The Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III is now the 15th 35mm lens I review here. Let us find out if 15 is a lucky number and this is a useful addition to our choice of 35mm lenses!
Lens is being tested on 42mp Sony A7rII and 24mp Leica M10
Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.
- Sample Images
- Specifications / Version History
- Handling / Build Quality
- Flare resistance
- Chromatic aberration
- Focus shift
- Sample Images
- Further Reading
Specifications / Version History
As the name suggests the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III Nokton is already the third incarnation of this lens.
- 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
- Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 Nokton
As you can see the guys at Cosina have done a pretty good job at reducing the weight (and also size) of their 35mm f/1.2 lens. I am reviewing the latest MK III version here which has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 60.8 mm
- Field of view: 61.5° (diagonally)
- Length: 50.5 mm (+ adapter)
- Weight: 332g (without hood and caps + adapter)
- Filter Diameter: 52 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 12 (straight)
- Elements/Groups: 9/7
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.50 m
- Maximum Magnification: 1:11 (measured)
- Mount: Leica-M
You may also have a look at the official page.
Handling / Build Quality
So far none of the Voigtlander lenses disappointed in this category and this holds true for this new 35mm 1.2 III as well. The focus ring has perfect resistance and travels ~130° from the minimum focus distance (0.5 m) to infinity.
The aperture ring has 1/2 stop click stops which I think is a good compromise. 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.
From the Voigtlander E-mount lenses we are used that there is a metal hood in the package, this is usually not the case with the M-mount lenses and the 35mm 1.2 III is no exception.
Considering the specifications we are dealing with a very small lens here, this becomes very obvious when we compare the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III to the Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art.
But the new VM 35mm 1.2 III even compares favourably to the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7, having the same length and being only a bit bigger in diameter and 95g more in terms of weight.
Wide open there is strong light falloff of roughly 3.3 EV, stopped down to f/2.0 this improves to 2.3 EV, stopped down to f/2.8 it is 1.9 EV and still 1.8 EV at f/8.0. These values are high but comparable to the competition in this class. You can either correct this in Lightroom or directly in camera. There is no Lightroom profile yet, but I expect it to be included in one of the next updates.
I did not notice obvious color cast issues with this lens on either camera (Sony A7rII and Leica M10).
Very fast lenses often show optical vignetting. Without going too much into technical details optical vignetting leads to the truncation of light circles towards the borders of the frame.
In the center of the frame almost every lens will render a perfect circle, but only lenses with very low optical vignetting will keep this shape in the corners.
So in the following comparison we move from the center (left) to the extreme corner (right) and see how the shape of the light circle changes.
I was quite surprised to see the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III shows pretty much the same performance as the huge Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art.
The difference between 12 straight (Voigtlander) and 11 rounded (Sigma) aperture blades is very apparent though. Interestingly Cosina decided not to use the amazing aperture diaphragm from the Voigtlander 50mm 2.0 Apo-Lanthar E here.
We further see, that onion ring structures are not really a problem here.
infinity (42mp Sony A7rII)
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 really good resolution figures at f/2.0, but midframe and corners really need f/8.0 to show good performance.
Performance here is comparable to the Voigtlander 40mm 1.2 E, but luckily I don’t see such an abrupt drop in sharpness in the extreme corners.
The Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art plays in a league of its own here though, showing better across frame sharpness at f/1.2 than the Voigtlander reviewed here at any aperture setting.
infinity (24mp Leica M10)
Some M-mount wide angle lenses show significantly different (better) performance when used on a camera with a thinner sensor stack. Interestingly this is not really the case here.
When comparing to the Sony A7rII we have to take the lower resolution of the Leica M10 into account of course.
The corners may look slightly less mushy at wider apertures on the Leica M10, but the midframe shows a similar drop in sharpness.
Stopped down the differences are minor, I would also recommend to use f/8.0 for best across frame sharpness on the Leica M10.
True infinity might have been a tiny bit behind the hard stop when the lens is used on my Leica M10, therefore the minor difference in sharpness in the center at f/1.2 and f/1.4 between Sony A7rII and Leica M10.
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 equasion.
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).
Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III <—> Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art
Now this is also for those, that wonder why the Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art is so big while the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III can be so small: a lenses’ quality is defined by more than the specification sheet.
The Voigtlander lens seems to be a block focus design optimized for a certain focus distance which is probably around 1.5 to 2.0 m.
At maximum aperture it is a bit soft at 1.0 m and there is noticeable falloff to the corners.
The Sigma on the other hand always shows an impressive performance at f/1.2, no matter what distance or where in the frame you check.
The Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III should not be dismissed here though, for a lens this small the performance is quite respectable and will often give satisfactory results in the real world.
I also checked the performance here on the Leica M10, no differences.
Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III @ f/1.7 <—> Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX @ f/1.7
close (0.50 m, 1:11)
100% crops from center, A7rII
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 and the Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 III behaves very similar.
Performance wide open at the minimum focus distance ain’t that great (unless you are after a dreamy look).
But stopping down to just f/2.0 improves the performance significantly.
If you are looking for a 35mm 1.2 lens that performs great at every distance have a look at the Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art.
As always evaluating flare is a complex matter since you can get any lens to look bad if you push it hard enough and a slight change of scenario will affect results a lot.
But in fact it is very hard to make this lens look bad. Already previous Voigtlander lenses like the 50mm 1.2 have surprised us with a surprisingly good flare resistance and this holds true for the VM 35mm 1.2 III.
I am showing you some of the worst case examples here and I really had to push it to create some ghosts.
Even with the sun close to the corner of the frame (where many lenses struggle) the performance is still good:
So, not having a hood in the package isn’t a big deal here.
I saw a kind of ring flare when using the lens at f/1.2, I will have a closer look at this, maybe the reflective silver filter ring is to blame.
The other fast Voigtlander lenses are not exactly famous for great coma correction at wider apertures and the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III is no exception here. Coma starts to look okay from f/2.8, but there is noticeabe astigmatism present at this aperture, so better stop down to f/4.0 if possible for taking pictures of scenes like these.
100% crops from extreme corner, focused on corner, A7rII
We know that a different filter stack can have an effect on the off center performance of a lens, so I also had a look how it performs on the Leica M10.
100% crops from extreme corner, focused on corner, Leica M10
At f/1.2 and f/1.4 the differences are minor compared to the Sony camera, but on the Leica M10 the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III shows less astigmatism at f/2.8, so I would be okay with using f/2.8 instead of f/4.0 here.
The distortion of the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III is really nasty, as it is very wavy and also not very low and easily visible with straight lines running through the picture. We need to wait for a lens profile to properly correct this.
For most interested in this lens the bokeh rendering will be a very important aspect, as the maximum aperture makes it a great choice for taking environmental portraits. Therefore we will have a look at the bokeh rendering at different distances, compare it to other 35mm lenses and also have a look whether there are differences when the lens is used on a Leica or a stock Sony camera.
At closer distances very smooth, no complaints.
Still very smooth, cat’s eyes are clearly noticeable in scenes with point light sources in the background though.
The strong optical vignetting in combination with filter stack induced field curvature leads to not so nice corner bokeh at these distances, when the lens is being used on a Sony camera with its thick filter stack. Something we have seen with many small rangefinder lenses in the past when used on a stock Sony camera.
Have a look at the “Compared to Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art (Long Distance)” section at the end of this chapter where I investigate this a bit more.
Compared to Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art and VM 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX
What did we learn from this comparison?
When the VM 35mm 1.2 III is used on the Leica M10 the corners look slightly smoother than on the A7rII.
Off center the Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art shows significantly cleaner, smoother bokeh, this is very apparent in the corners.
VM 35mm 1.2 III looks very similar to the VM 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX when stopped down to f/1.7.
Compared to Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art (Long Distance)
The picture of the cannons from the “Long distance” section lead me to make this comparison.
In the past we have often seen worse bokeh in the corners when using rangefinder wide angle lenses on Sony cameras due to filter stack induced field curvature.
In the beginning I thought this lens may be less plagued by this, as sharpness wise there was only little difference between Sony A7rII and Leica M10 at infinity, but this scene clearly shows this behaviour is still present in this lens’ design.
It will be interesting to see if the E-mount version of the Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 III E SE will behave differently here.
