Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 "King of the Night" and other Noctilux lenses
By: Thorsten Overgaard
It has a magic attraction to it, like a large diamond. And not unlike a real diamond, the glass for it is said to be prepared in underground owens for a number of years (hence the often long wait for a new batch of lenses). Currently the Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 is in stock.
It's perhaps the most unique lens available in the world in that it photographs images almost in the dark, adds a distinguished look to any image captured through it, and at a price of $10,995 it allows only the most dedicated photographers to own one.
"The Future of Jakarta". Sunday is car-free day on some of the busy mainroads in Jakarta. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard.
Lost Angels at Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 (1981-edition).
The Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 was introduced by Leica Camera AG in 2008, perhaps as an early sign of a new golden age of uncompromizing lens design from the company: Soon after came the Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1,4 and the Leica 24 mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4, followed the year after by the "impossible" full frame Leica M9 digital rangefinder that was presented as a surprise on September 9, 2009 at 9:00 AM.
Diner 101 at Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Leica M9 with 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 (1981-edition).
In short, it all marks a strategy of focusing on Leica core qualities such as low-light photography incorporating image quality of the highest caliber, no-nonsense simplicty, compactness and almost complete silence.
That the most light strong, most impossible to design and most expensive Leica lenses (besides the above three mentioned we can count in as well the Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1-4 and the Leica 75mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0) are also the most sought after, will tell you that it's the right strategy for a company as Leica Camera AG.
The view from my hotel window the first morning in Seoul. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
The company own more expertise in the photographic field than anyone can imagine. As an example the company has more than a thousand patented recipies of how to make special glass types (the thin single glass filter in front of the sensor of the Leica M9 is one example of such a recipe of a glass type that does what other camera producers must use three individual glasses for).
Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 @ f/0.95. Photography by: Joseph V Hughes, Jr.
Noctilux means "light of the night" [from Latin nocturnus 'of the night' and 'lux' light]
||The Leica Noctilux-M f/1.2. Only 1,700 was made, price these days are about 25,000$
The first "extremely low light lens" from Leica came in 1966 where Helmut Marx designed the Leitz 50mm Noctilux-M f/1,2 (part no 11 820) which after about 1,700 had been produced was replaced by another.
The aspherical surfaces of the f/1.2 (front glass and rear glass) was made on a grinding machine that had to be operated manually and of which there existed only one. But also the fact that Leica didn't find the f/1.2 to solve all the problems of ultra-high-speed lenses made Dr. Walter Mandlerdesign the Leica Noctilux-M f/1.0 (part no 11 821) which was introduced in 1976 and continued all the way to 2008 when Leica lens designer Peter Karbe introduced the Leica Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 (Peter Karbe is also the mastermind behind the 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (which is actually an APO lens on top of it all) and the Leica 75mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0 lens. Both legendary lenses already).
Caroline photographed by Joseph V Hughes, JR. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 @ f/1.4, 160 ISO.
The 1975-2008 Noctilux f/1.0 era is divided into four designs of the exterior of the lens though the lens design itself remains the same (though a rumor has it that the first lenses were of a different type of glass): The first three models were with an external lens shade. The first one with a bayonett lock-on mechanism characterized by the two chrome metal pins, then later replaced with a clip-on type with push buttons and a grove on the lens barrel (or one can also use a screw-on lens shade via the front filter screw thread).
The White Horse in Doha, Qatar, January 2013. Photographed in the last minutes of the sunset light, Leica M Monochrom with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Adjusted in Lightroom 3. 320 ISO, 1/4.000, f/0.95. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard.
The front screw thread was 58mm (E58) till serial 2919656 (circa 1982) and then extended to 60mm (E60) onward, perhaps because the wider diameter was less prone to vingnetting when filters were attached. From 1993 the Noctilux-M f/1.0 was fitted with a built-in lens shade.
Leica has always adviced against using filters on the Noctilux if one wants the optimum image quality.
|Serial 2919657 to 3220708
||Serial 3220708 to 36xxxxx
|Clip-on shade 12503 and E58/S8 filters
||Bajonet shade 12519 and E58 filters
||Bajonet shade 12539 and E60 filters
||Clip-on shade 12544 and E60 filters
and E60 filters
E60 filter holder
|1 m - infinity
||1 m - infinity
||1 m - infinity
||1 m - infinity
||1 m - infinity
||1 m - infinity
|6 lenses in 4 groups
||7 lenses in 6 groups
||7 lenses in 6 groups
||7 lenses in 6 groups
||7 lenses in 6 groups
||8 lenses in 5 groups including two lenses in floating element
|14102 front cap
12503 Lens hood
w built-in ND
|14205 front cap
||14290 front cap
||14290 front cap
||14290 front cap
||14290 front cap
The Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 Version 2 (1978-1982), basically an updated version of the f/1.0 with E60 filter instead of E58 so as to avoid dark corners when using filter. All Noctilux lenses have been with E60 filters since then.
