Review: Voigtlander Nokton 21mm F1.4 E

The Voigtlander 1.4/21 is a relatively compact super fast lens for the Sony FE system. In this review I evaluate it’s performance in a wide range of scenarios.

Image Samples

Most images in this review can be found in full resolution in my Voigtlander 1.4/21mm flickr set.

 

Specifications

Diameter 70.5 mm
Length 79.5 mm
Filter Thread 62 mm
Weight (no hood, no caps) 539 g
Max. Magnification 1:7
Close Focusing Distance from the sensor 0.25 m
Number of aperture blades 12
Elements/ Groups 13/11

The Voigtlander 1.4/21 sells for $1199 at CameraQuest | Amazon.com or B&H. 1399€ at ebay.de or ebay.co.uk (affiliate links).

Changelog

  • 28.6.2019 – Start of review
  • 2.7.2019 – Added some Samples, linked full resolution images and updated alternatives section
  • finalized review

Disclosure

This copy was loaned to me free of charge from RobertWhite.co.uk for about three weeks. 

Features

The Voigtlander Nokton 21mm F1.4 is a fully manual lens so you have to change focus and aperture by yourself. The camera can’t change the aperture so S- and P-mode will not work as with native lenses.

It has electronic contacts to communicate with the camera though. That provides correct EXIF-data, the OSS in all Sony cameras with IBIS will automatically know the correct focal length and the focus magnification can be automatically activated when the focus ring gets turned. Unlike Loxia lenses the Voigtlander has a distance encoder so the camera will show a pretty much useless digital distance scale and stabilization might be a bit more effective.

Voigtlander Nokton 21mm F1.4 on Sony a7II

Build quality

The Voigtlander 21mm F1.4 feels really solid. The lens hull is made from nothing but metal and tolerances are very low. Most but not all markings are engraved.

There is no gasket around the mount and Voigtlander does not claim any weather resistance.

Of course I can’t tell you how durable the lens will be in the long term. All I can do is give you my superficial impression which is very positive in this case.

Bastian once had to get his Voigtlander 1.7/35 repaired which had to be done in Japan and he had to wait many weeks for the repair while repairs from other manufacturers are usually much faster. Stephen from CameraQuest in the US told me that they do most repairs in house and that few lenses have to go to Japan.

Handling

If you have used Zeiss Loxia lenses you will probably have been frustrated by the fact that there is no good place to grab them when you change lenses. This is not an issue with the Voigtlander since you can easily grab it by its base which is textured for better grip.

Focus Ring

The focus ring travels around 110 degrees from 25 cm to 1 m and a further 20 degrees to infinity. I think that is a very reasonable transmission and I had no issues to focus precisely at longer distances. The ring itself is well textured and the resistance is about perfect.

Aperture ring

The aperture ring situated at the front is a joy to use. It is made from metal with distinctive stops and a very pleasant resistance. I would have preferred 1/2 or even full stops but 1/3 stops work ok. The Voigtlander stops down to f/16.

Hood

The Voigtlander 1.4/21 has a medium sized hood which locks into place very well and adds 26mm mm to the length of the camera. It can also be mounted in revers for storage. It is made from metal and weights 27g but it feels a little delicate to me, so I wouldn’t store camera and lens on it like I would with a more solid feeling and rubberized lens hood as found on Sony GM lenses.

Size and Weight

The Voigtlander 1.4/21 is a medium sized lens. At 539g, it is about 70g heavier than the Sony GM 1.4/24 but less than 50g heavier than the 1 stop slower Tokina Firin 2/20.

Close Focus

The Voigtlander focuses down to 25cm which can give an interesting perspective emphasizing a subject while including the background.

It also maintains sharpness very well at close distances.

LR default setting | crop from center | f(1.4

Optical performance

These results are based on the use with a Sony Alpha 7II.

Flare Resistance

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.

I think the Voigtlander compares well to other lenses, especially in regards to veiling flare. There is a small purple ghost in many more demanding images though.

Sunstars

Voigtlander lenses are known for their very defined sunstars. Personally I like this effect a lot, other people don’t. You just need to stop down to f/1.7 until you get very well defined 12-pointed sunstars.

Bokeh

Thanks to the very fast aperture you can get a decent amount of subject isolation with the Voigtlander 21mm F1.4 so it makes sense to have a closer look at it.

In the center the Voigtlander 1.4/21 shows neutral bokeh with no outlining of out of focus highlights and lower contrast in the out of focus area which makes for a pleasant look. Also note the smooth transitionout of focus.

 But as you move towards the corners you can see  more outlining and also smaller out of focus highlights.

