The last Voigtländer lens I reviewed, the 35mm f/1.4 Nokton Classic, featured optics that lived up to that ‘Classic’ moniker. The 40mm f/1.2 Nokton doesn’t feature such a designation, and the optics provide a more modern rendering, as you might expect. As you’ll see going through these sections, the Voigtländer 40mm f/1.2 features excellent optical quality, and the overall rendering is simply wonderful to my eye. Let’s dive in.
Making fast wide-angle and normal lenses is always a challenge. Making them both compact and sharp at wide apertures is even more difficult, yet Voigtländer has done just that. In the focus ranges most likely to be used wide open, from around 0.5m to around 5-10m, the Voigtländer 40mm f/1.2 displays good resolution straight from f/1.2 across most of the image frame. Results are perfectly usable at f/1.2, and while the corners are fairly soft at this aperture, the off-center thirds are still sharp enough for most any work. Once you get towards infinity, the field curvature in the lens impacts the edges more, while also softening detail a bit. Very close up, spherical aberration also reduces contrast and sharpness at wide apertures. As such, the lens is rather soft between f/1.2 and f/2 when shooting close up, so you’ll want to stop down if focusing very closely unless you are after a more dreamy look.
Upon stopping down to medium apertures, the lens becomes extremely sharp over almost the entire frame. While the corners need f/8 or so to become truly sharp, for most uses, even f/2.8 yields very good cross-frame sharpness. While diffraction takes a bite at f/22, proper sharpening can yield extremely detailed shots even there. The sharpness profile means that the lens is extremely useful not only for situations where you require subject isolation, but also for landscape work where corner to corner sharpness is critical.
The bokeh of the Voigtländer 35mm f/1.4 was one of the major strikes against that lens, but it represents a definite strength of the 40mm f/1.2. While the bokeh is not perfect, I absolutely love the rendering of the out of focus areas with this lens. Backgrounds are predominantly smooth, and specular highlights usually quite even. In certain situations, a very slight bright ring outline can be seen.. Also, very faint onion ring artifacts due to the aspherical elements can be seen in highlights if you look closely, though they are not distracting.
At moderate distances, the contrast in the bokeh can look a bit rough, and the edges, especially in out of focus foregrounds, can display a swirly character in the right situations, but overall, the blur rendered by the lens is consistently pleasing.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
The Voigtländer 40mm f/1.2 displays lovely smooth tonality and a slightly muted color response at wide apertures that becomes rich and crisp upon stopping down a touch. Contrast is affected by spherical aberration at close focus and wide apertures, but otherwise remains strong throughout. The overall effect is outstanding for a wide variety of subjects from portraits to landscapes and architecture. I simply love the way the lens draws. At wide apertures, the subject just pops out of the frame, and stopped down, there’s just excellent fine contrast throughout.
The lens does have a touch of lateral chromatic aberration that is visible in some shots, but it is easily corrected in post-processing. Longitudinal chromatic aberration is also visible at wide apertures, with a slight green fringe visible in the background and a slight magenta fringe in front. In all, it’s fairly well controlled for such an extreme aperture lens. Purple fringing is also present on high contrast subjects wide open, but is nowhere near as offensive as it can be on the 35mm f/1.4. Stopping down to f/1.6-f/1.8 eliminates the majority of these aberrations.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
The 40mm f/1.2 shows moderate barrel distortion that can be visible when shooting subjects with straight lines. There is a built-in lens profile for this lens within Adobe products that will correct the distortion in the shots that need it, with minimal effect on final image sharpness.
The lens performs quite well with regards to flare, with almost no loss of contrast when shooting into light sources, and only a small amount of ghosting in most situations. Feel free to use the sun in your compositions.
One area where the Nokton 40mm doesn’t perform well is in vignetting. The lens displays strong vignetting starting at f/1.2, and it’s still rather visible even at f/8 and f/11, though it certainly lessens as you stop down. In some situations, you will want to correct this, which can be done easily with that built-in Lightroom profile at the expense of added noise at the corners.
The lens aperture creates very nice sunstars, which look best between f/4 and f/8, and can add a nice touch to your images. Stopping down to smaller apertures softens the sharpness of the sunstars, though they are still visible at these apertures.
In all, I absolutely love the optical qualities of this lens. There is just something special about the way it draws, and I found it an extremely versatile lens.