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Introduction

Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 is one of three 35mm primes that Cosina, owner of the Voigtlander brand, is currently manufacturing for the M mount cameras. Technically speaking, Cosina discontinued its ASPH Nokton 35/1.2 recently, and announced it will be replaced by a redesigned version (with unknown availability at the time of this writing). Nokton 35/1.4 proved to be an instant hit on the market due to its aggressive pricing - at US$579 (after the recent $50 hike), the lens costs ~1/8th of the new Leica Summilux ASPH 35/1.4.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 8 elements in 6 groups. The build quality is similar to other Voigtlander lenses - metal barrel, metal focus and aperture rings. Overall build is not as refined as with Leica's lenses, but still much better than with most modern SLR lenses out there. The lens weights 200g (7oz) and measures 55 x 28mm (2.16 x 1.1in). The lens extends a little bit when focused towards closeup, but still remains very compact. The minimum focusing distance is 70cm and the filter thread is 43mm. The minimum aperture level is f/16.

 

Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 can be used for any M mount cameras, film or digital, including Leica M8 and M9, as well as on Sony NEX and MFT cameras, using dedicated adapters. Within the scope of this review the lens was tested on an APS-H type Leica M8, where it gives EFOV of ~46mm.

 


Summary
Lens Composition 8 elements in 6 groups
Angular Field 64 degrees
Minimum Focus 70cm/2.29ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/1.4-f/16, manual
Filter Size 43mm
Lens Hood Metal (optional
Weight 200g/7oz
Dimensions 55x28mm/2.16x1.1"
Lens Case N/A

 

Handling

The evolution of Voigtlander lenses, has been somewhat puzzling to me. Cosina made a big splash when it first announced the plans to offer LTM lenses back in later 90s. At that time, rangefinder market was shrinking very rapidly because of Leica missing the boat with digital and a set of brand new designs offered by Cosina created a lot of excitement in the otherwise stale market. Original Ultron ASPH 35/1.7 received fairly positive overall reception from many users - inexpensive (~US$370 new), decent build, aspherical glass, good performance. What not to like here? Then Cosina made an even bigger splash, announcing the fastest 35mm rangefinder lens ever designed - the famed Nokton ASPH 35mm f/1.2 came with big fanfares, but the lens received mixed reviews, as many thought that Cosina pushed the envelope too much with the optical design not quite suitable for such speeds. Some users swore by that lens, others complained about the lack of character at wider apertures. I am a reasonably happy owner of the Nokton 35/1.2, but that's a different story (review I mean). Then Cosina announced  the end of life for the original Ultron ASPH 35/1.7 and its replacement with Nokton 35/1.4. Rejoice photographers! More compact lens, half-stop faster, and still reasonably priced! On top of that, Nokton was available as single coated and multi coated version... Nice... Except, aspherical glass was gone, and after a little while online forums started to to collapse (overdramatization, obviously) under the complains of Nokton 35/1.4 users, claiming that their copies did not perform well at wide apertures. Some thought the problem was in shady quality control, others thought it was sample variation with wider manufacturing tolerances, yet some who actually did enough testing argued that the Nokton 35/1.4 exhibits focus shift, common to all fast lenses.

ISO 160, 1/2000, f/2, 35mm

Focus shift is not a new phenomenon - there are a few good write-ups on the web worth reading, but in a nutshell, the focus shift occurs in lenses predominantly due to spherical aberration left uncorrected, which shift the focusing plane at different aperture levels. Different designs exibit focus shift at different aperture levels - I own a Zeiss C Sonnar 50/1.5 ZM, which also exhibits focus shift, and the original copy I purchased exhibited focus shift at f/1.4 and f/2 (the common term used by many is 'the lens is optimized for f/2.8' since from f/2.8 and smaller apertures focus shift does not show up in images). Yet other lenses have exhibited focus shift at middle apertures, like f/4 or even f/5.6. Focusing distance plays the major role in the focus shift, which is most noticeable at distances near MFD and less so at infinity. But basically by employing more complex designs, including aspherical surfaces, lens designers can limit or even completely eliminate focus shift in a fast lens (for example, Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH, which does not show any focus shift).

Why am I rumbling on for so long? Well, Nokton 35/1.4 does have focus shift, and that's the most annoying part of handling this lens (for me at least). By ditching aspherical elements from the design, Cosina exposed the problem in Nokton. It is rather surprising and somewhat disappointing, considering that the company could have simply converted the well respected Ultron LTM design into an M lens fairly easily. Anyhow, below you can see the amount of focus ring rotation I had to use to compensate for the focus shift at f/1.4, f/2.8 and f/4.

 

 

As with other lenses that exhibit focus shift, your options basically boil down to: replacing the lens with one that does not have focus shift, trying to learn how to compensate for the focus shift, or sending the lens to the manufacturer to re-calibrate it for your most frequently used aperture and pretend that focus shift does not exist (I have no idea if Cosina can do that, but Carl Zeiss will recalibrate your C Sonnar 50/1.5 to make it focus spot on at any aperture, which is typically f/1.5 for most users, for 100EUR). My personal take on Nokton 35/1.4 is that I would have loved the lens to be optimized for performance wide open, which is the main reason we buy f/1.4 lenses as a whole. Compensating for focus shift does not come naturally to me and so my results vary quite a bit with this lens. Your mileage, obviously, may vary. Keep in mind that the focus shift in most lenses, and Nokton 35/1.4 is no exception, is much more pronounced at closer distances - so if you are shooting at infinity, all this becomes kind of a moot point.

Besides the focus shift, Nokton 35/1.4 behaves like any other Leica mount lens. The lens is very compact - about half the size of Zeiss Biogon 35/2 and almost a third of Voigtlander 35/1.2 ASPH, the two lenses I have been using over the last few months with my M8. The compact size helps the lens remain unobtrusive when used on rangefinder cameras - Nokton does not block M8's 35mm frame lines whether focused at the infinity or at the MFD. I did not have the optional LH-6 lens hood for the time of the test, but I suspect the hood will protrude a little bit into the right lower corner of the framelines.

Ergonomics of the Nokton 35/1.4 are pretty good overall. Despite the small size of the lens, Cosina added a conveniently located focusing tab, which makes rotating the focusing ring very easy. The ring itself rotates for ~90 degrees, which is about what other 35mm rangefinder lenses offer. The aperture ring, which clicks in half f-stop increments, has two small tabs for easier operation. There's a little bit of play in the aperture ring, which is probably the only mechanical weakness in this lens. And like with all manual focus lenses, Nokton sports a dedicated DOF scale engraved on the barrel, allowing you to preset the lens for faster use. The lens certainly feels 'more right' on a rangefinder than its over-sized speed demon cousin Nokton 35/1.2 - it draws practically no attention and on a M8/M8.2 becomes a 'staple' lens because of the sensor crop factor. Along with C Summicron 40/2 and slightly slower Color Skopar 35/2.5, Nokton 35/1.4 is an excellent choice for street photography, where its small size gives you the benefit of being discrete and not drawing too much attention. The question is how it stacks up with competition?