In the Field: The New Voigtländer 50mm f/1.2 Nokton Aspheric Lens

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One thing I've learned over the years is that when it comes to Voigtländer lenses, you get a lot of bang for your buck. Voigtländer's new 50mm f/1.2 Nokton Aspheric lens, which I had the pleasure of road testing, is no exception.

Voigtländer Nokton 50mm f/1.2 Aspherical Lens
Voigtländer Nokton 50mm f/1.2 Aspherical Lens

Reminiscent of many of the classic manual focus lenses from Nikon, Zeiss, and Leica, Voigtländer's new Nokton 50mm f/1.2 is built for the long haul—if you buy one, I guarantee you'll grow old with it. The heft of the lens is a subtle reminder that there is little in the way of plastic inside or outside of this lens. The focus is smooth, and the aperture clicks are affirmingly precise. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time the sensation of clicking through the f/stops of an aperture ring made me say "Ooooohh…"

Contained within the confines of the lens's all-metal barrel are 8 elements in 6 groups, two of which have aspheric surfaces along with a single Partial Dispersion element. By today's standards, this is one of the simpler lens formulas but, in this case, simplicity works just fine.

Photographs © Allan Weitz 2019

At wide apertures, Voigtländer's 50mm f/1.2 Nokton displays tack-sharp detail with dreamy fall-off fore and aft of the point of focus.
At wide apertures, Voigtländer's 50mm f/1.2 Nokton displays tack-sharp detail with dreamy fall-off fore and aft of the point of focus.

One of the selling points of the lens is its ability to produce seductively subtle bokeh when shooting at wide apertures, which can be partially attributed to the lens's 12-bladed aperture. Out-of-focus specular highlights have a nice rounded look to them, with just a hint of "geometry" along their circumferences. This isn't to say the lens is a slouch when you stop it down. If anything, the detail is impressive.

Voigtländer’s 50mm f/1.2 Nokton is a true performer wide open or stopped down.
Voigtländer’s 50mm f/1.2 Nokton is a true performer wide open or stopped down.
Voigtländer’s 50mm f/1.2 Nokton is a true performer wide open or stopped down.

At maximum aperture, focusing can be tricky, especially when shooting at close focusing distances. Pictures captured wide open at f/1.2 also display an ethereal quality you don't see from lenses with smaller maximum apertures, and that includes lenses that open up to f/1.4.

Voigtländer's 50mm f/1.2 Nokton is a true performer wide open or stopped down.
Voigtländer's 50mm f/1.2 Nokton is a true performer, wide open or stopped down.

Another selling point of this lens is its size and weight. The Voigtländer 50mm f/1.2 Nokton is notably smaller and lighter than comparable 50mm f/1.2 optics from competing OEM and third-party lens manufacturers.

It should be noted that the minimum focus distance for this lens is an underwhelming 27.6", which to be fair, is typical of 50mm lenses intended for use on rangefinder cameras. If you plan on adapting this lens to a mirrorless camera (as I did for this review), I strongly recommend using a lens adapter that features a close-focusing helicoid mount. These adapters, which enable you to focus tighter on your subject than the minimum focus distance engraved on the lens barrel, are available from FotodioX, Hawks, KIPON, and Vello, in numerous camera/lens-mount combinations.

For focusing closer than the lens's factory spec close focusing distance of 27.6", I strongly recommend using Voigtländer's VM-E Close Focusing adapter.
For focusing closer than the lens's factory spec close focusing distance of 27.6", I strongly recommend using Voigtländer's VM-E Close Focusing adapter.

I use a Voigtländer VM-E Close Focus Adapter on my Sony A7-series cameras when shooting with M-mount lenses, and I highly recommend close-focusing adapters because they enable me to focus tight with any lens I mount on these cameras. In the case of Voigtländer's 50mm f/1.2 Nokton, my Voigtländer VM-E adapter decreased the lens's minimum focusing distance from 27.6" to 16.4", which greatly expands the lens's creative imaging abilities.

For reasons of size and weight, I opt for lenses with smaller apertures specifically because they're typically smaller and lighter than wide-aperture lenses. I make exceptions for lenses such as the Voigtländer 50mm Nokton for several reasons.

At wide apertures, even distant subjects can be isolated from their foregrounds and backgrounds.
At wide apertures, even distant subjects can be isolated from their foregrounds and backgrounds.

Most lenses reach peak resolving power at about 3 – 4 stops down from the widest aperture. In the case of a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2, the sharpest resolution would be with the diaphragm set between f/4 and f/5.6. In the case of a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.2, the sharpest resolution would fall between f/2.8 and f/4. This is important because the size of the aperture greatly affects the speed of the camera's AF system—the smaller the aperture, the slower the AF speed. What this means is faster lenses focus faster.

Another close-up captured using the Voigtländer 50mm f/1.2 Nokton with a VM-E close-up adapter
Another close-up captured using the Voigtländer 50mm f/1.2 Nokton with a VM-E close-up adapter

If you use Polarizing filters, which typically absorb about two stops of light, faster maximum apertures means you can shoot at comparably wider lens apertures that are easier to view.

As you can see, wide aperture lenses are more than low-light imaging tools—they're also creative tools to be exploited.

Do you have any experience shooting with fast glass? If so, what are your thoughts about them and what kind of work do you use them for? Chime in just below.

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