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  • Voigtlander 21 mm F1.4 Nokton Aspherical VM

    Voigtlander 21 mm F1.4 Nokton AsphericalThe NOKTON 21mm F1.4 Aspherical VM is a large maximum aperture manual focus lens optimized for the imaging sensors of Leica M-Mount cameras. The 21mm focal length covers an angle of 90.3° to create a super dynamic perspective.

    Generally, the wider a lens gets, the deeper the depth of focus of the lens; however, with the NOKTON 21mm F1.4 Aspherical VM-mount lens, the extremely large maximum aperture for a super wide-angle lens enables imaging that utilizes "bokeh" (out-of-focus blur). The lens utilizes a floating mechanism to maintain excellent imaging quality throughout the focusing range from close distance to infinity.

    Furthermore, the lens features aspherical optics to eliminate distortion and chromatic aberrations in addition to enabling a compact optical design despite the large maximum aperture.

    Main Features

    • Floating mechanism
    • Extremely solid and durable all-metal barrel
    • 12-blade aperture diaphragm for beautiful bokeh
    • Manual focus for precise focusing
    • VM-mount bayonet
    • Installed with a focus-coupling system
    • Minimum focus distance of 50cm

    Build quality and mechanics

    This lens is made entirely of metal and feels as solid as a Leica. The focus and aperture rings on mine are both buttery smooth.

    Size and handling

    This lens is so large compared to other rangefinder lenses that I would consider it a special-purpose lens. That said, its size is probably quite compact when compared with similar lenses for SLR/mirrorless mounts. In terms of handling, it balances surprisingly well on my M10 and the focus and aperture rings feel natural to use.

    The hood is detachable and is nicely compact. One quirk is that the lens cap cannot be put on or removed while the hood is in place.

    Viewfinder blockage

    Voigtlander 21 mm F1.4 Nokton AsphericalShooting with a 21mm lens on a rangefinder camera brings me lots of joy because of the experience of using a hot shoe viewfinder. These viewfinders are extremely large, bright, and offer a completely unobstructed view of your frame. It’s a very zen experience to shoot with nothing in your view other than the framelines. But the Voigtlander 21/1.4 throws a wrench in this by sticking out in front of the viewfinder a significant amount. If you want an unobstructed view, you can use live view on certain cameras, but that’s not as fun.

    Minimum focus distance

    Minimum distance is 0.5m, which is useful if you have live view. It also allows for great-looking selfies:

    Image quality

    • Distortion: The 21/1.4 has a small amount of complex wave distortion that I never noticed in my photos, even when the horizon is on the edge of the frame. Lightroom has a profile to correct it.
    • Vignetting: Using this lens uncoded at f/1.4 results in pretty extreme vignetting. I recommend selecting an in-camera profile or correcting the vignetting in Lightroom.
    • Chromatic aberration: There’s a trace amount of magenta/green color fringing in the edges of the frame, but Lightroom corrects this automatically.
    • Bokeh: The f/1.4 aperture allows for significant background blur, which is very special for a 21mm lens. The shallow depth of field combined with the wide angle creates a look that I personally love.
    • Focus shift: None.
    • Sharpness: At f/1.4, the Voigtlander already achieves peak performance throughout the center and mid-frame. The edges and corners show a definite loss of micro-contrast, but f/1.4 is perfectly usable for landscapes. At f/3.4, the lens is pretty much perfect corner-to-corner. This is a highly impressive performance, and possibly the best of any M-mount 21mm on an aperture-for-aperture basis.

    Summary and recommendations

    The Voigtlander 21mm f/1.4 is a pretty straightforward lens. It’s absolutely massive for a rangefinder lens, but excels in every other aspect. Its f/1.4 aperture is very useful and provides a unique style that I personally love. Its image quality is best-in-class. Construction quality and price are also excellent.

    If you’re okay with the size and weight of this lens in your bag, I recommend trying one out. It’s a particularly good choice if you do lots of nighttime landscapes. Honestly, the size bothered me less than I expected when it was mounted on my camera, especially when I saw the images it made. It’s still too large for me to justify owning one, but I thoroughly enjoyed using it for the week that I had it.

    There are several good Voigtlander lenses for 21mm. The tiny Voigtlander 21/3.5 sits at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of size and maximum aperture. This is a great all-around lens, but it has some field curvature that makes it a mediocre choice for landscapes. The Leica 21/3.4 is slightly larger than the Voigtlander 21/3.5 but is pretty much optically perfect. It’s the ultimate choice for landscapes if you don’t need a wider aperture than f/3.4. The Voigtlander 21/1.8 is a nice middle ground between the tiny 21/3.5 and the huge 21/1.4. This lens is noticeably less sharp than the 21/1.4 at wider apertures and is a half stop slower. But it’s significantly more compact and a bit cheaper too. It’s a great balance of image quality, speed, and size, and it’s the best choice if you care more about the wide-open bokeh look and less about corner-to-corner performance. It’s my personal favorite 21mm, and I plan on buying it again soon.

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