Just How Good Are the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.0 and 40mm f/1.2?

Recently, I’ve pushed myself to look at third-party lens brands from China, which offer interesting character at a relatively low price. I wanted to try out the lenses that cost more money but might provide a more compelling user experience and the Voigtlander manual focus primes could be the answer.

Cosina has been making cameras and optics for a long time and, under the licensed Voigtlander name, has long made glass for rangefinders, SLRs, and mirrorless cameras. Cosina is a Japanese lens manufacturer and has a good reputation for making precision lenses.

Close-up of a camera lens with "50mm F1" labeled on the outer ring. The lens has a metallic finish, and a portion of the glass is visible, reflecting various colors. The background is dark, emphasizing the details of the lens.
The Voigtlander Nokton lenses provide a ton of light and a unique look to your images.

I got my hands on two of the fastest primes Cosina makes: the Nokton 50mm f/1 on Sony E-mount and the Nokton 40mm f/1.2 on Canon RF-mount. Canon has restricted third-party lens support for years and has caught much flak for doing so, but Cosina’s manual focus offerings were — up until recently — the only options Canon seemed okay with sanctioning. Seeing a lens like the Nokton 40mm working seamlessly with full communication to the Canon R5 body is wonderful, to say the least. I was eager to try these lenses out but it has to be understood that both lenses make a bigger dent in the wallet. With both cameras and lenses in hand, I headed out for some testing.

A rustic wooden house is surrounded by lush greenery and colorful flowers. A dirt path leads up to the house, lined with signs and flanked by stone walls and dense vegetation. Trees and bushes frame the scene, creating a peaceful, secluded atmosphere.
The Nokton lenses both create a “swirl” of bokeh which can be clearly seen around the edges of the image. Note the purple fringing in the sky due to poor LoCA correction.  -Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.2.
A field of white flowers with yellow centers in full bloom, standing against a blurred, green background. The petals are delicate and slightly open, capturing the sunlight, which highlights the vibrant colors and creates a soft, tranquil atmosphere.
I particularly like the way focus transitions across the image. This is a desirable look that usually requires very expensive glass to achieve.  -Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.2.

Voigtlander’s Handling is Sublime

To be fair, most of the affordable glass on the market is machined nicely, with smooth-turning focus rings, working aperture adjustments, and fine engraving on the metalwork, and that is certainly the case here. Both Nokton lenses are machined precisely with smooth focusing and clear depth-of-field scales on the lenses. The 50mm f/1 is slightly heavier at 16.9 ounces (480 grams) and has a larger 67mm filter ring. The 40mm f/1.2 is slightly smaller at 14.8 ounces (420 grams) and takes a 58mm filter on the front. I have no complaints at all about the machining work, and the aperture clicks positively throughout its range. Filters are going to be important for these lenses because bright and sunny days will require ND filters in order to use the brightest apertures and still get proper exposure. I wouldn’t get either lens particularly wet or dusty but the solid handling is reminiscent of the finer-quality lenses from the analog photography days.

Two camera lenses are placed on a wooden surface with a black background. The lens on the left is larger with a 50mm focal length, while the lens on the right is smaller with a 40mm focal length. Both lenses have black exteriors and detailed focus rings.
Although both lenses are fairly close in weight there is a significant size difference.
Close-up view of a black camera lens with a focus ring marked with numbers from 1.4 to 2.8 and a textured grip. The aperture ring below it features red and white numeric markings indicating different f-stop values. A hand partially holds the lens.
The overall construction and fit-and-finish is excellent. Voigtlander lenses feel well-made in the hand.

Most importantly, both lenses transmit full EXIF data to the cameras and subsequently to the images. I could see the name of the lens, the chosen aperture, the focal length, and all the other good stuff we take for granted with modern lenses. The camera bodies also automatically adjust the IBIS units to correct for the focal length and the manual focus assist functionality works seamlessly too. My chief complaint with the more affordable Chinese lenses is the lack of communication with the body, so having that functionality here with Voigtlander is almost worth the higher price by itself.

Close-up image of the mount of a camera lens, displaying the electronic contacts and the inscription "COSINA CO., LTD." on the metal surface. The background is blurred, drawing focus to the detailed elements of the lens mount.
Having full communication between the lens and the body is a huge benefit, especially when most third-party manual focus lenses do not.

These Lenses Have Character

Both these lenses have character and I found that both actually share character, which is to say that both lenses have very similar-looking results. As a result, I will largely mention things about them together, pointing out the significant differences where applicable. Shallow depth-of-field is very easy to achieve with either lens so let’s start with the bokeh.

A man with short, graying hair and a beard sits casually beside a brick wall adorned with polaroid photos. He is wearing a black T-shirt with pixel art graphics on it. The background is softly lit with colorful lights, creating a cozy atmosphere.
There is a pleasant look to the backgrounds and the subjects really stand out. The 50mm f/1 makes for a handy portrait lens. -Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1
A vibrant mural featuring an indigenous character in traditional attire with a headdress, colorful patterns, and symbols is painted on the side of a building. The foreground shows a concrete barrier and a chain with a "No Parking" sign.
Naturally, both lenses can be shot at tighter apertures when desired. The bokeh is beautiful regardless. -Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1

When stopped down, the 50mm f/1 aperture blades have a noticeably rounder appearance than the 40mm lens does, which should create a slightly smoother look to the backgrounds and transitions of focus. However, I found the results to be almost identical on both lenses. The corners of both lenses will show a somewhat swirly-looking rendering at wider apertures and both lenses have a strong cat’s eye effect. The bokeh has a classic look that mimics Petzval-style lenses and is fun for landscapes and portraits. Specular highlights are clean and free of onion rings or any soap bubble look which is why both lenses have beautiful-looking bokeh overall. Stopping the aperture down slightly largely cleans up any cat’s eye effect and gives nice smooth backgrounds that blend into a wash of color and tone.

