Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.5 L39 and Prominent – Beyond the Swirly Bokeh

Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.5 L39 and Prominent - Beyond the Swirly Bokeh

Lens Review

Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.5 L39 and Prominent – Beyond the Swirly Bokeh

Voigtlander-Nokton-50mm-f1.5-1.5-50-L39-LTM-m-mount-rangefinder-leica-lens-review-135-prominent-old-vintage-hk-details-rare-focusing-ring-coating-m2-camera-3
Coating colour
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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Edinburgh, UK

I have owned the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 L39 and Prominent version, also known as the Old Nokton, multiple times. With each iteration, I am learning about the different versions, adapter compatibility, its history, and its distinctive renderings. I’ve been meaning to discuss this lens for quite some time. While I realize there may not be a wide audience eager to read about it, I still believe the lens deserves a mention for its once-prestigious status and as a representation of Voigtlander’s peak optical performance.

What kind of lens would compel someone to forsake a Leica lens just to mount it on an M-mount camera? What kind of lens captures images that you never forget?

Back in the old days, many people would swap the Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.5 for the Nokton 50mm f/1.5, taking the helicoid of a Leica for Nokton use. However, the one I have here is the original L39 and Prominent version, attached to the M-mount using an adapter ring.

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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Scotland UK

Versions

There are many different brands of adapter rings that can be used directly. This lens with the Prominent mount comes in five versions. They can be distinguished by some external features, such as having either a black or white ring at the front dial, and the coating can be either blue or amber. The lens diameters are available in either 47mm or 49mm. Furthermore, the early versions of the lens did not use the standard screw thread for filters but rather a unique Voigtlander slot-in filter mount. The screw threads were introduced in the later versions. There is not much difference in optical performance between the versions. Moreover, Voigtlander has crafted special metal lens hoods for both the 47mm and 49mm versions, which have a very unique shape that gives the lens an extremely classical and romantic feel. It resembles the Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 Steel Rim hood – known as the OLLUX. Before Cosina recreated the look of the L39 mount on their Nokton 50mm f/1.5 ASPH, it was considered the most beautiful lens in my book.

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Textures
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Aperture blades

Excluding the L39 (Leica thread mount) and Contax RF versions of the Nokton, version of the it can generally be divided into five versions:

  • First Version: Black front dial, black tail without external threading.
  • Second Version: Black front dial (with a few in silver), black tail, straight barrel without external threading, often paired with the Prominent I type camera.
  • Third Version: Black front dial, black tail, stepped barrel without external threading, often paired with the Prominent II type camera.
  • Fourth Version: Black front dial, black tail, threaded lens mount, aperture with stepless adjustment, often paired with the Prominent I generation III type camera.
  • Fifth Version: Black front dial, white tail, threaded lens mount, the later coatings of this version tend to have an amber or golden hue, often paired with the Prominent II generation camera. Additionally, it seems that the adhesive formula used in the lens assembly process was changed in this version, making it easy to have lens separation issue.

 

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Lens close up

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Adapters

  • Kipon (LTM mount, lens head will rotate, minimum focus 1 meter)
  • Hawk’s Factory (0.7m minimum focus)
  • MS Optics adapter (minimum focus 1 meter)
  • O2 production house (minimum focus 0.65 meter)
  • Yifeng (minimum focus 0.7 meter)
  • Fotodiox
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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, London UK

My Impressions of The Old Nokton 50/1.5

I became intrigued about this vintage lens quite a while ago. German camera optics has always set the benchmark in the field, and the achievements developed at that time are still widely circulated and acclaimed today. Brands such as Rollei, Hasselblad, Zeiss, Contax, Leica, Voigtlander, Schneider, and others are numerous and diverse. I appreciate the solid, warm, and layered optical performance, and the clear yet rich color interpretation.

Voigtlander-Nokton-50mm-f1.5-1.5-50-L39-LTM-m-mount-rangefinder-leica-lens-review-135-prominent-old-vintage-foxhill-manor-gaming-uk-m10p-m10-p-digital
Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Foxhill Manor, UK
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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Isle of Skye, UK
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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, London UK
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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, London UK

My first impression of this vintage lens from online sources was shock: What kind of bokeh is that? It’s not smooth, but busy, and it even swirls! It’s chaotic! Yet, as chaotic as it is, it didn’t exhibit the swirly bokeh that I dislike. It seemed to rotate clockwise around the center of focus, layer by layer, dizzying and bewildering to behold. I remember after seeing a few sample photos taken with the aperture wide open, I didn’t give this vintage lens another thought. But little did I know that just stopping down the aperture a bit would yield excellent results. The gradation within the focal plane creates a delicate atmosphere. Among the three famous German high-speed lenses (referring to large apertures) of the same era—the transparent and direct Leica Summarit 50/1.5, the lively and vivid Zeiss Sonnar 50/1.5, and the warm and solid Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5—some articles even touted the Nokton as the best, reflecting its popularity.

