Noktor 12mm F1.6 Micro Four Thirds hands-on with GH2

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My lens is a pre-release version. Interested buyers can contact SLRMagic about the Noktor 12mm here

Here is a lens the GH2 has been crying out for to compete with full frame. A good fast wide with more potential for shallow depth of field and low light performance. Indeed it is something the entire Micro Four Thirds system has needed for a while.

It is roughly equivalent to the 24mm F1.4L on a 5D Mark II. That look is probably my favourite look of all camera / lens combinations (apart from anamorphic on the GH2). It is just so cinematic. I much prefer 24mm over 28mm for wides. Trying to reproduce the look on a Sony F3 or Super 35mm camera for the same price is impossible. For APS-C sized sensors there’s only the VERY expensive Zeiss Ultra Prime 16mm T1.9 cinema lens so I’m afraid Canon DSLR and Sony NEX consumer users don’t have anything to choose from yet.

The GH2 gets a truly fast wide angle first on a crop sensor for $499 and that is pretty exciting.

Noktor 12mm F1.6 on the GH2

The only other lens with a similar spec is the recently announced (and more expensive) Olympus 12mm F2, also a Micro Four Thirds mount lens. The chunky Olympus 14-35mm F2 Four Thirds is not wide enough for my critical eye and the Tokina 11-16mm F2.8 is just not fast enough. Now you may think the difference in shallow depth of field and low light performance between F1.6 and F2.8 is not much but with such a wide field of view DOF is far deeper than with a 35mm or 50mm prime. Shallow DOF, then, is really is at a premium on wides with anything less than a full frame sensor so you need to push the aperture as wide as possible. That the Noktor HyperPrime focusses so closely also helps to achieve shallow depth of field enormously despite the crop sensor. It is great for close-ups and bokeh is very tidy.

I shot with the lens today in Berlin all handheld with the hacked GH2 (44Mbit AVCHD 1080/24p). You can see the results above!

It is almost all at F2 and some of it wide open at F1.6.

Here is a quick Q&A I did earlier with SLR Magic about the lens

EOSHD: Is the minimum focus distance really 0.15m? It seems closer, more like 5cm instead of 15cm.
SLR Magic: Yes it is 0.15m from subject to MOS sensor. 5cm is just the distance from the front element to the subject. We did not want to push it further or we will have many broken lenses from getting too close!
EOSHD: Are you on schedule for a December release date and will it be available on eBay?
SLR Magic: December is the release date for EU and US markets. We should have them for Asian markets as well as on noktor.com in November.
EOSHD: The Noktor 12mm feels similar to a vintage 16mm or 35mm cinema lens. Is this lens related to a cinema lens?
SLR Magic: It was designed with a cinematic lens rendering in mind. It is an original design and not an adaptation.
EOSHD: Is it a F1.6 lens or T1.6?
SLR Magic: F1.6 was what our lens achieved in lab test so we rated our lens as F1.6. F-stop is usually a theoretical calculation and most manufactures will not achieve this theoretical maximum. T-stop means what the lens actually achieves and our lens achieved F1.6 in lab test.

Noktor and Nokton

Here it is alongside my Voigtlander Nokton (note N!) 25mm F0.95. Now the Voigtlander is not a wide angle on the GH2 it is a standard portrait lens so they’re not really comparable (just different) however you can see that the 12mm Noktor is not a big lens. It’s smaller than the Voigtlander and similar in size to the Olympus 12mm F2 but with a slightly larger front element.

This is a higher end lens from SLR Magic, NOT a toy lens. $499 makes it cheaper than the Olympus 12mm F2, so far it’s only competitor on any crop sensor DSLR or video camera!

My lens collection (and I’ve narrowed it down to 9 primes and 3 anamorphic recently) has been chosen purely based on my feel for the images that the lenses produce and their creative potential, rather than tiresome shooting of charts and analysing of specs. I strongly believe the most common mistake shooters make when choosing lenses is to look at the charts and specs (how sharp? how technically superior?) rather than getting a feel for the actual images. Lenses should be more artistic than that! There’s so much beyond the usual distortion, flare free image! Character.

That’s why I don’t yearn to buy a ton of expensive L glass. I also tend to stay away from more common modern lenses because by shooting with very common lenses you’re baking the same look as millions of others right into your stuff. This lens has unique cinematic character by the bucket load, something a chart or spec on its own will never reveal. I loved Seb Farge’s footage (below) and I am happy with mine too even though it was shot handheld in the rain!

Noktor unboxed

Build is good, all metal and just the right torsion on the focus and aperture ring. The aperture ring by the way is de-clicked out of the box which is ideal for video shooters. It is continuously variable and very smooth, and the iris has 12 blades so bokeh stays perfectly creamy and round when you stop down. (Just like a cinema lens, so it is perfect for the GH2 and AF100).

It also has a depth of field scale. The lens is a custom design by SLR Magic not a modified industrial c-mount.

