Tuesday, May 3, 2016

10.5mm F0.95 Voigtlander Nokton 8 month Review



M43 as a system has advantages over many of it's contemporaries. It has a large lens portfolio, good ergonomics, multiple body manufacturers, and an overall smaller system size than most other interchangeable lens systems. However it does have it's disadvantages. These include low light performance, compared to larger systems that have larger sensors and lenses with larger entry pupils, and shallow dof. Voigtlander has personally taken on the mission of rectifying this issue by releasing a series of super fast f0.95 lenses. The most recent of these releases was the 10.5mm nokton. I have been shooting with the nokton since September of last year and I have finally decided to write a review from the perspective of a long term user.  Continue reading after the break to see what I think of this unique lens along with a collection of the images another photographer and I have created with it. 


Getting Equivalence Out of the Way

Now, at the very beginning, we should make things clear. M43 uses a sensor that is approximately 1/4 the size of a 35mm sensor found in so called full frame DSLRs. This means that the format has inherently different exposure and dof characteristics. Because a 35mm sensor has a larger surface area, when using lenses with the same aperture on a 35mm camera and a m43 camera, the 35mm or full frame camera will gather more light. The aperture indicates the intensity of light.

 Imagine a m43 sensor as a bucket under a faucet of water. The faucet represents the lens. The water represents light. Set the faucet to full blast and assume that that represents a wide open f1.8 aperture. Now imagine a full frame sensor as 4 buckets, each one the same size as the m43 bucket. Each of theses 4 buckets are also under a f1.8 faucet that is going wide open exactly like the m43 bucket. In the space of a minute which set of buckets gathers more water?

The 35mm set of 4 buckets gathers more water. The amount of water in any one bucket is the same as the m43 bucket (this represents that with the same settings on the two separate systems the resulting image brightness is the same) but the full frame buckets gathered 4x the total amount of water that the m43 bucket did. Because the full frame buckets gathered more total water (light) over a greater area the resulting image has the same brightness but also has less noise, possibly more dynamic range, and shallow dof.

In order for the m43 bucket to gather the same amount of water as the full frame buckets we need to let 4x as much water through the m43 faucet. This would give us the same total amount of water as the full frame buckets. (And pretty much the same image quality). So we need a f0.9 faucet (lens) for m43. The voigtlander nokton lenses are equal to using a very nicely built manual focus f1.8 prime lens on a full frame camera. Take any m43 lens and multiply it's focal length and aperture number by 2 and you will know what a similar lens for a full frame camera would be like.

History of Voigtlander

They started with the 25mm f0.95 giving m43 users the fast 50mm equivalent lens that they wanted and producing one of the sharpest lenses in the entire m43 lineup. They followed up this beauty with a 17.5mm f0.95 to please those who wanted a fast 35mm equivalent lens and at the same time introduced a fantastic declickable aperture ring for video. After this they got even bolder and released a stunning 42.5mm f0.95 giving m43 users the 85mm f1.8 equivalent lens they deserved. All three of these lenses have been met with acclaim, and are some of the sharpest lenses in the m43 lineup.

Many people wondered what Voigtlander would release next. They anticipated a 14mm f0.95 to give m43 users a fast 28mm equivalent (something completely missing from the system) but Voigtlander pushed farther and chose to release a 10.5mm f0.95. The widest ultra fast lens released and equivalent to a 21mm f1.8 on a 35mm camera. Even in the full frame world those are pretty extreme specs. Reviews were mixed, while some liked the lens they felt it did not measure up to it's contemporaries and that it's image quality was not commiserate with it's price. It garnered some bad attention especially due to a bad review from lens tip where it was reviewed by an astrophotographer who was disappointed in the lens coma performance and thus declared it a failure. It most definitely did not get a lot of love from many sources. I saw through it however and picked the lens up for what it offers. A chance to create images that not even many full frame camera owners can produce. And this lens delivers just that.



Build Quality 


shot inside an abandoned building. This was at or close to wide open

The 10.5mm Nokton is definitely a hefty lens. I can't compare it to most other m43 lenses but It is certainly not a lightweight. It is about the same length with hood as the 25mm nokton with hood but is heavier. It probably weighs at least the same as my em5 plus grip.

