The Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4.

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[Disclaimer: Similar to my Voigtländer Nokton 35mm f/1.2 write-up, this is not a review, but one user’s experience.]

(photo courtesy of Voigtländer.com)

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Introduction.

The Voigtländer Nokton 40/1.4 is an inexpensive, light, and compact little gem of a lens that begs to be carried everywhere.

I’ve used it for many years on both film and digital Leica M cameras and I can honestly state that it is truly one of the most versatile lenses I own, at any price.  However, on the internet you’ll find some criticism set aside for this lens, and consequently the “Nokton 40″ is often overlooked as a viable lens option for those looking to dress up their shiny new M8, M9, etc.  Somehow, it is viewed as less than worthy of a Leica rangefinder.  Why?

Well, there’s a fair degree of Leica “snobbery” when it comes to M mount lenses.  I’m guilty of it too, so I’m not knocking Leica lenses – far from it.  In fact, I consider them to be brilliant and I covet all the ones I own.  Certainly, as a class, Leica lenses excel and are widely considered the “gold standard” for photography.

However, for me, the Nokton 40/1.4 is a special lens that although objectively somewhat falls short of the Leica offerings, subjectively always seems to inspire.  In many ways, it’s the subtle “flaws” that lead to images with a different look — a different vibe — as compared to the “perfect” Leica equivalents.

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Ergonomics and Image Quality.

This lens is tiny.  It’s as small as the Leica 28mm Elmarit aspherical, for example.   Here it is mounted on a Leica MP:

(please click on the image to view)

At f/1.4 my copy is a touch soft by Leica-50mm-Summilux-aspherical standards, a lens to which it is often compared (but which carries an almost 10-fold greater price tag), yet it is sharp enough for most any type of photography.  Compared to the best of the Nikon and Canon offerings, it is right up there in image quality:

(please click on the image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

And sometimes the so-called shortcomings are not really shortcomings at all – it all depends on the intended use.  For instance, in portraiture it is not necessary or desirable to view every skin blemish or wrinkle at f/1.4, so a touch of softness is acceptable:

(please click on the images to view)

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4 [Selected as a Leica Fotografie International (LFI) Master Shot].

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

↑Leica M8 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

Tender is the Knight

↑Leica M3 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

Late Summer 1.

↑Leica M3 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

The passionate breakfast

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

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The Nokton 40 also close-focuses to the near limit of M rangefinders (i.e., to 0.7 meters), a handy attribute to have when you want to get close to your subject:

(please click on the images to view)

↑Leica M3 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

Serious Honey

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

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One of the qualities that first surprised me about the Nokton 40 was its ability to render colour in a unique way, not easily replicated by other lenses:

(please click on the images to view)

↑Leica M8 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

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Finally, depending on whether I take a few steps forward or backward, the lens can substitute as a 50mm or 35mm lens, respectively.  The importance of this last point cannot be overemphasized.  When I go out to photograph people, I often have to decide whether I’ll be photographing head-and-shoulder portraits (where a 50mm lens will do) or environmental portraits (where a 35mm lens would be the better option).  When I have the Nokton 40, I can usually accomplish both.  Ultimate versatility.

So, what are the downsides?

Well, the Nokton 40 lacks the microcontrast and flare resistance of its Leica counterparts.  Such optical differences are not readily obvious, especially at small print sizes, but I can see them, especially when I’m processing digital files.

There is also one quirk about it that seems to bother some people:  the lens mechanically triggers the 50mm frame lines in the viewfinder of an M series body (there are no 40mm frame lines).  Practically speaking, this means that a little more of the scene is captured than is evident when composing.   If one is photographing moving people (or other things in motion), this is actually a good thing because it is less likely that a critical portion of the photo will be unintentionally cut off during quick framing (there’s nothing more frustrating than taking the “shot of your life” and then realizing you’ve severed a limb, or head, etc!).

Here, my “subjects” were originally framed within the 50mm frame lines, but moved suddenly, as I clicked the shutter.  The “extra” space beyond my frame lines proved valuable as the final image captures the hand in the bottom right, which would have been “cut” had I actually been using a 50mm lens (Note: the left side of the frame has been further cropped during post-processing).

