Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shooting with the new Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH

After months of buildup, anticipation and discussion, the new Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 ASPH started shipping to dealers last week. I was fortunate enough to receive some out of this extremely small first shipment. And, I was even luckier to be able to take a few pictures with one that passed through our store, thanks to an understanding customer.

The new Noct handles a bit better than the old one. The focus is a little smoother with a bit less focus travel on the ring. It is still quite hefty and definitely makes the M8.2 front-heavy, but certainly not unusable.

I must admit to never being the biggest Noctilux f/1 fan. I like sharp. I like perfect. For the most part, I am a major Summicron guy, but I do have a soft spot for the Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. It is a lens with very little compromise. Fast, sharp as a pin, great at close-focus and infinity. The old Noctilux had vignetting, softness wide-open, and a pesky blue fringe that could creep up on you. Part of the look of the lens comes from the fact that Dr. Mandler didn’t correct for the blue spectrum of light. So, especially on B&W, the image seems to glow. I know a lot of people really love this. It just was never my taste. If I have to stop down to f/2 to get a sharp picture, what’s the point?

That said, as I was glancing down at this $10K beast mounted on the front of my M8.2 and seeing “0.95” on the aperture ring, I will admit to a certain jolt of excitement. That’s pretty fast, but what will the images look like? And what am I giving up (besides $10K)?

My first shot was of my lovely wife Juliana. We work together and she was curious about the new lens as well. Call her a target of opportunity. I took one picture and decided it best not to push my luck. Notice the complete lack of vignetting wide-open. Okay, maybe this lens has some potential.

1/180 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 320

So, I moved on to a more willing subject, my 2 year-old daughter Sophia. Everyone loves a cute kid and she qualifies. Having her stand still long enough for me to focus accurately before she moved again was an interesting challenge. But, I was able to get some pretty decent results. The depth-of-field wide-open on this lens is razor-thin at best. At minimum focus distance, you need to be aware of body sway or even breathing, lest you miss focus by a few precious millimeters. You can certainly see the classic Noct character in this new lens, at least at f/0.95. Very soft rendering. Not unsharp, but just very subtle and gentle.

1/180 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 160

1/180 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 160

1/250 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 320

1/250 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 320

After chasing Sophia around the store for a few minutes on my knees, I opted for an easier subject. My good customer and friend Amy was around and willing to pose for me. Here, you can see just how much sharper the new formula is wide-open. Sure, the glow is still there, but details are much crisper without hindering the beautifully smooth bokeh.

1/180 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 320

Next, my mother Elaine came down from her office to play with her granddaughter (we are the definition of family business). I pointed the Noct and tried to capture some genuine spontaneity. Moving subjects. No DOF. Pretty much impossible to get consistent focus, but… despite lacking in technical perfection, I like the feel and emotion of the images. There is something just very natural in the depiction of these two and their relationship.

1/250sec @ f/0.95 ISO 320

1/250sec @ f/0.95 ISO 320

1/180sec @ f/0.95 ISO 160

Then, my curiosity took hold and I wondered what results I could get outside. Here are a few shots taken around the parking lot of random plants. It was overcast outside, so I was still able to shoot at f/0.95. Obviously, these aren't prize-winning pictures. They are just to get an idea of lens rendering.

1/500 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 160

1/750 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 160

1/3000 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 160

1/3000 sec @ f/0.95 ISO 160

And lastly, I took two totally non-scientific series at different apertures to get a feel for the lens performance as you stop down. No tripod, just handheld. First series:






Second series:





All in all I was impressed with the new Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 ASPH. It maintains the creamy dreaminess of the old, while improving on contrast, vignetting, sharpness, and color accuracy (no blue fringe). As you stop it down, the Noctilux approaches the look of the Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Best of both worlds? Maybe. For me, I still prefer the 50 Lux ASPH, but there is no mistaking the look of the Noct. While I don’t expect Leica to make or sell huge quantities of this new lens, I do think that those who choose to take the plunge will not be disappointed.


At 12:01 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

Great writeup. Thanks for sharing!

At 1:15 AM, Anonymous Ranger 9 said...

I'm going to commit web.heresy here and say that, at least when looking at these screen-size images, the results don't look all that much superior to those from a well-set-up 1961-vintage Canon 50/0.95.

Mind you, I'm sure they ARE better... and presumably the difference would be more noticeable under tougher conditions such as with light sources in or near the frame. But mega-dollars better? Hmmm...

It's important to realize that any ultra-speed 50 used to photograph nearby three-dimensional objects at maximum aperture will render most of the image out of focus, and all those defocused areas (if they're lit) are going to scatter a lot of non-image-forming light into the in-focus areas.

That's what produces the distinctive quality we call "dreamy" (when it's pretty) or "mushy" (when it's not) and even $10,000 worth of Teutonic optical glass isn't going to dodge the bullet completely. You're still going to get an image with that ultra-speed "look," with all the good and bad that implies.

This should make for some intriguing shootouts when the 50mm f/1.1. Voigtlander appears. Should you spend your ten Gs on f/0.95 and the Leica name, or f/1.1 and, say, a nice used car to drive it around in? Should be interesting...

At 4:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many thanks for you share !
Anyway not agree with your point of vue. I can't see a big improvment with my older noctilux.
1-Can you for us , customers, do a benchmark with the older one ?
2- Can you try some pics in lower light ?

Again many thanks

A Leica customer

At 6:42 AM, Blogger N-MD said...

Unfortunately this Leica at ISO 320 is probably kicked in the butt by the Canon 50 1.2 or Nikon 50 1.4 at ISO 800

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Damaso said...

Thanks for the review!

At 8:49 AM, Anonymous andoodesign said...

I was surprised by the beautiful pics. Thank you for the sharing of new Noctilux 0.95 pics!

