Nokton Classic 40/1.4
The long story
Back in early 2012, the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4 is the first lens I bought after using the kit lens on the NEX-3 for 6 months or so. I didn’t have much experience in photography before using the NEX as I had never used an interchangeable mirrorless camera before. I decided to try something new, something different after using solely the kit lens for quite a while.
The NEX system is indeed a great platform to adapt rangefinder glass. I soon learned that M-mount lenses are expensive and exquisite materials, but I still desired to own one of these lenses because of their small size (the reason why I bought a NEX in the first place – for the image quality that comes together with such a compact system).
Voigtlander lenses are relatively more affordable among the M mount lens choices. From the web I learned that the history of Voigtlander dates back to the 18th century and it is one of the oldest camera and lens makers. Today the brand is owned by the Japanese Cosina, which has no relation with the old Voigtlander other than reviving the old company name.
But it seems that the Voigtlander lineup does contain some great, fast lenses that earned a decent reputation, including the 35/1.2 and 50/1.1. People seem to have written rave reviews about these. However, I don’t have much to spare and I consider myself as a beginner in the world of camera and lenses, I bought an affordable CV 40/1.4, mainly to learn (1) how to manual focus and (2) how to use a fast lens to take pictures with a shallow depth of field.
Bokeh - derived from the Japanese ボケ - is the blur, or the aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image, or “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light.” Because all I had before I got the NEX-3 was point-and-shoot, I could only envy others taking pictures with a shallow depth of field and a nice blur of the background – effectively highlighting the subject in question. I began to grasp the meaning of “bokeh”. The CV 40/1.4 is known to have harsh bokeh, but some people find its character unique and somewhat pleasing. A similar effect is also found in the CV 35/1.4, which costs slightly more. Because of its large aperture and a suitable focal length (60mm on a cropped sensor like NEX), I find it quite a flexible tool in portraiture both indoors and outdoors. But of course, it is a matter of habit or taste, regarding whether you like wider (35mm) or more tele (50mm) lens, but the CV 40/1.4 lies interestingly somewhere in the middle.
It is my first time using a manual focusing prime lens. Manual focusing on the NEX is not hard to learn. Two handy features (1) focus peaking – which you have to enable in the menus, and (2) focus assist – offering a magnified area of the image for you to focus make it less of a hassle. I actually enjoyed manual focusing, because I can “feel” physically which point I want my focus to land on; and I also enjoyed shooting with a prime lens as it encourages me to think what to put inside a fixed frame and what not to.
Field of view
Well, 40mm is not a favorite focal length of traditional 35mm shooters. It is not wide enough for indoor shooting or general snapshots, and it is not long enough for portraiture or adequate subject isolation. It is simply an odd focal length to use.
It is not a sharp lens. Wide open at f1.4, the subject glows in a dimly lit background. This property, although some may say it can mimic the “Leica glow”, makes it a poor lens for serious photo taking. However, it can be used for a “toy effect”, or when you wish to blur your subject more than usual. When stopped down, sharpness increases a bit, but still not tack sharp.
Colors and contrast
The contrast is low compared to other lenses I used. Color is a bit dull and washed out. I would not be surprised if it does not offer you the 3D pop you desire. Although it has a wide aperture, it does not compete with the bigger M mount brands of Leica/Zeiss. This lens (although at a fraction of the price of its counterparts) simply does not offer enough microcontrast and color reproduction of higher quality M mount primes.
Bokeh has character, it is not good or bad. There are doughnut shaped rings on out-of-focus highlights. It can be used creatively at night e.g. enhance the effect of colorful Christmas lights, but in most situations, it produces a busy bokeh that is not very pleasing to the eye.
Now I have the NEX-6, purchased recently in early 2013. After I have purchased more lenses, like the Sony E-mount 50mm f1.8 and also lately the Sony E-mount 35mm f1.8, the Nokton has fallen out of favor. But I still remember the good old days enjoying the fun of manual focusing with this lens. Also, coupled with a special close-focusing adapter, the lens can focus up to 0.3m; still not exactly a macro lens but good enough for my food photography.
I would like to share with you some of my favorite photos taken by this lens:
1. Cake and Bokeh
2. Pork Cutlet
3. The Cone and the Cage
4. Busy Bokeh at a restaurant