The focus ring turns around 280 degrees giving a very long and precise focus throw. The focus ring is as smooth as butter and very accurate. The aperture dial is actually much smoother in operation than the 25mm nokton and I find the stepless aperture control to be very fun to play with. I have tested the lens in video and having a stepless aperture is very nice, especially if I haven't had time to put my variable nd filter on the lens.

The lens has a 72mm filter thread and accepts circular filters. The hood is removable with a metal screw and you can use the lens cap with the hood on. The hood is better designed than the ones on my old 35mm glass in that the lens has a groove for the hoods tightening band to latch into. This means it cant fall off by mistake like the one on my 85mm fl occasionally does. You cannot use wide filters with the hood on. Some small filters should fit, but if the diameter of the filter is larger than the front diameter of the lens the hood will not fit over it. Still with the very good flare performance of the lens I have found myself never using the hood anyways.

I found that the lens balanced well on my Panasonic gx7 but that it felt much better on my g6. The gx7 is probably the smallest grip I would personally use the lens with and if using the Olympus cameras (minus the em1) I would recommend the accessory grips. I have been using it since October with my EM5 Mark II and the fotodiox grip. These make a very good combination and one handing the lens was quite easy.

Overall I think the build quality is great. The Voigtlander lenses for m43 are constructed in a way reminiscent of times long past. Their solid aluminum construction, incredibly smooth aperture and focus rings, and general construction make them beautiful and functional tools. Modern lenses from Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, or Olympus simply are not built like this. Only Voigtlander, Leica, and Zeiss are making lenses with this kind of quality anymore, (Ignoring a bunch of cinema lens manufacturers).


Image quality


At f0.95 I find the image quality to be very good for my usage. I am mostly a street photographer with occasional aspirations to portrait, nightscape, or lightpainting photography. I do not care about the edges or corners of my photographs. At all. I only look at the edges of my photos or the corners to make sure that nothing is there to distract from my composition. Like the other Voigtlander Noktons the lens varies in Sharpness based on focus distance. At close focus the lens becomes more dreamy in rendering, and at farther distances it becomes sharper with less glow. That said at a a distance I find the corners and edges to be serviceable at f0.95 even if they aren't great. Center sharpness is good wide open.

This particular feature of the Voigtlander lenses is one reason I feel lens tests do not do them justice. At the distances used for shooting charts (which does not represent most shooting scenario's) the Voigtlanders are not performing at their best. At close focus they are more dreamy, especially wide open. Stopping down they become much sharper. At a distance more useful for shooting people with each focal length they are at their sharpest. It is my opinion that Voigtlander intentionally designed these lenses to perform their best at the distances most used for shooting people. Voigtlander has long made lenses for the Leica M cameras which are heavily associated with street and reportage style shooting. This can be seen especially in the 42.5mm nokton which performs its best within portrait shooting distance with fall offs in performance at infinity and very close focus. 

F0.95

Wide open at closest focus.


The vignetting at f0.95 is very heavy. Interestingly I found that it was a boon to composition in at least one case.

F0.95

F2



The two closeups of the lion statue were taken at f0.95 and f2. I moved closer for the f2 shot trying to fill the frame more which is why the background blur looks similar. But the interesting note is the background of the two images. Initially before post processing both were much brighter. They were shot at equal exposures. (I pulled highlights on both by 36 points in lightroom). They received identical processing.

Due to the vignetting at f0.95 the corners were actually darker than the same shot at f2. When shot at f2 the street and sky were much brighter in comparison to the f0.95 shot. You can see that the sky is more saturated with blue in the f0.95 shot and the white highlights in the image are smaller, The ground and the overhang of the building are also darker.

I feel that in some circumstances this could enable me to use f0.95 for subject isolation and actually reduce blown highlights in the corners and edges of a photograph that would have crept in had I used an aperture of f1.4 or f2 while maintaining the same image brightness. As a characteristic of the lens I find it fascinating and it has influenced my photography with the lens.

As you stop down the lens the vignette gradually disappears and the corners and edges become sharper and sharper. According to some other reviews it never reaches spectacular levels of sharpness like the other noktons, however in my experience the sharpness is nothing short of biting.




