the Leica Noctilux f/1. I have seen some amazing rendering from that lens but you can only find it used, on ebay normally, and the prices range from $2500 to $4500. A tad steep for me, especially since I have never used one or held one. I would hate to spend that money and hate the lens. So I chickened out on the ebay buy and instead went back to a lens I had here at one time but never really tested myself.
The Voigtlander 58 f/1.2 II
This Voigtlander is a 58mm but instead of f/1.2 it is f/1.4. It also seems to get close to the flavor of that Noct Nikkor yet it doesn’t have the elements, ground by hand, as the Nikkor has.
Voigtlander 58 f/1.4 SKII – $599 New
Not Nikkor 58 f/1.2 – $2500-$5000 USED
So instead of diving in to that wallet buster, and taking a chance with that, I decided to order the Voigtlander 58 f/1.4 II, for Nikon mount. I had this lens here before, and Craig Litton reviewed it for me at that time. You can see that review HERE, and see his thoughts. At the time I could have mounted it to my Sony (and did for a few snaps) to review it. But I passed it on to Craig, who loved it. I was very busy at that time, and Craig was looking for something to try out, so away it went to him, and it was in great hands. So in reality, back then, I had very little time with this lens, and did not get the chance to appreciate it.
Now I do…
ISO 12,500, Leica SL with the 58 1.4 wide open in near darkness. At the Lost Leaf in Phoenix.
With what I have been seeing with the SL, I wanted to see how this lens, which is very highly reviewed and loved by so many…well, I wanted to test it on the SL as this is something you normally do not see. Nikon mount glass on a Leica body. From my 1st shot I knew this lens was special. Again, the SL has a way with these lenses and I doubt Leica realizes what they have truly created with this camera. Everything about it seems tailored for using it with older lenses, adapted lenses, manual lenses. It’s like if I went to Leica and said “I would love for you to design the perfect camera for old manual lenses and M lenses. Add in Nikon, Canon, etc and give it a nice build and feel, a gorgeous EVF, and a beautiful sensor”… this SL would be the result. IMO, using it with native AF lenses is great and all but it comes into its own with small manual lenses. It’s as good as it gets until the SL2 hits, one day ; )
So I bought this lens, which BTW, is made in Japan (and comes in at $599) and is built to old school Nikkor quality as well. If someone told me it was made by Nikon in 1978 I would believe them. Has that old school Nikon manual prime feel and design and feels like a million bucks instead of the $599 it retails for. With a cheap $14 Nikon to SL adapter, I was in business and mounted it to the camera, ready to test the lens.
On the body it feels great. Small, solid, doesn’t change the balance of the camera but creates a nice balance. With this lens, the SL feels like an indestructible machine, like the old school Nikons of past, but even better in some ways. Shooting it even in extreme low light allows me to easily obtain focus, as the EVF is not only large as I always say, and very clear but also very BRIGHT. It does tend to lag in the lowest of light, which I feel will be improved upon in the SL2 whenever that comes down the pike, but it does not hurt the experience or the ability to nail focus.
The SL is not the best ultra low light camera. Sony beats it there as does the Hasselblad X1D, but it’s pretty good, and while I max it out at 12,500, with the Sony and X1D I can head up to ISO 25k territory. I have realized that I prefer the SL IQ, ergonomics and interface over the extra low light abilities I can get with the Sony. If an SL2 comes out with improved low light (which it will), I will be drooling as long as they do not kill the design or skimp on build. If they do, then for me, the original will stick around. In my opinion, it is a classic already. One of those that 10 years from now some will look back on and say “THAT was a DAMN GOOD camera”.
Using the Nikon, I mean Voigtlander lens on the SL was a treat. It delivers amazing IQ, and in an organic kind of way. What I mean by that is that it is super sharp at the focus point even wide open yet is never too sharp. It never gives off an analytical draw. The rendering can be very 3D, and wide open your subject will stick out from the background which will be blown out from the creamiest background I may have ever seen in a lens. The Bokeh is not busy, but more SMOOTH. It features that big fat bokeh look of lenses past but with a modern rendering that is just beautiful.
Is the Noct Nikkor better than this? I believe it may be, as that lens was also designed to eliminate coma, but that comes at a price. Again, used the Noct Nikkor 58 f/1.2 is about $2000 more, and for a used lens, with no warranty over this lens new with warranty. A tough pill to swallow for what may be a 10% difference in quality. The Voigtlander gives this lens the NOKTON name, which implies Darkness, a master of low light. The Nikkor Noct, same thing. Leica Noctilux, same thing. All of these lenses are made for shooting wide open and this lens at $599 vs the old Nikkor at $2599 or the Leica at $11,000 says it all. I will say this lens is made and feels just as nice as any Leica or Zeiss or old Nikkor lens I have used. At $599 it is a downright steal. I am still tempted to buy a Noct Nikkor though, and I may do so, just to compare and see the difference in real world use. If no real difference, I could sell it on Ebay (or here) for no real loss.
But so far, if this Voigtlander is any indication of what THAT lens may be like, I am in for a treat.
Seeing that this is a 58mm, just like the Noct Nikkor we get a little more shallow DOF over a standard 50 f/1.4 due to that extra 8mm of length, and what a shallow DOF this is. With this lens we get modern day color, contrast and sharpness wide open but the old soap bubble bokeh of the past, and for ME, this equals an almost perfect fast prime. I LOVE the Bokeh this lens produces, and it reminds me of a better, improved Canon dream Lens. Better contrast, color, and is sharper but with similar dreamy big bokeh.
