The Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4 is a Leica M mount lens. Its relatively ‘short’ profile is very pleasing, and means that it is especially nice to shoot with on a rangefinder body. It is easily one of the most modern lenses I have in my arsenal, and yet it still has bags of character. Unlike many of the other lenses I talk about on here, I rarely ever use it with my Sony A7 (it just feels wrong somehow), so this post will just focus on its use as God (or Voigtlander, at least) intended – with Leica bodies.
Given that this is a modern lens from Voigtlander, you would expect the build quality to be solid – and it is. The focus ring is lovely and buttery smooth, with the handy addition of a tab to make the process even nicer. There is one issue that seems to be fairly common going by online reports though: That very handy focus tab can come loose over time, meaning that it wobbles about a bit. To fix it requires some disassembly of the lens, which is pretty irritating. So far, I’ve just put up with it, as I don’t want to risk botching a DIY job.
As ever, how a lens renders its out of focus areas is subjective. However, either the bokeh has character, or it doesn’t. I’ve seen plenty of lenses where backgrounds look just… ‘meh’ when shot wide open, whatever people think of specular highlights. The Nokton is not one of them, and it has surprisingly pleasant bokeh for a lens of its kind and era.
This quality isn’t just apparent where there are traditional big bokeh balls created by fairy lights – as you can see below. I slightly missed the focus in this example, but you can see how nicely the background was rendered when shot wide open.
Flare is something of a dirty word when it comes to modern lenses, which is a shame for those of us who prefer a little bit of old-school character to our shots. Fortunately, the Nokton doesn’t kill all flare entirely, and you can get some nice results if the light hits at the right angle. It’s not too much that it will ruin your shots, but just enough to add some charm. I like it.
I’ve seen people elsewhere talking about how the Nokton is ‘soft’ wide open, and I’m really not sure what they’re smoking. Come to think of it, isn’t it interesting that almost all lenses seem to have people who decry them as soft and useless wide open? One suspects that people just don’t really understand depth of field, or how to focus properly – which, admittedly – can be difficult with a rangefinder.
So is it sharp? Yes. Yes, it is. In fact, the sharpness surprised me at first, as it isn’t a quality you really expect from a rangefinder lens. The bottom line is, there are no issues here. Any that you can see in these examples are almost certainly down to my own shortcomings.
By many counts, the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4 is one of the least unusual lenses in my collection. It’s not the fastest; it doesn’t have a particularly interesting backstory or history; and you can still readily buy them from new. However… it’s also arguably probably my favourite. Every time I scroll through the pictures I’ve gathered for this post, I feel a bit less shit about being a photographer, because I genuinely love how they come out.
The bottom line is that if I could only take one lens on a trip, I would pick the Nokton, and that speaks volumes. At 35mm it is just the right focal distance to cover most situations; it focusses quickly and smoothly; it’s small; and at f1.4 it does just fine in low light. Despite being a modern lens, it somehow manages to retain a real character to the images, which is no mean feat. In short, it ticks all of the boxes, and is a truly great general purpose lens.
The only other lens I’ve used which would be in a similar league across the board is the Leica Summicron-C f2 – however, I ended up selling that after I got the Voigtlander, as the 35mm focal length and faster maximum aperture won out in the end. Take from that what you will! I just wish it was a screw mount so I could use it on my Canon 7…
Disclaimer: As usual, this article isn’t intended to be a comprehensive, pixel-peeping review. Rather, it’s highly subjective, and reflects my own research and experience as someone who has shot with a lot of different cameras and lenses over the years. It’s a real world use review. No aperture comparison charts here. Any flaws in the pictures are down to me rather than the lens.