After my experience with the Voigtländer 35mm 1.4 Classic I haven’t exactly been interested in spending any more time with lenses from Cosina’s Classic line (which is not to be mistaken for their Vintage line). That being said the acquisition of a Minolta CLE got me interested in a compact 40mm M-mount lens and this Voigtlander VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton Classic is actually the cheapest option available, so here we are.
This lens will be reviewed on the 42mp Sony A7rII and the 24mp Leica M10 as well as some analogue cameras.
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
- Sample Images
- Further Reading
- Support Us
Specifications / Version History
This Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton actually comes in two versions, multi coated (MC) and single coated (SC). It is also not to be mistaken for the newer, faster and more complex Voigtlander VM 40mm 1.2 Nokton. I bought an MC version and it has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 55mm
- Length: 30mm
- Weight: 194g (measured)
- Field of view: 56° (diagonally)
- Filter Diameter: 43mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 10 (straight)
- Elements/Groups: 7/6
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.7m
- Maximum Magnification: 1:15.1 (measured)
- Mount: Leica-M
Handling / Build Quality
The Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton is a very small lens, especially considering its f/1.4 maximum aperture. Not only the optical structure, but also the outer appearance seems to have been heavily influenced by the Leica 35mm 1.4 Summilux (1960-1995), which is not only similarly sized but also features a similar aperture ring design.
On Leica’s M series cameras the Voigtländer 40mm 1.4 brings up the 50/75mm frameline pair. I wouldn’t consider this a big deal, as you can use the 50mm framelines, when relying on the rangefinder, to make sure everything you want in the frame will be in the frame and simply end up with some additional leeway around this.
On the Leica/Minolta CL as well as the Minolta CLE it brings up their correct 40mm framelines – which is one of the main reasons I was interested in it. There is no viewfinder blockage on the Minolta CLE with the lens set to infinity, but it is slightly visible in the lower right corner of the frame at closer distances – not to a worrying degree though.
The focus ring travels a little over 90° from infinity to the minimum focus distance of 0.7 m. It is not structured, so you are really supposed to use the small tab at the bottom of the lens to focus.
The aperture ring has very distinct and equidistantly spaced half-stop click-stops. It is very narrow but equipped with two small structured wings, so you can easier get hold of it. It travels ~100° from f/1.4 to f/16.
Compared to some of the recent Voigtländer lenses the build quality feels a little worse. The focus ring doesn’t feel as nice and also the casing looks somewhat cheaper. Minor things, but noticeable if you are used to the latest Voigtlander lenses.
The lens can be mounted to Sony E-mount cameras via Leica-M to Sony-E adapters. You can also equip it with autofocus by using the Techart LM-EA9 AF adapter and – as is the case with most lenses – it will focus properly in the central part of the frame, as described in my review of this adapter.
The Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton is not only a fast but also a very compact lens, so high vignetting figures shouldn’t come as a surprise. Especially the 3.6 EV vignetting at f/1.4 are huge, but luckily things improve fast on stopping down.
Generally the performance here is comparable to other fast and compact lenses. The Voigtländer VM 50mm 1.2 is doing a bit better at its maximum aperture, the Voigtländer VM 35mm 1.2 III performs similar at wider apertures and slightly worse stopped down – same is also true for the Leica 35mm 1.4 FLE.
It is recommended to have a look at this article first to get an idea how this brightness graph works.
Fast lenses usually show a noticeable amount of optical vignetting, especially so the compact ones. 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.
When it comes to optical vignetting the performance is similar to other compact lenses. A little benefit is that the circles in the corners are simply smaller and don’t take on a more distracting slim cat’s eyes shape (see the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III for comparison). The optical vignetting is also a little lower than what we see with the even more compact and also wider MS-Optics 35mm 1.4 Apoqualia, that uses a similar optical design.
The Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton is also using an all spherical design, so there are no onion rings to be found here. The 10 straight aperture blades lead to points of light being rendered as decagons already at f/2.0 though.
50% crops, Leica M10
I think it is safe to say that it is common knowledge this lens shows focus shift, so I already expected some issues here.
There is noticeable focus shift when going from f/1.4 or /2.0 to f/2.8 or to f/4.0. The good news here is that there is in fact only very little focus shift on stopping down to f/2.0. This is an aperture setting I use a lot with this lens, as the performance generally shows a lot of improvements over f/1.4.
On cameras with Liveview I recommend to use it when shooting at f/2.8 or f/4.0, on my analogue cameras I mostly avoided these aperture settings though. The alternative is to try memorizing how much closer – relative to what the rangefinder says – you have to focus to account for this shift.
I also found focus shift to be present at every focus distance.
Infinity (42mp Sony A7rII/24mp Leica M10)
The Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton has an optical structure very similar to the Leica 35mm 1.4 Summilux that has been made from 1960 until 1995 and this should already give an idea what to expect: this will not be a lens with staggering across frame sharpenss at wider apertures. What will be interesting to see is how much and how fast it sharpens up on stopping down, so let’s have a closer look.
