Size Matters – Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4

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.

Nokton 35mm f1.4v2

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

Leica M9 B&W Portrait

Leica M9 Fashion

Voigtlander Bessa R3A Portrait

Ukraine

Leica, Ukraine

Leica M2 + Nokton 40mm + B&W Film

Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4

CV Nokton 40mm f1.4 Bokeh

Leica Portrait

Leica M9 Fashion

..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 🙂

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Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH II Leica Wedding

UK Leica Wedding Photography

http://www.flickr.com/photos/32681588@N03/9641309853

Yesterday I was at Kenilworth Castle covering Lord Kenilworth’s wedding. I thought there would be some low light photography involved so that gave me the poor excuse of researching fast leica M mount primes. I do not yet own a Leica lens and see them as a good investment so was looking at the Leica 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (Crazy good poppy images – seen on Google Images!) and the cheaper older Leica 35mm f1.4 ASPH PRE-FLE. During my research I spotted the Voigtlander 35mm f1.2 ASPH II (Thanks Steve Huff and others!). I already have 3 VC lenses so know they are well made with great optics. I liked the idea of the new Leica FLE but I just couldn’t justify the money so settled with the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH II lens.

As I already own the VC 40mm f1.4 I was not sure if i’d just been caught up in the hype. There is not a huge difference on paper between 35mm and 40mm and f1.2 and f1.4. There is however a big difference in price, size and weight with the VC 35mm f1.2 ASPH II coming in higher with all 3. It is a weighty chunky lens by Leica standards with a 52mm thread!

vc 35 1.2 asph ii

Yesterday was the day of Lord Kenilworth’s wedding at Kenilworth Castle so thank you for http://www.RobertWhite.co.uk who sent me the lens with next day delivery. I was freelancing as a second shooter wedding photographer and had the VC 35mm f1.2 on my Leica M9 when I arrived. The lens was still on the camera when I left despite having a VC 28mm f2 Ultron, VC 21mm f4 Color Skopar, VC Nokton 40mm f1.4 and Zeiss ZM Planar 50mm f2 T in my bag.  The VC 35mm f1.2 can do it all and do it very well!  Sharp (though not as bitingly sharp as the VC 28mm f2 Ultron) shot at the widest aperture (f1.2) and easy enough to focus wide open for documentary style wedding photography. Everything from 3D looking images in good light to letting you shoot after the sun has gone down.

This photo above was taken when I had some down time and was walking back to fetch something. It was almost completely dark yet at f1.2 I was able to capture this silhouette shot of Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire.

95% of the day was Leica wedding photography with the Voigtlander 35mm f1.2 ASPH II. Leica wedding photography at it’s very best!!! 🙂 The remaining shots were taken with my Nikon D800 DSLR for telephoto shots of speaches and some 14mm wide angle shots.

Leica Flash Photography

I enjoy flash photography and provide 1-2-1 Photography Tuition and Lighting Workshops (link below) from my Coventry UK studio. I realise Leica and flash photography do not often come together in the same sentence but that didn’t deter me. I love shooting by directional available light when I can for both digital photography and film photography BUT.. when there is only low even light in a room it doesn’t really excite me. My eBay Yongnuo RF603s flash triggers do not work on the Leica M9 however my old Yongnuo RF602s do. I decided to combine my basic knowledge of hyperfocal distance photography (as would be used for street photography) together with what I know about off camera flash and hit the dance floor with my Leica M9 in one hand flash in the other. Shooting from the hip (and eye away from viewfinder) I was able to see everything and not have to focus in next to no light yet get myself some nice crisp low light dancing shots. This was a new idea for me but it worked well so I will certainly do again.

Leica M9 vs DSLR

I’ve had to change some of my photography techniques moving from a DSLR (Nikon D800) to a Leica M9 over the last 3 weeks or so but each change has been to me for the better and more enjoyable to execute. I realise I am very bias as a new Leica photographer/ owner but the photos it produces win me over everytime.

