Voigtländer Nokton Classic 40 mm F1.4 lens is a perfect almost pancake lens for those of you looking for a small lens in Leica M mount. I haven’t tried the 35 mm Classic version of this lens as I have the non-classic 35 mm F1.2 Aspherical v2, which is like 600 g of pancakes, i.e. not pancake at all. The 40 mm lens is a good lens also because of the odd focal length (we come to that later) and it’s sharp enough for most purposes, especially if you close down the aperture. You can buy the vintage Leica and Minolta versions of this same lens for about the same price 2nd hand, but comparing a new lens to a 2nd hand lens is not fair. I’ve seen the comparison pictures and to me they are all close enough and the Voigtländer has the added bonus of going to F1.4 in case you need it, others are F2.0 (but it must be said that the difference is really small, as if the Voigtländer has F1.4 field of depth, but not the light transmission capability). On a Leica M9-P you don’t have 40 mm frame lines, so framing your picture is up to your imagination, but on mirrorless cameras you’re using an EVF probably, so you’ll see what you get. Why manual focus lens on a camera like the Sony a7R you might be asking. Well, on car races they don’t use automatic transmission, do they? Automatic focusing is easy and has its uses, but once you use more and more manual focus lenses, you start to get used to the good properties of manual focusing.
A 40 mm lens is a bit tighter than a standard 35 mm, meaning that it helps framing your picture in a sense that not everything is there unless take walk two steps forward. After those two steps, you are always almost on the face of people and not everybody likes that. On the other end, 50 mm lens is a bit hard lens to use on a street, even though most consider it being the standard focal length for prime lenses. At 50 mm, focusing is way harder than at 35 mm and you don’t always get the luxury of wide-angle by stepping back, because you might run out of space. With a 50 mm lens you will always be framing your picture to something, as the lens is not wide enough.
Sorry for the poor quality of this quick shot of the lens mounted on Sony a7R. I did not have anything but the iPhone I could use, so that’s iPhone’s best rendering of the scene, which I must say is awfully poor performance for a phone costing a lot (in fact I don’t know, as I don’t own the phone).
I’ll quote Wikipedia, because I’m once again way too tired to describe this more accurately than what is said there already.
“In photography and cinematography, a normal lens is a lens that reproduces a field of view that generally looks “natural” to a human observer under normal viewing conditions, as compared with lenses with longer or shorter focal lengths which produce an expanded or contracted field of view that distorts the perspective when viewed from a normal viewing distance. Lenses of shorter focal length are called wide-angle lenses, while longer-focal-length lenses are referred to as long-focus lenses (with the most common of that type being the telephoto lenses).
For still photography, a lens with a focal length about equal to the diagonal size of the film or sensor format is considered to be a normal lens; its angle of view is similar to the angle subtended by a large-enough print viewed at a typical viewing distance equal to the print diagonal; this angle of view is about 53° diagonally.”
For a 35 mm sensor size, the diagonal of the frame is 43 mm, which is very close to the 40 mm Voigtländer. So, in essence, this quite odd focal length is in fact the so-called normal focal length. It’s no wonder that shooting with a 40 mm lens seems natural, because it’s not wider nor narrower than what you normally see. On a APS-C sensor camera the 40 mm lens becomes effectively a 60 mm lens, so unless you are looking for a long focal length, you should maybe get a wider lens than 40 mm. Even 35 mm is very long on a crop sensor camera and I always use Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm F1.8 ZA on my Sony NEX-7, effectively having a field of view of a 35 mm (or 36 mm) lens.
The Classic line of Voigtländer lenses are not corrected for every possible distortion or aberration, making the photos look sometimes more interesting than a clinical perfect in every way picture. Same goes for Carl Zeiss Classic line of lenses, like the Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar T* ZM. If measured by technical terms, the lens has many flaws, but it’s up to you as a photographer to use those flaws to your advantage. Also, the Classic lenses are smaller (because of not having so much elements for correcting things), lighter and most importantly cheaper. I paid 240 euros for my multicoated (MC) version of Voigtländer 40 mm. I bought it from a shop in France and it was new with everything else but the lens hood included (the hood is not included anyway, but I’ve just ordered one from Japan, having finally found one for very, very cheap).
I’d post some sample images, but as the photographs taken with the lens are without EXIF data in my Lightroom catalog, I can’t find any good examples. Right now the weather is also very unsupportive for a photographer, as it’s raining and the winter is not completely over yet, meaning everything feels grey. But maybe I’ll do a proper review later, taking the lens outside to the streets of Jyväskylä.