Leica focus issues..lens or body?

Getting ready to shoot the Seal show in Sao Paulo tonight but wanted to post this quick article before I left for the night.

I get so many e-mails from the readers here asking about focus issues with their M8 or M9 cameras. Some swear to me that they are focusing correctly but that there images lack sharpness, detail, contrast, etc. Many people online just say “Oh, Leica galss is hard to focus” or “Fast glass is really hard  to shoot and get in focus”. This is NOT TRUE, at least it never has been hard for me. What many fail to recognize is that many times a Leica lens needs calibration to be spot on perfect. Sometimes, over the period of years, for whatever reason a lens can lose its accuracy but a quick trip to Leica service can fix it right up.

I have had issues in the past with focus on the M8 and M9 when using lenses like the 50 Lux ASPH and the 75 Summarit and 90 Summicron. After thinking it was  the camera, then even myself it turned out in each case that it was the LENS that was out of whack. After a trip to Leica for calibration they were scary spot on good.

While I am here on tour with Seal he is letting me use his 50 Noct ASPH and while using it this trip I noticed  that shots I take at a distance were just not right most of the time. After investigating thoroughly it turns out that I am only having issues with shots past 15-20 feet. When shooting at closer distances the lens is perfect. This was the same issue I had with my old 75 Summarit so I decided to do a quick test today from my hotel window with the Noct and the 50 Cron to find out if the lens is indeed a bit off or if it was my M9 body in need of calibration.

As for the Holy Grail of Leica lenses, the Noctilux ASPH, I often get asked by people if the lens is worth the money (yes, this lens comes in at almost $11,000) . Well, I feel that is a silly question because technically it is NOT worth $11,000! For the price of a Noctilux you could buy five 50 Summicrons or better yet, a 35 Lux ASPH II, a 50 Summilux ASPH and a 90 Summarit. Wow. But I guess it is all relevant and depends on how much money YOU have to spend on camera gear.

But no matter who you are, $11,000 is some serious cash to spend on a hunk of glass. BUT…even though I feel the Noctilux is not really worth the money I find it the best and most exciting lens I have ever shot with and would LOVE To own one someday. I reviewed the lens quite a while ago HERE when Leica sent me one to review and I loved it then, and still lust after it today. When you open a spot on file from the M9 and Noctilux ASPH your jaw may just drop to the floor. It’s insanely good IF IT IS IN PERFECT CALIBRATION.

Like I said, I had some spare time today in my hotel room in Sao Paulo Brazil so I did a quick snap out of my window with the 50 Noct and the Cron. Same settings, same shutter speed, same aperture, same focus point. I wanted to see if this was a camera issue or lens issue and sadly it seems like this Noct needs some adjustment from Leica as the Summicron is much more accurate when shooting at a distance.

ok….

Here is the image. Nothing fancy as this is just a test shot to judge contrast and sharpness with both lenses at F/2. The Noct should have the advantage here as it is being stopped down to F2 where the Summicron is being shot wide open. BTW, this was converted from RAW using the same settings for both files.

First a couple of 100% crops from the upper left of the frame…

and now a crop from the center of the frame

As you can see  the Summicron is much sharper here. A $2000 lens vs a $11000 lens and the $2000 lens wins at this distance FOR FOCUS ACCURACY, and  the Noct is stopped down. This tells me without a doubt that this Noctilux needs some sort of adjustment from Leica. I do know that this was one of the first Noctis out there so who knows.

I also did a close focus test and the Noct did great here..

In the close test they are about equal at F2.

Here are a couple of shots that were affected by this in real use..

The funny thing is that I do have some shots from a distance that turned out great but when viewed at 100% they are still not 100% in focus. There were also a few shots where I stepped down to f/2.8 so that may have helped.

One thing that has not been said here  though is that the Noctilux, when fully calibrated and spot on will blow away the Summicron in EVERY area … color, bokeh, and 3D pop. As much as I love the Summicron, the Noctilux is pure magic. With that said, at tonight show I am going to try out the 50 Summicron as well as shooting the Noct for the close shots. It will be interesting to see the results (which I will post either tonight or in the morning).