If you are focused close enough this behavior is less of an issue and you can get smooth backgrounds:

But for images with the subjects further away it causes less smooth rendering.

From wide open out of focus highlights stay round into the corners so cat’s eyes are not an issue. Also as you stop down highlights stay pretty much round thanks to 12 aperture blades.

Chromatic Aberrations

Axial CA and bokeh fringing are controlled quite well. You see some but compared to other faster widea ngles the Voigtlander turns in a very respectable performance.

100% crop | f/1.4

Lateral CA correction I would rate as average to good.

crop from extreme corner | f/5.6

Vignetting

Vignetting is very high at 3.4 stops wide open which is reduced to still high 2.2 stops from f/2.8. This is easily visible in images and detrimental applications like astro-photography. As you open the aperture from f1.4 to f2 the extreme corner gains hardly any exposure.

Aperture Vignetting
f/1.4 3.4 EV
f/2 2.6 EV
f/2.8 2.2 EV
f/4 2.0 EV
f/5.6 1.9 EV

Distortion

Distortion isn’t strong but complex. -2 in LR reduced it but didn’t correct it fully.

With a profile it should be easily corrected with little loss and there will be few scenarios where it needs to be corrected.

Coma

Coma correction at f/1.4 is pretty average and it improves significantly by f/2 for any but the brightest stars. By f/2.8 coma is very well controlled.

Center

Corner

Sharpness

This copy isn’t well centered. It is actually at the limit of what I would accept from a lens so keep this in mind when you look at the results below.

f/1.4 | extreme corner | 100% crops

f/1.4: Very good sharpness up to the midframe area. Corners are much lower in contrast.

f/2: Center and midframe are pick up a little contrast. Hardly any improvement in the corners.

f/2.8: Corners improve a lot to very good levels.

f/4: Excellent to very good across the frame. Remarkable.

f/5.6: Since there is little to improve pretty much the same as f/4.

f/8: Since there is little to improve pretty much the same as f/4, maybe a little softer.

f/11: Some softening due to diffraction.

The Voigtlander turns in an excellent performance in this category. You can use f/1.4 without hesitation for environmental portraits and by f/4 you can expect excellent across the frame sharpness. For a super wideangle this is an outstanding performance.

Alternatives

Sony GM 1.4/24: If you are into reportage style photography the Sony is probably the better alternative since it offers AF, smoother bokeh and a little better across the frame sharpness at f/1.4 and f/2. It also comes out ahead for astro photography with less coma and vignetting. As a landscape lens I would certainly prefer the Voigtlander with better across the frame sharpness stopped down and also nicer sunstars and manual focus. The Gm is 100g lighter and weather sealed but also a little more expensive. Also see Fred Miranda’s comparison.
review | 445g | $1399

Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21: Based on Fred Miranda’s tests the Loxia shows more field curvature than the Voigtlander because of which the Voigtlander can be sharper in flat scenes. Overall though both are very close in sharpness. In regard to flare both seem to be different but both deliver a good performance and I don’t see one as clearly better. The Loxia is of course 140g lighter and available used for less money than the Voigtlander. Handling for me is a clear win for the Voigtlander. If landscape is your only use for a 21mm then I would go for the Loxia but the Voigtlander can match it’s performance and because of it’s two stop advantage it is more versatile so the added weight and bulk might be worth it.
review | 394 g  | $1499

Tokina Firin 2/20: The 1 stop slower Tokina is more affordable and I think it has better coma-correction at f/2 while the Voigtlander handles backlit scenes better, has better flare resistance and nicer sunstars as well as nicer handling. I also enjoyed the handling of the Voigtlander more but the Tokina offers a lot for the money.
review | 490 g | $799

Voigtländer 3.5/21: Two 21mm lenses from the same manufacturer which have rather different strengths. The 3.5/21 is much smaller, lighter and more affordable. The 1.4/21 is more versatile because it is so much faster and also a little sharper stopped down since it does not suffer from the midzone dip.
review | 230g | $699

Voigtländer 1.8/21 VM: I haven’t used this lens myself but several people asked for it. From the samples I could gather on Sony cameras but also to a lesser degree on Leica cameras it suffers from field curvature which makes it much less useful for astro and also can cause weird bokeh effects at medium distances. I also see some colorshift. If you get a good deal on it it still might be a decent investment but in general I see the not much bigger nor much more expensive 1.4/21 with electronic contacts and much better close focus ability as much more attractive on E-mount.
sample images | 412g + adapter | $1049

Sigma ART 1.4/20: The only other f/1.4 super-wideangle in E-mount is a little cheaper but weights twice as much. On reason is that it is a converted SLR-lens. As far as sharpness or coma-correction is concerned it doesn’t seem to be any better so the Voigtlander seems to be the much more attractive option to me.
lenstip review | 1050g | $899

