Bright manual focusing lenses are always so tempting. I wanted to try the new Voigtländer 42.5mm lens for three reasons. The first being of course the quality of the lens it self wide open at f/0.95. The second was its closest focusing distance at 23 cm which combined with very shallow DOF should be interesting. And the third was focus peaking feature with Olympus VF-4 viewfinder.
The lens (and camera)
Nokton 42.5mm lens is the third lens in Voigtländer´s f/0.95 series, the two earlier ones being 17.5mm and 25mm lenses. I have written earlier of 17.5mm lens. My article is here.
I could copy here almost word to word what I wrote about mechanical quality and feel of 17.5mm lens. This one gives the same solid, well-made feeling. Focusing ring has balanced friction, which makes focusing easy and precise even with tiny changes. Aperture ring can be used either dented at half stops or dentless. The latter is best for video and the former allows also roughly quarter settings be used between dents. Noktons are made of metal and glass, they are not small or light.
I shot almost only with the combination seen above. The lens was attached to my Olympus PEN E-P5 body with VF-4 viewfinder. If only E-P5 had a proper grip, this combination would be absolutely great. Because of too little grip I carry this camera with the help of neck strap instead of my usual wrist strap. It doesn´t affect images but... Enough of that, it only is stupid when they got it right with E-P3. Why I wanted to try this combination is of course the gorgeous VF-4 viewfinder. E-P5 gives same image quality as E-M5 but VF-4 gives a better ability to focus either just by observing the viewfinder screen or with the help of focus peaking. These make a huge difference compared to E-M5.
Focusing is the critical point with this lens, naturally. Depth of field is shallow with larger apertures, especially at portrait distances and there also spherical aberration lowers contrast. You either love or hate this lens because of focusing. Not to hate it I wanted to really see what I am doing. Focus peaking in E-P5 is good but not perfect. It is the better the shorter the DOF and the higher the lens contrast is. Now contrast is not too high. So there is many times a "gray area" where you can have the image almost in focus but not just quite. I found many a time easier to focus without any focus aids. VF-4 is good enough for that. But then again when I (and my eyes) was tired, then focus peaking helped. If you are new to focusing manually, learn to focus by turning focusing ring starting from too close to "in". This is helpful because at normal shooting distances depth of field is divided into 1/3 in front of focusing point and 2/3 behind. You are always is danger to focus behind of what you aimed for.
While I would not recommend Nokton 42.5mm lens to anyone who only wants to take casual snapshots, I also do not consider it as much a specialist lens as I said about Nokton 17.5mm lens. This one is a lot easier to work with. Even so it has its ups and downs. At larger apertures there is spherical aberration which lowers contrast. But then again part of the magic of this lens comes just from the same phenomena. Sharpness stays at a perfectly good level while the image starts to glow. Also the sharpness and image stays intact up to the edges of frame. There is some vignetting which I never felt objectionable. Also there is marked distortion at shortest focusing distances. At portrait distance and beyond there is no distortion to speak about. I wouldn't buy this lens for repro work even if I did not notice distortion in real life images. Maybe the worst negative feature of this lens is longitudinal chromatic aberration.
I took this image just to show the worst case scenario of longitudinal chromatic aberration. Lateral chromatic aberration is what you may have in the corners of image. Longitudinal is closer to the center of image and best seen close to focusing point. It is typical for high speed lenses, one example being Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L which I have used and liked a lot.
Above we have uncorrected image and this really is the worst I could get or saw in any of my images. Below LCA is corrected with Lightroom´s Defringe tool. I clicked on magenta/blue and green and then slightly adjusted Hue sliders. Sometimes some manual work (mostly desaturating) is needed depending on the colors on which LCA is seen. It is possibly there always but I did not find correcting it difficult when it appeared. This is not a lens I would use to shoot lots of candid shots, anyway. It keeps workload reasonable.
That´s it. All negative aspects I found have been addressed. All the rest was good. How I see the usage of this lens for me is this: 1) Nature close-ups, 2) Portraits, 3) Moody street and city shots in black and white. All at aperture f/0.95 or sometimes closed down a click or two to f/1.4. If you think about using this focal length at f/2 or smaller apertures then this lens may not be the best option. This lens is actually very good at smaller apertures beyond f/2 with the above mentioned bad going away, but there are other alternatives which cost half the money, are just as good and have autofocusing. The magic happends wide open.
Ordinary street shots belong almost (not quite for me) to the best usage area of this lens. This is shot wide open and shows the curved focal plane of this lens. Ladies to the left and right are in focus and focal plane curves almost to the lady in center.
A 50% crop to show sharpness, slight glow and background separation.
Moody black and whites was something I didn´t have time to really get into yet. Later... Still, I guess this image shows the potential of this lens.
This picture is shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 at Ireland workshop. Again Nokton 42.5mm lens wide open. Natural light, this image doesn´t show how dark it already was.
Closed down one click and 100% crop below.
Nature close-ups are my favorite subject for this lens. This one is shot at f/1.4. Slightly closed down you can see how light blobs show the 10 blade diaphgram. I had to close down to be able to stay with the bees.
100% crop from image above. DOF doesn´t span the length of the bee. Shutter speed is here 1/6400s (one benefit of E-P5) and even it can´t stop the wings. You can see slight LCA, which I have not corrected at all.
Spider´s web in the morning, just before the sun dries it. Wide open.
Some added vignetting.
A detail of one of our apple trees.
Let´s end this potpourri of close-ups with this shot. I chose here a variety of what I did while trying the lens.
Well, I guess my opinion shows in the images above. I would love to really get into those close-ups. That´s not the only thing I would love to do, though. So let´s see. Anyway, Voigtländer Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 lens is one of the most beautiful lenses (I mean images) I have ever used. Nothing else to say.
Except: Every proper blog needs at least one picture of the friendly dog.