This lens is gorgeous. I knew that from the 1st test shot of Debby’s daughters dog Lilly by my pool. The 3D depth, the color, the bokeh and pop, the contrast, the sharpness wide open. All for $599 from a lens made in Japan with amazing build quality. Wow.
My very 1st image shot with this lens, right out of the SL. Click it for larger. Focus was on the dogs face.
The lens also has a nice longer focus throw. Not too long but just long enough. I like a longer focus throw over a short one for manual lenses. MUCH easier to dial in critical focus if you really need the shot.
I have been sitting here looking at this lens for the past few minutes trying to find something I dislike about it. I can find nothing. No flaws, and man this focus ring is silky smooth. I have been telling myself “There HAS to be something wrong with it for $599…there HAS to be a compromise”.
Well, the compromise here is that it is manual focus only, and its rendering will not be to everyones liking. Some prefer super sharp lenses, some dislike this kind of Bokeh rendering. Some prefer AF lenses. So no, it is no a lens for everyone. If you enjoy old school charm, and fast primes it may be for you. If you enjoy modern day contrast and color but old school charm with the Bokeh, you will enjoy this lens. If you want a lens that delivers a 3D depth, this is a lens you should look at. If you shoot a Sony A7 or A9 or a Leica SL, you should really look into this lens. Adapters are cheap, and work well and the lens is small.
f/1.4 at night time…was MUCH darker in real life than what you see here so this lens is indeed a light sucker..
Before I finish this commentary on the lens, I just want to say that the experience of using it on the Leica SL was sublime, much more so than using it on a Sony A7RIII, which I will speak of below.
I have never done reviews in a tech way, or with test charts or going all in with scientific lab results. The reason is, to me, that is not what photography (or life) is all about. Other sites do that every day, so the info is out there for the taking. Me, I prefer to convey the emotion I feel, the excitement I feel and reasons why I feel a certain camera or lens is special. I do not review all lenses or all cameras, only the ones I truly love and feel you guys would enjoy as well. A camera and lens is made for one thing, taking photos. Sometimes we get caught up in the pixel peeping, and for me that is not a way to truly test cameras. Seeing how much detail a shot has at 100% is not going to make your photo better, or more exciting, or more emotional. If we use a camera and use it for what it is meant to be used for, then THAT is the true test of a camera. How does it handle, how does it feel, how are the menus and controls, how is the experience?
For me, this lens on the SL ticks all of the good boxes for me. Using on the Sony, not so much. So in real world use, I know, without tech tests, that I would MUCH rather use this lens on the Leica over the Sony. In fact, if I only had the Sony and tested this lens, I would have returned it!
Keep reading to see why this is…
I have come to like the noise created by the Leica SL at high ISO… shot at f/1.4 with the 58mm
I have done Bokeh tests in the past, and here I wanted to snap a couple of shots that portrays a Bokeh Torture test. I will shoot the lens on the SL and then a Sony A7RIII to see if each camera renders the scene differently, and this will also showcase the worst Bokeh you may see with the lens. One thing to note, so far in my use I have seen no CA with this lens (yet) in my everyday shots or use, which is incredible. Maybe I have not shot it in the right setting yet, but so far so good. This lens is impressing the hell out of me and is on another level from the 7 Artisans 50 1.1 I reviewed a while back, and for only $140 more. At $140 more this lens is MUCH nicer in every way than the 50 1.1 from 7 Artisans. Just sayin’!
Anyway, on to the BOKEH!
Leica SL, wide open at f/1.4 Looks good!
Now the Sony which is not as good as it exhibits some severe Vignetting and Bokeh is slightly different.
So far, it seems this lens does not work as nicely on the Sony when converted, as it does on the Leica SL. Let’s look at one more image with both cameras…
1st image with the Leica, 2nd with the Sony. Notice the vignetting on the Sony is quite a bit worse though the Sony has greater Dynamic Range.
Let’s take one shot with a 100% crop to show how soft or sharp this lens is at f/1.2 in full sunlight for those who really want to see this sort of thing. YOU MUST click the image to see the larger size and full crop…
On the Leica SL, this lens is fantastic. I am using a cheap $13 adapter here, so nothing fancy. $599 for the lens, $13 for an adapter and it renders beautifully, is made to a high standard in Japan, and feels as good as some lens that cost $4000. On the Sony a7RIII I did not enjoy the performance of this lens as much, as it has severe vignetting which is not present on the SL. Sure, there is some vignetting when used on the SL but on the Sony, it would be unusable for some. Yes, it can be corrected in post processing but again, the SL sensor, even today is just wonderful for IQ.
This also proves my point, that the Leica SL is the best camera on the market for adapting lenses wether in M mount, or Nikon. I have yet to try a Canon lens, and may, but really not looking to buy DSLR glass for the SL.
This lens, IMO, will work better on the SL than say a D800, and this is because of the EVF focusing, made super easy with the SL. Focusing this lens on the D800 will not be nearly as easy with the OVF, and no way to truly see what you are focusing on. Voigtlander should consider making lenses in TL mount ; ) Hint Hint..
Highly recommend this lens for SL users. I can not say I would recommend it fully for Sony users, but that is for you to decide. As for those who shoot Nikon, well it is made for Nikon, but best results would come from using Live view, which can be a pain with DSLR’s.
This lens has the NOKTON name, and is designed for results when shot at f/1.4 wide open. It’s closest competitor is the Noct Nikkor 58 f/1.2 which is a legendary lens now going for hefty prices with an average of around $3000. If I get a hold of a Noct Nikkor, expect a side by side in low light and good light. I am very curious about that Noct actually, so do not be surprised if you see me writing about that one soon. Question is, will the exotic Nikkor beat the modern day Voigtalnder or will it equal it or give less performance? Hmmmmm.
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