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Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 Real World Review

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by napilopez, Jan 20, 2014.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 Real World Review

    The Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95 Nokton is currently my favorite lens for Micro Four Thirds. It’s sharp, fast, built like a tank, and full of character. Those first two sentences really tell you everything you need to know about it, but then this wouldn’t be much of a review, would it?

    Disclaimer: this review is written primarily from a "real-world usage" perspective, meaning you won't find highly technical examinations of image quality; the lens has been out for a while, and there are other resources online for such tests. Still, I hope it provides an accurate idea of what to expect from the lens in the field.

    I don’t own the lens, but by this point I’ve rented it more times than I can count (just check out the lens’ sample image thread and see how many of the images are mine). See, I had been holding out for the Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 that has been garnering so much attention (and controversy) to be priced and tested. With the latter two criteria now complete, I’ve ended up even more confused. In many ways, the rendering of these lenses is worlds apart, and they seem less comparable than I’d initially imagined. The PanaLeica seems designed to provide the most technically impressive image possible, maximizing “modern” values in bokeh, practicality (autofocus), and sharpness. The CV42.5, like the other Nokton lenses, behaves as if it were purposely designed to stand out not just amongst it’s M4/3 competitors, but also from other lenses with a similar angle of view on other systems. If the PanaLeica is your charming straight-A overachiever, the CV42.5 is a bit more like the unruly jovial student that slacks off, but is a bit of a genius when tested.

    Build and Design

    If I had to use a lens as a self-defense tool, the Voigtlander would be near the top of my list (the Sigma 200-500 wins in sheer intimidation factor though). I’m as terrified of dropping this lens out of fear of shattering the glass as I am out of fear of shattering the bones in my feet. If that doesn’t get the point across: with an all-metal construction weighing in at 571g (1.26lb), the lens feels extremely robust. In an era of electronic lenses with plastic parts and fly-by-wire focus, there’s something hugely gratifying about using a well-crafted piece of gear that is completely mechanical and analog.

    Size-wise, at its shortest length--it extends slightly at for nearer focus--the lens is approximately the same size as the excellent Olympus 75mm f1.8, despite the latter weighing a little over half as much (305g). Since the Voigtlander is completely manual, it features a distance scale above the focus ring, as well as an aperture ring. As a neat trick, there is a narrow third ring that lets you switch the aperture ring from having one-third-stop increments, to being completely clickless. This feature will come particularly in handy for videographers who appreciate smooth, noiseless aperture transitions. Or you know, if you have a great affinity for f/2.494572 or f/π or any strange aperture of your choice.

    It also comes with a solid metal cylindrical hood, which helps reduce flare, though I’ve rarely found flare to be bothersome.

    Basically, this is a lens that feels like it will last decades even with frequent usage. Old school.


    There’s no autofocus here, so it’s time to brush up your manual focus skills. That said, the manual focus ring on this lens is probably the best I’ve ever come across in a modern lens. It’s metal and ridged for grip, perfectly damped, and feels exceedingly good in use.

    Some of you may worry about using MF to shoot moving subjects, but with any modicum of manual focusing practice,I’d say those concerns are ill-informed. I’ve shot all sorts of moving subjects with this lens, from models walking at a leisurely pace to toddlers zipping around hyperactively, and if anything, the CV has served as a great remember of just how genuinely useful manual focusing can be.

    For example, you have the distinct advantage of being able to compose your image as you want and relying on your own eye rather than an algorithm to guess what you want to focus on. Likewise , you needn't sacrifice time and accuracy with focus-and-recompose. When shooting subjects such as a couple walking down the aisle, rather than risking faulty autofocus, it’s often more reliable to simply pre focus the lens and then do a sort of focus bracket as your subjects move though the focus zone. You can always use focusing aids such as magnification and peaking (if your camera features it), but I rarely needed these except for the occasional nearest-eye focus on a formal portrait. This is not dismiss the value of autofocus, but you may find yourself surprised at the number of scenarios where manually focusing actually feels more convenient than the alternative.

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    Here I quickly prefocused when the subject started running, and snapped a burst as soon as he entered the focal plane

    If you've used manual focus on a modern lens and found it to be unsatisfactory, it’s also worth noting that using manual focus on a modern electronic M4/3 lens and focusing on the CV42.5 are completely different experiences. Electronic M4/3 lenses implement a fly-by-wire mechanism for manual focusing, which are generally “accelerated”, meaning that a quarter turn of the focus ring will yield a different change in the focal plane depending on what speed you turn the ring. This is almost always less accurate than the true 1:1 motion of a manual focus lens.

