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GXR M-mount Field Test: Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II Lens

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The M module may better be described as a far-flung cousin to rather than an immediate member of the GXR family. When look closer, you may see that the whole point of the M module is not about a new GXR-system module – fact is, the concept of lens-sensor combination is completely forsaken here. It is more about taking advantage of the wide choice of high quality M mount lenses.

In this post, we will look at the lens on loan to us: the Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II.

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Although Leica M-mount lenses are the best choice for optical performance, they are not just everyone’s option pricewise. With a lower price tag and great optical performance, Voigtländer lenses are sensible substitutes. Hong Kong’s sole dealer of Ricoh cameras, Laikok, is also the distributor of Voigtländer lenses (manufactured by Cosina of Japan) in Hong Kong. For information about the Voigtländer lenses available from Laikok, check this out.  You may also check out Cosina’s Voigtländer webpage.

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With the Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II, the GXR is transformed into a head turner. The lens is big and heavy, adding an disproportionate weight to the camera body. I think this is a necessary evil on account of a reduced camera body. But it should be noted that the combination does not feel overwhelmingly unbalanced in hand as the user needs to hold and operate it by both hands. The built is absolutely solid, and the turning rings on the lens barrel are simply classy.

Now, the lens on paper:

Lens Construction: 7groups, 10 (3 aspherical) elements
Smallest Aperture: F22R9352930L
Picture Angle: 63°
Aperture Blades: 12
Nearest Distance: 0.5m
Diameter x Length: φ60.8mm x 62.0mm
Weight: 470 g
Mount: VM mount

To provide a fast lens at f1.2 with great optical performance, the Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH II lens features 3 aspherical elements out of 10 in 7 groups to counter optical distortions. On distortion correction, the M module offers three-level correction to rectify barrel distortion and pincushion distortion. The lens here is a 50mm equivalent, not a wide-angle one, and it gives out very solid details and splendid rendering in the images even down to f1.2, without any noticeable optical distortions.

Here are some side-by-side shots taken by the Sony A55 with the kit lens 24-105mm equiv. and the Voigtländer lens (the reason for comparing it to the A55 is simply because I have one; it just gives a basis for comparison's sake). You will see the positive effect of the quality Voigtländer lens and shedding the low-pass filter on the image quality of GXR M module’s pictures:

M module with Nokton A 55 with Kit lens
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100% crop
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100% crop
DSC03737L_crop
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100% crop
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100% crop
DSC03734L_crop

Images produced by the Voigtländer lens lean on the cool side of the colour spectrum (both cameras set at normal colour mode). As observed by users who have compared results of the Norton lenses with the Leica lenses, the same observation applies:

M module with Nokton A 55 with Kit lens
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At the mention of the extremely wide aperture at f1.2, what immediately springs to mind is, besides the many aahs and oohs, bokeh. On paper, the Voigtländer Nokton lens employs the construction of 12 aperture blades to achieve comfy out-of-focus circular discs. In action, the lens produces smooth, pleasing and very soft-edged bokehs at wide aperture values.

Following are shots taken at wide apertures by M module with Nokton :

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This Nokton II is a replacement of the earlier Nokton 35mm/f1.2 lens. Voigtländer makes this new lens go as close to the subjects as 0.5m, while it is 0.7m for the former version. While 0.5m is neither a whole lot closer nor in the domain of macro photography, it is a material improvement.

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A final note is that at certain shooting angles, the lens vignettes fairly noticeably at f1.2 with the M module. Examples are shown in the last review post when discussing the Colour Shading Correction function.

Summing Up
Overall, the lens should be endearing to every serious photographer for its full metal built, solid adjustment rings and high-grade optical performance. Just because Voigtländer is no Leica, doesn’t mean that its optical performance is of second rate. The sharpness and “3D-ishness” (a distinct sense of depth) in the images it produces are exceptionally good. Apart from the superb optical performance of the lens, the omission of the low-pass filter in the module definitely has a bearing on such great results.

R9352652L(100% crop below)
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In the side-by-side shots taken by the Sony A55 and the Voigtländer lens, we have seen how the Voigtländer and the M module combine to achieve great IQ results. A minor point is that images from this Voigtländer lens are slightly biased to cold tonality. Whether it suits one's eye depends on your taste.  I just like it lots. There is no complaint about the lens except for the weight at 470g and the price at about HK$12,000 (hood costs an extra HK$1,200; well, the GXR M module is a way of no return). But considering that the lens in effect offers a roughly 50mm-equivalent focal length at f1.2, with 3 aspherical elements, this is every bit worthy of the admission price.

(Kudos to Laikok for lending GX Garnerings the camera unit and the lens)

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