Since buying, shooting and writing about the Voigtlander 40mm 1.4 Nokton MC, I feel like I see this lens everywhere! I didn’t realise how popular it is. The blog I wrote about it is my third most viewed of all time, I see it mounted to many of the cameras that I read reviews of and a shooter at the Leica Store was even using it to photograph Dave Burnett at his gallery opening last October, one of the last big events I attended before COVID struck.
I re-read my original comments about the lens and while they’re still valid a year later, I found that in practice, I really like the lens despite my initial disappointment. I probably was expecting or hoping for too much. In fact, I used it exactly as I’d first intended for a few shoots before COVID wiped out much of my wedding work and bar-hopping and it excelled beautifully. I figured I’d share some of those photos, which turned out to be some of my favorites of 2019 and early 2020, and take a deeper dive into the characteristics and uses of, what is for many, their go-to M-mount lens.
By the way, these images were taken on my Leica M6 TTL .85.
Here we go…
I took this photo of a forgotten Ford truck on my way to a wedding shoot in Thurmont, Maryland in the fall of 2019. It was probably close to high noon, hence the straight down shadows. For portraits, this light would have been terrible. But between the low grain Kodak TMAX 100 and the super sharp Voigtlander 40/1.4, the harsh light was perfect for rendering an image that out-resolves my meager Epson flatbed scanner. Who needs gimmicky classic car HDR filters when you’re packing these ingredients? The 40mm focal length was great for a standard establishing shot at a low quarter angle. The scene was so ideal that I didn’t even bother taking any significantly different versions of it, just a couple aperture brackets because I had time for it. I think this was f8 by the way.
This photo shows quite the other end of the spectrum. I arrived at the ceremony location early, in order to acquaint myself with the people and place that I’d be working with. While doing some establishing shots, I took this image of the couples’ sand ceremony set-up. I was on Tri-X and topped my shutter out so as to open the Voigt Nokton as wide as possible. I also focused it to near full minimum distance. The Nokton actually focuses closer than my M6 TTL can so one can play with that a little to bottom out the depth of field. As you can see, the lens has a strong vignette and displays a bit of swirlios that I don’t see discussed in reviews very often. So the 40 Nokton can also be used as an effects lens if desired.
And here are the couple whose wedding I was shooting. You may already know the groom by his writing. This is fellow film blogger, Mark from The GAS Haus. Mark hired me to shoot candids of his woodsy wedding but, you know, everyone wants a few posed shots. I used my 90mm Leitz Summicron for most of the ceremony but took some of the posed shots with the 40mm so as to include some context of their beautiful outdoor ceremony. On a faster film, with a wider aperture and overcast lighting (from the tree covering), the 40mm Nokton softens up as one wants for portraits. And the lack of barrel distortion allows this wider lens to meet the challenge of accurate rendering of faces.
Switching back to TMAX 100, I thought this dramatically lit door provided a good scope on the range of performance of the 40mm Nokton in one image. You’ve got super crisp, in-focus areas revealing gobs of detail with a fast fall-off into smooth bokeh, featuring playful out-of-focus points of leaf light. Notice the slight fringing on the bokeh balls. For color shooters the Nokton’s OoF areas may be distracting but in b&w, there’s not enough CA to really bother me. I knew this shot would be a keeper and probably took ten versions of it before the light shifted and the moment was gone.
For another 2019 wedding, I was using my 1930 Leica with 1936 Summar as my main normal lens but I also squeezed off some shots with the 40mm Nokton.
I was on Tri-X rated at 400 for both of these but I was beginning to lose light during cocktail hour so I opened up considerably. You can see that the second image, of the blonde smiling, was at full aperture because the OoF points of light are perfectly circular and we see some of that swirling from earlier. While the 40 Nokton loses a lot of resolution as you open it up, the 10 blade aperture diaphragm and classic optical formula make for some really painterly bokeh that I enjoy, particularly when rendered on contrasty Tri-X in HC110b (and a little bump in black levels!)
The two photos above are only a couple apertures apart and give you an idea how fast the Nokton sharpens up/softens as you move to and from full aperture.
These three shots above were taken on different days of the wedding, but all were with Tri-X at 1600 ISO and demonstrate how highlights from the Nokton glow gently, a la it’s “Classic” namesake.
Here’s another glowy 1600 Tri-X shot of guests on a party boat for the rehearsal dinner. I think it really demonstrates how you can use the slightly wider perspective of the 40 to differentiate work from a boring 50mm. The lines of the ceiling tile, as well as window frames and the bar just emit from the subject and run out of the corners of the frame with a speed that wouldn’t happen with a 50. And many 35’s would have distorted the lines. More examples of those cool bokeh balls and playful, perhaps somewhat busy but fun bokeh.
The next wedding images were shot on TMAX P3200 rated and pushed to 6400 in HC110b. This is an important reason why I wanted a sharper, fast lens. For low, available light work with a grainy film, as a I noted in a blog a couple years back, you need a sharper-than-average lens because the grain gets overly mooshy with a softer one.
Below are some photos from when I went out drinking for New Year’s Eve. Little did I know that it would be the last time I’d be enjoying the downtown Frederick bar scene for the rest of 2020.
This is my friend and muse, Denise warming up beside one of those outdoor heater things. Notice we’ve got some out-of-focus points of light and you can tell by the lack of perfect circles that I was stopped down slightly. Oddly, you’ll note that even though the 40mm Nokton has 10 blades, OoF points of light render with seven sides. If anyone understands this, please, let me know in the comments! Images with leading out-of-focus elements show again how the 40mm focal length can pull the viewer in; a key reason that there is a small but dedicated crowd who prefer 40 to 35 or 50mm.
Here’s Denise huddled by the heater again. I like how isolated the focus is here and how smooth the fall-off is.
I know you’re supposed to start with the best and end with the best but I was dragging my shutter for this image of a crowd at Firestones in downtown Frederick, MD. It’s not a good demonstration of the Voigtlander 40mm 1.4 Nokton MC at all because there’s some shutter blur to it. But I really love this image because it feels, to me, like a final glance at a personal moment within a sea of people before they all disappeared from public life shortly after 2020 commenced.
I haven’t shot much with the 40 Nokton in 2020. The few weddings I had were in the daytime and consisted only of ceremony and posed shots due to venue restrictions for COVID. And the only barhopping I’ve done has been from my kitchen to my living room to my porch then back to my kitchen. Reviewing these images has been a fun reminder of 2019 and the ambition of buying a new lens and having a number of exciting uses lined up for it.
Do you use the Voigtlander 40mm Nokton MC or SC? Any recommendations on other uses? I really need to do more automotive and architecture! What do you love and hate about this curiously cheap, high spec little hunk of glass and aluminum?
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
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