It’always exciting receiving a new lens from Leica for testing. Unlike the camera bodies it is often a long time from prototype testing until the lens is introduced. I’ve had several versions of the 75mm Noctilux-M over an 18 month period. It seems that one of the biggest challenges of lens development is to turn the perfect prototype into a perfect production lens.
I tested the most recent lens for about 3 months, it went back to Leica in February 2017. All the lenses seemed to behave perfectly from an optical point of view without a perceptible difference in quality, and although I’ve not spent any time with a production copy I imagine that they are very similar.
When looking at the images in this article it should be borne in mind that they have been shot with a prototype lens.
The original 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.2 arrived in 1966 during a period when the major manufacturers were all racing to produce fast standard lenses. These lenses were powerful weapons in the photojournalists armament, principally because film speeds were so much slower than those available to digital photographers today.
The advances in the production of aspherical elements, higher quality glass and precision production technology has helped to produce better and faster lenses and these have usually been bigger and heavier as well.
It’s worth noting that, large as this lens certainly is, it’s around the same weight as the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 and a bit lighter than the Ziess Otus 85mm f/1.4 (1200 gm against 1055 gm for the Noctilux). The diameter at 90mm is roughly the same as the Otus lenses, but the Noctilux is considerably shorter at 101mm (the Otus 50 is 140mm long).
It could be argued that with the sensitivity of modern digital cameras (certainly a 4-stop advantage over film of the 60’s) that the need for fast lenses is over. However, the possibilities of shooting in very low light, and the attraction of very limited depth of field has increased the market for high quality wide aperture lenses.
The Noctilux 75 f/1.25
It is a logical design development from a 50mm lens to a 75mm. This is can be seen in the pairing of Walter Mandler’s 50 Summilux-M, and his much acclaimed 75 Summilux-M of 1980 (said to be his favorite lens). More recently Peter Karbe’s 50mm Summilux Asph and the 75mm APO-Summicron- M (certainly my favorite lens). Similarly, the new 75mm Noctilux-M f/1.25 is a design sibling of the Leica Noctilux f/0.95.
The Maximum aperture of f/1.25 is a function of the entrance pupil, the focal length and the 67mm front element. The lens has two aspherical elements, and the slightly smaller aperture and field of view (75 vs 50) both allow the 75 Noctilux to perform even better than the 50 Noctilux. A group of three elements floating nearest to the camera eliminate the problem of focus shift, but also ensure that the lens can make better quality images at the shortest distance of 0.85m (the minimum focus distance of the 50 Noctilux f/0.95 is 1metre).
There are some interesting articles about the lens on the Leica
website and blog:
Here is the website article:
http://us.leica-camera.com/Photography/Leica-M/M-Lenses /Noctilux-M-75-f-1,25-ASPH (including a download of the technical data and MTF figures).
Here is a Blog post with an interview with Peter Karbe:
Depth of Field, Bokeh & Isolation
Recently I’ve seen quite a lot of criticism of very short depth of field as a concept, but very little criticism of images which use it as a device. Personally, I like to use it; it’s often useful to concentrate on details, and a limited depth of field and smooth bokeh helps with this. The human eye is the ultimate expert at ‘focus stacking’, and most of the time we see everything in focus, from infinity to right up close. Shoot the 75 Noctilux wide open at a couple of meters and the in-focus area is limited to millimeters.
It is another tool in the photographer’s bag, and the new Noctilux does it so very well; the roll off between sharp and out of focus areas is gentle, both in front of the point of focus and behind it. And then the in focus area is so very sharply in focus!
Traditionally the classic portrait lens is the fast 85mm, but the 75mm has been my favorite for some time, modern high resolution sensors mean that it’s possible to crop, and fast lenses like this new Noctilux mean that you can control the depth of field very easily.
During my testing of the lens I was careful to look out for chromatic aberration (purple fringing) and flare, in both cases the lens performs really well, CA is kept to an absolute minimum (better than the 50 Noctilux in my experience) and flare seems to be well controlled as well.