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Introduction

When Cosina, the owner of the Voigtlander brand name, first announced the availability of Nokton 50mm f/1.1, the rangefinder world as well knew came crushing down. Prior to Cosina surprising everyone with this lens, the only game in town for Leica bayonet cameras was Leica itself with the Noctilux 50mm (f/1.2for the first gen lens, f/1 for the second gen and finally f/0.95 for the third, most current version). But as everything Leica manufactured, the price of Noctilux is astronomical - you can essentially buy a used compact car for the price of a new copy of Noctilux. Naturally, few people can afford such a lens - I personally can't even dream about spending that much on a lens. Mr. Kobayashi to the rescue! The founder and president of Cosina is knowin for pushing the envelope when it comes down to lens design. After all, Cosina is the company which also brought us the most affordable ultra wide lenses for Leica mounts, the Wide Heliar 15mm f/4.5 and the Ultra Wide Heliar 12mm f/5.6. The bottom line is that with the introduction of Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.1, Cosina proved once again that ultra fast affordable glass is not a dream

With the price/performance philosophy in mind, Cosina obviously had to make a number of tradeoffs, which are going to be clearly visible to long-time Leica users. The first trade off was not to use any spherical elements, which cut down the cost of manufacturing. The second and most observable difference between Voigtlander and Leica lenses is the build quality. Not that the build of Nokton 50mm f/1.1 is bad. On contre, when compared to the most modern plastic lenses from the Big Three (or is it Big Five now?), Voigtlander lens is head and shoulders above in this department, with its full metal barrel, scalloped focusing ring and metal hood. But, while Voigtlander lenses are superbly built, Leica still reigns here with tighter tolerances and smoother operation.

Because of its speed, Nokton is a fairly chunky lens. At 428g (~1lb) and 7- x 57mm (2.75 x 2.24in), the lens is large and heavy in the world of Leica, but can be considered compact among SLR users. The optical construction of the lens consists of 7 elements in 6 groups. As with all M mount lenses, Nokton has a manual ffocus ring and a dedicated aperture ring. The aperture ring clicks in half f-stop increments with the minimum aperture of f/16. The minimum focusing is 1m and the lens accepts 58mm screw-in type filters.

 

 

 

Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.1 has a traditional M bayonet mount and can be used without any adapters on any modern as well as past generation Leica M cameras (and their clones), including obviously M8/M9. You can also use the lens on a number of modern mirror-less cameras like Sony NEX and Micro Four Thirds cameras using special adapters. Within the scope of this review, the lens was tested on an APS-H type Leica M8 giving an EFOV of 67mm.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 7 elements in 6 groups
Angular Field 46 degrees
Minimum Focus 1m/5.9ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/1.1-f/16, manual
Filter Size 58mm
Lens Hood Metal (included)
Weight 428g/0.94lb
Dimensions 70x57mm/2.75x2.24"
Lens Case N/A

 

Handling

Those of you familiar with the Voigtlander product line probably recall that prior to the f/1.1 version, the company used to offer Nokton 50mm f/1.5 Aspherical in LTM mount. This lens was very well regarded, and while Cosina has discontinued this model in favor of the super fast f/1.1 version, copies of Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 Aspherical are quite popular on used markets and the prices for this lens don't seem to drop over time. It's a pity that Cosina decided to completely discontinue that version and instead is now offering a limited edition Heliar 50mm f/2, effectively for twice the price of the original 50mm Nokton. Of course, an ultra fast 50mm lens is often a status symbol then anything else - after all, how many of us truly require an extra stop or two because we cannot achieve what we need by simply boosting an ISO level? And so by offering an f/1.1 version, Cosina might be trying to appeal not only to our ulter ego but also to our rational side that constantly nags us when we think about doing something bordering with crazy (like spending $10,000 on that Noctilux). Regardless whether you're craving for an affordable (yes, despite it's ~$1,000 price tag, Nokton falls into affordable category in the otherwise overpriced Leica world in my opinion) ulra fast glass because of the actual or imaginary need for that f/1 aperture, you should realize that lenses of that speed are more about trade-offs than anything else. I will cover performance in the followup sections, but let's first start with handling.

ISO 640, 1/45, f/1.1 (Leica M8)

Because of the ultra large max aperture, Nokton is a fairly chunky lens. Chunkiness is obviously a relative term here, particularly if the reader is used to the bulky and heavy SLR lenses like Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM. Compared to such SLR lenses, Nokton might be perceived quite small, but in the Leica rangefinder world, Nokton is a heavy-weight. It is about 2x the size and weight compared to for example Carl Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm f/1.4 or Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH, although it is slightly smaller/lighter then the current version of Noctilux 50mm f/.0.95 ASPH. Once mounted on M8 (or M9 for that matter), the combo is not as compact and discreet as one would hope for from a rangefinder. However, Nokton's chunkiness comes from its diameter rather than its length. Because of that, the lens actually does not block that much of the viewfinder - without the stock hood attached, Nokton blocks ~2% of the 50mm frame line area and ~15% of the entire viewfinder area. With the stock hood attached, ~5% of the 50mm frame line area and ~18% of the total viewfinder area will be blocked. Because the lens barrel extends during focusing, viewfinder blocking will be ~3-5% higher once the lens is fully extended at the minimum focusing distance.

As with any other Voigtlander lens in M mount, you have an option of coding Nokton 50mm f/1.1 when using it with M8/M9 cameras. Nokton has a shallow groove in the mount, which makes it easy to hand-code the lens and prevents the paint from being worn off or smudged when mounted on the camera repeatedly. The obvious benefit is to let the camera's software to correct for various artifacts like vignetting and cyan/red shift. While personally I have not found a need to code the 50/1.1 Nokton (I prefer to use post-processing when dealing with such artifacts), user reports claim that the Noctilux 50mm f/1.2 6 bit-code works quite well with this lens.

Common to all manual ffocus lenses for Leica mount, Nokton 50/1.1 sports a DOF scale, which you can use to preset the lens to hyper-focal distance for a quick shooting - setting the lens to f/16 gives you a working range from ~2.5m to infinity, which is quite convinient for street photography when you do not have much time to focus or when your subject is moving. Focusing the lens can be quite frustrating though, particularly at its widest apertures, due to the super shallow DOF. Even slightest movement of the focusing ring, which by the way rotates for only ~90 degrees when going from closeup to the infinity and thus does not offer too much precision, would put your subject out of focus. A properly calibrated rangefinder is an absolute must with this lens. As is the understanding that all non-aspherical super fast lenses like Nokton 50mm f/1.1 exhibit some degree of focus shift, which can make you bang your head on the table trying to understand why the picture you just took looks out of focus (and yes, Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.1 does show focus shift, but more on that later).