Frankfurt walkabout with new Voigtländer 35mm Nokton f1.4 lens

Armed with some Lomography Earl Grey 100 film and my new Voigtländer 35mm Nokton f1.4 lens, I went on a short walkabout around the centre of Frankfurt. Here are my impressions of this lens.

I had just received my Voigtländer 35mm lens (specifically bought with black & white photography in mind) and decided to take it for a spin with a film I had never tried before, Lomography Earl Grey 100. It was noon on a very bright but cloudy Saturday, and I headed out to see what interesting things I could find.

A bit more about the lens

I used this lens in my previous post "London on film", however I shot these photos just before that trip. I had done a ton of research on 35mm lenses for my Leica M6, and given the high cost of Leica lenses I was happy to discount another one from the onset, and so I focused on other brands.

My criteria was size and speed (by speed I mean looking for a lens with as big an aperture as I could afford - I settled on f1.4). I also wanted the lens to be small enough that it could fit on my Leica M6 body in my coat jacket, therefore requiring no camera bag at all.

The clear answer was the Voigtländer 35mm Nokton f1.4, and according to the manufacturer:

The 35/1.4 Nokton VM, is a compact and fastest semi wide rangefinder lens, adding to Voigtländer's second generation Leica fit VM bayonet mount lens range with. It has a semi wide 63° diagonal angle of view designed to render a very natural perspective wider than a standard 35mm. Its focal length makes it an ideal alternative standard lens, offering a wider field of view, and the fast aperture is available to maximise defocus effects from its shallow depth of field, it has a classic symmetrical design, and 10 aperture blades for smooth and natural out of focus highlights.

There are 2 versions of this lens, the one I bought being the single-coated S.C. version, more suited for black & white photography, and the multi-coated M.C. version, yep you guessed it, suited more for colour photography.

I will leave the detailed technical reviews to those on the internet who are far more versed in that way of writing and thinking, my review is much more practical and user experience based. I had owned a Voigtländer lens in my digital photography days (the incredible f0.95 42.5mm lens for my Olympus EM1 camera), so I was used to the very high quality build these lenses have, they are literally built like tanks!

As with most photographic companies, Voigtländer has a long and fascinating history, going as far back as 1756! Originally family-run and from Austria, then headquartered in Germany, and now being produced as a kind of joint venture between the Japanese company Cosina and the original Voigtländer name (hence my lens is made in Japan). You can read more about the company history here.

A bit more about the film

According to Lomography, this Earl Grey 100 film:

Capture high-resolution romantic scenes using Earl Grey 100 35mm. This film produces deep blacks, bright whites and soft shades of grey even under low-light conditions. Grab this film for outstanding black-and-white photos!

I have tried many of Lomography's films, both their regular consumer grade films and their more quirky varities, some of which were part of my 52 rolls of film project. I have had mixed results with Lomography films, but I think if you approach them with the right attitude, you can get some great results. By this I mean it is all about price vs. quality; you cannot expect a professional level film when 3 rolls of Lomography film cost nearly as much as 1 professional Kodak or Fujifilm roll. However, this brand can also provide unexpected results, and I am a big supporter of trying all types of film, so I was curious to see how this film stacked up.

A bit of an institution in Frankfurt, I have yet to visit this fish restaurant. Very clear writing on the sign though, good start sharpness wise for this lens (and film).
The never ending corridor. I always have a need to take this shot when I walk by! Also a sharp shot, with plenty of contrast.
View from the top of the Cathedral (Dom Römer). You can see what is left from the original old Frankfurt architecture at the bottom of the image, a stark contrast from the new skyscrapers in the background.
I like the sharpness of this lens, but it also has a distinct old school look to it, most prevalent when looking at the clouds.
A zoomed in shot of the Dom Römer Quarter , the whole areas around Frankfurt's Cathedral is being redeveloped.
Not the world's best photo, but I took it to see how sharp this lens is. I have seen sharper lenses (and films), but for my purposes it is absolutely fine.
Looking towards to European Central Bank, from the vantage point of a public skatepark. Frankfurt is a city of juxtapositions that is for sure. Again, look at how the clouds are rendered, very interesting and unlike anything I have seen with other lenses.
My bright Saturday turned into a very dull day indeed! Still, I like how contrasty this image is.
There are always plenty of people running along the River Main. Lots of nice shadows and shapes to take photographs of too.
One of my favourite shots of this post, very sharp and nice contrasts - good result for this lens and film!
An old river crane left as street furniture, contrasted by the new skyscrapers in the background.
Public park / skatepark right infront of the ECB building.
Definitely my favourite shot of this post.
A view towards the ECB from the top of Frankfurt's Cathedral.

Overall impressions

It is hard to review a lens on a film camera without putting loads of different types of film through it to see how it performs. However, I had tested it with Earl Grey 100 this week and Kodak Tri-X on the last post, and had some consistency in terms of the overall "look" it produced.

From what I can see, this film produces images with loads of personality, with that unmistakeable film look in black & white. I have heard that the M.C. version produces wonderfully sharp colour shots, but for my purposes this version is perfect.

The lens does vignette significantly when wide open and anything up to about f5.6, but that is probably just a matter of physics due to the size of this lens. It is quite a good look though, one that many people tend to add afterwards when post processing anyways. To give you an idea of how much it can vigenette, check out the shot below:

Of course this effect disappears if shooting at night. If you have no idea what I am talking about, find out more about vignetting here.

I also used this lens to take photos of my brother and sister's kids, and whilst I won't share those here, I will say that having f1.4 really helps when dealing with fast moving toddlers. Depending on the light, the lens can produce some harsh lighting around people's faces, but I would say that is more of a function of what a bad lighting situation to begin with. It also produces some nice looking bokeh, but that is very subjective.

Overall, the lens performs well for portraits, if you want that "old school look". To be honest, if you are after something much sharper, you should just stick to digital anyways. Film is all about the imperfections, and producing images with loads of personality. And with personality in mind, and considering the size and super high quality build of this lens, I highly recommend it. It also comes in at a very decent price point, which always helps!

There are plenty of more detailed reviews out there, this being intended to be short and to the point. For now, I am happy for this lens to be my go-to lens for my Leica M6, and I look forward to some better weather to grab some more great shots with it.

Thanks for stopping by!

Neil