Voigtlander 50mm F/1.1 Nokton on Leica M8





The first thing to say about this remarkable lens is the build quality which is excellent. Aperture selection and focusing rings are perfect, a delight to use.
Its a chunky and quite heavy lens (for a Voigtlander) & fitted to the M8 it gives a very sturdy feel. I personally like the whole "feel" of it, but then I am used to heavy DSLR's. Long time rangefinder users may find the combination weightier than they are used to.
Its however lighter than the Leica 50mm f0.95 Noctilux-M (and 1/5th. of the price!)

Ultra fast lenses are quite rare and usually very expensive. At £1100 this is not cheap and considering the F/1.5 is less than half the price, why did I buy it?

Its well known that in the world of ultra-fast lenses the law of diminishing returns applies. One extra half stop usually means a significant price hike. In the case of Voigtlander 50mm lenses the extra stop from this lens means a 2X more price jump.
But if that half or full stop means the difference between a picture & no picture, then its worth every penny.
I work in lots of situations where I'm photographing people & events in very low light. Situations where flashguns are not allowed & where people are not conveniently standing still all the time. I also need to provide high quality images, shot at the lowest ISO possible. This includes Weddings, Workshops, Schools, Factories and Theatres. Image stabilisation isn't going to get the job done, neither is a tripod. The only answer in many of these situations is an ultra-fast lens. In addition to photographs I'm now shooting a lot of video. This lens will double up up on my Panasonic GH1 for stills and video, where it becomes the 35mm equivalent of a 100mm F/1.1. Combined with my recently aquired Summilux 25mm F/1.4 these two lenses will give me excellent low light options for that camera.
The other advantage to ultra fast lenses is the limited depth of field. In most cases I am unable to organise the environment in which I work & many of them can be either unnatractive, cluttered or both at the same time. I'm often looking to focus on a person and eliminate a confusing and unobtrusive background.

The final advantage to this lens is that it brings my M8 into play as a low-light camera. The more I use the M8, the more I like it. I'm gradually getting used to the operational idiosyncracies and I can now work much faster with it. What I'm not getting used to is those images popping up on my screen. I'm still getting that "wow" reaction all the time. The sharpness, the colour, the contrast are all amazing. The M8 is sometimes described as merely a box for attaching m-mount lenses to. Lots of reviews miss just how good the sensor is. I don't think anyone would seriously argue that the higher ISO's are particularly useable but at ISO 160-320 its pretty sensational.

So back to the Nokton. The most important question is how does it perform wide open? To this end I took myself off for the afternoon to the Avoncroft Buildings museum. This is a large area filled with historic buildings rescued and re-built in the middle of the Worcestershire countryside. A quite remarkable place & well worth a visit. On-site there are factories, churches and barns, many with no lights inside. An ideal testing ground for the lens.

The simple answer to the question is that it performs well. The fact that it performs at all at F/1.1 is remarkable enough. In terms of sharpness it performs well, though without the excellent results found when stopped down. There is also some blue/purple fringing around highlights which cannot be removed by setting up a profile in photoshop. It can however be removed using Photoshops colour noise filter. I tend not to give too much importance to defects I can easily fix & this is easily fixed. The bokeh is also very nice.
The main problem is that of actually using it. I'm used to focusing lenses manually but focusing an f/1.1 lens in low light is not easy. You have to be absolutely perfect with one of these as the depth of field is miniscule. We're talking fractions of an inch here. I did achieve a higher hit rate than I was expecting but low contrast dimly lit subjects are VERY difficult. In situations like this AF is not especially better. I used a 50mm F/1.2 Canon lens for a while and that was equally problematic.
If this lens is something that you might consider using then be prepared to practice, be prepared for some failures and if you wear glasses, as I do, make sure they are spot on!
The other problem is that the minimum focusing distance is 0.9 metres, which is about 3 feet. Thats fine for me but if you need to focus closer than this then you will have to look elsewhere.

Having said all that I was very pleased with the results. I was shooting in some very murky conditions & only had to resort to ISO 320 once. The feeling of being able to walk into a dark environment and know that you can still take pictures is quite exhilarating and I do love the effect of minimal depth of field.

I did take images at other apertures & these were very good indeed. From F/2.8 onwards it produces very sharp, very clean images. My favourite lens ever is my Nikon MF 50mm F/1.2 but I think its going to be replaced in my affections!

I've posted some full size samples at:-
http://www.flickr.com/photos/29782425@N08/sets/72157621232036072/

In conclusion:-
I'm very happy with this lens. There are of course the Leica alternatives which are even faster, but I'm not sure I could ever consider paying £5000+ for a lens.
It does the job wide open and more than that when stopped down. It will prove very useful for my work & will give me lots more options. It will make a difference to what I am able to offer & that makes it an extremely useful addition to my lens collection.

COMING SOON!

Voigtlander 50mm F/1.1 Nokton on Panasonic GH1 - Stills + Video