50mm lenses have been one of the staple horses of Cosina/Voigtländer for a long time and – as of the time I am writing this review – the Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 II Nokton Vintage is one of the latest additions to this ever growing line up.
It would best be described as their “most compact, still very fast and with a modern rendering” option and we will have a look how it performs in this review.
This lens will be reviewed on the 42mp Sony A7rII and the 24mp Leica M10.
Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.
- Sample Images
- Handling / Build Quality
- Flare resistance
- Chromatic aberration
- Focus shift
- Sample Images
- Further Reading
There have been several different Voigtländer 50mm 1.5 rangefinder lenses and I am not sure this is a complete list:
- Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 Nokton
~255g (black and silver), 6/5 design, 52 mm filter thread, MFD 0.9 m, 10 aperture blades, M39
- Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 Nokton
220g (black) / 293g (brass), 6/5 design (same as before), 49 mm filter thread, MFD 0.7 m, 10 aperture blades, M-mount
- Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 II Nokton MC/SC
198g (black/silver) / 255g (bicolor), 8/7 design, 43 mm filter thread, MFD 0.7 m, 12 aperture blades, M-mount
comes as single (SC) and multicoated (MC)
- Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 Heliar Classic
255g, 6/3 design, 49 mm filter thread, MFD 0.5 m, 10 aperture blades, M-mount
I am reviewing the MK II bicolor lens multicoated here which has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 55 mm
- Field of view: 46.3° (diagonally)
- Length: 37 mm
- Weight: 255g (bicolor)
- Filter Diameter: 43 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 12 (straight)
- Elements/Groups: 8/7
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.7 m
- Maximum Magnification: 1:11.3 (measured)
- Mount: Leica-M
Handling / Build Quality
I have said it a few times before: Cosina doesn’t really follow a clear line when it comes to the casing design of their M-mount lenses. This is especially true for the bicolor version of the Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 II I am reviewing here, as there are hardly any other lenses in the line up that looks similar and it rather resembles some of the earlier Voigtlander lenses.
It should be noted the “Vintage” designation is because of the look of this lens, not because the pictures you take with it will look like they have been taken with an old lens, if you are looking for that then “Classic” is the term you need to look for in the Voigtlander portfolio.
Still, the lens looks and feels really solid, all white markings are engraved and filled with paint, the focus ring has perfect resistance and turns about 100° from the minimum focus distance of 0.7 m to infinity.
The aperture ring has equidistant and very distinct half-stop click stops and feels very tightly assembled. It turns ~110° from f/1.5 to f/16.
The lens features a rangefinder coupling but no focus tab.
Out of box the lens was well calibrated on my Leica M10, but it looks to me that true infinity would be a tad behind the hard stop (see sharpness infinity section).
As is unfortunately often the case for Cosina’s M-mount lenses there is no hood in the package. Voigtlander offers a rather pricy vented hood option here which is called LH-6.
The Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 II is very small considering the combination of maximum aperture and focal length and when it comes to wide open vignetting we already have to pay the toll for that, as I measure roughly 3.5 EV at f/1.5. This is noticeably more than the Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.2 Nokton shows at f/1.2 and also stopped down I measure still high 1.3 EV.
It is recommended to have a look at this article first to get an idea how this brightness graph works.
Very fast yet compact lenses usually show a significant amount of 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.
For comparison’s sake I included the TTArtisan 50mm 1.4 M and Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 here. The Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 II shows the highest optical vignetting which is very apparent in the corners. Stopped down to f/2.0 the TTArtisan lens looks the best followed closely by the Voigtlander 50mm 1.2, this 50mm 1.5 II being the worst. I also expect some swirly bokeh, we will have a look at that in the bokeh section.
All lenses also show some onion ring structures caused by the use of aspherical elements.
I did not shoot the lenses side by side, if I did the circles from the f/1.2 lens would be bigger in direct comparison. The focus distance was 0.7 m and you may get slightly different results at other distances.
infinity (42mp Sony A7rII)
Considering the Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 II has been designed for M-mount with its much thinner filter stack it shows quite a decent performance on the Sony cameras. While the corners are rather mushy at wider apertures and the midframe shows some field curvature by f/4.0 we already get acceptable across frame performance at f/8.0 actually really good one.
infinity (24mp Leica M10)
Performance on the Leica M10 and Sony A7rII is similar, but here it looks to me that already at f/4.0 we get really good across frame performance, but we also need to take into account the lower resolution of the M10’s sensor which might also play a part here.
