Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 Nokton Classic MC

 APS-C format

 Originally designed for film cameras, and in particular the Bessa R2A/M and R4A/M M-mount rangefinders, the Voigtlander Classic lens range has a lot to offer. This optic is an affordable lens for a Leica M, and also an option for a mirrorless compact camera, when coupled with an appropriate adaptor. Not only does this lens have an ultra-high-speed maximum aperture of fl.4, but when used with an appropriate adapter on an APS-C format mirrorless camera it has the equivalent angle of view to 50mm, or a 70mm fl.4 on a micro-four-thirds camera.

It s also unusually compact, even for a rangefinder lens where shorter lens-sensor distance (sometimes referred to as the flange-back distance) forgoes the bulky retro-focus designs required of DSLR lenses. From front to back it measures just 28.5mm and the 55mm diameter is measured at the rear where it s deliberately enlarged to aid mounting. The conical shape makes the lens look tiny even on a small mirrorless camera. We tested it on an M-mount Ricoh GXR but it wouldnlook out place on an Olympus OM-D or Sony NEX-7.

 APS-C format

It s also exceptionally well made, with brass and aluminium helicoids ensuring smooth precise focusing, a click-stopped aperture ring and clear engraved markings for distance and depth of field. As a compact manual-focus lens, the focusing ring has a small metal lever intended to aid adjustment, as therelittle room for a conventional grip. Red paint used for distance markings in feet can be difficult to see in low light, which is not that surprising but it s an odd choice all the same.

As for the Voigtlander s optical quality, at the maximum aperture the contrast and resolution are on the low side as you might expect and it is aberrated, but thatonly really noticeable at close distances. In the centre, the resolution only just achieved 1,000 LW/PH and the edges dropped off rapidly even on our APS-C format camera, which covers the lensspot . On a full-frame camera, the resolution at the edges is likely to be even lower.

 lens Leica

However, the soft, dreamlike imaging aesthetic wide-open is often thought of as an attractive quality and light fall off, or vignetting, is correspondingly low at just under 1EV at f1.4. Some focus shift from f2.0 to f5.6 is troublesome when used on a rangefinder, but focusing a mirrorless camera using the smallest aperture will circumvent such issues.

By f2.0, most of the more serious aberrations are under control though the centre is crisp even if the edges lag behind. At f2.8 onwards the lens is sharp across the field accounting for the big jump on our resolution chart. It is really only from f11 that the effects of diffraction start to impact the resolution. Images are noticeably softer at f16.

 lens Leica

High-speed lenses like this often have other issues besides sharpness, including chromatic aberration and distortion, both of which can be problematic. But while the Nokton does show longitudinal chromatic aberration at wider apertures, axial chromatic aberration is rather lower than you would expect.

Theresome barrel distortion as well and it s a bit high when judged against lenses with a similar focal length, but if you re comparing this lens to the Leica Summilux 35mm fl.4, you only need look at the price difference to put the performance in perspective. This lensimaging aesthetic wide-open, good sharpness when stopped down and terrific build make it a very attractive and relatively affordable proposition for the Leica M user.

And that extends to anyone exploring the extraordinary abilities of the increasing number of mirrorless cameras appearing on the market.

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