The moral of the story here is that if you are getting frustrated with your Leica M9 and focusing, chances are the problem could lie with the lens or even the body. Send them in for calibration to Leica Service and when they come back you may just be amazed!

some shots with the Noct in the last few days…notice they are all close distance shots :) This is the only lens for Leica that will give you these kind of results with this kind of look and feel. To me, it’s magic.

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88 thoughts on “Leica focus issues..lens or body?

  1. “…but a quick trip to Leica service can fix it right up.”

    Quick, I suppose is relative, but I would never call 8 weeks “quick” service. For people spening $11,000 on a lens, Leica should provide concierge service. They don’t need to come to my house to fix it, but an expeditious repair (or a loaner) would make the interminable wait more palatable. They need to do something to optimize their process. I doesn’t make sense to ship a lens in and have it sit on a shelf for 7 weeks for a 2 hour calibration. That’s not much better than the few eccentrics who still maintain Leica gear in the aftermarket.

  2. Hi Steve, my m240 seems to have had a very tiny front-focusing problem since I bought it. I didn’t notice it until I got the 90mm f2,4 at the beginning of this month. The issue is not almost not noticeable for my 28mm and 50mm but is magnified by the 90mm. I took it to the Leica repair and they agreed to ship it back to Germany for calibration for free, but the guy there originally seemed to advise against it as if the camera is calibrated to work perfectly with the 90mm, it can then have bigger issue with my other lenses, unless I ship them ALL to Germany for calibration. After reading your comments above, I start to feel worried if I made the right decision to send it for calibration just with the 90mm or should just try to live with it. Need your advise on this asap if you see this message as it may not be too late to ask the Leica repair to hold off shipping the camera out, thanks!

    1. Ship it off for calibration 100%. This is the main issue with Leica M’s, always has been since the digital M8. If you want it to be perfect, send it in with your glass. M’s need this done once per year for most users.

      1. Thanks for your quick reply Steve. I sent my new 90mm along with the camera as reference of calibration, since the issue was negligible with my 50mm and 28mm. The main issue with the calibration is it takes 8 weeks to be shipped to Germany, calibrated and then shipped back. It just takes too long. Older models like m9 can be calibrated locally. I have the new A7II to fill the void temporarily but to me it offers different user experience and produces different pictures and I much much more prefer my M.

  3. I have read this thread with extreme interest. Apparently, focusing issues with Leica M lenses on the Leica M digital cameras is a very, very real issue that Leica Camera has chosen to minimize and ignore. To my mind the question involves understanding that the film surface is rather “uneven” whereas the digital sensor surface is completely flat. So, even small ( microns ) differences in the focus point can lead to out of focus digital images. The RF is NOT focusing through the lens. Thus, the image in focus in the RF is usually fine on film, but can be very much off on the flat digital sensor. Such would explain why images on the 240 will likely be IN focus when the EVF is used, but might be OUT of focus when the RF is used. So, is one supposed to walk around with the 240 and only use the EVF? Obviously not, for such action defeats the entire purpose of the RF cameras.

    Let me now briefly address the M lens issues. We all know the construction of the lenses, and note the cams. All lenses will have some “play” in the cams. Important? Minimally so for film users. However, if one adjusts ONE lens or camera on a given digital M camera, the OTHER lenses might all be OUT of focus. So, one needs to adjust ALL of one’s M lenses at considerable expense and inconvenience. Most of cannot drop down to Solms in order to leave our lenses off for a few hours, and pick them up after lunch. Ditto with NJ. So, one is compelled to periodically recalibrate all of one’s lenses…or to have multiple digital bodies for multiple M lenses…or as noted below, to recalibrate the RF and sending in all of one’s lenses at the same time. Incidentally, don’t even think about borrowing one of your friend’s digital M cameras and expecting perfect focus….not the case with the film cameras of course.

    Now briefly the RF: A mechanical wonder no doubt. However, obvious that with use the RF can likely “drift” a bit. Important for film? Most often not. However, for the digital M CRITICAL. So, small inconsequential mechanical “drift” with one’s RF can make a HUGE difference with sharp digital images. Each time the RF “drifts” a bit, one has to consider recalibrating the RF ( or learning how to recalibrate the RF oneself ).

