Voigtländer Nokton 35mm F1.2 X — a lens for the soul
My wife has been a Fuji X shooter for many years and I’ve seen a lot of photos from the system. While there’s nothing really wrong with them, they’ve always felt very sterile and boring to me. In 2020 I got myself a Fujifilm X100V and while the camera was fun to use, the images it produced left me wanting in that same way. I wondered, how much of this was due to the modern lens design of the Fujinon lenses as compared with older formulas.
I order to find out, I bought a cheap adapter and mounted an old Olympus Zuiko 50mm/1.2 on my wife’s old Fujifilm X-T2, that was gathering dust in a book shelf, and shot a few tests. I loved the results! None of that barrenness, but instead quirky and alive. However, since a 50mm is quite tight on a APS-C sensor and since I love the Voigtländer 58mm/1.4 so much on my GFX, I made a leap and ordered the fairly new Voigtländer Nokton 35mm/1.2 for Fuji X, even though there weren’t many reviews online and those I found mostly bashed it due to softness wide open and the steep price.
The Voigtländer Nokton 35mm/1.2 X is a fully manual focus lens. The helicoid on my copy is buttery smooth and the small size of the lens makes it really, really quick to operate. As a matter of fact, I’m much faster with focusing this than I am fiddling with a tiny joystick to move a focus point around with autofocus lenses. The lens is chipped and transmits f-stops to the body, which is a nice bonus. Oddly enough, the f-stops shown in my Fujifilm X-T2 viewfinder is always off by 0.1, but properly recorded in the raw file. I suspect this is a bug with the camera firmware.
Indeed, at f/1.2 the lens is soft and veiled and the chromatic aberration can be strong in backlit scenes. If you truly need a razor-sharp and optically corrected lens at maximum apertures, this Voigtländer isn’t it. However, in my opinion it’s quite sharp enough for close-up portraits, the purpose I believe this lens was optimized for. For me, the softness really is a bonus, which just about eliminates the need for skin retouch in ambient light. The sharpness improves quickly when you stop down and already at f/2 softness and glow is no longer an issue.
The lens flares easily, especially at f/1.2, but it’s a pleasant analog-looking flare to be embraced for artistic purposes. I also quite like the sun stars. Just like the Nokton 58mm/1.4, this lens has a very nice 3D-like rendering, which maybe is most noticeable in black and white imagery. The bokeh is busy and the bokeh balls have pronounced onion rings and I love it! It feels bubbly, like a glass of nice champagne. The lens has a 12 aperture blade design, so the bokeh balls remain round when you stop down.
For me, this lens on a Fujifilm X-T2, together with profiles from the Archetype Process, lets me get really close to the 35 mm film look, which is exactly what I’m after. With all its perfect imperfections, this is a lens for the soul.