    Focusing aside, the clicks on the aperture ring are cleanly defined. If you set the aperture ring to clickless mode, the ring becomes as smooth as the focusing ring. As an important note, this lens features 10 straight aperture blades (as opposed to the typical rounded ones in modern lenses), so don’t expect circular bokeh from it stopped down. It’s instead a nice little decagon—part of the lens’ charm.

    There are only two things I really wish this lens would feature. Firstly: electronic contacts for EXIF data. You can generally tell when the lens was shot wide-open or not due to rendering qualities and the shape of the bokeh, but it’s hard to specify anything that isn’t f/0.95. The second is weather-sealing, but you’ll hear me complain about that on virtually every lens I review without it, and it’s such a feature is pretty much unheard of in a manual lens.

    Image Quality and Rendering

    This is a lens you buy to shoot wide open. If you just need to do casual headshots, the Olympus 45mm f1.8 is an affordable lens that will serve you incredibly well for most situations. But it’s that extra speed that’s generally the greatest allure with the CV42.5, whether it means being able to shoot comfortably in darker settings or allowing for shallower depth of field. Indeed, the latter was what attracted me to this lens--I like my bokeh. Here you have, on a system with a sensor a quarter of the size of that on full frame cameras, a lens that will render depth of field similarly to a traditional 85mm f1.8 (f/1.9, technically) set-up. That’s pretty cool in my book, as it hugely increases the versatility of the system for garnering “looks” generally reserved for larger sensor cameras. In particular, I like it for isolating your subject(s) in environmental portraiture.

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    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    The shallow DoF of this lens allow you to isolate subjects easily from a distance.

    Thankfully, it performs quite admirably from f/0.95, albeit with some quirks. Wide open, center sharpness is already pretty great and perfectly useable for all but the most demanding portraiture. Due to some ghosting, the lens does lose some contrast and detail, but this has the conversely pleasant effect of softening your subject’s skin a bit, and the lens is already quite contrasty to begin with. As one would expect at such a wide aperture, there is some vignetting, but it’s something that shouldn't be particularly unpleasant given the general subject matter you’ll be shooting wide open.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

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    100% crop wide open followed by original. Completely unmodified RAW import into LR5, Sharpening 25, Radius 1.0. Notice how narrow DoF is at this shooting distance.

    Longitudal CA (purple and green fringing) is surprisingly well-controlled, only showing up in the highest contrast situations. Thankfully, this is generally pretty easy to correct in post. More notable is the field curvature, which causes the focal plane to not be perfectly flat; something to keep in mind when shooting group portraits.

    The lens has an extremely close focusing distance for a non-macro lens of 23cm, allowing for surprisingly close-up shots. However, shooting that close wide open will generally result in a ton of ghosting that will render an image unusable unless you are specifically going for the dreamy look. Thankfully, this disappears by the time you stop down the lens to f/2 or so, which you’ll want to do anyway since DoF at that distance and at f/0.95 is incredibly narrow.

    Similarly, the lens is also softer when shooting subjects further away at f/0.95, although the softness isn’t nearly as pronounced as it is with closer subjects. The CV42.5 seems designed to give the best performance when shooting at traditional portrait distances. This is a lens that’s not meant to be perfect wide open: it’s just sharp enough to be usable in most scenarios, it's a little less contrasty than optimal, it vignettes, it shows some field curvature, and features unusual bokeh. Yet these “flaws” are what make for an incredibly unique lens.

    Conversely, once you stop the Voigtlander down, it becomes technically impeccable. Although you buy this lens to shoot wide open, its performance stopped down is second to none. At f/2, it performs better than its Olympus competitor, and by f/4 the lens has already reached peak sharpness across the frame. And by peak sharpness, I mean incredible pixel level resolution corner-to-corner. Contrast becomes excellent, CA is minimized, and ghosting is completely eliminated at all focusing distances. Although this is not a traditional landscape angle of view, this lens is worth consideration for such images or others where maximum resolution matters.

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    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    With E-M5 at f/4. You can see some aliasing in the 100% crop, indicating the lens is out resolving the sensor. Unretouched RAW, standard LR5 sharpening.

    Perhaps the most divisive aspect of this lens will be its bokeh. As with other Voigtlander lenses, some people love it, some people hate it. Wide open, it exhibits plenty of the cats-eye bokeh effect Voigtlander lenses are known for—it is noncircular pretty much everywhere except the very center of the frame. And as mentioned previously, stopped down bokeh highlights are decagons formed by the ten straight aperture blades. This is obviously a purposeful choice by Voigtlander, and one that I like for how it stands out. Overall, bokeh can vary between looking buttery smooth to something more typically considered harsh from shot to shot. What you’re then left with is a personal choice; do you prefer traditional, smooth circular bokeh, or would you rather have something different? I personally think I fall on the latter side; there’s something very appealing to me about instantly being able to recognize when photos are shot with a particular lens, and the Voigtlander renders like pretty much nothing else I’ve seen. On the other hand, if you’re not tactful about your composition, the bokeh can look less than ideal.


