A walk with (and “testing” out) the Leica 50mm Noctilux f/1.0 (E60).

As I previously posted, I recently acquired a Leica Noctilux f/1.0 and added it to the stable of lenses I normally use.

Now, I am not a lens tester by any stretch of the imagination – I don’t photograph test charts, or brick walls; I don’t place my camera on a lab bench with a tripod taking repeated measurements.

But, like all disciplined photographers, I do carefully observe how each of my lenses behave under different shooting circumstances.  I pay particular attention to each lens’ strengths and weaknesses in environments in which I regularly find myself, and – finally – look for the general character of the image output.  That’s what I’m most interested in.

By doing this, I have conceptually set aside certain lenses for daylight use, for low-light, for action, for situations where cold-hard details are required, for situations where soft and dreamy portraits are my priority, for scenes in which “interesting” bokeh is desired, for scenes where neutral and smooth bokeh is preferred, etc.  Each lens has a particular flavour that potentially lends itself to a given situation.

So, that being said, I took out my new-used Noctilux f/1.0 for a walk – to start acquainting myself with it.

Normally on this site, I only post photos that have some emotional significance to me.  However, I thought some of the the sample images from my “test” walk would be of general interest.

Please note that all of these images were shot at f/1.0 – the aperture in which I’m most interested.  A neutral density filter was used to overcome the brightness of shooting at f/1 in daylight.

The first thing I was looking for was general sharpness.  Lens sharpness isn’t everything, but it is important.  It’s the one thing you can’t add to a photo during post-processing, if the photo is blurry to begin with (whereas you can always take a sharp photo and make it blurry).

When I write sharpness, I’m referring to central image sharpness and not sharpness across the field.  As a (mainly) portrait shooter, I really don’t care if the corners of an image are blurry – in fact that’s a positive thing for me.  Landscape shooters, of course, would care.

The first image is of a Monarch butterfly I encountered:

(please click on any of the images below)

↑Leica M9 and Leica f/1.0 Noctilux @ f/1.0.

The sharpness seems pretty good (the focus was on the butterfly, of course).  The bokeh looks pretty good too – smooth but not too smooth for my taste.

Let’s look at the 100% crop.  The sharpness holds up but we also see something commonly encountered with fast lenses shot at their widest apertures:  purple fringing.

↑Leica M9 and Leica f/1.0 Noctilux @ f/1.0 (100% crop).

Purple fringing tends to occur in high contrast transition points, typically on the edge of dark structures  – in this case the edge of the butterfly wing – against bright backgrounds.  In actuality, purple fringing is an example of longitudinal chromatic aberration (forget the technical stuff, just know when you’re likely to see it, as I’ve illustrated above).

Let’s look at another image.

I next encountered this scene of a man sitting on a park bench and focused on him:

(please click on any of the images below)

↑Leica M9 and Leica f/1.0 Noctilux @ f/1.0.

And here is the 100% crop:

↑Leica M9 and Leica f/1.0 Noctilux @ f/1.0 (100% crop).

Once again, pretty darn good considering this was shot at f/1.0 in harsh daylight!  It’s not as sharp as the (newer) Noctilux f/0.95 ASPH is at f/1.0, but the “old” Noctilux’s ability to capture details is mighty impressive.  I would go further to say that I appreciate the character of this lens at f/1.0 more than of the newest ASPH Noctilux.   It’s hard to explain, but this old Noctilux seems to create images where the in-focus elements are simultaneously sharp and soft… Again, perfect for portraits.

OK, enough of sharpness and image crops.

The other thing I noticed while shooting was that at f/1.0 this Noctilux vignettes.  Here is an image where the vignette has been exaggerated by adding contrast to the image as a whole (i.e., I did not add a vignette, but by adding contrast to the entire image, the vignetting that was naturally produced by the lens was exaggerated):

(please click on the image below)

↑Leica M9 and Leica f/1.0 Noctilux @ f/1.0.

Why am I evaluating vignetting in an image that I’ve already post-processed?  Well, as I wrote above, I’m not scientifically evaluating but I’m examining this lens under the conditions in which I work.  In the native file, I already see the vignetting but, by adding contrast to it, the vignetting is emphasized.

Again, vignetting may be a negative thing, depending on your style of photography, but I appreciate it in the case of portraiture, where the darkened borders help to “bring out” the central subject.

Speaking of “bringing out” the subject, I’ll include two more images taken during my walk that I believe highlight the subject isolation abilities of this lens, when shot at f/1.0:

(please click on any of the images below)

↑Leica M9 and Leica f/1.0 Noctilux @ f/1.0.

↑Leica M9 and Leica f/1.0 Noctilux @ f/1.0.

