Worth Its Weight in Gold: The Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95
My first encounter with the legendary Leica Noctilux was about ten years ago, when one of my good friends returned from a holiday in Switzerland with his new Leica M6 and an assortment of Leica lenses—all given to him by his grandfather! Yes, GIVEN! And among those lenses was the Leitz Noctilux f1. I remember seeing those first images Michael shot on his new M6, wide open, with the Noctilux, and I remember thinking, "My goodness, I couldn't care less if there's no actual point of focus in the image!" The way that Noctilux rendered was just breathtaking.
After many years, I convinced my friend to sell me his Noctilux f/1. When Leica released the new Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95, I was immediately fascinated. I love shooting wide open, and obviously this would be the ultimate tool in that regard. I decided I had to assess the two, side by side, so I rented it for 10 days.
I could talk for hours about my experience with this lens, but let me just summarize all of that by saying, the Noctilux-M f/0.95 is a truly astounding piece of glass! And in my opinion, worth every penny. And yes, it does cost quite a few of those. What Leica has managed to achieve optically with this lens (and I'm no tech genius so I can't talk MTF curves etc. with you all here) is truly astounding. The performance at f/0.95 is just incredible. Yes, the DOF is razor thin, but my goodness, it is sharp as a tack. I also found focusing this beast of a lens wide open not to be difficult at all! No different than shooting a Summilux at f/1.4 and beyond. I simply did not miss any more shots because of the extreme DOF. I will add, though, that with the older Noctilux f/1, this can be trickier. But with the new and improved f/0.95 version, this is not a problem at all. And let me just say that the Noctilux is "new and improved" in every possible way. It really is just pure perfection.
Other than its size, I just can't find anything wrong with it. Well, maybe its only weakness for me is that it is almost too perfect! I often love shooting into light and getting some lovely flare going, but this lens is so good that I had a hard time getting flare, even when shooting directly into light, unlike the much more imperfect Noctilux f/1, which produces some absolutely gorgeous flare.
Most of the images presented here were shot at a recent Hindu wedding in Houston. I shot the entire wedding with only the Noctilux f/0.95, and I shot it almost exclusively at f/0.95. As for me, this is the main reason for purchasing a Noctilux—to shoot it wide open and see that 'magic swirl' bokeh that the Noctilux produces wide open. But don't get me wrong, this Noctilux performs incredibly well when stopped down too, as the two images below will testify. In fact, I think it performs as good as a Summilux (f/1.4).
These images were shot at f/1.9 and f/4 respectively.
To summarize, I think, without question, that the Leica Noctilux-M f/0.95 is the best lens I have ever had the privilege of shooting with. And I say that with total disregard of the cost. I think it is worth every last bit of the 10K it costs. It is just simply marvelous. But with all of that said, I will be keeping the older Noctilux f/1. It is not nearly as perfect as the new f/0.95 version, but it's the imperfections of the Noctilux f/1 that draws me to it. This lens has some serious character, and its bokeh is my all time favorite of any lens. Much more from both lenses can be seen on my blog at www.ottoschulzephotographers.com/blog
Otto Schulze is a NYC Fine Art Wedding and Street Photographer. See more of his work on his website www.ottoschulzephotographers.com.