    Now briefly the aperture used: All here will instantly recognize that is one is using M lenses at a smaller aperture the DOF is greater and of course minimal focusing issues might not be apparent….perhaps even when using a digital M. However, at full apertures ( after all, why many have purchased out Leica lenses ) where the M lenses are supposed to be used and at which apertures the lenses are supposed to be unsurpassed, the smaller DOF will magnify focusing issues caused by RF and M lens misalignments.. So, be sure to use your Noctilux at f 8 and everything will likely be in focus.

    Let me close by stating that the focusing issues with M lenses on Leica digital M cameras is obviously a very big issue. Such problems lead to the need for freqeuntt recalibration of lenses or cameras. The issue has not been addressed by Leica camera, of the dealers that sell such cameras. As the Leica 240 becomes more available to users the focusing issues will become more and more know and will eventually come to the be one of the biggest problems that Leica Cameras Inc. will have ever faced. I do not see an easy “fix” that can be implement. However, when one is using a $7,000 camera with a lens that costs thousands more you can bet the the s will hit the fan.

    Elliot

    1. These issues have been around since the M8 and have been there through the M9 and now with the M 240. I have had three M 240’s in my hand that were not right in the RF focusing dept. I have had several M9’s like this and several M8’s like this which is why I avoid buying any Leica M digital used. It’s nothing new with the M 240, and despite the myth, the M 240 does not focus easier than the M9. What is happening is many M9 shooters had an RF that was slightly off and now with their brand new M’s it is spot on (most of them) so they are assuming it is easier to focus, when it is exactly the same RF system. I have been frustrated beyond belief many times with the Leica M digital and focusing errors. Even so, I keep coming back to them :)

      1. But Steve, can you explain why Leica camera has not, to the best of my knowledge, acknowledged the obvious problem?

        With respect, why do you keep coming back to the M digital cameras? Why not simply write an in-depth explanation of the focusing problems you are STILL having? Isn’t it a bit disingenuous to continue to have your favorable review despite knowing of the focus issues that many are having…and that YOU have had?

        Canjthe problem be solved? Again, I am not sure. One reason is that physics are physics, and the problem with focusing is NOT solvable on the Leica M digital cameras. Can there be a soft ware fix of some kind???

        One can of course accept the problems with focusing along with the need for lens and RF calibration and the need for additional sums to be expended and repeated inconvenience. If such actions are completely acceptable then fine….you knew the issues, and accepted such.. Leica camera should tell potential buyers of their digital cameras and M lenses what problems might-and likely will-occur. Spell the situation out in detail; no surprises. If the buyer accepts the problems, then fine.

        The major reason that no information has come from Solms is of course, purely an economic one. And that, to my mind, is the real problem. If Leica knows that there will be issues with focusing and does not say so, then shame or worse on them.

        Users of Leica lenses having trouble with focusing on the 240 should, to my mind, advertise such problems on every available forum and at every chance they have. The only way that Leica will address concerns will be an economic reason. If sales of the digital cameras begin to stall and the reason for the sales problems are known, then perhaps owners of M lenses and digital cameras will be offered some help.

        Perhaps what I am about to suggest will appear to be extreme and unfair: However, I would suggest that everyone on the wait list for the 240 consider cancelling their planned purchase and tell Leica why they have done so. What Leica camera is doing to their loyal users is simply wrong.

      2. HI Steve, I am confused. From the article I get that the lens was the problem causing the mis-focus, but here you are saying it is the camera itself that has the focus problem?

        1. This is an OLD OLD post! The Leica M’s have a way of going out of alignment.If banged, dropped, or used heavily for a year or so they usually can do with an adjustment to get them back to spec. Id say 8 times out of 10 its the body.

          1. I have an M8 I just picked up with little background info and roughly 7900 actuations, with a ziess ZN 2.8/25mm biogon. Trouble focusing sometimes, makes me feel like it’s me but I have brand new glasses. Should your friendly but serious local camera shop (who already said enthusiastically yes to sensor cleaning) be able to calibrate non-Leica glass and make adjustments to M8 body (in theory)?

