Please buy this Voigtlander Nokton 25mm lens … before I do

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A portrait taken with the Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 / Photo by Dmitry Valberg

I’m hoping that sometime in the next 12 hours, someone, anyone will get on eBay and bid on this Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 lens because, right now, the one and only bid on this used micro 4/3 lens is $499, which is about $500 less than what it costs brand new. I’m afraid I’ll wake up in the morning and there won’t be any new bids. If that happens, I’ll really have no choice but to take a shot at owning it.

I’ve got a photography project I’m about to start that’s going to require a lot of work indoors in low-light conditions. I’m not ready to get into specifics but I’ve got it in my head that I really need a new portrait lens that works great in the near dark. It just so happens that this particular Voigtlander is the fastest lens made specifically for the micro 4/3 mount on my Olympus E-M5 mirrorless camera.

It may be the fastest (meaning it has the widest aperture on the market) but is it the best?

Here’s where a lot of hobbyists get overwhelmed with information-overload syndrome. You want to do your due diligence and research your options but there’s just so many conflicting opinions and points of view out there that it can leave you so far down the rabbit hole you have no clue which way is up.

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I’ve studied the reviews and comments, read the discussions on the forums and looked at dozens of photos taken with different lenses under varied conditions and settings. And the verdict? Well, until I started checking prices on eBay, I had decided on the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f/1.4, which sells brand new for just a little more than what the used Voigtlander would cost if the auction had ended the moment I started writing this post. (I actually have no doubt that the bidding will push the Voigtlander over the $600 mark by the morning, making it much easier to walk away).

Both of the lenses would be fantastic additions to my kit and perfect for the project I have in mind. The Voigtlander is an old-school manual lens that is built like a tank and produces a beautiful, creamy bokeh — the blurred background that you want in a portrait. On the downside, the pictures it produces when used at f/0.95 (its widest aperture setting) lack sharpness. The depth of field is also so razor-thin that finding the focus in dark conditions might require more skill (and better eyesight) than I possess.

From the sample pictures I’ve seen, the sharpness improves when the lens is stopped down. But that sets up an interesting dilemma: What’s the point of shelling out the extra beans for the super-large aperture if you’re rarely going to use that aperture because of the performance issues?

For half the price, you can get the Panasonic-Leica f/1.4, which is no slouch in the low-light department and, in the opinion of many folks, produces images just as good as the Voigtlander.

Unfortunately, it comes down to this invisible force that drives many of us to want to own the “best” whatever, whether that thing is a sports car, a set of golf clubs or a camera lens. The Voigtlander has been dubbed “the fastest” lens available, making it an object of desire because of its label, not because of its actual performance.

It just so happened that as I was weighing the merits of these two lenses for the umpteenth time, I came across an article on Fstoppers that nailed the question I should be asking myself: Can You Tell the Difference Between a $100 Lens and a $1,600 Lens?

Well, of course you can. But the difference isn’t nearly as great as you might think. Granted, the Fstoppers article was based on an unscientific comparison of three different 50mm lenses. However, the examples were good enough to really challenge the notion that a lens’ performance will improve in direct relation to how much more you pay for it. One commenter said:

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While that opinion was far from a consensus, it highlights how frustrating it is for photo enthusiasts to make gear decisions based solely on what they read on the Internet. Personally field testing a lens is the best option but unless you’ve got well-equipped friends, you could end up spending hundreds of dollars on gear rental. That’s why I have almost no choice but to bid on the Voigtlander because if I can pick it up for $600, even if I don’t like it, I’m almost guaranteed to get my money back by reselling it (perhaps at a profit).

The truth is, I don’t really need a new 25mm lens. I’ve got two prime lenses in my bag that could do the job — a 17mm and 45mm. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t go out and buy the 25mm Voigtlander or Panasonic-Leica … eventually.

I’m just hoping it’s not in the morning.

[UPDATE: Someone won the Voigtlander auction for $714, which was still a bargain. ]

Featured image is by flickr photographer Dmitry Valberg and is used here under a Creative Commons license.

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Joe Newman

I'm Joe Newman, multi-media story teller, non-profit do-gooder, international street photographer, serious poker player, intrepid traveler. Bourbon drinker.

  • http://www.todestinationunknown.com Satu VW / Destination Unknown

    Hah! Well that was good new then to your bank account… :) Thanks for sharing the article on camera lenses, I find it comforting that you don’t necessarily need the most expensive kit to produce great results. In our family I’m the one who rather puts all the extra pennies in flight tickets, where my husband is the geek who goes for the great kit. Lucky I can always borrow what he purchases… 😉

    • Joe Newman

      Well, it’s not a question of if I’m going to buy one of those lenses, but when. Sounds like you and your husband make a good team!

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