Review: the Voigtlander 25/0.95 Nokton MFT

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There are several fast-normal options available today for Micro 4/3 users – the Panasonic 20/1.7, the Panasonic-Leica 25/1.4 DG Summilux, and the fastest of them all, the Voigtlander 25/0.95. There are also a whole host of modified CCTV and C-mount lenses, some of which cover the whole M4/3 frame, some of which don’t. None of them have enough resolving power to match the resolution of the sensor at full aperture, either.

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Given the limited high-ISO capabilities of the earlier M4/3 sensors, there was an obvious gap left for a hyperspeed lens of any sort; being one of the M4/3 consortium members, Voigtlander stepped in to fill the gap. However, not having AF technology, Cosina had to make do with a manual-focus only design, but with a native M4/3 mount. The lens feels nothing like the M4/3 lenses from Panasonic, Olympus or Sigma; it’s a hefty lump of metal, built with the same solid feel as the more premium modern manual focus lenses. It’s not a small lens, especially once you attach the supplied hood – it’s actually about the same size (and much heavier) than the Voigtlander 75/1.8 for M mount. This lens rates very highly on the tactility scale; the focus ring is well-damped but turns smoothly without much effort; there’s no backlash and this makes focusing a very pleasing experience. The aperture ring has neat half-click detents, but I would prefer the stops to be a bit more decisive and less easy to turn.

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Cinnamon. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

Let’s talk a bit about focusing – because one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve had with this lens. I would say it’s easier than expected, but not as easy as I would like – especially when using the lens stopped down. Since there’s no electronic linkage between the lens and camera, aperture is entirely mechanical; this means that you’re always seeing the stopped down view through the finder or on the LCD. The trick is to shoot raw, and turn focusing on your jpeg settings up to the maximum – this actually creates a little bit of a shimmery halo in the finder. (These settings of course do not affect the raw file). It also accentuates sharpness of the image, which makes it easier to tell when things are in focus – as you turn the focusing ring past then point of focus and back again, there’s a slight shimmer in the live preview. The focusing ring is also well-spaced – the normal range from about ~0.4m to infinity is easily covered by a turn of the wrist without having to reposition your hand; the near range – down to just 0.17cm – is more widely spaced, and allows for precise placement of the focal plane.

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The whole frame at the near limit and f1.4. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

One doesn’t buy this lens with the intention to use it at any other aperture than wide open, at least most of the time. There’s simply no point in paying so much (it’s considerably more expensive than the Panasonic-Leica, which of course has autofocus and is about one stop slower) and carrying around so much extra weight if you’re going to use it at f2. In fact, you might as well get the Panasonic 20/1.7 – it’s cheaper, much smaller and focuses itself. The good news is that the center produces acceptable sharpness, even wide open – providing you focus it accurately. (The shallow depth of field transition profile of a 25mm focal length lens means that that finding the optimum plane isn’t always easy, either.)

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Satay. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

There’s a considerable improvement in acuity at f1.4 in the center, and again at f2; however, the corners don’t reach anywhere near central levels of sharpness until f2.8 and beyond. Note that I use the term ‘acceptable': it’s not great at f0.95, and there’s a distinct softness that’s probably caused by internal flare; I suspect that if the internal surfaces of the barrel were better coated against reflection, we’d see a corresponding improvement in contrast and sharpness. Microcontrast is simply nonexistent until f2, and macro contrast is generally quite flat, too – making it good for retaining dynamic range under extreme lighting situations, but poor for fine texture reproduction.

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The hills are made of rice. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

What about the other common lens shortcomings, like vignetting, chromatic aberration, flare and distortion? The 25 has all of them, and in quite generous amounts, too. It will vignette wide open, but this is easily corrected and gone by f2.8. Chromatic aberration is a bit more problematic; we see that and purple fringing against high-contrast backgrounds, especially when subjects are backlit. If you get a bright point light source in the wrong part of the frame, you’re going to have fun with flare, lowering already low contrast even further – and the hood isn’t going to help you much. I didn’t actively look for distortion, so I can’t comment on it; the types of subjects this lens is suited to probably wouldn’t show it anyway.

