40mm 1.4 sc review

All told, I’ve owned maybe ~15 lenses in total, autofocus in the beginning, manual for the past few years. The Voigtlander 40 1.4 was the lens I chose to begin my journey from AF to MF and it was love at first sight and all that good stuff. We’ve been together for about 6 years now.

There are two versions of this lens, my Single-Coated (SC) version, and the Multi-Coated (MC). I looked into the differences between the two before purchasing and ended up getting the SC...because it was the only version in stock at the time. I don’t know how significant the differences are between the two. Maybe some flare-resistance. I’ll happily take the flare.

Wide-open, there is good separation as expected of a f1.4 and this is where it really has a voice of its own. While the bokeh may be busy for some, I find it extremely appealing. Throw in a touch of flare and/or out-of-focus foreground and environmental portraits can take on a magical quality. The center is sharp, but a less-than-stellar mid-zone and worse corners means more difficulty in attaining focus on non-center placed subjects. That might sound like a complaint, but that's a matter of perspective; I'm not looking for a corner-to-corner tack-sharp lens.

In hand, the Classic’s heft surprised me given its small size, but on this occasion it’s one of those things that validates our subconscious notion that weight is indicative of quality. At 175g, I’d hesitate to call it heavy, but it feels very dense. All metal and glass, paired to an OG A7s it is a tad front heavy; roughly one big gulp of wine away from tipping onto its face. The aesthetic of the lens design stands out and I appreciate it. I think Voigtlander’s Nokton Classic series of lenses are among the most attractive. Although contributing to its overall look, the chrome front-piece is a bit too eye-catching for my taste, so I’ve tamed it to a more acceptable degree with a black step-down ring as shown. (More on that later.)

The focus dial swings like a dream...A short dream that is, with it’s ~55 degree turn from .7m to infinite. This makes attaining general focus quick, and precise adjustments more difficult. Finding a subject, especially a moving one, at a far distance can be very challenging wide-open with no assists. It should be noted that this lens does extend as you rotate from infinity to .7, which while not on anyone’s list of most-wanted features,  is likely a compromise to get to it’s compact size in the first place.

To pair it to the A7s, I currently use a cheap lockless helicoid adapter (not pictured as it was used to take these photos of the lens) as the .7m minimal focus distance can be a tad restrictive on occasion, but I may opt for a locking version in the future. The weight of this lens tends to cause the helicoid to extend on its own, which can ruin your focusing consistency or throw you out of the ballpark if you happen to be zone focusing at the time.

The Classic has a quite substantial built-in focus tab with an indent for finger placement. This was the first lens tab I used and it quickly won me over. As with many things, if you've never used one before, it may be odd at first, but you get used to it. This lens even has two more tabs on the aperture dial. Tab heaven. The aperture dial isn’t quite as snug as I’d like, but otherwise clicks into place nicely.

My copy’s focus dial unfortunately developed an unpleasant amount of play when swung from one direction to the other, but Voigtlander (Japan) took care of it promptly and were a pleasure to deal with.

I still use the Classic for a lot of my street photography, though recently not as much as the even more out-of-the-way MS Optics 28mm 2.0. It is, however, a staple for work or documentary projects in combination with a super wide or telephoto lens. It is also my “desert island lens”. Well, I suppose you’d want a wider lens for shooting an actual desert island, but in the sense that if I could only have one lens for the rest of my life, this would probably be my choice.

Previous to this 40 I was using a ~35mm equivalent lens and previous to that I had a ~50mm equivalent. 40 is a nice place to be. It has a slightly different perspective from the ubiquitous 35 without being as restrictive as a 50. It provides a perspective relatively close to how we actually see, which I dig.

Mine is showing some wear now, after being knocked around for the better part of a decade, but it still operates smoothly. This is the only lens I own that I don’t use a UV/Protection filter on. I instead opted for a step-down ring (pictured), an unwitting yojimbo that has earned it’s negligible price many times over. When I first used it, I believe I did some casual tests to see if it would cause additional vignetting. The results of these tests...I can’t remember, but judging from the fact that it’s still attached, I’d say there is minimal difference.

Everyone seems to want perfection these days. Maybe they always did. Maybe now we’re just closer to it...photographically, at least. If you find yourself wanting to go down a different route, I’d absolutely recommend this Classic; characterful perfection in imperfection.

© Copyright 2015, Johan Brooks