"A Moment in Paris" Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2013 Thorsten von Overgaard, Paris, September 2013.
Use a ND-filter (Neutral Density)
To utilize the Noctilux at f/1.0 or f/0.95 you will need a ND-filter to shoot in sunshine. A ND-filter is a Neutral Density filter, simply a grey glass or "neutral sunglasses" for the lens. I use B+W Filters and would recommend their 3-stop SLIM ND filter.
When buying the Noctilux on eBay, notice that it's become a bad habit listing the Noctilux 11821 as an 11822, and as ASPH. And then not telling if it is an E58 or E60 lens.
If you get the serial number it's easily determined what model it is (based on the above overview), and it's easy to figure out on a photo that a 11821 is not a 11822 because the 11822 has a built-in lens-shade. In any case, it's not something that build trust in the seller before handing over 6,000 - 8,000$ which is the going price for a normal looking used Noctilux f/1.0.
The Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 comes in this little box so that those nights you don't have it under the pillow, it can stay in it's box.
"Jaywalking in the People's Republic" give and idea how a wide open lightstrong Leica lens treats highlight and shadow. With Leica M 240 and Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 and B+W Neutral Density filter. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard.
How 0.05 separates the world: Getting the f/1.0 or f/0.95 -
The big Noctilux question of course is, "should I get the f/1.0 or the f/0.95". A very relevant question we all should ask ourselves, and one I asked myself.
I always wanted both the f/1 and f/0.95 Noctilux but I knew the f/0.95 was better. "But the f/1 is historic", I thought, and I was looking if it had a special look for me, like the 50mm Summicron f/2.0 from 1964 I have used a lot (Version II it is called).
Bosco Wong. Hong Kong, November 2013. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard.
Fortunately I got the f/1.0 first from a friend who had one that was like new and didn't fancy to use. So I shot with that for almost a year, then Camera Electronics in Australia had me do a workshop there and asked teasingly if I wanted to sell it ... they had three of the new f/0.95 in stock. That is what happened, and I have been using the f/0.95 ever since. And don't miss the f/1.0.
My conclusion is that the f/1.0 doesn't posess a special look that distinguishs it from the f/0.95 or makes it special. They have the same look, just the f/0.95 has a better look in my opinion.
Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard. Jakarta, Indonesia.
What I think might have happened if I had started with the f/0.95, I would have wanted to use the f/1.0 as well and would have ended up with both of them. So in many ways it was the right sequence, the way it happened. I got to be part of the history before I arrived to the present time lens technology. I'm nostalgic, but I'm also practical.
My experience with them both is that the f/1.0 is special, but the 0.95 has the same special look, just better sharpness in details, less dark corners, better control with light and bokeh.
So all in all there is no special look of the old Noctilux f/1.0 that the new f/0.95 doesn't have.
The Wedding Photo. @ 2014 Thorsten Overgaard, Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.
That's my story. If one feels attached to the f/1.0 - feels that there is something to be gotten and learned from that one, a history to be part of - I would get it to get over that. And I would get the 60mm filter diameter model, not the 58mm and not the latest version 60mm with plastic hood. The older 1980's model with bayonet hood and 60mm filters is the one I wanted, and the one I had.
The older 60mm filter diameter Noctilux has a great balance and feels just right on the camera. I see many who over-protect their f/0.95 Noctilux, and I understand why. It has a different weight distributon and you fear that it might get damaged easily.
The streets of Seoul. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
However, I decided to treat it like any other lens. Meaning it bumps into things, scratches walls and lays on the floor if it has to. These are handmade lenses, so they can be repaired for scratches, bent lens shades and all. Any piece of a Noctilux can be replaced or repaired. I had my lens shade bend and Leica Customer Service put it back to shape in 5 minutes. Later I had them take it apart, clean it and make sure it was 100% adjusted. They changed the bayonet as well, all in all for 254 Euro. They might be expensive lenses to buy, but they maintain their value and the spare parts are not expensive.
Doing portrait work at the Overgaard Workshop in London, January 2014. Here the subject is workshop participant Richard Harris who also happens to have a very intersting blog. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.
