Sunday, October 9, 2016

25mm Nokton Review late to the party

Some people have tried to knock this lens down, but it still comes up fighting.

The 25mm Nokton was the first lens to give M43 "The Look". Of course by that I mean that the Nokton was the first lens made for the system that gave m43 the much sought after and vaunted full frame look, particularly shallow dof.

You see m43 has a small sensor. Well it isn't really small, it is pretty big in my opinion, but among the various other large sensored cameras m43 is sitting at the bottom of the heap with the smallest of the "big" sensors. It is a little more than 2/3 the size of an apsc sensor, and about 1/4 the size of a full frame sensor. This comes with some advantages and disadvantages. Advantage number one is that the m43 image circle only needs to be 1/4 the size of a full frame image circle. This means much smaller lenses can be made for the system.  (This doesn't happen often for various reasons, but it is a possibility like we see with the olympus 45mm f1.8, the 20mm f1.7, and the 12mm f2) This means that if you are carrying a m43 camera setup and full frame setup with the exact same field of view and f stop the m43 setups will be much smaller and lighter. The two setups won't provide exactly the same images, but that's the trade you make for a smaller system.

The negatives of this sensor size are two fold.

1. Greater magnification. This is a pro and con. It is great for wildlife shooters who need more reach with smaller lenses. But not so good for many other kinds of shooters. Basically this means that a 50mm on a full frame camera and a m43 camera will give you a different image. On the full frame camera it would be a normal lens, somewhat close to our line of site. On the m43 camera it would be a portrait length lens giving you twice the reach of the full frame camera. To create the same field of view as the full frame camera you need to use half the focal length on the m43 camera, a 25mm lens. And with that smaller focal length comes a smaller aperture which results in a greater amount of the image in focus. This means that the m43 camera has more trouble producing shallow dof.

2. The smaller sensor gathers less total light for any given aperture setting. This means that for any given combination of settings m43 image quality will be lower than for a larger system. To compensate for this the m43 system needs to use either a longer exposure time, or a wider aperture in combination with a lower iso to attain the same snr and/or dof characteristics of the larger system.

Neither of these are due to the lenses mind you, it is simply the result of using a smaller sensor. An f2.8 lens is an f2.8 lens when it comes to light intensity, but light is measured in intensity and in total. A full frame sensor gathers more light with the same f number as a m43 sensor because it has four times the surface area to gather light with. The intensity of the light is no different (which is why image brightness is the same between the two formats with the same settings) but the actual total amount of light gathered favors the larger format. Does this matter? Not really....even at the highest iso settings of 12800 and 25600 m43 produces results that are more than good enough for use in web articles, facebook, instagram, or  even printing to fairly large sizes. The number of use cases where it really matters that FF provides superior results are fairly limited because in almost all cases smaller formats are good enough.  But anywhoooo..

Before the release of the Nokton m43 was in a very weak position when it came to low light performance and shallow dof. The nokton changed all of that however with a mind blowing f0.95 aperture which cemented it as a solid normal angle of view option for many shooters of the system. At the time it was nearly 2 stops faster than the next fastest lens in the system the 20mm f1.7. I have been using the 25mm nokton for the last year as one of my daily carry lenses and It would take a small army to make me part with it. Since it has been with me for about a year I would like to share some of my thoughts on this lens.

So about me..... I love manual focus. I started photography a little over 2 years ago and it quickly became a passion. I figured out that I loved manual focus right after I got my first manual focus prime (a Canon FL 50mm f1.4 adapted to my panasonic g6). The feeling of the aluminum barrel, the smooth silky turn of the focus ring, the sure click of the aperture dials, and the sight of the image coming into focus in the viewfinder all got me right in the heart. I was hooked. For the better part of a year the 50mm f1.4 and an 85mm f1.8 (both on a speedbooster) became my regular gear setup. Even though I owned a 20mm f1.7 and 45mm f1.8 that both had autofocus I spent most of my time using the manual focus lenses.

Of course after a while I started to itch for some of the manual focus options available with a mount native to my format and a bit wider than the lenses I was using. I began to get my mind caught up in the voigtlander noktons. Faster, sleeker, and sharper than my FL lenses...they were calling my name.

So the first one I picked up was the 25mm. I didn't like my 20mm all that much because it felt a bit too wide but not wide enough, so I played with my 50mm on my canon ae1 and decided I liked that field of view a lot. Later I wanted an even wider option and got the 10.5mm nokton which I have already reviewed here.

The 25mm blew me away from day one. It was sharp, it was fast, and man this thing is pretty. It looks like a match made in heaven when it is sitting on the front of my em5 Mark II and it looks just as good on the Pen F (which I am definitely having an itch for).

In my eyes the difference in fov between 25mm and the 35mm that my 50mm plus speedbooster was giving me was huge. It was a different way of shooting and I found myself getting closer to my subjects which was a good thing.

Fast forward to now and I can give you my thoughts after about a year with the lens.

Build Quality---it's fantastic.

There really isn't anything to say's all been said before by other people. The rings are perfect, the focus is insanely smooth and easy to use, and the lens feels extremely solid. It is heavy, and could probably be used to beat off a mugger and then photograph them. You are not going to find many lenses that feel better than this (if there are any).

i have dropped the lens one time on the train. It fell around 3 feet to the ground. It came out totally undamaged.

