With Heliopan Variable ND filter
I still remember the first time that I used a 50mm lens on a crop sensor body many years ago, it was the venerable Canon 50mm 1.4 on a 300D body. I suddenly realised the importance and necessity of using longer focal lengths for pictures of people. Faces looked natural, features were in proportion and for the first time I experienced the bokeh and sharpness of a prime lens. After dabbling and experimenting with different focal lengths over many years, I have found myself returning to 50mm for almost every photograph that I take on the X-Pro1. My lens of choice for the past year has been the Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar ZM, giving a 75mm equivalent focal length on the X-Pro1, perfect for portraiture. I have picked up a Zeiss Touit 32mm 1.8 lens and Fujinon 18-55mm zoom lens, and whilst they have saved me on occasions when I need a wider angle of view, I always turn to the Zeiss 50mm as first choice.
When it came to choosing another lens, I decided that I would probably get more use out of another 50mm and looked for alternative lenses that offered a different picture quality. The Zeiss is extremely sharp with warm and vibrant colours. It is a beautiful lens, but sometimes the clarity and high contrast is simply too much for a portrait and I spend a lot of time softening lines and smoothing skin to create a more flattering look. As an alternative, I was looking for a softer, lower contrast lens with an even wider aperture for better bokeh and smoothness in the background.
The Zeiss is often regarded as an alternative to the Leica 50mm Summicron, offering some of the same qualities at a much lower price point. Likewise, there is a lens that is considered a lower priced alternative to the Leica 50mm Summilux, smooth and dreamy with a distinctive glow.
The Voigtlander Nokton 50mm 1.5
Perhaps it is the still the excitement of owning a new toy, but I really love this lens. It is the perfect complement to the Zeiss and in many ways it is the exact opposite in style and image rendering. Where the Zeiss has clinical sharpness, giving visibility to each individual eyelash and skin pore, the Voigtlander has a softer and more forgiving quality. That is not to say that the lens is soft, it is certainly sharp relative to many other lenses and comparing anything to the Zeiss is actually a little unfair with regard to sharpness. The bokeh is nice but slightly unpredictable, not perfectly smooth like the Fujinon lenses and slightly quirky on busy backgrounds. The overall picture quality that this lens offers is very unique. It strikes a balance between the clean sharpness and colour of a modern lens and the lower contrast, bokeh, slight distortion and aberrations of lenses from a past era.
All images taken at f/1.5 with Heliopan Variable ND filter. Processed with the new VSCO Film 04.
I expected to get a lot of chromatic aberration at f/1.5 but in my experience it has not been an issue at all. I also love that the aperture ring moves in half stop clicks just like all other Voigtlander lenses, but this may not be to everyone’s preference. Build quality is superb, the lens is even heavier than the Zeiss Planar ZM and the focus ring has a smooth action with just the right amount of resistance.
I knew I would be using this lens for portrait work with strobes and decided to match the Voigtlander with a Heliopan Variable ND filter which is visible in the above image. The Heliopan allows me to dial in as much as 6 stops of neutral density, making it possible to use the lens at f/1.5 under all lighting conditions and even with strobes where my shutter speed is limited to a maximum of 1/125. Using this filter means that I can think of aperture as simply controlling depth of field, and using the variable ND to adjust exposure. The results are stunning for portraits with strobes with beautiful softness and bokeh, but this filter is also very useful for shooting at f/1.5 in bright sunlight. I intend to keep this filter permanently attached and it really compliments the lens in both style and function.
First portrait shoot with LJ using the Voigtlander. More images to come once I finish editing this set.
I am looking for unique tools in photography. Cameras, lenses and lights that help me to reach the goal of discovering my own personal style. The goal is not the misguided quest for absolute perfection, but the search for the perfect combination of flawed devices that produce images with a truly unique style. After spending years chasing the sharpest lenses available, I am starting to realise that the perfect lens in reality and to my personal tastes may actually lie somewhere in the realm of optical imperfection. It just might be this Voigtlander.
All images taken with X-Pro1 and Voigtlander Nokton 50mm 1.5 VM. Processed using VSCO Film 04.