Close

One Camera, One Lens : Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.2 and Sony a9 in Baja

You know that moment when it’s time to pack your camera bag and you can’t decide what to take so you grab everything? I know this feeling well but this time I committed to the simplicity of one camera, one lens.

My default vacation lens kit usually consists of a traditional 35mm, 50mm and 85mm combo. To pare down to one lens, I would choose either the 35mm or the 50mm; but, what if there was a magical fov somewhere in between, say a 40mm? And what if that 40mm was also super fast, like f/1.2 fast? Luckily, the new Voigtlander 40mm Nokton f/1.2 manual focus lens does exist and it graced my doorstep just a few days before leaving for a quick recharge at Hotel San Cristobal outside Todos Santos, Baja California Sur.


 

 

a7RIII-0001

Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.2 on the upcoming Sony a7RIII. Unfortunately I did not have access to the a7RIII for this trip

Long a fan of 40mm – it’s an almost perfect solution for shooting the narrow zone in between a wide and standard lens- and with an aperture of f/1.2, this is a lens that can both siphon light from dark and isolate your subject for a 3d pop that rivals medium format.

Baja Mexico 2017-0103Baja Mexico 2017-0119Baja Mexico 2017-0108Baja Mexico 2017-0058

I like to mess around with adapted manual focus lenses, usually small ones originally designed for rangefinder cameras. These lenses match well with the compact size of the newest Sony cameras and allow us to pack small and light when desired. But until now, I didn’t want to buy one designed only for the Sony E-mount – not when M-mount lenses can be used both on my digital and film cameras.

But the more I thought about it, the more the appeal of this new Voigtlander solidified. First off, the size is right – not too big, not too small, almost a perfect balance on the Sony a9 camera body at less than a pound. Then I thought about the manual focus tools on the Sony which have gotten better over the years. Focus peaking on the a9 works perfectly when shooting wide open – more about that later- and the lens is coupled to the E-mount system so that if you want, auto magnification will kick in when you rotate the focus ring. Pretty cool.

Baja Mexico 2017-0047Baja Mexico 2017-0067Baja Mexico 2017-0055Baja Mexico 2017-0053Baja Mexico 2017-0040Baja Mexico 2017-0068Baja Mexico 2017-0064Baja Mexico 2017-0056

The Nokton also has an adjustable click or click-less aperture ring that the video crowd will appreciate and of course full metadata support. Its build quality is outstanding – similar to that of the Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2 lens, if you’ve ever had a chance to hold one. All metal and glass construction harkens back to the analog days, and if we’re honest, that’s a big part of the draw. With the perfection of digital being so damn perfect, sometimes its nice to put the visual brakes on and draw with something different.

Before getting into the optical characteristics of the lens, I do want to mention that it does focus very close (about 10″) but the downside to that capability is a semi-long focus throw – about 160 degrees. Not horrible but I’d prefer shorter.

Cosina state that this lens is designed with two aspherical elements “to suppress spherical aberrations and distortion for notable sharpness, clarity, and accurate rendering”. While that sounds like more digital perfection, this lens draws some similarity to the Zeiss C-Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 – a lens that is adored for its lack of corrections. While the Nokton is a much sharper lens and better corrected for chromatic aberrations, on occasion its images remind me of ones I’ve taken with the C-Sonnar, and that friends is a very good thing.

Baja Mexico 2017-0013Baja Mexico 2017-0159Baja Mexico 2017-0009Baja Mexico 2017-0014Baja Mexico 2017-0017Baja Mexico 2017-0032Baja Mexico 2017-0021Baja Mexico 2017-0024Baja Mexico 2017-0029Baja Mexico 2017-0030Baja Mexico 2017-0026Baja Mexico 2017-0033

Wide open, the Nokton is surprisingly sharp – don’t expect Sony G Master sharpness but we are talking about f/1.2 in a $1k lens, so I am nothing but impressed. Stopping down to f/1.4 doesn’t do much to improve center sharpness, but go to f/2 or 2.8 and you will be slicing up eyeballs. But what impresses me the most of this lens is that when shot wide open, it just looks analog – there’s no better description. The subject isolation and 3d pop is outstanding, especially with subjects in that mid zone of say 10-20 feet. Images have a look that, on the full frame a9, draw as close to traditional medium format as I have seen. Yes, there is some CA at the widest apertures and vignetting makes its presence known abundantly, but nothing a little post work can’t correct if you feel the need.

It’s worth noting that the Sony a9 has a feature that makes it uniquely suited to the Nokton. The shutter on the a9 can be set to mechanical (1/8000 limited) or electronic (1/32000 limited) or automatic. In auto mode, the camera gracefully switches between the mechanical shutter and electronic modes to handle the need for faster shutter speeds when shooting f/1.2 in bright sun. Say goodbye to ND filters if you want to photograph with your lens wide open in daylight.