Colors

About the colors, something that people don't often note is that the voigtlander nokton lenses shift color reproduction throughout their aperture range. Wide open the Noktons give a cool color tone but as they are stopped down they become warmer.

This change happens almost as soon as you leave f0.95 You can observe the change most easily by point the camera at a light source with a fixed white balance in camera. Then stop down from f0.95 to f1.4 or farther.
 When pointing it at lights in my office I found they had a purplish ting wide open, but stopping down gave them a bit of a greenish blue hue.  I believe that intentionally the Nokton lenses have been designed to give two entirely different renderings. Wide open the look of the image is so different from just one stop down at f1.4 you could often swear that they came from different lenses. 

This is especially noticeable if you have blue tones like the sky in your image. Wide open the blues will be more saturated and the entire image has a more dreamy color rendering. I find it to be utterly gorgeous. Even stopped down the voiglander colors are beautiful and I can really pick a nokton image out of the crowd. I hate to say it but these lenses really do give images a very life like feeling. I am not old enough to have shot with color film (do disposable cameras count?)But I have an ae1 I got for a dime and occasionally I put b&w film through it. I think the character of the nokton images reminds me of the film rendering.

 The best part of all of this is that both renderings are great and the exact same color and rendering characteristics persist over all 4 nokton lenses.




 Bokeh and F0.95


F0.95, about a foot away from the bird.

F0.95. Wide angle shallow dof.


F0.95 Iso 800. You can view the full image by clicking on it. This was processed in camera. Low noise reduction. The sharpness in the center of the frame is very good and the wide aperture makes shooting in low light a breeze.


 One thing people definitely question with this lens is "what's the point of an f0.95 aperture on a wide angle lens?". "Why would anyone need a wide angle lens that fast? It isn't going to help your landscapes or architecture. Just use a tripod right? And you can't get shallow dof on a wide angle anyways so what's the point?"

Well I have answers for those people. There are uses for a wide angle lens other than landscapes and architecture, believe it or not, and yes you can have shallow dof and a wide angle at the same time. Just look at the images above.

With the same framing the 10.5mm notkon offers more dof control than a lens the like 20mm f1.7 or the 25mm f1.8. The perceived amount of background blur it can achieve in a shot with similar framing is about equal to the 20mm f1.7 but the dof and actual blur are actually 2 stops more. 

The bokeh of the lens is swirly at close focus distances. It has a very dreamy characteristic when shooting up close wide open and I find it interesting and pleasing. If you stop down you can remove the effect but I kind of think that is besides the point. If you wanted to do close up portraits you should still be at a distance where the image wont be crazy dreamy and soft which is a nice thing.

 The lens performs well in low light and has a great rendering at night,.  One thing to keep in mind while shooting at night is the vignette. The lens lends itself to a central or just off center composition due to the hot spot created by the vignette. It could potentially draw attention away from your subject if something else occupies this hot spot.

Night Rendering

One of the best uses for a lens this fast is in lowlight shooting and the nokton definitely delivers. These were shot at varying f values. 

F8 shot with the live composite mode. They had 5 motorcycles in there!

Cropped portrait
This was shot on the nokton using the teleconverter mode of the em5 II. It is cropped in alot and was shot I believe wide open.

In and out of shadows. F8

Think they have a size nine?

How many floors? F1.4 I believe.


Photography by Yaelle

Photography by Yaelle

Photograph by Yaelle



When shooting at night stopped down you will notice that the lens produces stars around point light sources due to it's straight aperture blades. This is either an effect you like or an effect you do not like.


Flare 

Flare was handled well and I only had a few shots where it intruded into any of my photos. I did not find it to be a problem at all. The only shots where it intruded the sun was just outside of the from above the lens. In 8 months with this lens flare has only intruded in my shots 1 or 2 times without the hood.