  4. focus adjustment and the theroy, please help Hong Kong Schmit because they are so confused by those focus shift , back focus, focus calibration and the most reasonable focus set (noct F1 focus at closet wide open is not calibrated to precise, the f4-8 is their setting! ). I had my ears cleaned after that. So help them!

  5. I have after many years finally given up with Leica, I have owned an M9 for many months that has never focused correctly, it and all my lenses have been back to Solms many times with no joy, every time it comes back it has another focus issue or the rangefinder needs an ajustment. The fact a so called quality camera needs to have all the lenses matched to the body almost makes it unusable, thats of course if Leica can get everthing to work! which in my case they failed. The focus was all over the place and anything over 15/20 feet away was either front or back focused or even just soft depending on the lens used.
    I am keeping my film Leicas that have never given a seconds hassle.

  6. See it, frame it, forget it and move on to the next. How the acetate set me free on my South American tour.

    [img]http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/R1032395-2.JPG[/img]

  7. I’ll add just one more comment: for sharpness, NOTHING beats my little X1. Forget the speed of focus issues since the result is what counts. This little camera just gets it right 99 percent of the time.

  8. I’m going with “user error”. I have a 28f2 and get perfect shots on my M9. I have a 75f2 and get perfect shots on my M9. However, using my Noct .95 I have to really work for the equivalent shots. My guess is that focusing that much glass — remember, this lens is about 2-3 times the diameter of the other two lenses I own — takes a bit more patience and practice. My eyesight is no longer the best due to aging so I’ll probably try out a higher magnification viewer (my term). In the meantime, when the focus is done well, the Noct can really reward you with some images that I for one would never have expected with any of my “L” glass. As has been noted many tomes in this thread, you’ve got to match the tool to the situation and maybe we’re expecting too much from our Leica’s; a little Leica here, a little 5DII there and perhaps we’d be happier campers. Thanks to Mr. Huff for facilitating this kind of discussion.

  9. I own the 50mm Noc f/0.95, the 50mm Lux ASPH, and the 50mm Cron. I didn’t have the intention of keeping all three, but after using each with my M9, I found that each has some unique characteristics better than the other two. I use the Noc only if I am shooting wide open at f/0.95 and I think that’s where it does best (for me). The Lux is a terrific general all around 50mm lens that can handle most situations, and a must own for any M camera owners in my opinion. The cron 50mm is, however, by far the better landscape lens for me. The geometry, contrast, and the resolution are all terrific for shooting something far away. I’ve had my M9 adjusted from time to time, favoring my Noc f/0.95 only because the tolerance levels are lower with that lens wide open. I’ve not noticed any focus error with the other two lenses regardless of my RF settings for the Noc.

    I also have the Lux 21mm and the Lux 24mm. I am not aware of an adjustment mechanism, but I’ve never had any problems focusing either of those two lenses since at such a wide angle of coverage the depth of field is rarely an issue (see sample image I shot from a shopping center, at ISO 400, f/1.4 21mm, straight out of the camera). Though, like the Noc, purple fringing can be obvious at times when high contrast images are made. Personally, I don’t really mind the purple fringing and it’s easy to edit in PS.

    [img]http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Grove 01.jpg[/img]

    And here is a pic from Disneyland taken with the Noc. Nothing special here, didn’t shoot it at f/0.95 either, but just thought I’d being in some Star Wars :)

    [img]http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Grove 02.jpg[/img]

  10. Just my test results on the focus issue.

    Test condition:
    -aperture open: maximum
    -distance between the M9 focal point and the center of the dedicated test chart: 1meter.
    -M9 mounted on tripod and self timer used to prevent unwanted vibration.
    -modified Nikon loupe used for focusing, which is much better than Leica X1.25/X1.4 loupe for assisting the center focus.(not useful as range finder, indeed!)
    -caution: The focus error is not only due to the lens. This result shows a relative error.