Leica Summilux 1.4/21: The only other lens with the same speed and focal length. It costs about 6 times as much, doesn’t focus as close and also seems to not perform as well because of a stronger midzone dip. Poor Leica users ;).
Ron Scheffler comparison | 580g | $7795

Conclusion

pros

  • Sharpness 
  • CA correction
  • Flare Resistance
  • Sunstars
  • Bokeh
  • Build quality
  • Handling
  • Distortion
average

  • Price
  • Coma
cons

  • Vignetting

In my tests the Voigtlander 21mm F1.4 turned in a very good performance. It sets the standard in sharpness for a wideangle lens, controls CA well and while the bokeh has some shortcomings I would rate it as an overall positive as well. Good flare resistance and well defined sunstars also add to it’s appeal as a landscape lens. While the coma correction isn’t bad you wouldn’t want to use it at f/1.4 which would have been a big appeal for the Voigtlander. The only real negative I could find is the very strong vignetting. As expected from a Voigtlander lens handling is best in class and the lens feels very solid. The Voigtlander is larger than some E-mount lenses, most of them slower, but for it’s overall performance it is relatively small.

There isn’t really any category where I would rate the 1.4/21 best in class: For reportage or astro the Sony GM 1.4/24 is an even stronger competitor but it isn’t as good a landscape lens. For landscapes the 2 stops slower Loxia 2.8/21 isn’t any better but it is as good and smaller and lighter. Overall though the combination of speed, handling and performance make it the most versatile and appealing wideangle lens in the system only rivaled by the GM 1.4/24. For the offered performance the price is very competitive.

The Voigtlander 21mm F1.4 Nokton packs class leading sharpness and speed into a relatively small lens which is a joy to handle and relatively affordable for what it does. Highly recommended to those who enjoy manual focus and are in need of a very versatile wideangle.

The Voigtlander 1.4/21 sells for $1199 at CameraQuest | Amazon.com or B&H. 1399€ at ebay.de or ebay.co.uk (affiliate links).
If this review was helpful to you, please consider using one of my affiliate links. I will receive a small commission on your purchase and there is no added cost to you. Thanks 🙂

More Image Samples

Most images in this review can be found in full resolution in my Voigtlander 1.4/21mm flickr set.

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

41 thoughts on “Review: Voigtlander Nokton 21mm F1.4 E”

    1. Technically the Voigtlander is a much better lens. The big, yet to come, test for the Voigtlander will be the Astro performance. Apart from that I don’t see that many applications where the speed really matters.

    2. I ordered the Viltrox 20 1.8 a couple of weeks ago but I sent it back after intense testing. It was a very heavy lens, had weak corner sharpness and suffered from severe astigmatism and coma. Handling was fine but for my purposes (astrophotography, …) the lens wasn’t suitable.
      So I can’t recommened the Viltrox.

        1. After trying the Samyang 20 1.8, I indeed ended up with the Tokina Firin and am very happy with it 🙂
          It’s definitly worth to spend a little bit more money

    1. Also curious how it compares with the Lox21?

      If it follows suit with the CV40mm f1.2, it should be a good lens for a lot of different scenarios, imo…

  1. Eagerly awaited review since I have been on a fence for a wide and fast lens for landscape but also some astro work. Thank you and looking forward to the continuation.

    I would sincerely like to reward the great work you are doing by using the associated links but here is no way to order from US sites due to customs, so I would suggest you also add some links to amazon.de or ebay.co.uk where tax issues are more easy on us, Europeans.

    Kindest regards to the team

  2. If the astro test results are not that good, do you think the voigtlander 21 f3,5…is an good alternative option to be consider??

  3. Quick typo alert. First sentence of the “Features” section describes the lens as “The Voigtlander Nokton 21mm F3.5” (probably because of the Color Skopar). Thanks for the timely review. I’m a huge fan of your work and the methodology all the contributors perform on this site, which makes relative judgement of lenses so valuable.

  4. Wow the performance is quite respective! I think the LoCA control may be better than Sony 24GM. The resolution image might suggest quite much coma though.
    In one place the lens is mis-written as 21mm F3.5.

  5. I’m going to add a WA prime/zoom within $1500 range, but it gives me some headache. I have likes/dislikes for every candidates.