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Family corner, at f0.95. Due to the short real focal length, f0.95 doesn’t have as shallow depth of field as you might have otherwise imagined. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

After all of that, you might have come to the conclusion that this lens is pretty bad – optically, it’s definitely not the best I’ve used. But, what other lens offers a true f0.95 aperture (and T stop that’s not far off, either) at US$1200? I can see some uses for the 25 – portraiture, mostly – but it just doesn’t suit what I do. Even though the optics at f4-5.6 are excellent, and the 17cm near focus distance makes it quite useful for food photography, there just isn’t enough reason for me to keep the lens around since it replicates the performance of the Panasonic 20/1.7.

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Untitled. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

As much as I love using the lens simply because it feels like a real lens, not a plastic shell – I just can’t recommend it for the kind of photography I do; it’s not sharp enough wide open to be used as an available-light lens, and is further hampered by the difficulty of focusing it under low light conditions; it’s big enough to defeat the point of the compact M4/3 system, and expensive enough that I think having the 20/1.7 and 45/1.8 lenses instead makes much more sense.

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Burger time. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

If you’re an object shooter, as tempting as the close focus capability is, you can’t really use it wide open without dealing with rendering that’s best described as ‘impressionist'; you’re better served by the Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 Macro, or the forthcoming Olympus 60/2.8. If you’re an available light shooter, and don’t mind the occasional softness due to focusing misses, then go ahead; if sharpness bothers you, then go for the Panasonic Leica 25/1.4 Summilux. However, I can see a very narrow niche of portrait photographers for whom pictorial style takes precedence over sharpness; this is your lens, and it offers a look previously limited to larger format systems.

If you must still have one, get it here from B&H or Amazon.

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Crash test portrait dummy. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

Comments

  1. So the Voigtlander 25mm 0.95 is nothing too good except for super low light and very shallow depth of field?
    What are your thoughts of the 17mm 0.95?
    I am guessing it would be less sharp and more distortion that the 25mm 0.95?

    Am i right to say that these two Voigtlander lens are most suitable for wedding photographer type of use, especially on the wedding days?
    For very shallow DOF yet still having reasonably wide enough angler, very fast for low light useful in dinners,…?

    • 25: Pretty much.
      17.5: Tried briefly; sharper than the 17, but not fantastic. Significantly larger and heavier.

      I don’t shoot weddings, but if I did I wouldn’t be using either lens – too difficult to focus quickly under pressure.

  2. My Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 is brand new, like 2 months old.
    My Olympus OMD EM5 is still firmware 1.1.

    I did the following testing : I was trying to make night shots of the night with stars.

    OMD + 20mm f/1.7
    Manual focus (real pain in the ass because you don’t know where infinity is with that ring (the Voigtlanders might solve that gooddam problem)
    10 to 15 seconds shutter speed
    Various isos

    Frankly I can’t remember when the problem occurred – if it was at 1600 or 3200 or 6400 iso, but yes, it appeared every time.
    At 200-400-800 isos : NO PROBLEM.

    By the way, the electronic viewfinder isn’t very good in darkness : you see “dark snow” mostly.
    Still the OMD is a hell of a good camera.

    If you want I can send out all the current french prices of m4/3 lenses.
    For info, you can also get the OMD for 800€ (without the 12-50mm), and the 12-50mm can be found around eeer something like 350€ new.
    Also, for the OMD launch, many of us french people got some cashback cheques.
    Example : the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 can be found at 750€. The cashback is -150€ = 600€.
    That -150€ cashback works also on the 12mm f/2.0 priced around 650€ (=500€)
    The 45mm f/1.8 gets only a -50€ cashback.

    • I think the shutter speed might be your problem – I can’t think of any camera that can do a 15 sec high ISO long exposure without some traces of pattern noise. Even my FX Nikons will show it a bit in the deep shadows. And I agree, lack of hard stops (or any sort of tactile stop at all) on the focusing rings is hugely annoying.

      With the Euro the way it is – you might want to think about exporting Olympus gear to this part of the world! The 75/1.8 is about 15% more here, after the cashback.