    Test results:
    -Summilux 21ASPH(11647): +18mm
    -Summilux 35(11870): +2mm
    -Summilux 50(11114): -12mm
    -Summarit 50(SOOIA-M): -15mm
    -Summicron 50(11826): +5mm
    -Noctilux 50(11602): +7.5mm
    -Noctilux 50(11822): +12mm
    -Summilux 75(11810): -3mm
    -Apo-Summicron 75(11637): -3mm
    -Summarex 85(SOOCX): -20mm
    -Summicron 90(11136): -8mm

    I used three noctiluxs (0.95) and found the focal points of them are totally different each other.
    Steve is correct, the focus issue surely exists.
    However, Leica(not Germany) person told me that they cannot fix the focus issue for most lenses, especially standard and tele-photo ones.
    They also told me that newly released wide lenses, such as summilux21/24 have a mechanism to adjust.
    Unfortunately, I don’t know whether the words are true or not…

    1. poisson

      This certainly does show that there can be a lot of variation between camera lenses and any given camera body; a camera and a lens are a system after all.

      Though I do have a question. Would you please clarify how you determined the focus error and what it means? In the case of the Summilux 21; does the +18mm mean that you needed to adjust focus for an object 18m farther away, or did you move your test target until the image was in focus?

      Thanks for the post. It helps with my techno-junkie side.
      Paul

    2. Excuse my skepticism, but how can we trust your findings? Where is the proof?

      Without that credibility, they’re just numbers on a screen. This thread is really not working out well for Leica. In Leica’s defense and in my experience with Leica photographers, quite often ‘user error’ is the problem, too.

      1. Paul,

        I used a chart with scale on a side wall (See Figure).
        Then I shoot the image of the chart.
        Calibration of the scale is done by the equations on the figure.

        known parameters:
        dR: distance(Center of chart to the Left edge of chart)
        dL: distance(Center of chart to the Right edge of chart)

        parameters given by using DLE50 (laser distance meter) :
        LL: distance(focal plane to the Left edge of chart)
        LR: distance(focal plane to the Right edge of chart)
        LC: distance(focal plane to the Center of chart) -> 1 meter

        parameter given by a image
        a: uncalibrated distance(focus point to the Center of chart)

        Measurement error will be 2mm or so. (it’s my feeling, not scientific)

        [img]http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Chart_calc1.jpg[/img]

      2. Kristian,

        I am sorry but I can’t proof my results. But how can I proof it?
        The test is achieved for my convenience, not for the formal report.
        I posted the method of my experiments, you, each person, can
        do your own experiment objectively.
        I strongly recommend you to find a good loupe for center focus.
        Leica x1.25 or x1.4 is not good for the test purpose.

        Regarding human error, it exists. I take the chart several time for each lens
        and found 1-2 mm variations found in each measurement.
        The problem is, the human error can reduce to the level smaller than our needs if
        you use good loupe and do the experiment carefully.

        1. Poisson

          Your method is very similar to how the Lens Align system works. Plus, the engineer in me is satisfied that your results are indicative of how your camera and lenses, or the lenses you have access to, work on your body. Which are the only combinations that matter to you.

          Paul

  11. How can it be that a lens that costs at least $ 10K is not perfectly calibrated. It’s really incredible.
    When you live in the US or in Europe, its easy to send back your lenses to get them calibrated. But when you live in Argentina -as I do- that’s almost impossible.

    1. Jandri

      The lens is probably perfect optically. More than likely the camera body got bumped and the range finder mechanism was nudged out of alignment. Another possibility is the lens mount on the camera was shimmed to the limit of the tolerance range (high or low) by the technician at the factory and the lens may also be at the same limit for it’s tolerance range, which means the lens is at the outer fringe of being in focus at any distance for a normally set range finder. With most lenses it may not be that noticeable, but it will be much more noticeable as the lens gets faster; and an f0.95 lens will be very noticeable wide open.

      This is why Leica wants the camera and the lens, or all lenses in the kit, to make sure they are all set the same.

      Paul

  12. I was facing this with my Nikon 50mm f1.2 AiS . . i thought maybe i’m not well practiced to shoot manual . .

    Later, i bought Zeiss 35mm f2 and the same problem came . . it doesn’t focus far . .

    Then I thought it is my old abused D70 . .