Differences when using this lens on the Leica M10 or the Sony A7rII (with its thicker filter stack) are generally small here. On the M10 the lens was set to its infinity hard stop at all apertures. On the Sony A7rII I adjusted the focus at f/2.8 as the center looked quite bad due to focus shift, but this also led to worse midframe performance at f/2.8 compared to f/2.0.
At f/1.4 the whole image is softer thanks to spherical aberration, which also leads to a soft glow around already bright parts of the image.
Neither the midframe nor the corners are anything to write home about at wider apertures. On the Sony A7rII it takes f/8.0 for a good midframe, but the corners still don’t look really great at f/11.
On the M10 the midframe looks pretty decent from f/4.0, but for the extreme corners to also look decent I would again use f/11 whenever possible.
So long story short: sufficient across frame performance for landscape/architecture shooting stopped down to f/11.
Portrait 1.2 m (24mp Sony A7III/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
The performance here is similar to other compact yet fast lenses: a bit soft at the maximum aperture, noticeably contrastier stopped down by one stop.
Some people will cherish that softer, glowy look for portraits, others may see this more as an f/2.0 lens.
There is again hardly a difference between the performance on the Leica M10 and the Sony A7III visible here.
Close 0.7 m, 1:15.1 (42mp Sony A7rII)
The performance at close distances will also not come as a surprise to regular readers as this is a rather simple optical design without floating elements. So if you want really contrasty and crisp results at the minimum focus distance I recommend to stop down to f/4.0.
Most of the Voigtländer lenses fare very well in this category and this 40mm 1.4 is no exception. I took hundreds of pictures with this lens in all kinds of lighting scenarios and it is extremely difficult to create any unwanted artefacts, this is the case for the multi coated version, I expect the single coated version to perform vastly different.
The only artefacts I managed to create were a small ghost with a strong light source in the corner and a strange reflection with a strong point light source way above the camera.
The latter is a staged scenario and it takes one very specific position relative to the light source. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were using this lens for years without ever encountering this.
Together with the fast MS-Optics lenses the Voigtlander 35mm 1.4 Classic was one of the worst performers in this category I have seen so far. As that 35mm 1.4 and this 40mm 1.4 share the same design language a similarly bad performance doesn’t come as a surprise.
100% crops from extreme corner, focused on center, M10
The distortion pattern of this Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 is similar to that of the recently reviewed Canon 50mm 1.2 LTM and to that of the MS-Optics 50mm 1.3 Sonnetar. Over most parts of the frame there is no distortion at all, but towards the corners it becomes noticeable. A lens specific profile is available for Lightroom and CameraRAW, so this is easy to correct in post.
There is a lot to talk about here. But before checking how the lens performs at different distances let’s first have a look at the differences between f/1.4 and further stopped down. Similar to some of the fast MS-Optics lenses – or generally fast lenses with a simpler optical design – it makes a big difference here whether you are using this lens wide open at f/1.4 or at f/2.0. To some this is a feature, to others it is a flaw, so let’s go through it.
Glow / Spherical Aberration
A certain amount of “glow” is often associated with Sonnar designs but there are plenty of other lenses that also show this, e.g. some (mostly earlier) Leica lenses. If we were looking for a more technical term it would be undercorrected spherical aberration.
Spherical aberration is the only classic lens aberration that has an effect on the center of the image. It will make your image appear softer and add some additional “glow” to already bright parts of the image.
Generally this is not something many people would want in their architecture or landscape images, yet some people enjoy the softer look for portraits and nature photography.
You can find a few image sets shot at f/1.4 and f/2.0 (where most of the glow/spherical aberration is gone) so you can compare the rendering and decide for yourself if this is something you would enjoy or could make use of.
At closer distances even at f/1.4 the background usually looks undistracting. When there are a lot of defocused light points in the background the difference between f/1.4 and f/2.0 is still obvious though:
At mid distances I already greatly prefer the out of focus rendering at f/2.0, as at f/1.4 a lot of distracting double edged structures can appear. This is only the case for the edges though, in the center the bokeh looks very appealing to me even with complex backgrounds like the forest behind the lantern.
In the last picture the difference between bokeh in the center and on the edges is quite obvious, reason for this is a combination of field curvature and optical vignetting. Stopping down to f/2.0 levels this a bit, which is why in some scenes I found it more appealing.
As can be seen from the following comparison at these distances it also makes a difference whether you are using this lens on a camera with a thin filter stack (e.g. Leica M or Film) or on a camera with a thicker filter stack (e.g. Sony or Nikon Z). On the Leica M10 the corner I am showing you is still out of focus and you can hardly read anything, whereas the situation is very different on the Sony A7III.
With complex backgrounds I often preferred the rendering at f/2.0, but here the straight aperture blades are a disadvantage – at least from my point of view – as I am not a huge fan of those edgy decagons and would greatly prefer still round highlights at f/2.0. But then those straight blades also lead to very nice sunstars, which brings me to the next section.
