Fast 35mm for Leica M shootout: Distagon 1.4/35, Ultron 1.7/35, Nokton 1.2/35

Reviews: 8-2-2019: first draft. 10-2-2019: some tests repeated. New infinity test. New bokeh test.

This test compares the following lenses mounted on a Leica M9:

  1. Voigtländer Nokton 35mm f/1.2 Aspherical (version I)
  2. Zeiss Distagon T* 1.4/35 mm ZM
  3. Voigtländer Ultron 35mm f/1.7 Aspherical

Click on the images to see them in full resolution.

Central sharpness (short distance)

Central sharpness at short distance (around 70 cm) is measured with the following set-up:

11 set-up.jpg

The following pictures are 200% zoom of the centre. The ruler is used to check focus accuracy.

First test is at maximum aperture: the 1.4/35 shows the best sharpness and micro contrast. The Ultron comes in the second place but it is still very good.

20 full aperture.jpg
Maximum aperture, constant ISO (re-tested with different lighting)

At f/1.4, the 1.2/35 improves a bit, but the 1.4/35 is way better:

02 at 1_4
f/1.4

With the three lenses at f/1.7 (approximately), the 1.4/35 wins over the 1.7/35 which wins over the 1.2/35 (despite the latter being shot at lower ISO):

03 at 1_7
f/1.7

Update 10-2-2019: at constant ISO, the results are confirmed.

Finally all lenses at f/2. The 1.4/35 wins over the other two 35mm lenses, which deliver a very similar image quality (in terms of central sharpness).

04 at 2
f/2

Update 10-2-2019: the test repeated at constant ISO confirms that the Ultron and the Nokton deliver substantially the same central sharpness at f2.

21 at 2.jpg
f/2 constant ISO (re-tested)

Sharpness at infinity

[Update 10-2-2019]

The following landscape is used to test sharpness at infinity and 200%-zoom details of the centre and the corners are compared.

22 inf set-up.jpg

If you shoot stars at night, you might be interested in the performance at maximum aperture. The 1.7/35 is outstanding, matching the performance of the 1.4/35 (although not being at the same aperture). The 1.2/35 is not as sharp (although it is at f/1.2!) and if zoom is reduced to 100% on a 4k monitor the difference is negligible.

23 inf centre max aperture.jpg
Max aperture, center

In the corners the 1.7/35 even outperforms the 1.4/35 (but again the latter is at 1/2 f-stop faster aperture):

23 inf corner max aperture.jpg
Maximum aperture, edge

With all lenses at f2, the 1.4/35 regains its supremacy, especially in the centre.

With all lenses at f8 (a more suitable aperture for landscape), the centre is undistinguishable: all are excellent! Feel free to guess who is who here:

25 inf center at 8.png
f/8, center

In the corners the 1.2/35 falls a bit short but differences are hardly noticeable and only at 200% zoom on a 4k monitor. Ultron and Distagon are again very closed to each other:

24 inf corner at 8.jpg
f/8, edge

Bokeh

The following images are a crop of the same image used for the close-up test above where some background is also visible.

First at maximum aperture. While the results of this particular shot are similar, the 1.2/35 delivers the creamiest bokeh, being also the fastest lens.

06 bokeh at max aperture

At the same aperture (f/2) the results are almost indistinguishable. Maybe the 1.2/35 (upper right) has a small edge in terms of smoothness.

05 bokeh at 2

In the next scene, I test again the three lenses at full aperture. All pictures show a smooth, creamy and pleasant bokeh with minor differences.

08 bokeh at max aperture.jpg

Zooming in, the differences between 1.2/35 and 1.4/35 are very small, but noticeable. The differences to the 1.7/35 are more evident (to a trained eye).

09 bokeh at max aperture.jpg

All lenses at f/2:

10 bokeh at 2.jpg

And a crop: again very similar results, with the 1.7/35 showing some oval highlights, whereas the faster lenses render the same highlights more rounded.

11 bokeh at 2 details.jpg

Update 10-2-2019. Some more bokeh shots. First one at max aperture. The 1.4/35 has the most controlled bokeh. The other two lenses show some swirl. The 1.2/35 has the creamiest blur.

25 bokeh max aperture.jpg

All at f2. The 1.2/35 is much more controlled and very similar to the 1.4/35:

26 bokeh at 2.png

Here a 50% zoom of the image above. The 1.4/35 and 1.2/35 in this part of the picture are almost identical (same sequence as above):

27 bokeh at 2 detail.jpg

Night bokeh, at 50% zoom. This series includes the 1.7/35 at min focus distance (1.7@1.7 min). The other pictures are at approx 0.7m. The 35/1.2 shows unfortunately onion rings.

30 bokeh full aperture
Night bokeh at max aperture

And at f2:

31 bokeh f2
Night bokeh at f/2

Conclusions

The Zeiss Distagon T* 1.4/35 mm ZM is optically the best lens but also the most expensive.

The Voigtländer Nokton 35mm f/1.2 Aspherical (version I) is the most interesting lens: dreamy below f/2 but sharp and modern from f/2. Only issue to be aware of are the onion rings in the night bokeh. They are also visible on film. If you don’t like them and you often shoot at night, this is not the lens for you. If you shoot during day time, you won’t be affected. The bokeh of the Nokton 35mm f/1.2 in the daylight wonderful. I don’t have the Nokton 35mm f/1.2 Aspherical version II, but I don’t expect the version II to be substantially different.

The Voigtländer Ultron 35mm f/1.7 Aspherical is the best compromise in terms of image quality, speed, dimension, weight and price.

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