A close-up of a blooming iris flower with slender purple petals and green stems, set against a blurred garden background. Other iris flowers and greenery can be seen out of focus in the background, creating a vibrant and serene natural scene.
The more affordable 40mm lens gives a similar esthetic to images but images at f/1.2 tend to look blurry. -Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.2.
A man with short hair and a beard gazes slightly upward with a thoughtful expression. The background is blurred, featuring colorful, bokeh lights creating a vibrant, out-of-focus effect. The atmosphere suggests a lively, possibly indoor setting.
I like the stark cat’s eye effect to the specular highlights at f/1.2 and this does go away if you stop down slightly. -Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.2.

Flare resistance was something I was concerned about because many of the lenses out of China seem prone to washed-out tones and wild ghosting when pointed toward bright lights. The Voigtlander lenses exhibit quite the opposite, with excellent flare control overall. Some loss of contrast occurs at the brightest apertures but ghosting is well controlled, even when stopped down heavily. Sunstars are rather poor on either lens though, so I wouldn’t use them if this is a priority for you.

Sunlight shining through the leaves and branches of a tree, creating a lens flare effect. The tree's dense foliage casts shadows, and the sky peeks through in the background. The overall scene has a tranquil and natural ambiance.
The 40mm f1.2 gives slightly better sunstars but both lenses handle flare well with minimal ghosting. – Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.2.
A bearded man with short hair wearing a black t-shirt stands with his arms crossed in front of a colorful graffiti wall. He looks directly at the camera with a neutral expression. The graffiti features abstract shapes and vibrant colors.
If you want backgrounds that fade into a soft wash of color, the Noktons are an excellent choice. -Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1

Ultra-bright lenses do tend to exhibit lots of LoCA, or longitudinal chromatic aberration. This is certainly the case with both Nokton lenses, with both lenses having strong green or magenta color casts in any out-of-focus areas. In fact, I often found myself manually focusing by utilizing the LoCA, and If the image skewed green or magenta I would refocus until it was neutral. This is clearly a poor result and could be an annoying or distracting problem in some photos. LoCA is very difficult to get rid of in editing so either be prepared to go black-and-white or chalk it up to “character”.

A quaint brown house with a gabled roof sits amidst a lush garden filled with various plants and blooming flowers. A curved dirt pathway flanked by greenery leads up to the house. Trees and shrubs surround the scene, creating a serene, natural setting.
A similar shot was taken on both lenses and you can see the similar bokeh and also the unfortunate amount of chromatic aberrations. -Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1
Close-up of a white garden sign with black lettering that reads "Sedum Kamtschaticum," set against a vibrant green background of foliage and blurred plants, suggesting a lush and sunny garden setting.
I found the 50mm f/1 gave a dream-like quality to the garden shots. Just be sure to keep subjects more in the center. -Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1

Sharpness results are pretty similar between our two Voigtlanders but there is some deviation here. The 50mm f/1 is the sharper lens when shot at the widest apertures. Although contrast is still low at f/1, the 50mm does retain decent detail and sharpens up very quickly with even a little stopping down. The corners are quite poor on both lenses with heavy vignetting as well, but the 50mm f/1 does a much better job wide open, both in the center and the corners. Regardless, I’d keep subjects fairly central or stop the aperture down a few clicks when possible.

The 40mm at f/1.2 is quite low-contrast and also has a bit of a blurry look to it which can be distracting when shooting stark subjects against a faraway background. By f/2 the lens is great and the blurry effect is gone but those corners suffer more than the 50mm lens does. I’d certainly use these lenses wide-open for portraits and street photos but these are not astral-photo lenses despite the bright apertures.

A side-by-side comparison of two test charts. The left image is labeled "40mm @ f/1.2," and the right image is labeled "40mm @ f/2.5." Both charts feature concentric circles, color bars, and images of currency. The right chart appears sharper and more detailed.
The 40mm f/1.2 struggles when shooting at its widest aperture. Stopping down helps immensely. -Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.2.
A side-by-side comparison of image quality at different apertures using a 50mm lens. The left image, labeled "50mm @ f/1.1," shows slightly more blur than the right image, labeled "50mm @ f/2," which appears sharper. The images include color, text, and fine detail tests.
Although the 50mm f/1 is more expensive, it makes up for it with good sharpness even at f/1.  -Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1

Who Should Buy These Lenses?

I think the Voigtlander lenses here justify the higher price by offering enough important optical performance such as stunning bokeh and flare resistance while still retaining the quirks and oddities that make lenses like this fun. I often find that many of the Chinese lenses available are limited in scope and can have image quality side-effects that either work great or ruin the photograph. Obviously, though, the range of Chinese lenses is voluminous and there are some absolute gems among them.

Still, these Voigtlander lenses seem like a way to get fun optics without the major headaches. The 40mm impressed me with its excellent bokeh and compact size, and it is substantially less expensive than the 50mm. However, the blurriness at f/1.2 is limiting, especially when that is a major selling point for the lens. The 50mm f/1 gives you a wider range of apertures to use and performs better wide open while still giving the fun character inherent in both lenses. It’s more money but it might be worth it.