    Zoom
    Sony 16-35 f/4: can do most things / slow max aperture, sunstars
    Tamron 17-28 f/2.8: price performance(application) ratio / ineffective coating(if it is same as 28-75), zoom range

    Prime
    Laowa 15 f/2: overall perfromance balance/ A bit too wide for me, no af/exif
    Voigtlaender 21 f/1.4: excellent flare resistance, sunstars, fast max aperture/ no af, vignetting
    Voigtlaender 21 f/3.5: excellent flare resistance, sunstars, size / no af, slow max aperture
    Sony 24 f/1.4: great overall performance / pricey, sunstars

    I’ll wait for full reviews of Tamron 17-28 before I order one of these. I got some hype for the 17-28, but its flare resistance might un-hype me for good.

  6. Phillip, thank you for the review – even right now (not completed yet) it is very interesting, as always! I will stay with my Loxia 21mm/2.8, which I really love, but if it would ever break (I don’t hope so!), the Voigtländer 21mm/1.4 would be a very tempting alternative. No I am waiting eagerly for your astro findings … ;–)

    Best regards!

  7. Hi Philip
    I am piqued by this lens. However I have the Voight 21mm f1.8 and wondering if I should consider the 1.4 as a replacement on my Sony A7R3. So it is a Ultron vs Nokton thing.
    The ultron has some vices and the Nokton seems it has a lot going for it especially if it is designed for the FE mount.
    Any advice?

  8. In your previous review of this lens, you stated that the Loxia 2.8/21 is still king for landscape purposes. However, upon reading this latest review, I have the impression that this lens is as good as the Loxia. Am I getting the right impression? Btw, many thanks for the fabulous review, can’t wait for the astro tests…

  9. Hi,
    Thanks for the review!
    I have a Voigtländer 21mm 3.5 and a Nikon 20mm 1.8 (for astro). I think about replacing them both with this Nokton, but how does it compare to the Nikon, optically (I think Bastian used the Nikon)?

  10. I am not an astro photo lover, basically I do some street and landscape photography, eventually indoor. So, what would you recommend – Loxia 21/ 2.8 or CV 21/1.4 ? Which one will need less LR corrections? As Loxia 21 has been assorted as apreferred lens by your team, would you change it for this new CV 21?

    1. Indoor would be a good argument for the Voigtlander I think and street maybe as well because the speed can be a real advantage.
      For landscapes the Voigtlander is ever so slightly sharper.
      I think you will have to correct anything in LR. Maybe vignetting for some critical scenes.

      Personally I would get the Voigtlander over the Loxia but the actual price you will have to pay for it can differ quite a lot since the Zeiss has a higher recommended price but is available used and there are sometimes rebates. Weight requirenments are also different from person to person. For some 150g don’t matter at all, for others that is a big difference so I can’t give a general a recommendation for one or the other here.

  11. Hey Phillip,
    Thanks for the great job on the review!
    I was wondering about the color rendering… Is it different than Loxias? As I already owe a Loxia 35 do you think matching the 21 nockton and my loxia would be a good idea or I should stick with the Loxia 21?…
    Thanks

  12. Dear Phillip,
    I really appreciate this webpage and your reviews.
    I’m searching for a lens with a start appeture of 1.4 and 24mm. I want to shoot spectacular portraits with it. My brain is playing with the bulky sigma 24 1.4. For me it is perfect except size and weight.
    For landscapes I have the tiny 21mm Loxia. So now I got a new brain-fart 😋… Sell loxia and get the 21 1.4 nokton. I love to separate my model from environment. My concern is that the seoerattion is not that good like with a 24mm 1.4 lens?! And do I have to get so close to my model to separate him/her that egg looking heads will be shown?
    What is your opinion?

    1. If you can afford it I would go for the GM 1.4/24 because that is a better portrait lens with exceptional bokeh.

      Best have a look at the samples to see how much separation you get.

      1. Thank you for your reply. The GM is the best in class for portrait. But that will cause I have to sell my 21 Loxia to generate money. And I like the sun stars a lot.
        So only two solutions for me are possible, to go with an additional “big” 24mm lens around 600€ or to sell the loxia and go with the 21mm nokton.
        Do you think with 21mm 1.4 faces still look “not ugly” and it has enough separation?
        I have no issue with manual glass.

        1. Whether faces are distorted or not is not only a question of focal length but also of distance to your model and where you place it in the frame.
          Imho, unless you want to take portraits of children or dogs, better get a 35mm 1.4 and keep the Loxia.

          1. Indeed they are children. My 28-75 2.8 tamron works OK @ 28mm. And I reviewed a lot of full and half body portraits with the 24 1.4. These look beautiful for me.
            I’ve got the nokton 40 1.2 and fd 55 1.2 asph. Both awesome with real effective separation.
            I want a lens with less than 28 with real good speed to separate the model with this extreme view angle. I know difficult question.
            Would you try to make this kind of portraits with the 21mm 1.4 nokton? Maybe you’ve some examples to show?

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