    Now my D70 and the 50mm f1.2 were stolen last month in Milan, Italy and now i’m waiting for the new promising D800 . . if i still face the problem with the new camera with Zeiss / / i’ll send it for calibration.

  13. Steve,

    I am having trouble reconciling this article on the M9+Noctilux and your previous one when you took the same combo to New York…..

    Say it ain’t so.

  14. Steve

    I have not had a chance to read all of the responses above, so at the risk of repeating something that has already been mentioned here goes.

    First, I think I will disagree with you regarding the Noctilux being sharper than the Summicron close up. While the close Nocti image is better the distance shot, I don’t think it is better than the close Cron shot. It might be as good, but it is not better on my computer.

    Second, to confirm your conclusion you need to get the same results using a second body. It may be that the tolerances of of the Nocti/M9 combination you are using are working against you. Looking at the Nocti discance shot the lens appeard to be focused on the building in the background rather than the tower. Which will say the lens is set out from the image plane slightly from the Cron. This may be a lens mount issue on the camera body rather than rangefinder alignment; which could still be the case. Repeat your distance test and see how far you need to stop down to get your subject in focus.

    Paul

  15. Great article, Steve!

    And I thought, and in fact I was told, it was my age. Funny enough I am considering to purchase an auto focus camera beside being and of course staying with my M9 and several lenses. I would however not expect Leica being so high priced to have the same issues as low priced gear. I have experienced the same issues with Summilux 1,4/50. For that pricing and for such a lead time, Leica would need to double check the quality of their products and stop ignoring real issues. If there is so much noise about their products they should start to understanding that all of us do care and do love all what they produce.

  16. If possible, shoot several frames with “focus-bracketing”. Adjust your position or the lens focus very slightly around what you think is the ideal point. It’s digital so the extra frames are free. Obviously, if you’re capturing the exact moment it’s not practical, but you’d be surprised how often this works.

    Rangefinders are simply different from SLRs so the comparison is useless. I shoot both for different subjects.

  17. I had the same focussing problems with my M9. It has been to Leica twice for repair and I hope the problem is permanently fixed. It was most apparent with my Summicron 75mm and Summicron 50 mm lenses but the way to test whether it is the camera or lens is this way. Focus on something very far away (the moon) and if you notice the rectangles focussing past infinity it is usually the camera that is the problem. It helps to send both the camera and lens to Leica. And oh yes, be patient.

  18. Hmm…

    the Noctilux is indeed calibrated for close distance photography because it is a 50mm 0.95. It’s not a question of the lens, it’s more to do with the RF concept when attempting to create a lens that has the technical ability to create light where “professionals who shoot Nikon’s whilst fondlers use Leica’s”…..(nice comment buddy) cannot even fathom that concept, no way, not with that plane of focus. As you will have seen in one of Steve’s images of me on stage in Buenos Aires, namely the one with my reaching-out-hand whilst the rest of me dissolves into ‘dream-like-fade’

    Remember the shift issues with the previous 35 Summilux? I had two of them, one optimized at f/1.4 and the other around f/2.8. The one that was optimized for f/1.4 was insane wide open but was anyone’s guess at f/2.8~5.6 from which point it gradually sorted itself out due to increased DOF, well it’s the same thing.

    Steve and I were talking yesterday about it and agreed that the Noctilux’ shift issue occurred around 25~30 ft. Well I don’t know about anyone else but if that’s your distance, shoot longer with a 75, 90, or 135 (good luck btw). Any of Leica’s worlds, greatest, wides, the WATE, 21, 24, 35 etc. up to the 50 focal length and the subsequent ‘distance~subject’ ratio that is therefore required is really what’s considered as the classic RF photography concept in which case, of course, you have the greatest of all 35mm format lenses period….the 50 Summilux! It is a fact, the 50 Summilux by Leica’s admission is the only lens which is really deserving of that annoyingly ridiculous mantle ‘the holy grail’… it is perfect!

    The Noctilux is meant for a special duty, like the 35 Summilux you can have it optimized for longer distances but you will loose the insanity wide open and therefore lose the point. Carrying around a mighty hunk of front heavy glass as my 50 during the day is ” just not my bag baby”, I have the lux for that.