  3. Willi Kampmann says:

    Thanks for the review! I’m currently thinking about replacing my adapted Voigtländer 35mm f/1.2 with something else because the angle of view isn’t ideal on my new OMD. The 25 0.95 is kind of fascinating, but I don’t really like the bokeh; especially the highlights are often quite harsh IMO. The Panaleica 25 has a much creamier rendition and also looks sharper! And your review makes it easier still to pass on the 0.95. I think overall the Panaleica is a superior lens even though it’s 1 stop slower.

    BUT then there are also the rumors about SLRMagic designing a 25mm version for MFT of their fantastic T0.95 lens! That lens for Leica M has a fantastic image quality, easily rivaling the Leica Noctilux (at a much lower price). So I guess I’ll wait for that lens, because I have really high hopes for it.

    • I’d go for the Panaleica, personally.

      Knowing how big the T0.95 50mm is, would you want to carry around something similarly sized for the OM-D? The balance even with the 25 is a little on the off side, and the larger 17.5 (which I played with today) is very imbalanced indeed.

  4. Very nice review and beautiful shots as always.
    “The trick is to shoot raw, and turn focusing on your jpeg settings up to the maximum” – could you please clarify what exact focusing settings you have tweaked in camera? Are you referring to the sharpness and contrast settings for the JPEG?
    Cheers!

  5. Andrew McMaster says:

    We trust that you will survive the consequences when your long-suffering model reads the caption to your last shot!

  6. 3/ The panasonic 20mm f/1.7 I mean, sorry!

  7. Hello there, I have some little comments :
    Nice review, usually they all praise the lens and don’t tell how difficult it might be to use it. Thx Ming!

    1/ In France the Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 lens is usually found around 700€ (860$) without any problem, brand new and taxes included. If you are a pro or a foreigner, you can take off VAT that is 19.6% making the lens available at 563€ (690$).
    Used but in mint condition you can get it at 550€.

    The Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95 is priced at 1120€ (1375$).

    2/ If you look hard enough the best price in France for the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 is 465€, otherwise at 510€.

    3/ The Panasonic does have a nice resolution and brightness, I own it, but geee that focusing is crap! :)
    And above 1600 iso you get banding problems on the OMD with it.

    • 1) That’s not a bad deal. Much like buying Leica glass in Europe, actually.
      2) Again, that’s fantastic. About 25% less than what we pay here.
      3) Slow as molasses. I don’t have banding problems with mine, but the corners are not fantastic til f4 or so – same with all of the other copies I’ve tried. Are you running the latest firmware on your OM-D?

  8. Ming, how do you expect me to trust your reviews? Because every time you post a negative review for a certain lens, you accompany them with a ton of amazing photos that are beautifully composed, masterfully processed and littered with drop-dead gorgeous models?

    Don’t confuse me :)

    • Oh. Well, firstly, I don’t use models, I have a long-suffering wife. Secondly, the technical image quality – sharpness, coma etc – might be terrible, but the pictorial results might be what’s desired by a certain type of photographer. I personally would like as close to optical perfection and transparency as possible; aberrations I can add afterwards. The problem is that this lens doesn’t allow that. It’s good for portraits, and extremely low light where you have no choice but to use 0.95, but if you’re shooing any more stopped down than that, buy the PL 25.

    • rparmar says:

      I echo what CP says. Apparently all lenses are perfect, judging from your shots!

  9. Well Ming – your missus still looks fabulous, no matter what lens you point at her ;-) But you’ve said it: this might be a portrait lens…

  10. Gregorio Donikian says:

    Please relax, you write faster than my reading !! I really enjoy your page great reading !

    Greg

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  1. [...] There are several fast-normal options available today for Micro 4/3 users – the Panasonic 20/1.7, the Panasonic-Leica 25/1.4 DG Summilux, and the fastest of them all, the Voigtlander 25/0.95. There are also a whole host of …  [...]

  2. [...] prime time now at Ming Thein with a look at the micro four thirds Voigtlander 25mm [...]

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