Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 Lens Review

What is It?

The Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 is a remarkably small lens for its specifications. It features a traditional metal build, and comes in at only 11.1 ounces (315g). It's smaller than you'd expect for an f/1.2 lens, at 2.1" (53.9mm) long and 3.1" (2.7mm) in diameter. Speaking of diameter, the front filter threads are 58mm. 

Personally, having just used the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 S, I wasn't expecting a somewhat similar lens (fast normal) to be as svelte as the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2.

This lens is labeled Nokton, which is Cosina's naming for any lens faster than f/1.5. (Cosina is the manufacturer of Voigtlander lenses.)

Optically, the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 is a somewhat simple design, with 8 elements in 6 groups. The frontmost and back element are aspherical, and Voigtlander says the lens was designed exclusively for the Z-mount.

Focus is manual, by way of a ring towards the rear of the lens, which rotates about 180° from the minimum 12" (.3m) distance to infinity. Focusing extends the lens less than half of an inch. DOF markings are marked at f/4, f/8, f/16, and f/22, but there are intermediary lines at f/5.6 and f/11. 

Apertures are controlled by a front click-stopped ring, and the aperture diaphragm is 10 blades. Minimum aperture is f/22. Because the lens is "chipped," aperture is seen and recorded by the camera as you turn the ring. Also because of the electronic coupling, EXIF data is written correctly, three-axis sensor-based VR is available, and the focus confirmations work when using this lens. 

The Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 is made in Japan, comes with a metal screw-in lens hood, and sells for US$900.

Voigtlander's site for the lens

Source of reviewed copy: long term loaner from B&H.

How's it Handle?

I wish engineers were required to use their products. In this case, I’m looking at the person who engineered the lens cap and lens hood. If that person had actually used their product, they’d find that having the cap fit inside the lens hood when the hood is mounted is a fiddly, not very reliable thing. It takes some practice to get the cap aligned properly, and even once mounted, I more than once found that the cap had popped off in transit. 

Sure, the cap is recessed within the hood, not extending the length when buttoned up for travel, but this is a small lens to start with; I’d be fine with a non-recessed cap on the front of the hood that stayed put. 

The other Voigtlander I’m reviewing (65mm f/2) does the right thing and has the lens cap mount to the front of the small hood.

On the other hand, the build quality and hand (feel) of the 40mm f/1.2 is as you'd expect from Cosina: exceptionally high quality. There's absolutely no mistaking the focus ring from the aperture ring. The aperture ring has clear (1/3 stop) click points. The focus ring has a very smooth rotation through almost 180° from near to infinity focus. The etchings on the lens are remarkably readable; someone has paid attention to how easy it is to read small numbers and lettering.

How's it Perform?

Focus: Normally, I wouldn't have a focus section for a manual focus lens. However, one thing I noted is that I had to be much more careful with manually focusing this lens, particularly wide open, than I'm used to with manual focus lenses. The long focus ring range means you can be incredibly precise, but it also means you can be "off by a bit." I found that using a Monochrome Picture Control with focus peaking helped a lot, as did using the viewfinder magnification.

Video users should be aware that there's a strong focus breathing that happens in the close range. From five feet to infinity you probably won't notice much breathing, but as you drop below that, the breathing becomes visually significant.

Sharpness: While this is a modern optical design, in some ways it performs a bit old school. But only a bit. One way in which it isn't old school is overall contrast. This lens has lower veiling flare than earlier Voigtlander designs I've used.

Wide open and in the close focus range, the lens is very good in the center, and arguably good out to the near frame edges. The extreme corners probably hit fair, though. At distance, the lens is still very good in the center, still arguably good out to the DX boundary, but field curvature gets the better of it in the corners, which go decidedly soft; call them poor+. 

As you'd expect, stopping down irons out many of the border and corner issues. I'd judge f/2.8 to be very good+ edge to edge. But you really have to stop down to f/5.6 or so to get everything this lens can provide in terms of contrast and sharpness, at which point most of the frame is hitting my excellent level for near to mid distances. Again, field curvature will give you some issues in the corners as you near infinity, no matter the aperture.

Note that I also found some focus shift on this lens. Since it's not autofocus, you want to be using focus verification tools as you manually focus this lens (it's a slight movement away from the camera as you stop down). It's very easy to make focus errors at really wide apertures, too, so the two in combination can be deadly; focus at your selected aperture, if you can.

Both coma and spherical aberration is present on this lens, though neither in high amounts. Nevertheless, stars will lose their shape at f/1.2, particularly as you move to the edges. You'll want to be at f/2.8 if coma is something that concerns you.

Chromatic Aberration: This has never been a strong point for the Voigtlander lenses. There's a high, very visible longitudinal CA wide open, as you'd expect on a fast prime. This is highly visible at f/1.2, and still somewhat visible at f/2. Be careful of high contrast edges (dark tree/bright sky). But I also see a small bit of lateral CA on edges that you might want to correct, too, at least at wider apertures.

Linear Distortion: Mild barrel distortion (just above 1%) that you'll probably want to correct if there are straight lines in your image.

Vignetting: Probably the worst trait of the lens, as there's exceptionally strong vignetting wide open. The "good" portion of the image circle does not extend to the long axis borders, making this lens look a little like someone threw a spotlight on your subject. This never becomes fully resolved, even at f/8. 

Since I used this example in the 50mm f/1.2 S review, I thought I'd repeat it here for comparison. The key differences (other than a change in white balance (oops), are that the Voigtlander is a tiny bit less sharp at f/1.2, and the background lights are less "round" in the out of focus area. But in terms of the flow from focus to out of focus, both lenses are really strong performers.

Bokeh: Really strong rim lighting on specular highlights at f/1.2, with some clear, but not busy, onion-skin in the middle. Unfortunately, obvious cats eye out past the DX boundary have a really edgy look to them, which tends to call attention to itself. That said, like most f/1.2 lenses, the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 has a very good (and fast) transition from focus plane to out of focus blur. 

Flare: The big issue with in-frame light sources is veiling flare. The lens has really good contrast photographing down sun, but into the sun, you'll notice that you lose some of that snap. 

Overall: I don't usually put a performance summary in my reviews, but this is a lens that needs just a little bit of balance in discussing it. It's not as good as the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 S (but also far less expensive ;~). That said, there are a number of strong points for this lens, particularly if you're using it for near/middle distances, and on centralized subjects that aren't back-lit (e.g. portraits). I was thinking about my friends' grandkids when I was using this lens: I'm pretty sure the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 would allow for some excellent final images, particularly since it focuses in fairly close. When the image becomes all about the subject and the subject is fairly central and not distant from you, that's where this lens starts to excel and provide really great images.

Do I think this lens belongs in my lens closet? No (I don't have kids, let alone grandkids). And if I'm that close to an animal, well, something went wrong. 

Final Words

At the US$900 price (sometimes discounted) this lens almost a bargain (if you can accept manual focusing). I haven't seen an f/1.2 lenses this good from any of the Chinese firms that have popped up. Nikon's 50mm f/1.2 S is much larger and costlier. 

If you understand its limitations and can work your subject/background relationships some, wide open images from the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 are going to look very distinct and quite good. 

Recommended (2023 to present)

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