What do I mean by subject isolation?  In each of the above images, the in-focus elements seem to “pop-out” of the image; some refer to this as the “3D” effect.  Whatever you call it, this look is secondary to the shallow depth of field conferred by shooting at f/1.0.  At f/1.0, there is only a razor-thin plane where things are going to be in-focus; the rest of the scene will out-of-focus.  This is one of the qualities people covet when they seek out a lens like the Noctilux and why they shoot at f/1.0 – even in daylight.

I could write more (about bokeh, flare resistance, etc.) but this discussion is already proving to be lengthy so ‘ll end it here for now.

OK, I lied… here is one more 100% crop, of the Balloon Walk image above:

(please click on the image below)

↑Leica M9 and Leica f/1.0 Noctilux @ f/1.0 (100% crop).

You can actually read the Happy Birthday text on the balloons; as I wrote above, the in-focus elements in the image are simultaneously sharp and soft – I really appreciate this.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

If you wish to view more of my images taken with this lens, as I keep shooting with it, please click on the link here.

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—Peter.

6 thoughts on “A walk with (and “testing” out) the Leica 50mm Noctilux f/1.0 (E60).

  1. hughf says:

    Dear Peter,

    firstly, congrat for your new purchasse, with this “crazy 50″…
    You did a very good presentation of this lens, and show perfectly his character ! Thanks !
    Now, i am sorry to disturb you with this question, but imagine that You can or want keep only
    one of theses ( 60 EX, 75 Summilux, and now this New old 50 Noct ), i know that they don’t have
    same perspective and minimum distance focus point, but only ONE ?
    BTW, another great choice i guess, and in Your Master Hands…

    Hope all is good for all the Familly.

    Hugues.

    • Prosophos says:

      Hello Dear Hugues! I believe the answer to your question is “it depends”. It depends on what lens(es) one already owns.

      If I had a 35mm (or 28mm) lens, then I would choose the Hexanon 60/1.2 to complement it. I could also choose the 75/1.4 in this situation, but the Hexanon 60/1.2 behaves in a very similar way and, as an advantage, is physically smaller.

      If I had a 50 ‘cron or ‘lux, then the 75/1.4 would be the obvious choice.

      If I didn’t have any lens between 35 and 75, then I’d choose the 50/1.0.

      As I mention above, the 75/1.4 and 60/1.2 behave in similar ways, but the 75/1.4 is more useful as a portrait lens and has a (slight) advantage in image quality, but the 60/1.2 is more versatile (being close to the 50mm focal length) and is physically smaller – which is important to me.

      One of these days, I may choose to part with one of these, but each has its own charming nuance that I very much appreciate.

      I hope that helps.

  2. cam says:

    I had to laugh when you mentioned the vignetting. After using my Nocti (E58) on the Epson and then the M8, I remember being blown away (and thrilled) by the natural vignetting wide open when I finally got to use it full frame.

    I started looking at your blog because of your use of the 60 Hex. I got to play with Yanidel’s when I still had the R-D1 and M8, but wasn’t much tempted as I had the Noctilux and the 75 Summilux… Now that I’ve been shooting full frame, I realise that 50mm may be closer to my eye than 35mm (at least where I am ow) and am looking for a walkabout lens, one that can take me from day to night if need be…

    The Hex is smaller and focuses closer (important to me) and you are really really tempting me with your images — beautiful, all, and so full of emotions! Do you find it small enough to use all day or is it still too big? I tried my friend’s 50 Lux Asph but it was actually too sharp and clinical for my taste, even as the size was perfect… I prefer something more classical, more dreamy.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and images.

    cam

    • Prosophos says:

      The Hex, as you may recall is smaller than the Noct f/1.0 but larger than the 50/1.4 ASPH so whether it is small enough to be an “all day” lens is really dependent an your criteria Cam. Personally, I find lenses like the Voigtlander 40/1.4, Leica 28mm Elmarit ASPH, and 35mm Summarit to be perfect “all day” lenses because that’s the size I’m willing to carry all day. The Hex is larger than all of these, but is probably the smallest you’ll find that can shoot at f/1.2 :)

      I agree, by the way, about the 50 ‘lux asph being too clinical….

      • cam says:

        Lightweight!

        Thank you for your response, though ;) I pretty much need fast lenses here. It’s often dreary and a lot of the bars or cafes don’t seem to get much light. Whilst I’ll always choose the Noctilux when I go out at night, I try to carry at least an f/1.4 lens unless I know I’m guaranteed sun… Your Voightlander, is it the single-coated one?

        • cam says:

          Just saw you have the multi-coated version (my bad for not looking first).

          Anyways, I look forward to more and more of your Noctilux images. It is honestly tied (I go back and forth) in my heart with the 75/1.4 as the last lens I would part with. It definitely deserves more love!

          I also find it much more pleasing then the f/0.95 Noctilux — which, in my mind, is just a faster version of the 50 Lux — both wickedly sharp but no soul.

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