    Sometimes, shooting M4/3, I feel spoiled. Unlike with some larger sensor kits, shooting with lenses like 75mm and 20mm f1.7 on a M4/3, whether I shot wide open or stopped down rarely resulted in a noticeable difference in quality. The Voigtlander is a bit pickier. This is not a lens you buy for its apex MTF numbers wide open; I actually need to think about whether I want to shoot wide open or stop down. Do you want it to be an amazing, dreamy-yet-sharp-enough portrait lens, or do you need impeccable detail to shoot architecture and landscapes? That's up to you.

    Likewise, it’s a lens that makes you focus on the shooting process. Unlike with an AF lens, your hand will always be on the barrel of the lens, and it makes its presence known through its heft and solid build. You take that extra second to think about what you’re shooting and how you’re shooting it, and I feel that connection has helped me capture better images.

    I haven’t used the PanaLeica yet, so I don’t know whether I’ll end up preferring it once I get the chance. But part of me thinks it doesn’t matter. What makes the Voigtlander appealing to me isn’t so much the ability to get that full frame look (although I do very much appreciate it), its good-to-amazing sharpness levels, or its solid construction. Instead, it’s the character, and how all the above come together to create a lens that both shoots beautifully and feels wonderful while doing it. In a time where more and more lenses strive towards perfection and consequently seem to converge towards sameness, the CV42.5 is refreshing. Whether or not you ultimately prefer its look, at least it’s a lens that looks to stand out.

    The Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95 is available from B&H for $999, and if you ask me, it's totally worth the price. Please note that we receive a commission fee for every item purchased by going through one of the links on this article (or throughout the website). Any help is appreciated; your price remains the same.

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    Wide open, where this lens truly stands out

    Additional Real-world Samples:

    For the images not explicitly stated to be unedited, please note that my processing often reduces the lens' original detail retention. Additionally, any flare/haze you see here has been added in post--a personal taste thing. This lens is actually hard to get to flare, even wide open.

    Wide open:
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    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
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    SooC JPEG at f/4. Check the original to see the detail throughout the entire frame:

    f/2.8 bokeh:
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 21, 2016
    • Like Like x 52
  2. nickthetasmaniac

    nickthetasmaniac Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 11, 2011
    I'll have to take some time to read through this, but just saying; fantastic images!
    • Like Like x 1
  3. phl0wtography

    phl0wtography Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 15, 2011
    This sentence alone shows the thought and wit that went into this real world review, that earns you credibility over so many other "reviewers". Add to that a nice set of pictures in the spirit of a lens of this FL, and aperture - brilliant!
    Either I missed it in your write-up, or you didn't mention it, but I can remember from Pekka Potka's review that the lens shows quite a bit of field curvature wide open, reducing its usability for portraitures of more than one person, unless they're on the same plane of focus, which is hardly achievable at f/0.95.

    Thank you for this amazing review. I have the O45, and was thinking of getting the 75 next, but considering my bias for 85/90mm, the CV42.5 now looks the most appealing.

    EDIT: On a different note, after watching the original files on your flickr: Did you add grain, because some photos look particularly noisy considering they are shot at ISO 200?
    • Like Like x 1
  4. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Great write up Napi and wonderful images as always. You are right that we are spoiled to have so many good lenses at our disposal! I think ultimately it comes down to the experience of using manual focus. Some people will love it, most won't want to bother. That will be the deciding factor, not image quality.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Jaynometry

    Jaynometry Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 13, 2011
    Toronto, Ontario
    Awesome write up and fantastic images!
  6. RobWatson

    RobWatson Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Napier "The Rapier" Lopez has struck right to the heart of the matter! Well done, sir.
  7. DigitalD

    DigitalD Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 10, 2014
    This was awesome! I think when you match a fantastic lens with a fantastic photographer you get something truly special and unique. Truly wonderful photos. Great piece!
    • Like Like x 1
  8. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Wonderful collection! Every time I see samples from this lens, I'm tempted to end my moratorium on manual focus lenses. I have to look at the samples I got with the Nikon 55/1.2 before I can return to my senses.
  9. audiodrive

    audiodrive Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 9, 2013
    Fantastic review & great set of images! thanks for sharing
  10. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Thanks everyone! I'll be updating the review later with a few more samples at the end showing off the lens in different conditions and pointing which shots are unedited.

