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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.