One thing I will say is that it is not nearly as large as I expected it to be after reading other reviews. Many reviewers made it out to be a huge lens, while it is bigger than many other m43 primes, it is not a huge lens. It is a bit long but slim. The new 25mm f1.2 is larger.

Image Quality Wide Open- I love it!

The biggest knocks I see against this lens are always the same. Too big, and the image quality wide open isn't useable. No af is the third one. I'm here to say that the first two are pretty ridiculous.

Now I am not the most demanding of image quality, some of my favorite photos are even a bit out of focus. But I still fail to see what exactly people want from a lens wide open at f0.95 that the 25mm nokton is not giving.

Wide open the image is not at it's sharpest. Did you expect it to be? I'm hoping not.
The image does have a bit of glow to it and it vignettes in the corners, the color signature is even different wide open than stopped down. Now all of this can sound bad, but frankly it produces gorgeous images. Wide open the rendering is so pretty that you will want to shoot the lens at f0.95 all the time. You images won't have a biting sharpness but they have other qualities that frankly just look good.


At this distance the dof is so shallow wide open that I couldn't even get his face entirely in focus.

shot wide open

A Crop from the previous image. Click on the photos to see a larger view. This was shot at f0.95.

Now I don't know what you are photographing, but anything I would be shooting at f0.95 the lens is offering PLENTY of sharpness for. I mostly photograph people, street shots, the occasional portrait and overall scenes. At f0.95 this lens is definitely sharp enough for these uses. It may not satisfy an architecture or landscape photographer at that aperture, but why would they be shooting at f0.95 anyways?

Stopped down

This lens is simply amazing once you start to stop it down. The image quality may be arguable wide open but nobody can argue with the biting sharpness this lens has as you begin to close that massive aperture. Once you hit f2.8 this lens has the second sharpest central portion in the entire system (other lenses are a bit stronger in the corners or along the edges, but for me that doesn't really matter). I usually compose my images along the rule of thirds and these areas fall into the central portion of the lens. The 75mm isn't sharper, the 42.5mm nocticron isn't sharper, the 25mm f1.4 isn't sharper. Only the 30mm f1.4 from sigma beats it by a hair. This is it. This lens can provide jaw droppingly sharp images and it is an absolute pleasure to view them after a day of shooting. I'll be waiting to see if the new Olympus 25mm f1.2 can top this lens stopped down (I have no doubt the 25mm f1.2 will be sharper at f1.2 and most likely up to f2, but it is actually larger than the nokton and has a smaller maximum aperture)

         Dont really know what I shot these images at. Between f1.4 and f4 based on my usual habits.

                                                       About a 50% crop here I believe.

                                                                                       I shot this at f0.95

                                                                  F1.2 I think

I'll also let you know here that I do not color correct my images. It is very rare that I actually make any changes to the colors in an image beyond contrast and saturation. The colors you see in these shots are all a result of the camera and the lens and frankly I love them. The reason that I don't play with the colors is because I already love the look I get from the Voigtlander lenses. In particular all 4 noktons have a peculiar trait wide open which I think was an intentional design choice. Wide open all 4 noktons have a cool color rendering, but as you stop them dow2 (even just to f1.2) this visibly starts to disappear, this means that wide open the images have a different look than stopped down just one stop. Its like having two lenses in one. This is really interesting and it really makes you want to shoot them wide open for that unique look.

Shooting at night?

                                                       This was shot at f0.95 and the focus isn't quite perfect. Still love the rendering.

                                               Shot at f1.2


What is it like carrying this lens on a daily basis?

I have had this lens on me pretty much every day for the last year. I haven't shot with it every single day, but most. I find it very pleasing to use this lens. It may be a bit heavy (although my entire kit is a bit on the heavy side) but I have never once felt like I was being limited by my camera or lens when shooting with the nokton. I haven't run into a situation where I said, I need more speed, I haven't had a time where the AF missed (although I myself miss focus occasionally I can't blame it on the lens) and I haven't encountered a situation where I said to myself that this lens couldn't handle the lighting or scene in front of it. The only real issue I have had when shooting this lens is that often times the dof at f0.95 is too shallow to be useful and I have to stop down. That's really it. The wide aperture and ibis on my Em5 mark II mean I can shoot in total darkness at low iso values which is great for still life photos And at moderate iso values 800-3200 are generally enough to shoot deep into the night with subjects on the street in areas with very few lights. It is reassuring to hold, and I like the knowledge that even 10 years down the road this lens will perform exactly how it does now. It will always have a place in my kit as long as I can fit it on a camera.

If you are interested in getting a 25mm nokton for yourself you can buy it from B&H or order it from amazon. My copy was bought on ebay from Japan and I was able to get it at a steep discount (under 600 usd). It is also worth noting that there are two versions of this lens. Type 1 and Type II. Type 1 has been discontinued in favor of type II which has a stepless aperture mechanism like the other nokton lenses and is supposed to perform better at wider apertures than type 1. The images in this review come from the type 1 lens although at some point in the future I will probably purchase the type II so that I can do a comparison between them.

P.S Within the next 2 weeks I will be buying the 42.5mm f0.95 from Voigtlander so you can expect a review of that lens after I have had a month or two to use it. I am very excited to finally be completing my trio of Voigtlander Nokton lenses and they will be serving as my 3 lens system. I hope to be sharing many images and videos captured with them all.

If you enjoyed this review....
You might enjoy some of my other reviews.

Em5 Mark II 6 month review

10.5mm Nokton 8 month review

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