So far I love the lens but one area for improvement that I can see at this early point is to reduce the amount of distortion which can be quite noticeable on very straight horizontal lines right across the frame. But given how wide the lens is that is pretty much to be expected. I have only had the lens less than 1 day at the time of writing, so it’s too early for an in-depth review or final conclusion so I’m going to follow this post up later in the week with a full review. One thing I’d also like to try to put my LA7200 anamorphic on it (a lens that doesn’t vignette at 14mm – how far can we push it?)

It’s a very exciting time to be a GH2 owner.

About Author

British filmmaker and editor of EOSHD, Andrew works in Berlin on his own self funded filmmaking and video projects.

36 Comments

  1. thats right. I want it for a shoot in Dec and I’m afraid it won’t come in time. I hope we won’t see shortages and long lines like it happened with Nokton this spring

  2. Wow! Footage looks great. Is that all handheld?

    Have you handled the Olympus? Autofocus is an important factor for me, but at twice the price, it will be a hard sell the to wife!

  3. Background compression will still be the same as a 12mm lens, regardless if it acts like a 24mm. 12mm is a common focal length one would use on a consumer small sensor camcorder. Part of the appeal of DSLRs for me was the ability to have a 50mm and beyond perspective and compression without being 30ft away. Sure you can get a fast 12mm and sure you can achieve shallow DOF if you get close, but for me this is starting to defeat the purpose. My camcorder has a max aperture of f1.8 at 6mm. At 12mm the max aperture is probably f2.5 or f2.8 If I get close enough, the DOF is shallow. Obviously this is a lot different given sensor size and working distance, but are we heading back in that direction? Am I misunderstanding something?

  4. Hi Admin, I’m interested in a wide lens like this one for my GH2 too but I would like to know how it performs for still images, if possible. Especially for central sharpness wide open (I would use it to add a dramatic perspective to my portraits and so on). I understand that probably the Olympus 12/2 could be better in terms of resolving power but I would like to hear directly from you how the Noktor performs for photography. Thanks in advance for your time.

  5. Wow, it seems like forever ago we were discussing the lack of wide primes for M4/3! I’m glad this is here, and it looks like a corker! Great feel to the images. 5cm focus as well… It’s true, there’s no super fast 24mm equivalent for APSC. The closest is the Tokina 11-16mm set at 15mm f2.8, around a couple of stops behind :S

    The benefit of the that short flange distance is starting to show in optical design, it seems: it’s easier to make primes faster when there’s less distance between the rear element and the sensor. Though apparently it can raise some issues of edge resolution the closer you get, but we’ll leave that to the lab guys to fix, this is great progress.

  6. Thanks a lot Andrew for sharing my work, I do appreciate ! :)
    Your night test is great, a very special atmosphere in the Buildings.. By the way, where has it been shot ? In Berlin ?
    I did two other tests, on in the night ( http://vimeo.com/30165718 ), and one quick test between the Noktor and the Olympus 12mm f/2 ( http://vimeo.com/30233622 )
    Seb

  7. Wide angle on a consumer camcorder would be more like 4mm but yes background objects are more elongated, further away than with the 24mm on a 5D Mark II. But to compare it to a camcorder is misunderstanding a lot. The sensor in the GH2 dwarfs a camcorder. 12mm on a camcorder would not be wide it’d be almost telephoto.

  8. Yeah, one of the things I disliked about the 16mm F2.8 pancake for the NEX system is the shonky corners and it is why the Zeiss 24mm is so big for e-mount, to move the rear element further away. The flange is only an issue on mirrorless if they choose it to be though, i.e. if they build as small a lens as possible. They could design the optical formula to move the rear element further out for better image quality but compromising size.

  9. 12mm on my camcorder is approximately equivalent to 85mm on 35mm format, so it is definitely not wide, but it is workable. 12mm is just about the threshold at which I would consider this to be defeating the purpose. It makes sense, but barely. If you look at Seb Farge’s other vimeo videos, he is using a 6mm lens on the gh2 in 1 to 1 crop. That is what I do not understand, sure it is wide and fast, but at that point why not just use a decent small chip camcorder. The GH2’s sensor obviously dwarfs a camcorder sensor, but if you are using the same lenses, the result will look quite similar in wide shots, the only difference being the distance at which you shot it, which in many situations will not be conveyed to the viewer. I feel that it is not as cinematic, but that is just my opinion. Anamorphic would help I guess, as that will widen the field of view without effecting overall compression. (would it effect it in on one axis?) Anyway, thanks for your posts, they are informative.

  10. “am I misunderstanding something?”

    Yeah you’re talking bollocks. I keep telling people focal length doesn’t change change perspective but no-one seems to listen. Do any research on the subject and you will come across the same conclusion over and over again: Camera position alone determines perspective.

    This illustrates it well:
    http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=672913

  11. not to bug, but yeah since you mentioned “nine primes” I guess people will naturally want to know ;)

  12. I’m looking forward to using this lens.. It makes shooting wide on m43 very interesting and the lens seems to have a lot more personality than the Olympus (which I find very expensive for what it offers). It’s introduction is very timely and I don’t find it expensive for such a fast wide prime. Now someone needs to try and make a fast aspherical 10mm to complete the wide options for m43! I guess the Tokina is still a great choice for similar focal lengths as the Olympus and the Noktor if you want a lens with less distortion..