(please click on the image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

Stated another way, the Nokton 40 gives a little bit of extra cropping security.  Some people (like me) appreciate this, and some get frustrated by it and take to filing down the mounting flange to activate the 35mm frame lines, which more closely correspond to what is actually being recorded for objects further than 6 meters away.  You can see how this is done here (a Leica 40mm Summicron is being used in the example, but the principle is the same).

Finally, perhaps the greatest criticism of the Nokton 40 is that its bokeh can be harsh, depending on the background.  This is certainly true, and cannot be denied.  Sometimes, the bokeh is downright jarring (this example doesn’t represent the worst, but look at the branches on the far left):

(please click on the image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

Having said that, the Nokton 40 will sometimes astound with beautiful and subtle backgrounds:

(please click on the images to view)

↑Leica M8 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

↑Leica M3 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

↑Leica M2 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

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Conclusion.

The Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4 is a unique lens with a desirable combination of attributes not collectively found in any other M lens:

  • Exceptionally small and light.
  • 40mm focal length with maximum aperture of f/1.4.
  • Can substitute for a 35mm or 50mm lens.
  • Near-focuses to 0.7 meters.
  • Uniquely renders colours.
  • Excellent for portraiture (but obviously may be used for any type of photography).
  • Inexpensive.

There are a negatives, however:

  • Bokeh can be quite harsh at times.
  • Less than class-leading contrast, microcontrast, resistance to flare, and sharpness at f/1.4.
  • Brings up the 50mm frame lines on an M body (this may be a positive – see discussion).

I hope you enjoyed the discussion and sample images.  What I didn’t mention above is that the Nokton 40 comes in two versions: SC and MC.  The samples above were taken with both MC and SC versions.  If you wish to learn about the differences between the two, or just want to read a little bit more about this lens, please see here.

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If you would like to see more of my images created with the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4, please click here.

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Thanks,

—Peter.

59 thoughts on “The Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4.

  1. efix says:

    Oh Peter, you make me crave this lens … :-)

  2. Prosophos says:

    Hi Felix! Don’t worry about this lens, I know you have some nice gear already!

    • efix says:

      Haha, you’re right :-)
      But I still lack a fast 50mm-equivalent. I was thinking of getting the new 35/1.2, but the price tag is a bit high. The 40mm might just fit the bill right.

      • Prosophos says:

        Well Felix, the Voigtländer Nokton 35/1.2 is a fantastic lens, no doubt about it. I have been tempted to discuss that one too, because it optically equals and exceeds many of the Leica offerings. It’s one of my favourite lenses.

        But if you’re looking for something in the 50-ish range that is compact and fast, the Nokton 40/1.4 is the obvious choice. The Nokton 35/1.2 is just a little too wide to serve as a “50mm-equivalent”.

  3. Guy Platt says:

    Some beautiful sample images accompanying your write up. As you know I love my Nokton 40 and look forward to using it on my (soon to be delivered) M9 in the near future.

    • Prosophos says:

      Congratulations on the M9 Guy! Your work with the Epson RD-1 and Nokton 40 has been a great source of inspiration for me… I look forward to seeing what you do with the M9.

  4. [...] shortcomings, but I happen to really like it. I hope you find it useful and here is the post: The Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4. | Prosophos Thanks, Peter. PS. Moderators, if this is a not the place for this, please move or delete this, [...]

  5. Franz Heimann says:

    I liked to use it very much, but after thr arrival of the 35/1.4 It’s past.
    Together with the 35/1.2
    Franz

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi Franz,

      I can’t say I’ve had any experience with the Nokton 35/1.4, but the 35/1.2 is a stunning lens. And, yes, find I use the 35/1.2 more than the Nokton 40/1.4, but the 40 still is superior for size and versatility! I’m just happy I can own both.

  6. Will says:

    Hi Peter,

    Nice write up, are you using the classic or SC version

    Thanks
    Will

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi Will,

      Right at the end of the article, I mention that I’m using the multi-coated version.

      Thanks,

      Peter.

