"Lost" Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 Review reinstated

A couple of years ago I did a review of the Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 lens for micro four thirds and with the new format of the blog, it "disappeared". I've found a copy of the original three parts on another blog I started, and amalgamated them into one here so this "lost" review is now reinstated. Still a great lens.

Review originally posted November 2010

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The AMAZING Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f0.95 m4/3 lens.

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 E-P2


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1



Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


HANDLING AND USABILITY.


Firstly I should say that having a m4/3 mount hasn't improved the exif data situation. There is still no recognition of the lens and aperture and shutter speed aren't recorded. In that respect it  performs just like any other manual lens with an adapter.


Being a fast lens with a (very) wide aperture the lens is larger and heavier than a "normal" standard lens. It does however feel very comfortable to work with. Personally I'm used to using M-Mount and other non-native lenses on m4/3, which are often bulkier, but if you are not you may find it feels somewhat heavier than you're used to. Its obviously much bigger than the 20mm f1.7 pancake, which is the nearest native m4/3 equivalent, but it balances nicely on all the micro four cameras, with the possible exception of the GF1, on which its a bit disproportionate.


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 GF1


There's an included hood, but personally I'm not sure how much I would use it. Its somewhat large and obtrusive. However its a nice addition if you need it and it comes with its own cap so that you don't need to remove the hood if you don't want to.


P1000059


It is exceptionally well made and completely different from the somewhat fragile feel of many of the m4/3 lenses. Its solid metal and feels very robust and sturdy. The aperture and focusing rings are close to perfect. Just the right combination of solidity and smoothness. 


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 GH1


It sits very nicely on the GH1 and the camera / lens combination handles very much like a small DSLR. Its a personal choice but I don't like a camera and lens to be too light. Sometimes I find m4/3 cameras and lenses can feel somewhat insubstantial. I appreciate the lightness but I do like a solid feel to my cameras and lenses. If you're looking for a pocketable solution, this isn't it. I'm afraid you'll have to treat it like a real camera and either use a camera bag or a strap. 


The combined weight of GH1 + lens is slightly over 800g, which is around the weight of a Canon 7D body only, so its not a particularly light outfit. I've no problem with this but it may be to others.


FOCUSING.


I was concerned that I may have problems focusing at f/0.95 but these fears proved unfounded. On the GH1 its really easy, with the magnification aid the lens snaps into focus. Even in low light, because of the speed of the wide aperture the EVF produces a nice clean image. My shot of the car from yesterdays post was taken in near darkness & I was able to focus quite easily. Its even possible to focus up to f8 without having to go wider, focus and then stop down again. 


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


CLOSE UP.


This lens focuses to just over 6" or 17 CM. This is INCREDIBLY useful. Having used M-Mount lenses with their closest focusing of .5 metre and even .9 metre in some cases this is a revelation. It enables a semi-macro type of photography. Mike Kobal in his excellent review at:- http://www.mikekobal.com/blog/?p=869 says the magnification is 1:3.9 which is excellent for a lens of this type. 


BOKEH.


Incredible. There's no other word for it. At f0.95 it is simply wonderful.

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


The lens is lovely and sharp at the point of focus and beautifully smooth everywhere else.


PERFORMANCE.


I'll deal with this in more depth after using it for "real world" test but initial impressions are very positive. 


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


Wide open its very good, and I've detected very little CA and fringing, but I haven't shot that much with it. On what I've seen so far I would have no problem whatsoever using it wide open. I only briefly tried it at f5.6 and f8 due to the appalling weather I was working in, but these were VERY impressive. One photographer who has been using it for a few days described the f8 performance as "stunning". I wouldn't disagree with him.


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


FIRST IMPRESSIONS.


I'm running this over three days because I believe that this is a really important development in m4/3 terms. The first non-Olympus/Panasonic native m4/3 lens by a respected lens manufacturer is a significant event and it seems that Voigtlander have produced an absolute gem straight off. I spent yesterday afternoon enduring heavy rain, wind and cold just to use this lens. After my first initial test shots I just couldn't put it down. 


By any criteria this is an incredibly fast lens. I've never personally used anything this fast. It's not cheap, but a Leica 50mm f/0.95 is around £7000. At that price don't expect any comparisons between that and the Nokton, unless some kind soul or company would like to lend me one for a few days! 


It opens up all sorts of possibilities for the m4/3 system for use in low light, as well as being a top quality lens in its own right. I really couldn't find anything to fault it on but I'll reserve final judgement until I've used it more.




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Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 GH1





Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 GH1

ON LOCATION

Finally got a day with blue skies and sunshine. I went off to Stratford Upon Avon with just my GH1 fitted with the Voigtlander to give it a "real world" test.

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

There is some vignetting at f/0.95. This can be fixed in Photoshop, but it is there. Using this aperture in bright sunlight is just possible, thanks to the GH1's 1/4000 sec. top shutter speed. On most occasions I would have used f/2.8 or something like that but the effect is undeniably attractive. The background here was quite messy and the very shallow depth of field has eliminated that.

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

Shot directly into the sun at f/11, this is a good result. I did get other flare problems with strong sunlight coming from the side however, and should have taken the hood!!

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1


CA and fringing is present, but its much better than on many lenses I have. Its very rare to find a lens that doesn't do this. With winter approaching I always dread this, as bare branches against the sky are always a problem with the blue or purple borders that appear. I have various methods of reducing it, though I've never found a totally successful solution. However the Nokton is pretty good in this respect.

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

One of the things I really do appreciate is that the distance markings are not just cosmetic but actually work. This means that the hyperfocal distance comes into play. I took many general landscape shots with the lens set at infinity on f/8 and they were all fine. I also took shots like the following, where I didn't focus on anything particular but set the infinity mark on the lens to f/16. I had enough light to be able to use that aperture and as you can see everything is in focus.