The organic looking images rendered from the Voigtlander Nokton 35m f1.2 ASPH II on the Leica M9’s Kodak CCD sensor just can’t be replicated by a DSLR. It is SO good in fact I now worry about all my film cameras! :S

In conclusion, very impressed with Voigtlander’s offering..watch out Leica!

Full Leica M9 wedding photography blog and samples from Kenilworth Castle to follow once I have permission!

UPDATE* Here are a few Leica M9 Wedding postable shots without people:
Leica Wedding Photography - M9 & VC 35/1.2
Leica Wedding Cake
Coventry Wedding Photographer

And here the first sample with Lord and Lady Kenilworth at Kenilworth Castle
Lord & Lady Kenilworth - Wedding

MatthewOsbornePhotography – UK Leica Wedding Photographer

Related Links

UK Leica M9 Wedding Photographer – Book Here

1-2-1 Photography Tuition and Lighting Workshops – Book Here

More Leica M9 Wedding Photography – Deb & Paul

More Leica M9 Wedding Photography – Craig & Joise Colour

More Leica M9 Wedding Photography – Craig & Joise B&W

Leica M9 Model Photography

Reunited!! Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 :D

I just dug this old self portrait shot from the Flickr archives as it shows me using probably my favourite lens of all time. The Voigtlander (Nokton) 40mm f1.4 lens. It is ultra compact, really well made, super sharp and a joy to use. The Lumix G1 was my first ‘proper’ camera and from that developed my all consuming photography passion that is now a huge part of my life.

voigtlander 40mm f1.4

I remember the Nokton Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 arriving and I fitted in to my red Lumix G1 instead of the usual 14-45mm Lumix kit lens (via a Leica M- M42 adapter). WOW! I was blown away by the quality and shallow DOF. The kit lens started collecting dust and my collection of primes began. It was a dark day when I decided to move to the Nikon camp in search of bigger and better. What saddened me most was not parting with the Lumix G1, though it had served me well, but the fact that I could not use the Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 with Nikon bodies.

That was 2010. Now 2013 things have changed some what. I now own many cameras and lenses, have a studio, shoot as a model photographer and wedding photographer and also teach photography courses and lighting workshops. Not only that but I now shoot 35mm and medium format film.

Today I was chatting with a like minded photographer and we got onto the subject of his Leica M9. As i strive for ultimate perfection in my photography work i’m always looking for bigger and better. I’ve never owned a Leica or even held one but I know they are good. In part because of the great lenses available.

Can you see a link approaching..!? 🙂

After my friend left I got on ebay.. Leica M3.M4.. hmm. I wanted a 35mm film body so was looking at the older models. I then stumbled across a mint condition Voigtlander Bessa R3A…with…a..Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 lens with it! SOLD to the man with the finger on the buy it now button! ME! I couldn’t risk losing the bid.

Voigtlander Bessa R3A

So coming soon will be model photography using my nearly new all singing all dancing Voigtllander Bessa R3A using the amazing Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 optics! Excited!

Here are some of my favourite Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 shots taken with my Panasonic Lumix G1 (before my model photography passion):

At the Side of the Road
Drinking abroad (before)
Rush hour sunrise
Summer Meadow
Seeds in the air
It's going to be a beautiful day :)
Ilam Park
Just a log

Nokton Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 + Raynox 250 macro lens on Lumix G1 (My passion used to be macro!)
Chalkhill Blue (2)
#7 Peekaboo!
Spring Barbed Wire
Clematis leaf
Nokton 40mm / Raynox 250 combo #3

Lastly, look out for a slightly modified version of this photo with a dafodil on the swing as Marie Curie charity are using it as their 2013 photo.
With a View

Ken Rockwell’s thoughts on a Voigtlander 40mm.. “I never thought it would come to this, but this Voigtländer lens is better than Nikon’s own lenses: it has better optics, better mechanics, and better ergonomics. How about that!”

Yep..as I said! 🙂

MatthewOsbornePhotography.co.uk