I can as well start this blog with what every blogger and tester before me has written as their conclusion: Panasonic's Leica designed short tele is one of the finest lenses in MFT camera system. Some have even said it is the best - technically or if MFT50 result is the yardstick. Should I found some other result? Just to be different, maybe? I have postponed writing about this lens because I have felt like following other people's footsteps. There is very little which has not been said.
I wrote a year ago about Voigtländer's fine Nokton 42,5mm f/0,95 lens. It's here. These lenses are alike in having a barrel construction of metal and they are big and heavy by MFT standard. Nocticron has AF and other modern automatic features while Nokton is a purely manual old school lens. Nocticron has also optical image stabilisation. Its aperture ring works only with Panasonic bodies and is purely cosmetics for Olympus users.
When looking at images the main difference is the cleaner look with Nocticron. Wide open it is sharper and there is no highlight glow like Nokton has, even if stopped down almost a stop to f/1.2. I am a fan of Nokton because of how it renders those highlights with glow and enough sharpness. On the other hand it also is on the side of specialty lenses because of the same feature. Nocticron is different and there is no "built-in effect" in its images.
The other contender in the same focal length range, but more than a stop "dimmer", is Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 lens. It is very different by size, having only half the length of Nocticron and weighting less than third. While M.Zuiko is a good performer also wide open it misses the magical combination of sharpness and creamy bokeh which Nocticron has. It has a more contrasty style in its rendering.
Thinking about usage I would say M.Zuiko is for the bread and butter. If you shoot at apertures smaller than f/2.8, the other lenses give no practical benefit. There might be some differences in resolution or microcontrast or one behaves a bit better here and the other there but the main difference is elsewhere: The other two are far bigger, heavier and more expensive. Any of these is able to give you excellent images. On the other hand, if you want to stay at larger apertures, M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 images have no such character like the other two have - and of course it can´t produce as shallow depth of field as the others.
I did not check prices of the day but Nokton has been roughly twice M.Zuiko and Nocticron is some 50% more than Nokton.
Because of its size and weight Nocticron needs a body with a reasonable grip to be comfortable in use. With E-M1, I found it a joy to use. Part of size comes from Nocticron being "oversized" for MFT format. Its image circle is bigger, which is seen in quite nice light distribution and even performance over the frame also at wider apertures. Build quality is high, it is at the highest level seen in MFT lenses.
My images here are again shot as RAW and processed in Lightroom. They are not "straight out of camera" as I have set colors, contrast, sharpening etc. to the level I prefer. But there is nothing added nor taken away, in that sense everything you see is produced by the lens.
The quality wide open is excellent over the frame. Maybe image quality is technically at the best level at f/4, but this lens can be and is to be used for the desired depth of field. There is longitudinal chromatic aberration at large apertures, but I have still to see a fast short tele which has not. It is something one just needs to live with these lenses. In these and other images I processed it was correctable with Lightroom Defringe tool with no need to do local manual work.
Nocticron is not weathersealed... Wave height was here some 15cm which forced me to stay a bit higher than wanted. With a lens like M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 I would not have been afraid to let the camera dip slightly into water, not now, not with this lens ever. Also its closest focusing distance is 50cm (as seen here) which makes it a lesser "flower" lens for me compared to Nokton. This can of course be helped with a set of extension tubes.
Supplied with Nocticron is an excellent, long metallic lens hood which helps to keep both harder than water objects and extra light from hitting the front lens.
People is a natural subject for a short tele like Nocticron. E-M1 has automatic focusing for closest eye, which makes portraits easy even with such a short depth of field. Focusing is fast and quiet. Out-of-focus areas are creamy and quiet in Nocticron images, this lens has beautiful bokeh.
Yes, I have no reason to think otherwise. Nocticron is a great lens. It may be expensive and big, but it also has lots of quality, both physically and in images. It is easy to use because it has no vices, no nasty surprises. You do not need tricks to lure this quality out, it just pops out all the time.
It was early October when I had to return my loaner lens back to Panasonic. Afterwards I was too busy to think more of Nocticron, but now... Didn´t Kenko just announce a set of automatic extension tubes for MFT?