Superb, within the right context
Rated 5 out of 5
As a 50-fanatic and being fortunate in having a good year last year, I was immediately interested and placed an order for the lens when it was announced. After waiting 9 months of not receiving the lens, it was available through a rental house, so I hired it for a long weekend. This lens was intended to be a throwback, so my expectations were tempered from the start. I own decent to mint copies of Canon's legacy glass, their FL 1.2/55, FD 1.2/55SSC, FDn 1.2/50L as well as Leica's 0.95 Noctilux - so my comparisons will be made between these lenses. Upon first impressions, the Noct12's form-factor, size, build quality (except for the hood, which I ultimately never used) was by-far, my favorite of any of the aforementioned lenses, just solid, dense, well-constructed. The Noct1.2 was most similar in size to the aging FL1.2/55mm. While most will not like the 180+ degree focus-throw of this new lens, I liked it as it was most similar to what I was accustomed to with Canon's legacy glass. However, Canon's glass focuses much closer with the FDn even going to 0.45m, so the new Noct's 1.0m was a bit of a bummer. With regard to sharpness at full aperture, my experience was that this lens is similar to Canon's FL and FD 55's and this provides a bit of a glow and ghosting due to its lowered contrast. It was less sharp than the FDn and Noct095. Stopped down, the new Noct12 became reasonably sharp and constrasty across the frame, similar to the legacy Canon glass but never caught up to the Noct095, which is actually noticeably sharper when stopped down to f/5.6 - f/8.0. I never expected that the new Noctilux was going to be a blisteringly-sharp performer from the start, so this was not a letdown. Colors were good and saturated, while fringing was there, not as bad the Noct095, particularly at full stop. There was strong vignetting at full aperture that never quite cleared as the aperture was closed down - I usually add a bit to my work so this did not trouble me too much. With regard to bokeh, it was by far the smoothest compared to the Canon's lenses - the new Leica's bokeh balls didn't have a strong outline, like two of those other lenses. Those 16-aperture blades keep the bokeh smooth, so much better than the ninja stars of others. In most instances, the Noct095, with its extra stop, provided more blur - one quick note and my one of two beefs of the Noct095 in that it has very strong concentric (onion) rings on its grounded lens elements, the reissue of the Noct12 had much more uniform grinding patterns and that was welcome to see. So overall, my experience was good with this new Noct12, it just fit in the hand right and was a joy to use. But it would be hard to justify spending this much if one was searching for vintage character when there are so many options out there. Most of these old Canon lenses as well as an old Minolta 1.2/58mm Rokkor, might get you similar results and do so for a couple hundred bucks. I believe Leica was trying to cash in on the popularity of the original as well as some of the unicorns in legacy glass from Canon (FD 1.4/24, 1.2/55, & 1.2/85, 1.8/200mm Aspherical lenses) and Nikon (1.2/58mm Noct-Nikkor) are nearing or even exceeding the price range of this new Noctilux. For some, having a newly-constructed lens, free of wear and tear, this new lens might be the ticket as sometimes, you need to go through a few old lenses before finding an acceptable copy. For those few with an interest in a vintage look with deep pockets (or careful savers), this lens will not disappoint. I give Leica a lot of credit for taking a chance and issuing such a character lens when nearly all other offerings today focus on sharpness and sterility. That was a ton of writing, hopefully helpful, thanks for making it to the end.