It looks like true infinity would have been slightly behind the lens’ hard stop when used on my Leica M10. Due to mount tolerances of lens and camera this can always happen and is the reason most non-M-mount lenses can be focused past the infinity mark.
portrait distance 1.4m distance (24mp Sony A7III vs 24mp 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 equation.
We will be looking at 100% crops from the 24mp Sony A7III and the Leica M10. Both cameras do not have an anti aliasing filter in front of the sensor.
Sony A7III <—> Leica M10
At a focus distance of 1.4 m we only see minor differences and we get decent performance at f/1.5 even in the outer midframe. No complaints here.
close (0.70 m, 1:11.3, 42mp A7rII)
100% crops from center, A7rII, because of focus shift (see corresponding section) I refocused for every shot.
The performance we see at the minimum focus distance is very typical for a fast lens without a floating elements design: at the maximum aperture there is a noticeably amount of spherical aberration (glow) which is reduced on stopping down. By f/2.8 the performance is really good in the center of the frame.
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 can affect results a lot.
Some of the modern Voigtlander lenses were suprisingly good in this category, e.g. the 35mm 1.2 or 50mm 1.2 lenses, but the 35mm 2.0 Apo-Lanthar (recently reviewed by me) as well as this 50mm 1.5 II MC fall a bit behind them.
Sun outside frame
With the sun outside the frame anything can happen. Generally I often encountered a loss of contrast, but sometimes also huge ghosts appeared.
As said, a slight change of camera position can make a big difference, so here we have a look at the same scene with only very slightly altered camera position:
Leica M10 | Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 II Nokton MC | f/8.0
Sun inside frame
With the sun inside the frame the situation is generally a lot better, but also here ghosts running across most of the frame can appear. I did expect better performance here, and while I rarely felt the need to use the hoods of the other Voigtlander lenses here putting on in the box in the first place might have not been a bad idea.
Also remember I am reviewing the multi coated version here, the single coated version will show significantly more artefacts, as the comparison on the official page already shows.
A 50mm lens this fast and small: we shouldn’t expect great coma performance at wider apertures and indeed at f/1.5 and f/2.0 there is noticeable coma visible. Stopping down to f/2.8 improves the performance significantly, but to completely get rid of it you have to stop down to f/4.0 to f/5.6.
The performance is similar to the Voigtlander 50mm 1.2, TTArtisan 50mm 1.4 or other small yet fast lenses.
100% crops from extreme corner, focused on center, Leica M10
Leica M10 | Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 II Nokton MC | f/4.0
The Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 II shows a small amount of pincushion distortion. There is no lens profile available yet, but dialing in -2 in Lightroom/Camera Raw is doing a good job at correcting it.
As always with fast lenses I am sure this is a category many will care about, so as usual we are having a thorough look how the lens performs at different distances and in different scenarios.
Generally the lens gives a nice, smooth background blur, but it is quite apparent optical vignetting is high and with foliage I often encountered a “swirly” bokeh look.
Not too surprising considering the small size of the lens, but something you should be aware of.
The transition zone can also be a bit busy with double edged structures at times, even at close distances and it is easy to spot loCA in this scene, too:
Many of you may want to use the lens for portraiture and generally the lens is showing a decent performance at these distances.
Longer focus distances are where many lenses struggle a bit, but also here the Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 II renders the bokeh mostly undistracting:
With very complex backgrounds – like several layers of foliage – things can get a bit busy and distracting though, especially when the lens is used on a Sony camera with its thicker filter and when having a closer look to the corners:
There are 50mm lenses available that show less optical vignetting, but none of them is as small as this one. In a direct comparison I would prefer the TTArtisan 50mm 1.4 in this category, but that lens is also significantly bigger and heavier.
So considering its small size the Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 II MC shows a very respectable performance.
Unlike the Voigtlander Apo-Lanthars I reviewed recently the 50mm 1.5 II still features the “classic” straight 12 blade diaphragm which yield very distinct suntars from f/2.0.
If you want to know more about sunstar rendering of different lenses have a look at this article.
100% crops from center, A7rII
100% crops from corner, M10
There are only very minor lateral CA visible that are easily corrected in a raw developer like Lightroom by one click.
