Excellent (and fast) prime lens

Voigtländer 50mm f1.5 Nokton ASPH is an excellent lens. In fact, I might be the nicest 50mm lens I’ve ever used. It features a very classical styling, that goes nicely along with old M-mount camera bodies. I’ve been shooting my Leica M6 for about a year now and equipped with the Nokton, it makes up a really nice pair. I don’t think I’ll be swapping the Nokton to any other 50mm any time soon.

Nokton 50mm f1.5 is, of course, a manual focus rangefinder lens. It’s extremely fast with it’s maximum aperture of f1.5, which is not a gimmick. The lens is beautiful and high quality even wide open.

Nokton with it’s original lens hood.

Rendering

This Voigtländer has really pleasing rendering. Much nicer in fact, that I was initially expecting. It is a modern lens design you see, and I was expecting a modern image quality as well. This lens may look vintage, but it’s actually a contemporary product that you can buy brand new today.

I’m not an optical engineer and can’t really say anything else than any ol’ photographer could. It is sometimes very hard to pinpoint what optical qualities in fact make the image. I’m not going to even try to pretend I’d know exactly how to characterise the image quality technically. The best I can do, is an armchair sniff test, something what a wannebe wine taster would shout out. Yes, that’s it… wine! If I’d have to describe the lens with a one phrase, it would be exactly like a glass of good wine.

From what I’ve been personally experiencing, I can say the lens renders somewhat timeless and classic image. In terms of image quality, it is very much in line with it’s styling. The images it produces, pretty much looks like what a lens with an antiquated styling should. It’s not perhaps as creamy (not talking about bokeh) as old lenses from 1950’s but it has that resemblance. It is sharp and crisp, but not too modern looking. I’d describe it as civilised, sensible, stylish with a hint of artisticness.

Before the Nokton, I shot with Zeiss Planar 50mm f2 ZM T*. Compared to it, Nokton has more soul™. The Planar was of course excellent, but as described on my previous Voigtländer article, it was almost too good. It was a bit engineery in terms of image quality. It wasn’t like a glass of wine. It was more like a lab coat. Switching to Nokton solved that problem.

Digital sample image #1 (shot on Fujifilm X-E2).
Digital sample image #2 (shot on Fujifilm X-E2).
Sample photo on very low light, shot wide open on Ilford HP5 (EI 800).
Sample shot on film #2 (Ilford HP5).
Sample shot on film #3 (Ilford HP5).
Sample shot on film #4 (Ilford HP5).
Sample shot on film #5 (Ilford HP5).
Sample shot on film #6 (Ilford HP5).

The size and ergonomics

For a fast 50mm, the lens is rather small. On a compact rangefinder body it how ever sticks out quite far from the camera body, but compared to almost anything else, it’s still small. The lens hood increases the length quite a bit, and with that on, the combo is starting to look a bit out of proportion. On the other hand, the size is well balanced and the lens is easy to handle. You know when sometimes a really small lens may require an inhumane amount of finger dexterity? This lens isn’t as demanding and it’s much nicer to handle. 

Ergonomics are otherwise pretty good too. The aperture ring is the nicest I’ve ever used. Focusing ring has a nice looking grip pattern, but it could actually have a bit more friction. It isn’t as dreamy to use as it looks. A traditional gnarling texture would perhaps be a more user friendly solution. The ring could also be slightly wider. The lens doesn’t feature a focusing knob what so ever. I got used to the ergonomics pretty quickly, but if I’d improve it in some way, I’d refine the focusing ring ever so slightly.

Close-up from straight above.

Markings on the meter scale are some times hard to read. The font-face is really thin and may require some squinting when trying to make out of it against the shiny steel surface.

Weight

This is a pretty heavy lens for it’s size. There’s a black paint and polished steel versions available (silver 293g, black 220g). The steel version, which is made out of the heavier material, is so heavy that a small moon orbits it. (Could also be a space station.) On a relatively heavy camera body, let’s say any Leica M camera, which is a total brick on it’s own right, sums up to a pretty hefty camera. It is starting to be on the brink of being a bit cumbersome every day carry. I suppose it’s not that bad after getting used to it. Neck injuries are so under appreciated…

A lighter body will yield in a very front heavy camera. I’ve used the lens on my Fuji X-E2 digital camera. The lens weighs hundred times more than the camera body. It works, looks nice, but it’s awkward to use. 

Aperture blades, all 10 of them, in close-up.

Build quality

I wish more products would still be made with this kind of precision and pride. Once you get your hands on one of these things, a modern Canon 50mm f1.8 will give you a skin rash. There’s no competition. The modern fifty nifties aren’t very well made and the materials are horrible. They are not designed to last more than five or ten years until the plastic gears will give up. Sure, they’re cheap and optically they do what they’re supposed to, but it’s such a shame that such plasticy crap is made in this world so much. Something like this Voigtländer on the other hand will last forever, because it’s made out of materials that can withstand the test of time. 

In addition to high quality materials, the lens is delightfully well put together. Absolutely nothing wiggles or waggles. It is a joy to use. Everything is well machined with precision.


Edit: I have now an overview article available of the Voigtländer 35mm f1.4 lens as well. You may also be interested in my article called Voigtländer love.