If on the other hand one does only consider the f/1 to save money, or one think the f/0.95 is hard to get, then I would simply get the 0.95 straight away. Rumor is that Leica does not make money on them, and if true, that means they will change or go up in price. And historically, the f/1.0 cost the same or more now second-hand as it cost from new when they still made them. So as for price of the lens ... it's just a consideration. In real life, if it was 5K, 11K or 22K it is just a matter of decision to get it.
Berlin, May 2013. Photo by Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
Being part of Leica history
For me I feel it is important to be part of the Leica history. I want to be in the place of a photographer using a Leica M3 with a (now) classic lens. I mean, I want that too. I don't just want to skip all that history. And that is what I mean when I say plot your own Leica lens family tree. You may likely want to benefit from the latest and best (as in preceise) lens design, but you have to plot your route to get there so you don't miss out on the old lenses. If you feel like me, that you want that experience.
"The Art Dealer", Seoul December 2013. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
I shot almost exclusively with the Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 with the Leica M9 for two years after the M9 came out. I was afraid to look Peter Karbe in the eyes when I saw him at the factory. I felt guilty shooting with an old Mandler-designed lens when Peter Karbe had made so outstanding new lenses. For my part I happened to have the 50mm in a Leica M4, and despite the less perfect colors rendered through old glass, I made it my look and found some qualities in shooting against the light with this lens that replaced my previous preferred kit, the Leica 80mm Summilux-R f/1.4 that I had used on the Leica R9 with both Fuji Astria slidefilm and the DMR digital back.
Autumn in Denmark, November 1, 2013. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.
Shoot it till it dies
I am happy to say that I have shot the Leicaflex film cameras, the Leica R9, the Leica 80mm Summilux-R f/1.4, the Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R ASPH f/2.8 and probably some other lenses, to a point where I am done with them. I've used them, but I have also realized that newer lenses and new kits as the Leica M9 and Leica M works for me.
"Light of New York". Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard
For me it is important, if I have that itching feeling in the fingers and my heart beats faster, to get that camera or that lens. To be part of the hype, the history, the silliness, the next big thing or whatever it might turn out to be, while is is still alive. To have been part of it, to have tried it. It's like having been in New York in the 80's (which I regrettably wasn't) when the art scene was glowing. I wasn't, but I was alive during the Punk Rock scene in Europe. I didn't enjoy it, but it is great to have been there.
If you understand what I mean. All creation is a process, which means that you are wiser and better equipped after you have done something. So it is important to do things and try things, as a mean to get on with the next step.
Tuesday 1 October 2013, fresh off the airpain from Paris: Copenhagen Morning 8AM Bicycle Warriors. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
Paris Cafe, Hamburg, Germany, January. Leica M Monochrom with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard.
What is the Noctilux signature?
Maybe the reason Noctilux is so special is that it is balancing on what is physical possible. A so wide opening of the lens that the light must be absolutely out of control, yet controlled with magical skills and super glass so that what is essential is actually under full control.
British composer and producer Barrie Gledden. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M Monochrom with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
Joy Villa in Paris. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
Why the f/0.95 is breaking the sound wall of lens design
The f/0.95 is an engineer concept rather than a photographic or light-technical term. To explain the principle simple; a 50mm lens means that the distance from the film/sensor plane to the center of focus in the lens is 50mm. Likewise, there is 400mm from the film/sensor plane of a 400mm lens to the center of that lens' focus axis. To most of us, 50mm is an angle of view, but to an engieneer that is what the 50mm refers to.
Midnight in Taiwan. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
And in the same 'complicated' manner, the f/ refers to the diameter of the "hole through" the lens, compared to that lens length. So a 50mm f/2.0 has a 25mm diameter "hole through" whereas the f/1.0 has a 50mm 'hole through' ... and a f/0.95 has a 52.6mm 'hole through.'
The same goes for each of the following f/ stops. So f/2.8 is 50mm divided with 2.8, f/8 is 50mm divided with 8 and so on. Each step is a halving of the amount of light passing through the lens (which is the only real measurement of value for a photographer; the amount of light rather than the diameter).
Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
Horse by moonlight in Qatar, January 27, 2013. © Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M Monochrom with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. 6400 ISO.
Exotic lens design and low light shooting
Photography is an interesting art form in that it allows us to create great images and aesthetics with much fewer technical skills than the classic painters spent years to learn. And we can do them in seconds where a painter must use days, weeks or months.