In close up scenarios there is a bit of green behind and magenta in front of the focal plane visible. The amount of color fringing is reduced on stopping down, but even at f/2.8 there is still a bit visible (see focus shift section).
We will also have a look how the lens behaves at longer focus distance, which is where most people will use the lens for. As is usually the case with fast lenses with rather simple optical designs purple fringing can be quite pronounced:
Leica M10 | Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 II MC | f/1.5
In extreme scenes like the one with the car you can sometimes spot longidutinal CA even in smaller output sizes, but it should be noted that the Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 II fares no worse here than e.g. the Sony 55mm 1.8 or the Sony 35mm 1.8, both slower, more expensive lenses.
50% crops, A7rII
With some lenses when stopping down the plane of optimal focus shifts to the back or the front. Sonnar lenses are very prone to this and the optical design did look a bit “sonnarish” to me at first glance, so it is not that much of a surprise the Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 II is one of those lenses. You can see the focus shifting to the back on stopping down, the amount is not that high and at longer focus distance might not even be an issue, but this is something rangefinder users should look out for.
I will only cover the really obvious alternatives in detail here, but if you ended up here by accident and you are looking for an AF lens may have a look at our Guide to 50mm lenses for Sony E-mount.
Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 Nokton E:
One of the most obvious competitors. You gain electronic communications with your camera, half a stop of light gathering capabilities, better flare resistance. The f/1.2 lens is a bit bigger and heavier though.
buy from CameraQuest | B&H | Robert White | amazon.com | amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de for $999 (affiliate links)
Voigtlander 50mm 2.0 APO-Lanthar:
If you are looking for the best possible correction of optical aberrations instead of lots of bokeh this is the lens you are looking for.
buy from CameraQuest | B&H | Robert White | amazon.com | amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de for $1049 (affiliate links)
Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 Nokton:
I didn’t use the 50mm 1.5 MK I on a Leica camera, but what is quite obvious: the new one performs significantly better at wider apertures off center. I am not so sure about the flare resistance, it is “different” and not exactly better, but I would still rather get the MK II version reviewed here.
buy from CameraQuest | Amazon.com | Amazon.de | B&H for $760 (affiliate links)
Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 Heliar Classic:
The Heliar Classic has actually been released after the lens reviewed here, but it is not a successor. The Heliar Classic is neither optimized towards sharpness nor smooth bokeh rendering, instead it is supposed to resemble the rendering of older lenses. So it is similar to the 35mm 1.4 Classic.
buy from CameraQuest | B&H | ebay.com for $999 (affiliate links)
TTArtisan 50mm 1.4:
The TTArtisan 50mm 1.4 was a big surprise to me. The optical performance is quite similar and that at a significantly lower price, but the TTArtisan is a significantly bigger and heavier lens and the small size is really the strength of the Voigtlander lens reviewed here. If you are not that weight conscious the TTArtisan is clearly worth a closer look though.
buy this from the manufacturer’s shop | amazon.com | amazon.de | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de for about $369 (affiliate links)
Leica Summilux-M 50mm 1.4 Asph:
I have never used this lens personally. It has a complex floating elements design so I would expect it to do better at closer distances. Flare resistance might also be better. The elephant in the room is the price difference though.
buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de for $4.000 (affiliate links)
Some people may wonder what Cosina is thinking offering so many different 50mm lenses, some of them (like the one reviewed here) even coming with different color/material/coating options.
But – as was also the case with the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III – they again tried (and in my opinion also succeeded) to improve the optical design of one of their most popular lenses while also decreasing size and weight.
So like many of the other Voigtlander lenses before this 50mm 1.5 II Nokton again hits a sweet spot: good sharpness and bokeh (swirly though…) in a very small package with only small compromises.
The least small compromise is the flare resistance – and I do wonder why the latest Voigtlander lenses perform a bit worse here than the generation before – but then shading with a hand often improved the situation significantly.
Deciding between this and the Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.2 Nokton would give me hard time though: I like the bokeh of the f/1.2 lens more, but in terms of sharpness as well as size/weight the f/1.5 MK II takes the cake.
So the situation is a bit like VM 35mm 1.7 vs. VM 35mm 1.2 III where I like the f/1.7 lens more.
So as always my advice is: pick the right lens for you depending on your needs. And I hope this review helps with that decision 🙂
Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.
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