      • Will says:

        Hi Peter,

        I thought that the SC was the single coated version and the classic is the MC Multi coated.

        I had a play with the SC version a few days ago and it seems to render quite nicely

        Thanks
        Will

        • Prosophos says:

          You’re correct Will, I edited my response to reflect what I meant to say. Thanks.

          I tried the SC version for a while too, and found that it does indeed render nicely but was more prone to flare than the MC version.

          • Will says:

            Thanks Peter, I think I might pick up a 40mm SC version and give it a shot

            btw, I’d really liked to read a review from you on the CV 35 f1.2 and the Leica 50 Lux ASPH (if you still have those)

            many thanks
            Will

  7. tom percy says:

    Enjoyed your review. Thank you for taking the time.
    I am surprised that you don’t mention the soft/dreamlike quality, this lens characteristically renders wide open. Sometimes undesirable, but when used on the right subject, (ie-full frame portraits) striking and rather beautiful.
    It presents as a soft glow, particularly when direct sunlight is part of the image.

  8. Will says:

    Hi Peter,

    I received my CV 40mm MC today and had chance to take a few snap, tac sharp at f1.4 which suprised me and just crazy sharp at f4, out of focus rendering wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be and much better than the Leica 40mm Summicron-C.

    many thanks for your review
    Will

    • Prosophos says:

      Congratulations Will!

      Your observation re: bokeh may, in fact, be correct. There is a comparison on the web (if you Google it, you should find it) involving these two lenses and the Nokton 40/1.4 comes out on top. The results contradict much of the conventional wisdom on the ‘net but it’s the only objective comparison I’ve seen. Once again, congratulations.

  9. [...] Voigtländer Nokton 40/1.4 review Prosophos, Toronto base photography enthusiast, has written a summary of his thoughts about the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4 for Leica M. In his hands, this lens really shines! [...]

  10. [...] my post about the Voigtländer Nokton 40/1.4, a number of you requested that I post a discussion about it’s larger sibling, the [...]

  11. [...] Similar to my Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4 post, this is not a review, but one user’s [...]

  12. Ashwin Rao says:

    Peter, an amazing collection of images! You are convincing me to consider giving this lens another go. I may have missed this in your prior comments, but did you get the SC or MC version? I figure that you got the MC due to your use of color, but I wanted to check.

    Hope all’s well. Seems that you have parted with DPReview at the moment….it’s getting rarer for me to post there these days, but I miss the old friends :)

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi Ashwin, it’s great to receive a message from you! I’m doing fine, thanks for asking.

      You are correct, I have the MC version (I mention it in the last paragraph of the write-up above).

      I’ve slowed down my posting at dpreview, and have instead focused on this site. I wish I had more contact with you, though. Hope all is well with you too…

      • Ashwin Rao says:

        Caved and picked up this lens…and only have you to “thank” for that…LOL…Anyways, selling my MATE to help fund some of these lower impact purchases, so I don’t feel the sting too badly. If I can come up with anything even vaguely close to what you do with this lens, Peter, I’ll be a happy guy…

        I am picking it up mainly for a compact fast lens to pair with the 35 mm f/2.5 skopar and zeiss 50 mm C-sonnar, which will be used primarily on the Ricoh GXR M mount module…

        Best,
        Ashwin

  13. [...] lens' virtues and how it can act as both a 50 and 35. If you want to read it, please see here: The Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4. | P r o s o p h o s And if you want to see more photos I've taken with the 40 Nokton, please see here: Voigtländer [...]

  14. [...] used it extensively with film (and digital) – excellent lens. You can read more about it here: The Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4. | P r o s o p h o s Peter. __________________ Peter | Prosophos [...]

  15. [...] since I wrote a piece about the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4 back in July, it’s become one of my more popular [...]

  16. Godfrey says:

    It is truly a marvelous lens. I also have the M-Rokkor 40mm f/2 … 40mm is one of my favorites! … and the two lenses have a subtle and delightful difference in their rendering qualities. I’ve used them both on the Ricoh GXR with M-mount camera unit (APS-C format) and on the Leica M4-2. They’re brilliant on both.