A large part of the technique of how to 'describe' light rays and the micro details in an image and manage light to create an overall pleasing and aestetic - and often truthful - dublicate of reality lies in the hands of the lens designers such as Peter Karbe. As Erwin Puts write about the 1993-2008 version of Noctilux-M f/1.0 in his Leica M Lenses book: "One could say that the 50mm Summicron f/1.4 draws with a very sharply pointed pen and the Noctilux with a slanted pen to produce broader and smoother strokes. A special characteristic of the Noctilux is its shape preservation in out-of-focus- areas, bringing a remarkable depth of vision. Its penetrating power in ‘unavailable’ light produces stunning images that show finely graded details in lowly lit areas of the scene. "
London photographer and a known face from his work at Leica Store Mayfair, Arteh Odjidja posed for me in the rain at the Coffee & Leica Freaks Meetup. Always stylish in person as well as in his work which can be enjoyed at the website http://arteh.co.uk. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.
For some photogtraphers the exotic and very unique characteristics of the Noctilux look is the reason to acquire this lens. Others see it as a means to low light photography. Truth is that it's both a low light lens and an unique fingerprint.
Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95, closest focus of 1 meter @ f/0.95
Steve Huff has performed some interesting reviews and comparisons between the different Noctilux lenses from Leica and the other available low light lenses from Noktor and Voigtlander:
Steve Huff: The Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/0.95 Lens Review
Steve Huff: The Noktor 50mm f/0.95 Lens review Diary
Steve Huff: Leica Noctilux-M Classic f/1 vs Voigtlander Nokton 1.1
Steve Huff: The Voigtlander Nokton 50 1.1 Lens Review
Erwin Puts has written some interesting reviews and articles on the Noctilux lenses:
Erwin Puts: Noctilux-M 1:1/50mm (1966-1975 version)
Erwin Puts: Leica 50mm Noctilux f/1.2 The Untold Story (1966-1975 version)
Erwin Puts: Noctilux-M 1:1/50mm (1993-2008 version)
Erwin Puts: Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f0.95 ASPH (present version)
LFI issue 2/2010, February 2010 deals with the Noctilux story as well in a four page article. You can get hold of LFI backissues at www.LFI-Online.de
If one feels like it there is a Flickr group displaying images taken witht the various Noctilux types.
List price of the Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 is 10,995$ at B&H Photo Video.
Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 at closest distance of 1 meter @ f/0.95
Noctilux exotic prototypes
As a side note, a 75mm "Noctilux" f/0.85 prototype was produced in the late sixties (for Leica M3), as was a few prototypes of a 52mm "Noctilux-R" f/1.2 for the Leica SLR cameras. But the Summar 75mm f/0.85 was actually already made in 1933 to be used for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games; but for video projection of the games to a nearby press room. The lens was repordly so soft wide open (and large: 90mm in diameter) that it was useless for ordinary photography.
In the same breath I should mention that Leica as a special farewell guesture to the 1975-2008 Noctilux era made the last 100 Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 lenses a special edition batch in a special box, selling for the price of 10,000$ each, most of them snapped up by collectors.
Lunch in Bangkok. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
The Noctilux design dates back to the Leitz 50mm Xenon f/1.5 screw mount lenses that was produced from 1936-1950 (Schneider) and the Leitz 50mm Summarit f/1.5 lens from 1949-1960. For real lens geeks, the first 1966-Noctilux was a classical double-Gauss six element design, except that the first and the last lens surface was aspherical. When Mandler designed the 1976-replacement, he reverted to the Xenon design in the rear of the lens. (The old Taylor & Hobson design that became the 1935 Xenon f/1.5 became the first in a long consecutive line.
The bird man. Leica M Monochrom with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 with B+W 3-stop ND filter. 320 ISO, 1/2000 second. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard
The characteristic feature was that the last element of the classical Gauss design had been replaced with two thin bi-convex lenses (this design was much used by Japanese manufacturers of superfast stasndard lenses after the war). The Xenon, with coating, became the Summarit f/1.5, replaced in 1960 by the first Summilux, which actually was engraved "f/1.5" in the very first specimens. This design was clobbered by the Japanese, and in the winter of 1960-61 it was surreptitiously replaced with the differently designed, but still seven element, Summilux that was current until 2002 - probably the Leica record).
One of 40 pieces of the 50mm Leica Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 Limited Edition Silver. It may be hard to get hold of, though the bag can be ordered online at Leica Shop Vienna.
Noctilux Special Editions
Leica Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 Silver Chrome Limited Edition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Leica Shop Vienna. 20 piece Limited Edition, comes with a matching Leica M9-P silver, another 20 piece Limited Edition comes with a Leica M3-P analog film camera. Released on June 16, 2011.
Leica M9 and 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 (1993-2008 edition), 400 ISO, 1/125 second.