Size Matters – Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4 MC
Matthew Osborne Photography
As my photography ‘matures’ different things become important to me. In the earlier years bigger was best. I remember getting my first big lens, the Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 AF, and suddenly I felt like a ‘Pro’ when at family weddings as all ‘Pros’ have big cameras and big lenses don’t they?! I then up’d my game and got myself a Nikkor 200mm f2 AI-s prime lens. Now that is a proper lens and it makes you look more like the paparazzi than a wedding photographer.
All that was a few years back. Now I use Leica M cameras (+ medium format / large format film) and the opposite mentality applies. Smaller and more compact is best (for me). I have touched on this before but I am finding I am turning into more and more of a purest, with regards to my Leica M film cameras especially. I only want to use 50mm lenses on the Leica M3 (with it’s 50mm viewfinder) and I only ‘want’ to use 35mm lenses on the Leica M2 (with 35mm viewfinder). That is all well and good but the chosen lens needs to meet my requirements too. There is no point me having a small camera if I then hang a big lens on the front to imbalance it. Similarly, there is no point me putting a tiny lens on the camera if it cannot produces images that I ‘demand’. Therefore I need to find a happy medium / middle ground that ticks most of my boxes.
50mm (Leica M3) – My preferred lens is the 50mm Leica Summicron f2 v5 lens as it is smaller than the Summilux ASPH. I do use the Summilux if I need to work in low light and with colour film that I cannot push as easily. Black and white film is easier as I just develop as I need.
35mm (Leica M2) – I didn’t have a 35mm lens that I was 100% happy with.
35mm lens I have are:
- Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii lens which is very capable (and to me very usable shot wide open for paying clients) BUT all that comes at a cost. It is big and heavy. I think of it as my 35mm Noctilux with some slight similarities in certain conditions.
- Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 Pii is perhaps my smallest lens but with an f2.5 widest aperture is not bright enough for many of my available light photoshoots.
- Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5 – low contrast slow ‘fun’ lens. Not for serious work but great for personal work
New 35mm I considered:
- Older Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 Pre-ASPH
- Older Leica Summicron 35mm f2 Pre-ASPH
- Newer Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH
- Newer Leica Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH
- Zeiss ZM Biogon 35mm f2 T
- Zeiss ZM Distagon 35mm f1.4 T
- Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 SC
- Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 MC
I spent a fair bit of time reviewing images from the Leica lenses and Voigtlander lenses. I was happy size wise with all the Leicas and the Noktons. They are all tiny lenses and all built to a similar high standard. I ruled the Zeiss ZM lenses out immediately due to their bigger size. I already have sharp 35mm lenses if size is no issue. I am not normally a pixel peeper but I read a few reviews of the Leicas vs the Voigtlanders and yes the new Leica lenses are sharper but I bet 99% of the population could not tell images from these lenses apart once they had received basic editing. The little Voigtlander ‘Classic’ as it is called is not perfect by any means. I know as I have a Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4 already that I got on my Voigtlander Bessa R3A (that has 40mm framelines). Going back to the purest thing briefly, I could easily use the 40/1.4 on the M2 and I have done but I am not satisfied to guess between 35mm or 50mm framelines for the 40mm crop. I can’t compose precisely on film if I am guessing the crop / composition.
The Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 MC is not perfect as it is less sharp wide open vs new Leica lenses (in tests done by others), has heavier vignetting at wider apertures, gives soft focus corners to images wide open, has distortion so a straight line becomes slightly curved in a photo, has ‘harsh’ bokeh with highlight edges to the circles, lacks the flare resistance of modern Leica lenses, and often has some focus shift issues (f2-f4 approx). On the upside, the colours are better (more saturated) than the cooler colours of Leica glass, I like the harsh bokeh, I like vignetting, I like soft corners for portraits, I don’t mind a glow from slight flare and I plan to use it at f1.4 so am not worried about shift. Better still you can buy a new Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 for about half the price of an old Leica 35mm lens and about 4 times cheaper than a new 35mm Leica Summicron ASPH /Summilux ASPH. I was tempted to buy Leica but the older lenses are at least as soft as the Nokton wide open (it seems) and the Nokton has character rather than being clinical like the new Leica lenses (like my 50mm Summilux ASPH). To me the Voigtlander 35mm 1.4 is like a mini Noctilux in that it is the imperfections and low light ability that attract me most of all. I have had some great results with the 40mm Nokton so that helped my decision to buy a 35mm Nokton.
I bought the MC (multi-coated) version rather than the SC (single coated) as it has slightly less flare and more contrast. People often say SC is best for black and white film and MC for colour film. As I develop my own B&W film I control the contrast when I develop the film so I can easily develop film to be less constrasty if I need to retain more shadow detail. On the whole it is better for me to have high contrast and more apparent sharpness in camera from the lens so I chose the MC. The Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 MC will now spend it’s days on my Leica M2 for my ultimate travel companion and to pair with the Leica M3 + 50mm setup.
What triggered this purchase?
I was shooting in London yesterday and had my Leica M3, Leica M2 and Leica M9 cameras. I had the 40mm Nokton on the M2 and it fit like a glove. With the leather hand strap it was the perfect street photographer camera. Very minimal and HCB like! I then decided to take the Summilux off the Leica M3 to ‘borrow’ it on the M2 as I knew it was sharper. The size of the Summilux just ruined the whole feel of the camera and experience in general. I got home and thought to myself, I need a low light 35mm lens that is as small as the 40mm Nokton. I like the size of the 50mm Summicron but sometimes have to use the ‘Lux if low light.
I have also recently being tempted by 28mm lenses such as the Leica 28mm Summicron f2 or Leica Elmarit 28mm f2.8. I am most tempted buy the Elmarit for the M9 due to it’s compactness as the Leica M9 has 28mm framelines and I can adjust the ISO if need more light. That would be perfect for a compact digital travel camera setup but for my usual work, portraits and low light weddings I needed a faster lens and not quite as wide. 50mm is still my go to focal length for portraits but 35mm is good for environmental portraits, wedding photography, street photography and when working in tighter spaces.
Here are a few sample images using the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4 to give an idea of what images may look like
..As you may imagine I am not too concerned that the 35mm Nokton is not sharp enough or has a list of other failings. It’s 40mm sibling seems to do OK 🙂