    • Prosophos says:

      Thanks for the commment Godrey. I never had the pleasure of shooting the M-Rokker, but I agree the 40mm focal length is the sweet spot. How does the M-Rokker behave? Is it more “modern” (sharp, contrasty) in its rendering or “classic” (softer, less contrast)?

  17. Godfrey DiGiorgi says:

    My M-Rokkor 40mm is the second generation delivered with the Minolta CLE. Optical design is identical to the Summicron-C and first M-Rokkor 40, but it has improved anti reflection coatings, and was manufactured entirely by Minolta. It’s very small and light, smaller and lighter than the Nokton by a noticeable amount.

    The rendering qualities in OOF areas are “slightly” softer than the Nokton at f/2-2.8, after which they are so close it is hard to tell them apart. Sharp areas are rendered again “slightly” differently .. Both are very pleasing. The Nokton becomes a little more flarey as you open it up and bokeh at f/1.4 is a touch more modern/hard edged.

    Really love both lenses. They are the most used lenses on either body!

  18. Pawel says:

    Thanks to your review I am buying this lens next month. I have never seen anywhere a bokeh like that on any other prime lens [probably means only that I don't know much about primes ;)]. I work as a nightclub photographer, but I wanted this lens to be kind of for my own personal, for family use. It got its own character, and I’m really fed up with opening Lightroom and alter any pictures (will there ever come time when we just stop using photoshop and just leave these as they are?). This one is not perfect, no butter looking bokeh, no crisp details at 1.4, but I just love it and this one will be mine. :)

    I like what you do and good luck to you.

    • Prosophos says:

      Hello Pawel Congratulations on your decision! I don’t think we’ll ever stop needing to post process digital images to realize the potential of the files. In actuality, I enjoy the creative control. The Nokton 40/1.4 should serve you well, and it definitely has its own character. As I write in my article, the bokeh can be incredibly beautiful, but sometimes can be harsh… it’s always interesting though. Congratulations again on your decision and thanks for your nice comments!

  19. Jason Howe says:

    I keep coming back to this…..I have predictable, dependable lenses but I also like glass that can give you something unexpected. It’s a good thing its small, I may have to sneak it in………all the best Jason

    • Prosophos says:

      :) Well… it won’t deplete your funds to give it a try, so… give it a try! I hope you can sneak it in… thanks Jason.

      • Jason Howe says:

        It won’t be the first piece of gear I’ve done that with……….I’ve been reading up on this lens today, I see what you write and the images you’ve produced and that is all the convincing I need, although Ken Rockwell does’t have a good word to say about it.

  20. Martin says:

    Hello Peter,

    Great review and outstanding photographs…thank you!

    I would appreciate your comments (and those of your readers). I have recently purchased a Leica CL body, and am looking to buy a 40mm lens to go with it. I can purchase the Voigtländer Nokton 40/1.4 at B&H for around $530 or find a Leica 40mm Summicron-C 40/2.0 on-line (ebay, KEH, etc.) in very good condition for $700 – $1,000.

    I will be using the lens primarily for travel photography and am more concerned with image quality than brand name. What do you recommend?

    Thanks!

    Martin

    • Godfrey says:

      Martin,

      I have and use both these lenses (I have the 2nd generation M-Rokkor 40/2, identical in design and performance to the Summicron-C but with multi coating). They are both fantastic lenses with very similar performance across the board from f/2 on down. The Nokton’s additional stop of performance is occasionally handy, the difference in bokeh at wide open is occasionally subtle and occasionally striking depending on the scene. You can’t go wrong with either!

      The Summicron-C/M-Rokkor is smaller and lighter is that is important to you.

      I have both because I have multiple M-mount bodies and this is my favorite focal length. I’d also like the rare Pentax-L 43mm f/1.9 Limited if I can find one.

    • Prosophos says:

      Hello Martin,

      Thanks for the kind comments.

      Godfrey has done an excellent job summarizing the issues. I will say, from a shooter’s perspective, that having an f/1.4 maximum aperture is very useful in many situations, so my *personal* preference would be for the Nokton 40/1.4. But, as Godfrey also writes, you really can’t go wrong with either lens!