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

Again if was wasn't testing I would have used a wider aperture, but it also served to see what f/16 was like. The answer to which was OK, but not as sharp as F/8 which seems to be the optimum aperture for this lens.

Just a brief word on depth of field. This lens is a 25mm. Therefore it provides the DOF for a lens of that focal length. Because of the crop factor of the sensor what appears in the viewfinder is the same view as if you were using a 50mm "standard" lens on a 35mm film camera or a digital camera with what has become known as a "full-frame" sensor. I chose my words very carefully there. No mention of equivalents or saying things like 25mm at f0./95 is really..... etc. Its possibility about time we stopped thinking in 35mm terms for lenses, though I will admit its quite difficult for me personally to do that. There is now a generation of photographers using digital cameras who have never used 35mm anyway, and must wonder what all the fuss is about.

However, there is no doubt that having a 25mm as a "standard" lens does give DOF advantages. This means that for shots like the one below, I was able to focus about halfway along the boat in the foreground, set f/8 as my aperture and get a picture that is "in focus" from front to back.

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

Personally, I do see this an advantage. Shooting a lot of landscape and travel work, I want a lot of depth of field. Differential focus and bokeh is all very well but getting things in focus is much more important to me and for the work I do. I've always thought that some peoples obsession with shallow depth of field is somewhat strange. I see fast lenses as a way of achieving images in less than ideal light, rather than some creative option. For example. this lens at 25mm is far more useful for me than getting a 50mm f/0.95 lens for my Leica. (Good job really, considering the price!!)

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

For example, I chose f/2.8 for this picture of Lady Macbeth. I wanted the statue of her creator behind to be out of focus, but not "disappear".

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

Using a manual focus lens obviously slows things down somewhat (How did we all cope without autofocus!) but with the possibility to use the hyperfocal distance and zone focusing shots like the swans above are possible. OK they don't move very fast, but I wasn't sure that they wouldn't break formation.

 Using the lens at narrower apertures confirmed my initial assessment that this is a very sharp lens. Everything from f/2.8 to f/11 is superb, with f/8 seemingly the best. Wide open its very good, and moving through f/1.4 and f/2 the sharpness improves. I really wouldn't have any problem using it at any aperture.

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

I shot a couple of multi-image panoramas, and these were very sharp and detailed. I'm very happy with the colour rendition of the lens also and the contrast, all of which combine to produce nice punchy pictures. 

Its obvious that Voigtlander have taken the opportunity to work with the m4/3 format and produce a lens that suits that system. The bulk of their other lenses are designed for rangefinders and while many of them are excellent on m4/3, its nice to use a lens that's specifically designed for the format. It has allowed the 17cm close focus, which is significantly more than most, if not all of their rangefinder lenses can achieve. Its allowed a relatively small lens for the speed. A 25mm f/0.95 lens that worked on a full-frame rangefinder would be huge.

If you can cope with manual focus then its actually a very versatile lens. During my day with it, I didn't find myself wishing I'd taken another lens. Seeing the results I'm very impressed with the image quality. Its not just a speed merchant, its a very high quality lens at all apertures. I'm very impressed with it, and while I am aware that its expensive, the old cliche that you get what you pay for does hold true most of the time. Is it sharper than the 20mm f/1.7 pancake? My gut reaction says it is, but until I prove that to myself, I'll leave it at that. It doesn't however take anything away from the 20mm which was, is and always will be a stunning lens. 

The Nokton gives a wonderful opportunity to explore the world of seriously fast lenses without resorting to rebadged c-mount surveillance lenses, and it is to be hoped that this is the start of a series of quality offerings from Voigtlander. I'm sure we could all give them a list of what we want and a fast wide-angle would be top of my list. For many people a fast medium telephoto / portrait lens would be a priority. I'm very happy with my Olympus 50mm f/2 macro, but I can see the attraction.

Hopefully today I'll be able to do a test video with the lens to finish off the review tomorrow. I'll do a final summing up then, but its not going to be substantially different from what I've indicated already. This is a very good lens, maybe even a great one. Its not perfect, but there hasn't been a lens made yet (or probably ever will be) that deserves that description. I'm very happy with it and it will serve me well in a variety of shooting situations.


Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1

Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 Panasonic Lumix GH1



OTHER REVIEWS AND SAMPLES

http://www.mu-43.com/reviews/showproduct.php?product=48

http://www.mikekobal.com/blog/?p=869

http://www.flickr.com/groups/1533591@N20/

http://www.flickr.com/groups/1505867@N20/pool/with/5165073086/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/55481309@N07/sets/72157625182205103/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/55481309@N07/sets/72157625306978442/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/23034038@N05/sets/72157625171495361/with/5149492716/

http://asia.cnet.com/crave/2010/11/04/hands-on-with-the-cosina-voigtlander-nokton-25mm-f0-95/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/suddenlyhere/sets/72157625303565904/with/5142299365/

FINAL WORDS AND ASSESSMENT


This is a unique lens. Personally I love it and will use it a lot. As well as its main selling point, the fast 0.95 aperture it is an excellent sharp lens in its own right. If you are happy to work with manual focus I have no hesitation in recommending it. However, if you are considering buying it I would advise you to be sure that you can work with it. I don't have a problem with the cons below, apart from the price!, but others may feel differently.


PROS


Fast aperture
Close focus to .17 metre
Beautiful Bokeh
Sharp crisp results
Build Quality
No need for adapters


CONS


CA and fringing wide open
Manual Focus
No electronic connection with body - so incomplete exif data
Heavy
Price




There is an album of test shots originally on flckr here on Google+


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