    Just curious, have you tried the Noktor on the nex5n? I wonder how much it would vignette on aps-c.

  13. That explanation was fantastic. So it is just the way we commonly use focal lengths across a single format that alters perspective, due to the fact we are moving the camera. So equivalent focal lengths all compress in the same way. I actually just tested it for myself by cropping an image. It works. Thanks for clearing it up. I know so many people have the same misconception, they need to see that article. Am I missing anything else here?

  14. By that logic, 16mm film does not look filmic.

    On using the very wide c-mounts, it’s a very cheap way to get wide on the gh2. There’s a rainbow 3.5mm lens that is pretty fast. Interesting in ETC mode.

    I wouldn’t mind trying out the Zeiss superspeeds in ETC mode.. I’m pretty sure they would look good.

    I think too many are too attached to what is cinematic and what’s not. Everything is about context.
    If somebody shoots with a 5d and narrow DOF continously, it’s just as annoying as a camcorder where the image is flat all the time.

    If Seb uses the 6mm lens in ETC mode and finds it a useful tool – then what is there to complain about?

  15. Mattoid posted an excellent explanation bellow, it turns out that my worry was incorrect, based in a common misconception. We all have our preferences in style, and of course, anything used continuously is unpleasant.

  16. There’s still a big difference.

    12mm = 85mm on your camcorder.

    24mm on the GH2.

    Huge!

    Dynamic range is better on a large chip as well.

    On a camcorder you won’t get any depth of field control at 24mm equivalent.

    On the GH2 you get it – of course not at the level of the 5D Mark II – but it is there at F1.6 / F2 in abundance.

    Also for low light, a fast 12mm prime at ISO 1600 is pretty special on the GH2. Less noisy than a small chip camcorder at the same aperture.

  17. What do you mean by perspective Mattoid? You seem to be on a mission.

    Focal length changes compression of depth. This is what I mean by perspective. What do you mean?

  18. Agree the Tokina is still a good choice especially for APS-C / NEX / Canon DSLR.

    Yes I tried the Noktor on the NEX 5N. Vignettes of course. What that system needs is for Canon to pull their finger out of ass and do some proper fast wide EFS lenses. On the Sony I’d like a 16mm F1.4.

  19. I was talking only about background compression which it turns out is a non-issue, of course DOF, noise performance and dynamic range will vary from camera to camera, larger chips generally having an advantage in the latter two areas. As far as what mattoid meant, the photos really don’t lie, I tested it myself to be sure. Very surprising to me and encourages me to put more faith in the relatively smaller sensored cameras such as m4/3. I can live without the slightly shallower DOF as I probably don’t shoot that shallow anyway, I had just been worried that the compression was going to be noticeably different. Now I won’t. Thanks for this discussion, I have learned something very valuable here.

  20. Not on a mission. Just felt compelled to correct a misconception which I’m sure most people have done at some point. I’m talking about perspective distortion as it is talked about on wikipedia. I assume this is a scientific definition, although you can never be 100% sure with wikipedia. When people talk about a lens ‘compressing’ they are usually talking about the relationship in size between a forgrouend subject and the background (as codypowers was), which is actually determined by the position of the camera. If by compression of depth you mean subject separation in terms of the subject being in focus and the background being blurred then this is obviously just a confusion about semantics.

  21. +1

    This is also an odd statement:

    “It is roughly equivalent to the 24mm F1.4L on a 5D Mark II. ”

    If you are regarding the amount of background blur or sharpness, it is not even in the same ballpark. Bokeh on 12mm f1.6 micro four thirds is more like 24mm f2.8 on a full frame camera. Canon 24L closed down to f2.8 is significantly sharper in every aspect than Noktor 12mm wide open.

  22. Nobody seems to be talking about this, but for about $485 plus adaptor you can buy the same lens from Goyo who are the manufacturer of this Noktor lens. That’s quite the savings compared with the $1000 they are asking for. It doesn’t take long to dig this story up with a simple search for “goyo noktor”. I’m actually surprised to see that no one here is discussing this.

    See for yourself:

    http://www.goyooptical.com/products/industrial/other.html#f095

    http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1000&message=34726473

    http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/noktor/index.htm

  23. Dear Admin,

    What’s with the hold up on releasing my comments? Afraid of a healthy discussion?

  24. The spam-robot caught it, one of 10 out of 500+ comments and I missed releasing it. Your comment isn’t correct anyway. This is not just a rebadged Goyo industrial lens and they’re not asking $1000 for it. The price is $500. Get your facts right.

  25. Did you try this lens with any of the anamorphics? Which anamorchic adapter would you recommend for such a wide lens?
    Thanks.

  26. In your post your said
    “My lens collection (and I’ve narrowed it down to 9 primes and 3 anamorphic recently)”

    I (and probably other readers too) wonder which ones are these 9 primes and 3 anamorphic lenses???

    Something tells me that Canon 50mm 1.4 SSC and Voightlander 25mm 0.95 are among the ones to make it into the finals.

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