    Thank you! One thing that really upsets me is when reviews don't show anything about what a lens will typically be used for. This lens is uncompromisingly a portrait lens, and behaves completely like one. The fact that it is sharpest specifically at torso or headshot portrait distances wide open is telling of the thought that went into its optical design.

    I did indeed mention the field curvature in the review, and though it's definitely there, I've yet found it to be a problem. Pekka Potka I think unintentionally makes it sound worse than it actually is.

    This was shot wide open. Granted, it's from a distance and the iso is at 2000 and pulled up in post (the scene was a LOT darker than it appears here), it maintains serviceable sharpness throughout everyone's faces.
    • Like Like x 2
  11. beanedsprout

    beanedsprout Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 13, 2013
    north central Ohio
    very cool, man.

    I do plan on buying one, but I'm waiting for my EM-1 to arrive. Much easier with focus-peaking. :p 
  12. marcr1230

    marcr1230 Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 28, 2013
    this M43 thing is like being a kid in a candy shop - now we have at least 3 x 85e-ish lenses to pick from - the Voigtlander, the Nocticron and the Oly
    each with great qualities and yet different - what's a guy to do ?

    Some of the shots Napi posted are great - others perhaps you can say that the effect of the bokeh and if I'm not mistaken, some flare or low contrast in the corners might not be to everyone's liking ( The group photo with the bride in front)

    Thanks Napi for your review - I'm tempted, but then the Nocticron and Oly also are calling me, what to do ?
  13. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Ah! That reminds me of something I should have pointed out. Not a single instance of flare in these images is from the lens itself. You guys should know I'm the JJ Abrams of photography and look for flare whenever I can get it, and if I can't, I'll add it haha. The CV is actually pretty hard to get to flare, even wide open. Overall contrast remains pretty excellent in most instances.
    • Like Like x 2
  14. Jay86

    Jay86 Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 26, 2012
    Haha, and JJ catches a lot of flack for his use of flare by many. Im the same way.... love me some well done lens flare!
  15. sun12321

    sun12321 Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 1, 2010
    I do prefer a smaller f/1.2 mf version, f/0.95 is good but blur even at low light.
    If you are making video is ok, but taking photo is not good as use high iso + use f/1.2

    Also, use mf for event photography is not productive as af lens and this lens is not economic for a business runner also.

    I have 25mm f/0.95version, I enjoy it when i was taking something not fast, boz m43's mf system is different to RF body, which is not easy to accurate the focus from a EVF or lcd.

    I think if 43mm f1.2 selling $1200 is worth for money if 42.5 f/0.95 is standing at $1000. the 1.2 is about 1500-1600 now...
    For this pricing is really confusing me why I originally move from ff to m43, looks like I am paying more and get less.

    Why not a D5300+85mm1.4 G nikon rather than GX7+43 F1.2 or 42.5 f/0.95?
  16. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Have to disagree with you a bit here; how useful MF is depends all on the photographer! Without sounding arrogant, I consider myself excellent at MF, and the only times I feel I'd rather have an AF lens are in the extreme cold (for my hands), or when shooting super fast sports with sudden movement random movement, like basketball (and even that is questionable, particularly on M4/3).

    In fact, in the wedding photos in my post, I shot my E-M5+42.5mm/25mm f1.4 side by side with a D7000+ 85mm f/1.4/50mm f1.8 as a back-up body, as I often do for weddings. Yes, the D7000 was the back-up. I can shoot a DSLR perfectly fine, but the fact of the matter was that I got a lot more keepers with my E-M5 combo! For another photographer, it may be different. Ultimately it's about what you feel more comfortable shooting with =]

    I actually spend a lot of time honing my MF skills. Sometimes I'll just be at home, focus on a random object, then work on quickly pulling focus to another object and then back again. What people often forget about MF is that unlike with AF(or at least to a larger extent), you can actually get better at it!

    Don't get me wrong, MF is definitely more work, but I've not since I first started using manual focus have I felt like I was getting less keepers because of it.
    • Like Like x 1
  17. sun12321

    sun12321 Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 1, 2010
    BTW, this is subjective. :)  For me, for a live event, if I do not have a reliable AF lens system, I will lose many natural scenes. :p 
  18. tanngrisnir3

    tanngrisnir3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 18, 2011
    Damn it, man! I've just put down $$$ for two other lenses and now I see this!

    You're forcing me to rent one to see what I think.

    Sigh. Well, well done
  19. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Hahah, that was exactly what I was trying to say! It's subjective =P

    Most definitely worth a rental!
  20. slothead

    slothead Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 14, 2012
    Frederick, MD
    Nice article Lopez. Well done.
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