This 40mm 1.4 features the “classic Cosina” straight 10 blade diaphragm which yields very distinct suntars from f/2.0.
At f/1.4 we see purple blooming around point light sources, a clear indicator of spherical aberration and at f/16 the opening is almost perfectly round, so no sunstars at that setting.
If you want to know more about sunstar rendering of different lenses have a look at this article.
100% crops from border, Leica M10
Lateral CA are on a low to medium level and easy to correct in post with just one click, e.g. in Lightroom.
There is some green outlining in the background and you also see some magenta in front of the focal plane as well as close to the focus point (purple fringing). We have seen worse from way bigger, more complex and more expensive lenses.
Leica M10 | Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton Classic | f/1.4
Cosina’s pricing strategy, I have some questions about it. Regional differences should not be so big that it is significantly cheaper for me to order the lens from Japan – express shipping included – and paying the huge import duties in Germany, than to buy even a used sample from anywhere in Europe. But this is exactly how the situation presents itself.
Official dealers in Japan sell this lens for 250€/$270, while we in the western world are expected to pay double that. Anyway, my conclusion is based on a lens I paid for in total ~350€, new from dealer.
For that price – also taking into account the nice build quality and especially the small size – this lens is actually a pretty good deal. The price isn’t too far from Chinese M-mount lenses that usually fare way worse in the flare resistance and size/weight department.
Compared to (also Cosina’s) modern compact/fast lenses with aspherical elements the performance is noticeably worse in some areas: this 40mm 1.4 is generally softer at wider apertures, shows way busier bokeh at the maximum aperture and good across frame sharpness demands stopping down a lot. And the focus shift is definitely something to watch out for.
But this Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton Classic does not want to be a modern high performance lens – hence the “Classic” in its name. It wants to give people today the opportunity to experience that more “classic” undercorrected rendering – similar to the Zeiss ZM 50mm 1.5 C-Sonnar or 35mm 2.8 C-Biogon. But unlike those Zeiss lenses or the fast MS-Optics lenses or the ridiculously overpriced Leica rereleases it does so at a very affordable price point.
To break it down this Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton Classic is:
- a 40mm 1.4 with classic (= busy) bokeh
- a 40mm 2.0 with modern (= smooth) bokeh
- a 40mm 11 for landscape/architecture shooting thanks to good across frame sharpness, flare resistance and nice sunstars
- a great fit to the Leica/Minolta CL or Minolta CLE analogue cameras thanks to making use of their 40mm framelines
If you find your needs in one – or even more than one – of those descriptions, this lens might be for you. I enjoyed using it more than I thought I would and think it is a much better performer than the 35mm 1.4 Classic – thanks to less color aberrations, less coma, less spherical aberration, way better flare resistance at f/1.4 and generally better bokeh. Despite their – at first sight – seemingly similar design these two lenses perform vastly different. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
The number of 40mm lenses for M-mount is actually surprisingly low. If you also consider a 35mm or a 50mm an alternative you can find pleny of reviews of those here.
Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.2 Nokton:
Voigtländer’s latest 40mm lens. It is faster, focuses closer (0.5 instead of 0.7 m) and features a modern design with aspherical elements leading to generally more impressive performance at wider apertures and also smoother bokeh rendering. But it is also much bigger, 50% heavier and more expensive.
If you are an M-mount user deciding between this newer f/1.2 and the older f/1.4 classic the decision is really simple: get the f/1.4 if you care about having a smaller lens, you really like that vintage rendering or you cannot afford the f/1.2 version. If none of this is the case get the f/1.2.
If you are using an E-mount or Z-mount camera the E-mount version of this 40mm 1.2 is also a much better choice, as it is optimized for their thick filter stack.
buy from ebay.com | ebay.de | B&H (affiliate links) for $799
Leica Summicron-C 40mm 2.0/Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm 2.0:
These are the lenses that originally shipped with the Leica/Minolta CL and the Minolta CLE. They are one stop slower but also around 70g ligther and slightly smaller. Generally the Leica and the Minolta are using the same optical formula, but it is said that the latest Minolta lenses feature better coatings.
I didn’t compare any of these directly to this Voigtländer 40mm 1.4, mainly because in 2023 these 40 years old lenses would have been more expensive, which – coupled with them being one stop slower – made them way less desirable to me.
buy from ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links) starting at $600
Voigtländer VM 40mm 2.8 Heliar:
This lens was originally only available for E-mount and had to be used in combination with a close focus adapter as otherwise it cannot be focused. It is now also available as VM and even M39 lens and 84g lighter than this two stops faster Nokton.
Its performance is good – it even uses an aspherical element – but it is similarly sized as the lens being reviewed here and often more expensive so I don’t find it particularly appealing.
buy from amazon.com | ebay.com | ebay.de | B&H (affiliate links) for $499
Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.
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