Since early summer, I have been shooting exclusively with the new Voitlander Nokton Aspherical f/1.2 40mm lens on my Voigtlander Bessa R3M. I’ve always been either a 35mm or 50mm man, but have grown to really love this 40mm width over the last 6 or so months. The Nokton is an extremely fast piece of glass that, in my opinion, has an excellent rendering. It’s a large lens when compared with slower 40mm glass, but slightly smaller than fast m-mount glass. For example, the Voigtlander Nokton 1.4/40 is 175 grams, the Voigtlander Nokton Aspherical 1.2/40 weighs in at 315 grams and the Leica Summilux 1.4/35 weighs in at 323 grams (the Summilux 50 is just slightly larger at 334 grams).
Voigtlander Nokton Aspherical Tech Specs
Built with the Voigtlander tradition of all metal and glass, the Nokton Aspherical 1.2/40 is a solid aluminium lens that mounts nicely to any M-mount body or adapter. I had actually tested it a few weeks on my Sony A7R II with an E-M adapter and had very nice, sharp results. But I much prefer this lens on a film body, like the Bessa R3M - especially with the matching gloss black on black. Nothing looks as nice on a Voigtlander body as a Voigtlander lens in my humble opinion.
The lens sits nice on the Bessa, perhaps feeling a little large and slightly front-heavy for the small, light body, but not off-putting. At 1/2 the weight (315 grams) of the Bessa (680 grams), the bulk is still firmly in the body and feels pretty balanced in my hands. But swapping to the comparatively small 1.4/40 Nokton (175 grams) feels so much more lightweight in comparison.
The Voigtlander Nokton 1.2/40 has a smooth and quiet barrel rotation. The scalloped ring gives a long and satisfying throw to help you zero in on that thin depth of field. The aperture ring clicks firm from f/1.2 - 22 (the fast Leica’s only go to f/16 in comparison) in 1/3 increments.
Stats on the lens are:
Focal Length: 40mm
Aperture Range: f/1.2 - 22
Angle of view: 55°
Minimum Focus Distance: 1.6' (50 cm)
Two Aspherical Elements
10 diaphragm blades
8 Elements in 6 Groups
Dimensions: 2.1 x 2.4 x 2.1 inches (5.3 x 6.0 x 5.3 cm)
Weight: 11.1 oz (315 g)
Filter Thread: 53mm
Price: $899 (November 2018)
What’s so great about a 40mm?
My initial thought when researching this lens was, “What’s the big deal about 40’s? I have a 35mm and 50mm that I love, how can this possibly be useful?” And aside from the f/1.2 speed, what is the benefit of a 40mm lens?
To me, it’s a composition thing.
While the 35mm is just awesome on street and some landscape, it’s not something I want to use for portraits too often. And the 50mm, also great on the street and just swell for portraits, isn’t something I usually lean towards for landscapes - though it does just fine. When I would go out on extensive shoots, I usually packed the 35 on one camera and the 50 on another.
For me, the 40mm falls really nice in this gap, allowing me to have just one camera, one lens. It rocks as a street, landscape, portrait (be it slightly wide - see below), and near perfect every day lens. In my eye, it frames up really close to a 50mm, but you have some extra room on the edges to play with. And on the Voigtlander Bessa R3M with the 40mm frame lines - you’re looking at a 100% viewfinder that’s edge to edge. The frame-lines are on the very outskirts of the finder window.
Early in my photography career I was a 35mm guy. Throughout the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s it was what I almost always grabbed. It was a very comfortable length for me and I saw my world in 35mm frame-lines. In the mid 2000’s, that switched to the 50mm length and I had used it (or a MF / LF equivelant) for the last 14 or so years. Like anything you use a lot, it’s how you train yourself to see. And now, in 2018, I am seeing in 40mm. I’m not saying it’s an all or nothing thing for me as I have been using various cameras with 35’s and 50’s these last 6 months as well.
But looking above at how nice this 40 renders, even with portraits, I just can’t put it down. For this image, there is no crop so you can get an idea on the width of the frame and lack of distortion from this. Again, shot wide open at f/1.2 to take full advantage of the smooth drop-off.
Swapping between the 35, 40, and 50 isn’t a big deal and may only be something I see. But I honestly see a special something when I am scrolling through a folder of scans and the 40’s come by. Like I said before, feels like a 50 with a little extra play room.
Having used the Voigtlander Nokton Aspherical 1.2/40 as my daily driver the last 6 months has really gotten me used to how it behaves. Below are some sample with different film stocks (Portra 400 and Provia 100) in different light from f/1.2 to f/8. These are all film scans without any color adjustments.
I think the colors off this lens are great for my pallet. I see it has perhaps a little warm like a Zeiss lens, but subtle. Sharpness and bokeh are very good. Click any of the images above to embiggen. (That last one is the Provia shot at f/1.2 about 30 minutes after sunset.)
Final Thoughts on the Nokton 40mm
With such a solid build and nice walk-around appeal, the Nokton Aspherical 40 is a nice addition to a line-up of glass. I think 35mm and 50mm shooters will really fell at home with this one.
After spending my life torn between 35’s and 50’s, I am excited to find an enjoyable difference with the 40. It’s not as wide as a 35 (thank you Captain Obvious) but feels more like a 50 in the street, with just a little more side to side to play with.
Would I buy this if my kit was just a 2/35 and a 1.4/50? Without a doubt. And I would honestly give it the most use out of the three. I am just loving the 40mm length today and haven’t had the need (yet) to grab the 35 or 50 lenses.
Also, sharp, but not over the top. When you nail focus on the Nokton, it has a very pleasing look. Color, micro-contrast, and sharpness are how I want them, no matter what f-stop I am using. And that little extra speed in low light is a huge plus for me. I don’t think that NYC skyline would have been handheld with a f/1.4 lens - as f/1.2 was barely within my limit.
I won’t say this is the forever lens for me, as I change out all the time. But right now, it feels just right in my hand.