THE CHASE IS OVER, NOW WHAT?
Updated July 8, 2017
|Leica Product Number||11602 (Black) / 11447 (Silver)|
|Production History||Announced Sept. 15, 2008|
|Lens Composition||8 Elements / 5 Groups; 2 Aspherical Elements|
|Minimum Focus||1 Meter|
|Aperture||10 Blades, Non-Circular|
|F-Stop Scale||F.95 to F16 in 1/2 Stop Increments|
|Lens Cap||Leica 14290 (Replacement)|
|Lens Hood||Built-in, Pull and Twist to Lock|
|MTF Charts||Leica PDF|
BUILD QUALITY AND HANDLING
The Leica 50mm F.95 Noctilux-M ASPH's build quality is standard Leica - metal upon metal, tight tolerances and clean finishes. Focus is smooth, though it can feel somewhat stiff compared to other, smaller Leica M lenses. The aperture ring is easy to find, and clicks easily across the detents. The built-in lens hood slides out and rotates to lock into place. There are no rattles, no wobbles and everything feels tight. All in all, the build quality is everything we expect from Leica. That said, Leica has understated some of the specifications. The stated length specification in their PDF is 75.1mm. My findings are different -
Leica 50mm F.95 Noctilux ASPH is 79mm Long when Mounted
The Noctilux ASPH feels quite nose have on the Leica M-P Typ 240. To help counteract the weight and improve grip, Match Technical's Thumbs-Up is a must-have in my opinion. Frankly, a lens of the Noctilux ASPH's size is better suited on a Leica SL Typ 601 or Sony A7rII. Leica took some liberties in the product spec sheet, citing a weight of 700 grams. but...
Leica 50mm F.95 Noctilux ASPH Weighs Just Under 796 Grams...!...
Looks like Leica needs to recalibrate their scales. If you are thinking of buying a Noctilux ASPH for the Leica SL Typ 601 instead of a Leica 50mm Summilux-SL, the Noctilux does weigh less, but not by much -
Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-SL ASPH vs. Leica 50mm F.95 Noctilux ASPH
That said, if comparing the Leica SL with the Leica 50mm Summilux-SL ASPH versus the Leica M Monochrome Typ 246 with the Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH, then there is a substantial weight and volume differential -
Leica SL with 50mm 'Lux SL vs. Leica M Monochrom Typ 246 with Noc ASPH
The Noctilux’s weight leads to camera shake, so I try to keep shutter speeds faster than 1/50th. With the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE I can shoot at lower shutter speeds and the camera is easier to hold since the 35mm FLE weighs 1/3 of the Noctilux, so the 35mm FLE is still my go-to lens for low light shooting. Though, in terms of wide open bokeh, the Noctilux trounces the 35mm FLE.
The Noctilux ASPH incorporates two aspherical elements with a floating lens element (FLE) design. A FLE lens group improves near-field sharpness and generally reduces focus shift, so for the most part whenever a lens uses a FLE design, it is a good thing.
Leica 50mm F.95 Noctilux-M ASPH Optical Formula
I should write more in this section, but if buying a F.95 lens, the whole purpose of the lens is F.95, so some quick observations about the 50mm F.95 Noctilux-M ASPH’s performance at its wider apertures:
- Sharpness: I have owned the Voigtlander 50mm F1.1 Nokton and Leica 50mm F1 Noctilux-M (E60) and found their wide open sharpness to be unimpressive. The Noctilux ASPH easily wins - and is a faster lens. At F.95 the Noctilux is not as sharp as the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH at F1.4, but still quite good.
- Color and Contrast: The Noctilux ASPH images seem to have slightly more punch or pop in their color and contrast compared to the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH. The Noctilux’s color rendition is similar to the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE.
The Noctilux is an aspherical lens, so if the background is complex, the bokeh can have a “nervous” look. The picture below is a good example - sharpness is great and nothing is “wrong” with the picture, but the aperture blades are not circular, there is a degree of cats-eye and then the onion bokeh (Toothwalker’s site has an excellent write-up on bokeh descriptors) -
Leica 50mm F.95 Noctilux ASPH Bokeh Example at F1.4
Generally, I feel the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH yields smoother bokeh, but bokeh is dependent on background content and distance. Since I had the Leica 50mm Summilux-SL ASPH on hand, I compared its bokeh with the Noctilux -
All images taken at the same distance with a Leica SL Typ 601 on a tripod
The Leica 50mm Summilux-SL shows smoother bokeh along the edges and corners, and its image is more contrasty. In the central area the Noctilux ASPH shows more blur / abstraction, especially in the F.95 image. The takeaway here is to be careful with Noctilux ASPH when the scene has busy patterns at or near the edges.
As numb as I am to prices, the Noctilux ASPH was a tough pill. I bought the lens convinced it would be put to good use. Six months later, I am not so sure. I marvel at the lens’ technical achievements, but it has turned out to be a trailer queen. It goes out for a Sunday drive from time to time, but I have yet to come home with a picture that could have only been done with the Noctilux.
This review was initially published in January 2014. Since then the camera landscape has changed considerably with the Sony A7rII and Leica SL Typ 601. These cameras are well suited for focusing at a F.95 aperture, so I feel a Leica SL / Sony A7rII owner is likely to get more bang-for-the-buck out of the Noctilux ASPH than a Leica M owner. For the Leica M's, I feel the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is a better value and more befitting of a rangefinder-sized camera.