Last September, I wrote up a review of the current crop of production M-Mount Ultra-Fast 50MM lenses on the M9. However, there was one small flaw in the review: The comparison image was actually shot on an M8.2. This means that extreme corner performance in a full-frame camera was not adequately tested. I also got a lot of requests to include a copy of the previous-generation Leica f/1 Noctilux. So, to rectify the problem, and to meet the requests, I reached out again to Stephen Gandy of Cameraquest who loaned me another copy of the Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton. He was also kind enough to loan me his personal copy of the previous-generation Leica 50mm f/1 Noctilux (pre-ASPH).
With both of these lenses in hand, I repeated the comparison image, using my brick wall/foliage combination. I want to repeat what I have said in my other reviews: This is not meant to be scientific test. It is a controlled test, as each lens is shot under the exact same conditions, on the exact same camera, at the exact same settings. A few things to know: The old Noctilux was not coded, so I manually set the code in the M9. Having tested it before, I know the same code always works best for the Nokton, so it was used there as well. The Noctilux had the M9 set to automatically recognize its 6-bit code. So, without further ado, let’s get to the image. As always, click on it and you’ll go to the large-sized image on Flickr; you can then choose to see the full-sized image which will give you 100% pixel-level comparisons. To see the full-sized image, click on the link labeled “Original” in the upper right.
Well, this is quite interesting. To my eye, it appears that the Voigtländer Nokton has a rendering that is very similar to the original f/1 Noctilux–but it’s sharper in the center than the Noctilux–at least in these two copies. Overall, the new Noctilux remains a much sharper lens across the board, and to my eye the bokeh on the new lens is just a tiny bit smoother overall–but its very minor.
Another very interesting observation is focus shift–both the Nokton and the old f/1 Noctilux have pretty significant focus shift, starting right away at f/1.4 and settling back in to the zone of focus due to DOF by f/5.6. As expected, with aspherical elements and a floating element, the new Noctilux has pretty much eliminated focus shift. Before anyone accuses me of failing to get the best focus, I took multiple shots with these lenses to dial in the best focus wide open, then stopped down through the series from that point.
The final observation is corner performance. The Nokton is the weakest performer in the bunch, with more noticeable coma in the corners, but its no slouch–this is the extreme 500 pixels from the corner of a full-frame of 18.1 megapixels. Its a very respectable performance from all of these lenses, let alone a lens that sells for less than $1,000. To be honest, I expected a little better showing from the $10,000 f/0.95 lens.
Based on some forum requests, I’ve uploaded all of the original images used to make the mosaic. They can be found in this set on Flickr: M-Mount Fast 50mm Comparison.
Once again, we come to question of what this means if you are looking to buy a fast 50mm lens. To me, this just highlights the amazing value and optical quality of the Voigtländer Nokton. If money is no object, then by all means buy the Leica f/0.95 Noctilux–but for most people, the Nokton is going to be a far better value, and a lens that most can afford to own, rather than dream about. The near identical rendering of the Nokton and the classic Noctilux also means that you can get that classic “Noctilux glow” that people rave about at a bargain price.
I want to thank Stephen Gandy of Cameraquest for loaning me the Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton and the Leica 50mm f/1 Noctilux used for this review. While I have owned a Voigtländer Nokton in the past, I currently don’t have room in my bag for two ultra-fast 50’s (let alone three!). If you are looking to buy any Voigtländer lenses, I highly recommend Stephen.