Voigtlander-Nokton-50mm-f1.5-1.5-50-L39-LTM-m-mount-rangefinder-leica-lens-review-135-prominent-old-vintage-london-night-walk-bokeh-uk-m10p-m10-p-digital-big-ben
Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, London UK
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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, London UK
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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, London UK

Signature - Bokeh Reminiscent of Wet into Wet Oil Painting

To elaborate, it’s about the change of impression. Initially, my focus was solely on the vintage lens’s swirling bokeh effect, overlooking how the lens performs with a stopped-down aperture. After extensively shooting with film, I’ve gradually come to appreciate the optimal aperture range for each lens. Most lenses, when wide open, exhibit some imperfections, such as vignetting or slight chromatic aberration. It’s worth mentioning the strength of Leica lenses; most of them have quite sharp and usable performance at maximum aperture. The Nokton, a standard lens produced in the 1950s, certainly doesn’t have the anti-glare performance of modern technology, but the internet photos show that this once-famous lens, when stopped down, has a very disciplined performance yet does not neglect color rendition. If we talk about richness, it can compare with modern Leica ASPH lenses, and it doesn’t lose in sharpness to modern lenses. The sharpness of the old Voigtlander is like the handcrafted curves finely carved by a craftsman with decades of experience, precise and delicate, smooth in-and-out-transition. 

The “wet into wet” technique in oil painting, referred to as “alla prima,” is a method where fresh layers of paint are applied on top of still-wet layers. This technique allows for smooth blending and transitions between colors and tones, creating a soft and often dreamy effect. In the context of photography, comparing bokeh to “wet into wet” implies that the out-of-focus areas of the image blend seamlessly into one another, much like the blended colors in an alla prima oil painting, creating a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing background.

Voigtlander-Nokton-50mm-f1.5-1.5-50-L39-LTM-m-mount-rangefinder-leica-lens-review-135-prominent-old-vintage-edinburgh-bokeh-uk-m10p-m10-p-digital-portrait-oof-dof
Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Edinburgh, UK
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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Foxhill Manor, UK
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Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Foxhill Manor, UK
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Leica M9-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 L39, Hong Kong

Film shot with Kodak Ektachrome E100

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Kodak Ektachrome E100, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 L39, Hong Kong
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Kodak Ektachrome E100, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 L39, Hong Kong
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Kodak Ektachrome E100, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 L39, Hong Kong

Best Performance - the Nokton at f/8

I especially like the image at f/8 because the lens gives me extremely good sharpness and the most impressive part is the color rendering. It gives me true to what I see and the green and red color is very distinct that is so different to Leica.

After stopping down the aperture, the photos taken showed the swirling bokeh gradually smoothing out, presenting the presence typical of German lenses. The decline in sharpness outside the focus isn’t like falling off a cliff but melts gently with the actual distance of objects in the scene. I like the buttery bokeh often associated with West German Zeiss lenses – Creamy!

Last year, I brought the Nokton 50mm f1.5 lens on a trip to Scotland and paired it exclusively with my Leica M10-P. I’m drawn to how the lens captures the mood I want to emphasize, especially the sense of solitude in the Highlands. Even at smaller apertures, the colors it renders are vividly etched in my memory. It beautifully highlights textures on metal objects in Edinburgh. While staying at Foxhill Manor for a friend’s wedding, the candlelight created an ambiance reminiscent of slide film and the cinematic feel of the movie “Barry Lyndon.” I find that this lens truly shines when shooting in black and white, magically conveying the season, emotion, and temperature of different times of the day. Just a touch of light, and the lens performs wonders.

Voigtlander-Nokton-50mm-f1.5-1.5-50-L39-LTM-m-mount-rangefinder-leica-lens-review-135-prominent-old-vintage-scotland-nc500-highland-cow-uk-m10p-m10-p-digital-look
Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Scotland UK
Voigtlander-Nokton-50mm-f1.5-1.5-50-L39-LTM-m-mount-rangefinder-leica-lens-review-135-prominent-old-vintage-isle-of-skye-uk-m10p-m10-p-digital-look-overcast
Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Isle of Skye, UK
Voigtlander-Nokton-50mm-f1.5-1.5-50-L39-LTM-m-mount-rangefinder-leica-lens-review-135-prominent-old-vintage-edinburgh-uk-m10p-m10-p-digital-look
Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 Prominent, Edinburgh, UK

Closing Thoughts

These are just my thoughts. I haven’t found too much info on the old Voigtlander lens, but that’s not a big deal. What matters is enjoying the lens by taking pictures, not just playing with it. If you want a lens that’s not too expensive (between $1000 and $1200 with an adapter for the prominent version), not something ordinary like your Leica Summilux, go for the Prominent version. The L39 version can be over $5000 since it’s rare, but it’s got a special look than the Leica lenses. You can find adapters online, but they might need some adjusting. If you need help getting one, just ask—I’m willing to assist. Also, if you have a Nokton and need a good filter to protect the lens, you can follow the link because it only takes a special size on it.

Voigtlander-Nokton-50mm-f1.5-1.5-50-L39-LTM-m-mount-rangefinder-leica-lens-review-135-prominent-old-vintage-hong-kong-ccd-senor-M9p-m9-digital-water-leakage-burst
Leica M9-P, Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 L39, Hong Kong
webstore-shop-buy-film-stock-negative-reflx-lab-motion-picture-remjet-removed-c41-process-800t-tungsten-800-iso-5219
Reflx Lab 800
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Reflx Lab 400D
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Metal Square Hood for Leica 35mm
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Metal Hood for Nokton 28/35/40/50mm

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