The sunstars are well defined 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.
You can also see the noticeable spherical aberration at f/1.2 here.
90% crops from center, A7rII
100% crops from corner, A7rII
Lateral CA are on a medium level and easily corrected in post by one click or for Jpegs in camera.
Near the minimum focus distance the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III shows quite a noticeable amount of longitudinal chromatic aberration (and also some spherical aberration) wide open. Already stopping down to f/1.4 helps with getting rid of the aberrations close to the plane in focus. To get rid of the magenta and green fringing you have to stop down to f/2.8 (see Focus Shift section).
At longer distances loCA in the out of focus areas (“bokeh fringing”) are present and can be noticeable, but they are not excessive and in the background are also a bit masked by generally smooth out of focus rendering (thanks to spherical aberration):
Leica M10 | Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III | f/1.2
Purple fringing is really nasty though, this is one of the worst performances I have seen in a 35mm lens yet (maybe have a look at my Sigma 35mm 1.2 vs 35mm 1.4 vs 40mm 1.4 comparison where I shot the same scene):
Sony A7rII | Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III | f/1.2
50% crops, A7rII
Unlike e.g. the Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 this 35mm 1.2 III shows almost no focus shift. Good news for rangefinder users!
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:
Voigtlander 40mm 1.2 Nokton:
This was the first lens of the new f/1.2 series from Voigtlander and we have seen some improvements such as better polished aspherical elements (less pronounced onion ring bokeh) already with the 50mm 1.2 that have carried over to this 35mm 1.2 lens.
The 40mm 1.2 also has a rather abrupt drop in sharpness in the extreme corners which can be visible even at smaller magnifications.
Therefore I would personally recommend the new 35mm 1.2 lens if the focal length is not a deciding factor to you.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | ebay.com | ebay.de for ~1099$ (affiliate links)
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 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.
buy from amazon.com | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de ~$1499
Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 I and II:
I have not used these lenses personally, but I doubt there is still a reason to consider these, unless you are shooting an M-mount camera and you find a really good deal on a used one.
Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX:
Now this is a tough one. The older 35mm 1.7 shows clearly better sharpness off center and at wider apertures (see the comparisons across this review) but it is also a stop slower while not being that much smaller or lighter (95g difference without 5m PCX).
If you care more about sharpness I tend to still recommend the 35mm 1.7, if you lean more towards bokeh the new 35mm 1.2.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | ebay.com | ebay.de for ~ 809$ (affiliate links)
Sony E-mount user
There were some things I didn’t really like about the Voigtlander 40mm 1.2 Nokton E (abrupt sharpness drop in the extreme corners, onion ring bokeh, sometimes harsh bokeh, focal length) and it seems to me most of these issues have been resolved here
and therefore this may become my new recommendation for those looking for a small yet fast manual 35mm lens.
This is not the perfect lens though. Distortion is nasty and off center sharpness is really not that great at wider apertures.
This becomes very obvious when comparing it to the Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art, which I am tempted to say is better optically in every regard (except for flare resistance) and sharper everywhere in the frame at every distance and we better not even talk about coma correction here.
Still, few will really make use of/need the better optical performance of the Sigma lens and we should keep in mind this Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III is a third of the size and weight, which makes it much more fun to carry around.
The E-mount version has just been announced. As we have seen the bokeh rendering at longer focus distances suffers a bit due to filter stack induced field curvature so we recommend to wait for that version if you are not a “dual M-mount/E-mount user”.
The Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III balances well on the Leica M10, better than its predecessors or the Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4.
There is still a bit of finder blockage and it is obviously bigger than the Leica Summilux-M 35mm 1.4 Asph FLE or other slower 35mm lenses, but I am sure you are aware of that already.
The good news is that it shows no relevant focus shift, unlike I saw on the aforementioned FLE.
At longer distances (environmental portrait) the rangefinder is accurate enough even at f/1.2, at shorter distances it may be advisable to use Liveview or an EVF if possible.
If you want a fast 35mm lens and you don’t mind the size I see no reason not to get this lens. There are also some improvements over the 40mm 1.2 that would make this my clear choice if deciding between them (not even talking about having framelines for this one).
Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.
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