At 9:37 AM, Anonymous severin koller said...

testing this lens on a crop sensor digital camera is a waste of time if you ask me.

as somoeone else said. the 50/1.2 canon will be a much more useful lens for digital photography than the nocti.

the nocti is only a winner on film with a m2-7.

this test is rather useless now..

At 10:38 AM, Blogger David said...

Thanks for the comments.

@Ranger 9

I've seen results from and taken a few shots with an old Canon 50mm f/0.95. They are not in the same league as the new Noct. Forget dreamy. The vintage Canon produces utter mush, even stopping down. The Leica, while much more expensive, gives actual detail at the focus point. Stop down just one or two stops and it is just about as good as the Summilux ASPH.


Unfortunately, I didn't have the f/1 Noctilux to do a head-to-head test and I no longer have the f/0.95. I do notice differences, which I did state in the blog post, namely that the new one is sharper, has more contrast, less vignetting, and more accurate colors. And, to my taste, I prefer the smoother bokeh of the new one. The f/1 had a hit-and-miss boekh depending on background. Sometimes it would be creamy-smooth and other times harsh and distracting. Quite simply, they are different lenses from different times with different technology.


Based on my experience, the Noctilux f/0.95 is a lot sharper than at f/1.2 than the Canon 50mm f/1.2L. Plus, for me, a DSLR will never be as discrete or portable as an M8.2. I also find that I prefer the clean film-like texture of the M8.2 at ISO 640 vs. the ultra-smooth high ISO of the Canon. Of course, YMMV.


I personally do not find testing the Noctilux f/0.95 on an M8.2 a waste of time. Considering there are over 30,000 M8/M8.2 users, including me, I find it to be pretty relevant. Until we have a full-frame digital M, crop vs. not is not a relevant topic, at least for me. I haven't shot with film for 4+ years now and don't intend to. I get better quality results (at 20x30) with my M8.2 than I ever did with an M7. If and when an M9 comes around, I'll happily shoot new pictures.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Brad said...

In response to the comment about using an M2-7 instead of an M8, the depth of field is so shallow on the Nocti that I find it helpful to chimp the shots to see if I nailed it. I can't do that with film.

At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing.

I agree with the spirit of @N-MD's and @severin koller's posts.

While this is probably the finest 50mm ever produced, it's more a piece of sculpture than a working lens considering the limitations of the cameras it will fit.

BTW @David, using your logic, an M-8.2 "will never be as discrete or portable as an" iPhone. What kind of BS logic is that? I'd suggest you pick up a Canon 5D2 with a Zeiss prime and put it on live view for a quick shoot. Oh, yeah, crank it up to ISO 1600 or 3200 if you want a little "film-like texture". At that ISO, you'll want some pretty serious ND filters however even shooting 1/8000 of a second at 0.95.

The only hope I see in Leica releasing this lens is that they may have some plans to build a new M mount camera that may perform up to the optics. Of course, it could just be aimed at collectors and fondlers rather than shooters.

In the mean time, I wish someone would hack a 5d2's mirror box and firmware to allow M-lenses to be used. You'd have to rely on the LCD for focus, but it's more than up to the task when sporting after-market LCD viewfinders like the one at zacuto dot com (search z-finder). The bonus is that you could shoot not only 21MP images with the 'lux glass, but you'd also have 1080p movies.

Of course, if the M had a modern chip, you could do the same things with it.

At 3:04 AM, Anonymous clipping path said...

Great post!! Thanks!!!

At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if you could hack a 5D2 or other body to take M-lenses, you'd probably have severe CA, since the angle of rays coming off the back of the lens would be much less than parallel.

Agreed that testing on anything less than full-frame is rather pointless, since the corners are not even part of the equation. Test on film, if you want a valid test.

It's sad Leica has no full-frame M digital body, maybe someday they will. Until then, film rules, obviously.

Looks like a cool lens, has nice bokeh, no doubt. Still, not $6.5k+ better than a canon 50/1.0L or something like that, IMNSHO.

At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Allan said...

As an owner/user of the final version of the f/1 Noctilux, I find the new and improved f/0.95 ASPH Noctilux intriguing.

The images the new Noctilux produces wide open are technically superior to those produced by my f/1 version - no question there. In fact, they look like they are very close to the results of the 50/1.4 ASPH. I love the total lack of vignetting at f/0.95 and the increased sharpness and contrast.

At $10,000US, I won't be seeing a /f.095 ASPH Noctilux in my camera bag - not unless I win the lottery.

If I did not own the f/1 Noctilux, I can't help but think I would choose a 50/1.4 ASPH over the new Noctilux.

Why? Both are ASPH designs and wide open the results look very similar. In addition to that, for the price of the 50/0.95 Noctilux I could purchase the 18/3.8 ASPH and brightline finder, the 50/1.4 ASPH and 75/2 ASPH.

That's a whole lotta Leica glass for the same amount of money...

At 12:09 PM, Blogger niagaragirl said...

Great post - thanks. Must have been quite a kick to try this out. Hope you thanked the customer ;-)

At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NOCT has always been a one trick pony, for special looks on special subjects.

The cron kicks its butt overall for a fraction of the price, especially used. Brutally sharp.

There are not many times when a sliver of DOF in low light is what is called for, and even then, is it worth keeping a $10K chunk of glass...I think not

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Dan said...

I agree the 50-lux' will go along way to satisfy most of us. The Notci-95 is a great night vision device for the few that either have the money or can justify the payments.

At 6:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this Noct f0.95 is for someone for can afford the price - not for normal folks like me.

Hence, for those who is thinking of Noct but keep thinking about price comparison with others - then should get the 50mm Lux ASPH.
I have just done that - getting a 50mm Lux Asph.


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