    • Giacomo Ardesi says:

      Martin,

      I guess you already made your choice by now, anyways, I own both the Nokton and the M-Rokkor and I have to say the Nokton on the small and light CL body is way unbalanced…the M-Rokkor is way more balanced.

  21. [...] looking for more detailed information on both these lenses, please see my previous user reports:  Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4 and Voigtländer Nokton 35mm [...]

  22. John Parkyn says:

    Hello Peter,

    Thanks to you (!!) I am on the cusp of buying this lens… size, cost, 1.4, balance between 35 and 50. I was taken aback however by Ken Rockwell’s scathing criticism of the lens. He favours the Summicron C – 40/2. I don’t want to draw you into public crossfire but need a nudge to produce the plastic… You have my email address.

    ===

    Did you opt for the hood and filter?

    ===

    I believe some of your pictures are set in High Park… True? Went to the restaurant this morning for the $2.99 breakfast… A good deal.

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi John,

      I’m aware of that review of this lens. Suffice it to day, I shake my head when I read it. To be fair, I believe each photographer draws different conclusions based on his/her priorities.

      For me, the photos speak louder than the words. And I really like this lens, for all of the reasons I cite in my write-up.

      To answer your other questions… I haven’t shot any of the photos in High Park – maybe I should head down there some day?… And I *did* opt for the hood, because it helps the almost non-functional lens cap stay on this lens :).

      Thanks for your questions!

      Peter.

  23. John Parkyn says:

    Peter …

    First, I must apologize for not signing the previous post.

    Do you have to do anything to this lens to prep it (code it) for the M9?

    John

    • Prosophos says:

      I don’t code for it at all, either mechanically on the lens or manually in the M9 menu. At f/1.4, there’s a noticeable vignette, but I actually appreciate that for my portraits.

  24. John Parkyn says:

    Hello Peter,

    You and the readers may enjoy this related discussion:

    http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/why-40mm.html

    Tell me, is it a good practice to go in tight on the subject (to the 50 lines) and believe that the 40 will provide a “sensible” / “pleasing” border?

    John

  25. John Parkyn says:

    To put it another way, did you ever say to yourself, “I wish I was using a Bessa that will give me the 40 lines”?

    • Prosophos says:

      No, never. I actually like the fact that I’m framing with the 50 lines and ending up with a slightly larger image… for all the reasons I mention in my article.

      By the way, thanks for the link above – it’s a great read. And, I really do believe the 40mm focal length is my absolute favourite for the type of photography I do.

      Thanks John,

      Peter.

  26. Tim Cox says:

    Hi, learning quite a lot from reading all the comments. Sorry to hijack the thread like this but I’m thinking of picking up a Voigtlander 40/1.4 for my newly acquired Leica CL, and I came across this Voigtlander Nokton VM 40 1.4 in a 2nd-hand store. I am wondering if the “VM” does any difference? Will it fit my Leica CL?

    Thanks,
    Tim

    • Godfrey says:

      I think the “VM” designation simply means “Voigtländer M-bayonet mount.” It should work fine on the CL.

      If you own the CL already, it’s easy enough to just carry the camera body down to the 2nd-Hand Store and try it out.

  27. [...] that I posted almost a year ago was suddenly popular again (normally it’s my write-up of the Voigtländer Nokton 40/1.4 that gets the most attention).  Then I visited the website of my good friend Steve Huff.  Steve [...]

  28. [...] an aside, I’ve always found that the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm, the lens used to capture this image, performs exceptionally well on [...]

  29. [...] an aside, I’ve always found that the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm, the lens used to capture this image, performs exceptionally well on [...]

  30. [...] too, the little brat!)  Anyway, this was taken with the Voigtlander Nokton 40/1.4…mainly on Peter’s recommendation.  (It is a gem of a lens…every Leica shooter should own one).  I have [...]

  31. […] In the meantime, feel free to re-visit my report on another of my favourite lenses, the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4. […]

  32. […] 35/2.5 made me pull out my ‘ole 40, and realize how much I liked shooting with it.  His review is here.  This is the “SC” version, which seems to be more ideally suited to B&W […]

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