Baja Mexico 2017-0070Baja Mexico 2017-0073Baja Mexico 2017-0076Baja Mexico 2017-0081Baja Mexico 2017-0080Baja Mexico 2017-0082Baja Mexico 2017-0075Baja Mexico 2017-0084

The shooting experience on the a9 is engaging, dare I even say fun. Focus peaking on the a9 is perfect at wide apertures, which was not always the case with earlier models so thank you Sony. Where I did find the limit to focus peaking was when stopping the lens down to f/5.6 or more. While this seems counter intuitive, because more should be in focus, that’s the problem – the focus peaking indicators show too much in focus when some areas are not perfectly sharp. So for deep field focus shots I stop down and pre-focus using magnification. Once set, the camera becomes point-and-shoot, which I imagine will be appealing to street shooters.

It takes a short while to understand a lenses capabilities but if you give it a wide diet of scenes, you can get a good idea pretty quickly. The accompanying set of photos are mostly vacation snaps and a few images the hotel could use, but I tried to shoot close and far, wide open and stopped down, daylight, sunsets, low-light – everything to provide feedback about the lens – would I love it, hate it, be indifferent?

Baja Mexico 2017-0101Baja Mexico 2017-0102Baja Mexico 2017-0105Baja Mexico 2017-0106Baja Mexico 2017-0107Baja Mexico 2017-0113Baja Mexico 2017-0117Baja Mexico 2017-0118Baja Mexico 2017-0121Baja Mexico 2017-0122

You can probably tell, that the report is positive. I think this is going to be a very popular lens for photographers that tend to work in the traditional documentary fovs. I kept looking for faults but only found things I like. If there is any knock against the Nokton, it will be the price – but I think it is rightly situated above its smaller brother, the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f/1.4 (half the cost and half the image quality at f/1.4.)

This is a lens that is sharp when it needs to be, well behaved, but still looks less digital than most modern designs. It draws a picture that reminds me of the moment in an almost emotional way, but still clinical enough to not let you forget the heights we are reaching with resolving power.

For this next set of photos I have to plug my new friend Carlos, the owner at Todos Santos Surf Shop – he was just the best tour guide for a whale shark and sea lion swim experience. Check him out if you are near La Paz and want to swim with these beautiful creatures.

Baja Mexico 2017-0124Baja Mexico 2017-0127Baja Mexico 2017-0131Baja Mexico 2017-0130Baja Mexico 2017-0132Baja Mexico 2017-0133Baja Mexico 2017-0135Baja Mexico 2017-0136Baja Mexico 2017-0137Baja Mexico 2017-0138Baja Mexico 2017-0140Baja Mexico 2017-0141Baja Mexico 2017-0143Baja Mexico 2017-0144Baja Mexico 2017-0147Baja Mexico 2017-0150Baja Mexico 2017-0151Baja Mexico 2017-0153Baja Mexico 2017-0152Baja Mexico 2017-0154

The fact that I have almost made it to the summary without mentioning bokeh is interesting. Honestly, I forgot about it. I realize that must seem crazy for an f/1.2 lens but I just don’t look at this Nokton as a bokeh machine. I’m not saying that because it can’t produce nice bokeh – it does and many will love it – but I just don’t shoot it that way. I had to actually go back and look through the images to remind myself how I feel, and bokeh can be tricky so let me try my best to describe it. First, what strikes me always about this lens is the transition from focus to out-of-focus. I’m not talking about how it renders a highlight or the shape of the circle, but the zone of defocus that either precedes or follows the subject. There is nothing abrupt or jarring about that transition on the Nokton – everything is so smooth. Nervous is not a word I would ever use. The look is similar to a hybrid of the Zeiss Sonnar and Planar designs – also a good thing. So what about those bokeh balls? Well I think they are kind of nice – elongated but creamy, very classic looking.

Nokton -0002

bokeh ball thingies

For photographers that love the look of analog 35mm, lenses like the Nokton are a lifeline to the past. The fact that we have companies developing these traditional lenses built-purposefully for the most advanced mirrorless platforms is almost a miracle. With the ascension of digital and the previous popularity of the dSLR, we easily could have lost the old rangefinder designs and the look of those lenses. Instead, we have lenses that work like the reportage standards but with a mix of classic and modern rendering on cameras that deliver impressive technical results. I can’t wait to shoot this lens on the upcoming Sony a7RIII and I don’t think I’ll be the only one.

For the record, I am a Sony Artisan of Imagery but have no affiliation with Cosina (Voigtlander). I bought the Nokton myself at full price and I’m keeping it.

Full set of sample images from the trip – click for full resolution link and basic metadata:

 

2 Comments

  1. Very convincing 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    Reply

  2. Very disarable and great photo’s! Would you say getting the m-mount is a sensible idea with the ability to use the techart autofocus adapter? Would you miss the auto magnifier when you focus the lens?

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: