Review: Voigtlander Nokton 35mm F1.2 SE

Introduction

The Voigtlander Nokton 35mm 1.2 SE is a pretty compact yet super-fast 35mm lens. Let’s check out which tradeoffs had to be made to make it so compact.

Sample Images

Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.

Specifications

Diameter 66 mm
Length 59 mm
Filter Thread 58 mm
Weight 387 g
Max. Magnification 1:5.8
Working distance  cm
Number of aperture blades 12
Elements/ Groups 9/7

$999 at CameraQuest, Amazon.com, B&H, ebay.com (affiliate links). If you purchase the lens through one of these affiliate-links we get a small compensation with no additional cost to you.  

Version History

While the Voigtlander 35mm F1.2 SE is Cosina’s first E-Mount 1.2/35 there are three different M-mount 35mm lenses.

Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 Nokton Version I, II and III ©Cameraquest 2020
    • Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 Nokton
      490g, 10/7 design, MFD 0.7 m
    • Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 II Nokton
      471g, 10/7 design, MFD 0.5 m
    • Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III Nokton
      332g, 9/7 design, MFD 0.5 m

The III version shares the optics of the Voigtlander 35mm F1.2 SE but the E-mount version is electronically coupled and focuses up to 0.3m.

Disclosure

The Voigtlander SE 1.2/35 Nokton was kindly provided free of charge by Robert White/Flaghead for reviewing purpose for a duration of a few weeks.

Handling and Size

So far none of the Voigtlander lenses disappointed in this category and this holds true for this new SE 35mm 1.2 as well. The focus ring has perfect resistance and travels ~160° from the minimum focus distance (0.3 m) to infinity. The focus ring still feels nice but not quite as nice as that of the non-SE Voigtlanders like the 1.2/40.

The aperture ring has 1/3 stop click stops as any other electronically coupled E-mount lens. It travels about 120° from f/1.2 to f/22. 

Most parts seem to be made from metal and all markings are engraved and filled with paint.

The hood is rather small and does a decent job of protecting the front element from damage but less so from sunlight hitting the front element.

Considering the specifications we are dealing with a very small lens here, this becomes very obvious when we compare the Voigtlander SE 35mm 1.2 to the half a stop slower Samyang 1.4/35 FE and the difference would be even starker with the only other 1.2/35 in the system, the Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art.

Optical Performance

Vignetting

 

  corrected uncorrected
f/1.2 2.4 EV 3.3 EV
f/2 1.2 EV 2.2 EV
f/2.8 1.2 EV 1.7 EV
f/8 1 EV 1.6 EV

By default there is a forced vignetting correction so I give you both figures. The uncorrected values are remarkably high indeed at over 3 stops wide open and vignetting is still quite noticeable at over 2 stops at f/2 and vignetting stays above 1.5 stops even stopped down to f/8.0. The corrected values are about a stop lower but can still be very noticeable.

Flare resistance

Always a tricky subject to test since slight changes in the setup can affect results a lot so this test is a lot harder to standardize than others.

In backlit situations I encountered significant veiling flare and the occasional ghost. I did not compare the Voigtlander directly to other lenses but my feeling was that the fast speed makes it a bit more flare prone than excellent performers like the Voigtlander 2/50 APO. Overall though I would still rate it is a good performer.

Coma

I did not test for coma. Head over to Bastian’s review of the VM 1.2/35 to see his results which won’t be any better for the SE version.

Distortion

The Voigtlander 35mm F1.2 SE shows a moderate degree of moustache distortion. When you shoot jpg it is automatically corrected in camera but if you shoot raw there is no good way to correct it yet. In Lightroom profiles for older E-mount lenses are available but at the time I publish this review the SE 1.2/35 isn’t supported yet.

Bokeh

Close distance

At closer distances very smooth, no complaints. As mentioned in the sharpness section you can choose a very dreamy look with lots of SA by keeping the aperture open or stop down to at least f/2 for a better corrected but still smooth image.

Mid distance

At typical portrait distance the Voigtlander 35mm F1.2 SE really shines with very smooth bokeh.

    

Long distance

Still nice bokeh across most of the frame but the corners are nervous with stronger CA. With one exception all the other E-mount lenses suffer from the same issue so this isn’t much of a surprise but we had hoped that the SE would come closer to the smoothness the Sigma 1.2/35 delivers even in this most challenging of all bokeh scenarios.

Sunstars

The sunstars are well defined 12 stroked between f/2.0 to f/22. If you want to know more about sunstar rendering of different lenses have a look at this article.

Chromatic aberration

Head over the Bastian’s review of the Voigtländer 35mm F1.2 VM III which has more or less the same CA-characteristic which is moderate lateral CA and weaker correction of LoCA and especially purple fringing.

Focus shift

At least at the very short distance which I tested there is no focus shift.

Sharpness

infinity 

In the center the resolution at infinity is okay at f/1.2, but we can see quite a bit of glow (spherical aberration) and also purple fringing. Midframe and corners are rather soft here.
The center starts to show good resolution figures at f/2.0, but the midframe area needs f/5.6 to look good and gains at f/8.0. The extreme corners never get into very sharp territory. It is only the extreme corner though which stays soft.

Portrait Distance

For portraiture it isn’t so important how flat the field is, it is more interesting to see what the sharpness is like when focused at different parts of the frame to take field curvature out of the equation.
This is what I did here, I refocused for every shot to get the best possible result at different locations in the frame (center, inner midframe and outer midframe).

Wide open off-center sharpness is only acceptable but no more but by f/2 you can expect good sharpness and by f/2.8 I would call the results very good.

close focus (0.30 m | 1:5.8)



Close focus performance is an area where the smaller fast lenses like the Voigtlander 40mm 1.2 E or 50mm 1.2 E struggle, as they don’t feature a floating elements design which would keep the lens well corrected at any distance and the Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 SE behaves similar.
Performance wide open at the minimum focus distance is very dreamy and one is reminded of older days when a high amount of spherical aberration was to be expected from very fast lenses. At times I like this look but if you want ok sharpness and contrast you should stop down to f/2 or even better f/2.8.

Alternatives

 

 

Just lately we put together a rather comprehensive guide on 35mm lenses for Sony FE cameras which should give you a good overview. I will talk about a few obvious alternatives in more detail here though:
 
This was the first lens of the new f/1.2 series from Voigtlander and it shares most of tradeoffs with the 1.2/35 SE. The 1.2/35 only controls onion rings better and has a 12 bladed aperture. I think the haptics of the 40mm are a bit nicer but for that it is also a little heavier and more expensive if you buy new. Used it can be significantly cheaper. Personally I don’t feel a need to upgrade from the 40mm to the 35mm for now, also because 40mm fit better into my current kit.
 

Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art: The Sigma shows much higher sharpness and contrast at f/1.2 than the Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 at pretty much every aperture value over most parts of the frame. It is a really big and 3 times as heavy AF lens though, and pricier. I am sure you already know whether you want to carry this lens or not and whether you need AF or not, which will make your decision easy.

Voigtlander 1.4/35: A close relative of a 40-years-old Leica lens with corresponding performance. Very busy bokeh and low contrast wide open. More of a special character lens.

Sony FE 1.8/35: 100g lighter but a little longer the 1 stop slower Sony is a bit sharper with less smooth bokeh and a not as nice sunstar. It is of course a quick focusing AF lens while the Voigtlander is much nicer to focus manually. 

Sony/Sigma/Samyang 1.4/35 FE AF: All three AF f/1.4 competitors are sharper but also a lot bigger with less nice sunstars and a little more nervous bokeh. 

Conclusion

strengths

  • size/performance ratio
  • very smooth bokeh most of the time
  • sharp enough from wide open
  • excellent handling 
  • build quality
  • flare resistance
  • sunstars

average

  • sharpness, while sufficient for most uses, not that high at wider apertures 
  • field curvature
  • price

weaknesses

  • vignetting
  • visible CA at faster apertures
  • moderate degree of mustache distortion 
  • softer corners, even stopped down
  • sharpness wide open at close distances
  • strong coma makes it more or less unusable for astro photography

One could consider the Voigtlander 35mm F1.2 SE to be a pretty lousy performer for a $1000 lens if one just looks at the correction of aberrations. Sharpness wide open is only good in the center and not at closer distances, there is significant field curvature limiting sharpness for landscapes. CA can also be an issue and you don‘t want to use it for astro photography. Moustache distortion and strong vignetting could also be mentioned.

And yet I would consider the Voigtländer 35mm F1.2 SE to be one of the most attractive 35mm E-mount lenses available at the moment (if one is at least ok with focusing manually). It is even smaller than the 1 stop slower Sony FE 1.8/35 and a lot smaller than the available f/1.4 lenses, which makes it easy to always carry it. Cosina, the company behind the Voigtländer brand, has really perfected the handling of lenses and even though I see the SE design a slight step back the SE 1.2/35 is a joy to handle. The optical compromises are such, that they rarely have a negative effect unless you print super large images all the time. Usually one only notices the smooth bokeh and generally high contrast images. But then there are of course exceptions where other lenses offer more performance and some of you will make use of that.

Recommendation

If you have read this far, then I would assume that manual focus is not an issue to you but a feature. In that case I can only recommend to seriously consider the Voigtlander 35mm F1.2 SE. It is the nicest handling 35mm lens in the system, and it is a very versatile lens which will cover a wide range of applications with usually excellent results.

If ultimate performance or AF are at the top of your priority list on the other hand, then the Voigtländer is probably not for you and I would give either the Sony FE 1.8/35 (compact, fast AF, not as nice rendering) or the Sigma 1.2/35 (a behemoth of a lens but optically in a class of it‘s own) a closer look.

$999 at CameraQuest, Amazon.com, B&H, ebay.com (affiliate links). If you purchase the lens through one of these affiliate-links we get a small compensation with no additional cost to you.  

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I have two hobbies: Photography and photographic gear. Both are related only to a small degree.

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32 thoughts on “Review: Voigtlander Nokton 35mm F1.2 SE”

  1. i find the CV 1.2/35 is extremely attractive already because of its weight and size.
    I phantasize about using this lens on an a7C one day which would probably be the best performing small walkaround camera+lens combo.

    But then it has no AF.
    As much as i enjoy manual lenses for landscape photography, i just dont see myself using MF only in everyday walkaround situations (where i see the use of 35mm).

    If only the Sony FE 1.8/35 had as nice bokeh…

    1. Yeah, it is a real pity that the FE is compact and fast but a bit harsh in it’s rendering. Since the CV 1.7/35 exists we know that small, sharp with smoother rendering is possible so this is a bit frustrating.

    2. There are still two other alternatives which I really love but more than two stops slower. The very small Sony Zeiss f2,8 35mm and the Voigtländer Heliar f2,8 40mm. You can get both of them now to very reasonable pricetags.

    3. I had the 40mm f1,2 and I sold it just after I got the 50 APO and never regretted the choice. I largely prefer the optical quality over the speed, but obviously only you can decide that. And of course are different focal length but speaking only about speed I feel that f2 is fast enough.

  2. Dear Phillip,
    Thank you for this review and thx for all the work you put in this blog in recent years.
    It really helped me a lot getting into photography again. I am a big fan!
    One question regarding this lens:
    How does it compare to the latest m mount Version? Specially regarding field curvature since both seem afflicted.
    Reading Bastians Review i suppose the e mount version performs slightly better? Or is the difference negligable?
    Would you buy this one or the m mount version with a close focus adapter?
    Thx in advance
    Seb

    1. Hi Seb,
      happy to read that 🙂

      I think the differences are small enough that it would require a direct comparison to really answer your question. More important to me would be electronic contacts.

    1. Very different to compare the two. Focal length is very different. One is super fast and comes with a number of compromises while the other is relatively slow but the best corrected lens in its focal length.

  3. vignetting 3.3 ?? this means in the corner this 1.2 is really a 35 mm f 4.0… all the rest (corrections) is just something else. Very disappointing … thanks we now have ISO 100000…

    1. Isn’t it great there are significantly bigger lenses available that do so much better?
      Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art: 2.9 EV
      Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art: 2.9 EV
      Sony 35mm 1.4 ZA: 2.8 EV
      Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZM: 3.1 EV
      Wait…

      1. LOL.

        This is one of those things… People used to say that Olympus OM lenses were so small (which was nice), but the price of that small size was heavier vignetting (especially in the days of film, not so nice).

        Then these megalenses started to pop up (I think the Sigma 50/1.4 HSM started that trend), promising better wide-open sharpness, corner performance and vignetting.

        At least on that last point, I guess that promise was a pipedream.

  4. Been waiting for this. As always, great review!

    Still can not decide between this and the sigma 35 1.2. It should be an easy decision, don’t have a chance before the purchase so that makes it harder.

    gonna use the lens with environmental fashion portraits on wider apertures, so guess sigma will be my choice. thank you!

  5. Hello, Philip,

    I have been waiting for this review for a long time, because I would like to buy a 35 Voigtländer. This should replace my Minolta M-Rokkor 2/40, I openly expect more sharpness and micro contrasts.

    The Rokkor is also very good for solar stars, an important criterion for me. Bastian 35 reports were very exciting, here I am always happy about the great work!

    But after this report, I decided for the VM 1,7/35 and bought one already today. For me it is the more attractive lens.

    Greetings to the team, keep up the good work.

    I miss David, is he no longer “actively involved, he is also missing in the team overview?

    Thanks and greetings from Hannover
    Klaus

  6. Nice lens but looking at the sample images there is hardly any difference between 1.2 and 1.4f, maybe only in very close up images.
    Another thing to consider is vignetting when things get to ~3ev mark its getting out of hand and as someone mentioned you really need to take it inconsideration, because that 1.2f might be in similar terms as 4f.. So there is a chance that 1.2f effect might not be pronounced that well, the shallow DOF will be there, but you need to take in to consideration on how much area of the image will be darkened due to vignetting.
    Maybe 40mm 1.2f is better at this point, it should also increase the bokeh effect a little compared to 35mm

  7. Lovely images and great review Bastian!
    The rendering reminds me of the Nokton 40 with vintage Zeiss colours and contrast. Wonder why the spike in prices for this compared to all older versions? Any coating difference or change you noticed?

  8. To me this lens looks very similar in overall idea to Sony FE 28/2, plus added ability to open the aperture even further (with corresponding IQ penalty).
    Though it’s 2.5x more expensive and 2x heavier, of course.

  9. “SoSiAng 1.4/35 FE AF”
    What’s that? Sony, Sigma and … Samyang?
    I suggest the abbreviation is clarified in the text below it. I haven’t seen that abbreviation before and (might have) figured it out while posting here.

    Otherwise good and thorough review as usual, thanks.

  10. Thanks for the review Phillip.
    Just got mine to replace my CV 40 1.2. Personally I really don’t like the lens design of SE version…

  11. I would ahppily accept the compromises this lens brings to the table if I were in the market for a 35!

    I love the Cosina rendering and already own the 50mm f/1.2. If they bring out a nice 28mm I will probably get my wallet out.

    Thanks for the review!

  12. Hi Phillip, Is there any possibility of an apo WA from Cosina? The CV 50 f2 is so good on the A7Rii, don’t want purple finging again but would like a 35. Do you have any suggestions. Thank you.

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