Using the Lens

When I first got this lens I was surprised to find myself shooting often without the viewfinder. I kept noticing that my subjects were becoming aware of me due to my close proximity. The lens is very wide so you have to be close, so close that raising the camera to my eye was alarming my subjects in a few instances. The amount of time it took the viewfinder to come on when I put the camera to my eye was also frustrating because by the time it came on a moment would have already passed at such close distance. I ended up taking a piece of masking tape (always carry tape) and covering up the eye sensor so that when I used fn4 to switch to my evf it would stay on constantly and not have any wakeup lag. This may have affected my battery life a little bit but I carry a few batteries so it wasn't an issue. I have since adjusted to this and use the viewfinder more. However it is most often beneficial to shoot using zone focus as it removes the possibility of the subject noticing you. Once focus is set you can just walk past the subject snap the shot and never have them notice you at all

Setting zone focus is very easy and makes shooting with such a wide lens much easier. To set zone focus choose your aperture, shutter speed, and iso. You can also set the camera to Aperture priority and just set the aperture then let auto iso and the exposure program do their thing. When you set an aperture of say f8 and focus to 1 meter on the 10.5mm you will have everything from about half a meter to infinity in focus. There is a dof scale on the lens that will help you with this. If you choose f8 everything between the two 8 markers will be in decent focus. Not perfect. But decent to very good depending on your aim. F4 is the smallest value that zone focus works well with. At f4 you can get everything from 1 meter to infinity in focus. If the subject moves closer then that just move the focusing ring back about a centimeter and it will come right back in. Easy, fast, accurate.


Final Thoughts

The 10.5mm nokton is a unique lens that will not find it's way into most photographer's collections. It is heavy, manual focus only, fairly large for a m43 lens, and expensive. It suffers from fairly bad coma wide open which puts off the astrophotographers who were most interested in it. However, for those of us willing to look past those flaws this is a fantastic piece of glass. For lowlight shooting in cramped environments no other m43 lens comes close, for lowlight architecture handheld this lens is king, for night time rendering there is a way this lens draws that is pure magic, even for portraiture it offers a view other lenses can't. The 10.5mm nokton is part of my daily kit. I use it so much that I can't stand to be without it. My other lenses fight for my attention but rarely do they win.

If you are in need of a fast ultra wide nearly distortion free rectilinear prime then I heartily reccomend the 10.5mm nokton, if you shoot video I suggest that it is a must own lens, and if you shoot people in low light I say this lens is the king. If you are a thrifty individual or highly anal about small technical flaws then I suggest to look at other slower glass. There is something great here but it just might not be what everybody is looking for.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to see more please follow me on instagram, flickr, or google plus to get notifications of new reviews and upcoming articles on life in China.

https://www.instagram.com/p/-p6Dx_QR1i/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/streetsmartphotos/

A big thanks to Yaelle for the images she contributed to this review and I reccomend that everyboy go checkout her work on flickr at

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yaeller/sets/72157663331693070

Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think!


6 comments:

  1. An $1100 lens "should" be outstanding.

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    Replies
    1. @Jj Sands

      it is an outstanding lens.

      It is the best lowlight lens m43 has to offer, wide open in is sharper than any other f0.95 lens including the 10,000 dollar leica noctilux, and it offers a field of view, dof control, and lens speed for video that is unrivaled in m43 and until very recently barely rivaled in the FF world. For video, lowlight people shooting or architecture, handheld lowlight shooting, or astrophotography for those that don't mind a little coma it is the best lens available. No other lens comes close.

      Delete
    2. @GerryDingle

      It is an expensive lens. Especially for someone that does not necessarily need what it offers. If one just wants a lowlight lens then the 25mm nokton can be had regularly on ebay for under 600 usd. If you are the kind of person that does need or want what it offers then the price is of no consequence.

      Personally the 300mm f4 for m43 is far too expensive. But this is because I do not need what the lens offers and do not see it's value. To another photographer who does value that lens the price is acceptable.

      Thank you for commenting and I hope you read more in the future!

      Delete
  2. Magnificent review. Your conclusions differ from those of many others, to such a degree that I might choose to question; however, your pictures beautifully make your case. They sell the lens. As a happy owner of the V. 25, I've been greatly interested in the 10.5. Thanks to you, I must figure out a way to afford it!

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  3. Beautifully crafted review. I shoot pretty much the same portfolio as you do...and just bought the lens.
    I have the 25mm/0.95 and know the specifics and characteristics of the Voigtlaenders. They are just not mainstream stuff. I still shoot film (35mm and medium format) a lot and lenses like these help me to carry the looks, the warmth and the atmospheric vibes Igo for into the sometimes to sterile digital ream. Thanks a lot again. J.D. Kreuzberg

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