    Before they came out with it I had a pre-production sample that they gave me. It was optically ready but the built-in lens hood was a bit unfinished. At the announcement of the M9/S2 in NYC, Steffen brought with him a brand spanking new production 0.95 to swap out for me. I was excited until I snapped around with it for a bit. It wasn’t as bleedingly accurate wide open, not that I care about sharpness but with this tool it is a crucial part of what it does. I played around with it for a while and at the end of the day I gave the production model back to him, saying that I preferred the sample and I wanted to stick with it, wonky hood and all thank you very much. he smiled at me and said no more.

    Leica’s are a funny bunch of absurdly priced cameras still using an antiquated focusing system that hasn’t really changed in over a hundred years. If it’s pin-point accuracy you’re after every time, then a sea of head-aches is on your horizon. It’s one of the reasons I use film and brought my beloved M7 on this tour. I don’t want to look at focus accuracy, its nothing to do with my understanding of photography….to quote our Dalai Llama…. a “bourgeois concept”.

    `6

    1. I was certainly taken aback by your choice to shoot the M7 as I came to a similar conclusion. My digital M is now gone and I only shoot film on my Ms. I think film is the language of the M system. When using my digital M I noticed myself falling into a similar image quality obsessiveness that I used to carry like a chip on my shoulder with EOS system. I had to take a step back and remember why it is I’m doing this!

      Shooting and developing my own film, I have never felt so excited and empowered. I’ve never been so happy with my results either.

      Seb.

    2. `6
      If you really are noticing a change in focus at 25-30 ft this might imply an issue with how the cam is cut in the lens ring. There may also be some interference with the cam follower in the camera body. Take the lens off the body and compare the cam cut to the cam on the 50 Cron. The shapes should be fairly similar. Also manually rotate the lens barrel through this distance off the body. Does it rotate smoothly or does it bind slightly.

      Next in the camera,gently move the cam follower. Does it move smoothly to both end of its travel? Does it stick?

      Though from the images above, I might think the range finder needs adjustment. If there is a Leica Dealer at one of your stops, see if the Dealer will let you use your lens on one of their bodies, with your memory card in it. A few shots in the store or out the window will give you more information to consider.

      Paul

  19. Steve,
    When I bought my M6 and Summicron 50 in 1995 the Cron 50 was not calibrated at all. Immediatly repaired by Leica.
    When I bought my M9 the Cron 50 was not well calibrated, I sent it to Leica, when it came back it was not correct.
    I broke my M9 with the Cron 50 on, I sent both to Leica (Solms) to be repair (2000$), when it came back the M9/Cron 50 was correct, but not tried at long distance focus yet.
    I feel like to have correct focus you have to do what Leica ask : send all your gear to be calibrated at the same time together ! (I have a 1993 Summicron 35 but I don’t use it, I shall try it and tell you)
    DIdier

  20. I have to admit that I have always been secretly jelous of Leica shooters (same reason I bought the GF1) but in the instances where “getting the shot” matters a lot more than the challenge of taking the shot in the first place I have to stick to my 7D & 1Ds. I am quite confident that had you had enough time and were relaxed enough all these could have been in focus. I would not go as far as to blame the calibration. It really comes down to the range finder shooting. Even DSLR users that use the “focus/recompose” method of shooting have several shots that are OOF. Cant you just whip out the the 1D for the remainder of the tour? I really love these pictures and the OOF is so terribly distracting. Enjoy the rest of the tour Steve.

  21. There is no such thing as a “quick trip to Leica service” for US customers at least. 6-7 weeks of waiting just to get dust removed from a lens, and I shudder to think how long a calibration or mechanical repair would take them. Not to mention that they are poorly organized and inefficient in even getting a repair order established in the first place.

  22. I’ve had to use fine focus adjustment on a lot of nikon lenses I use on my nikon d700.
    A nikon 50mm on my f6 never focusses properly.
    A minolta m-mount focusses great on my m8 and my previously owned m9.
    My Leica lenses focus perfectly on my m8 (and m9): except for an d elmar.
    None of my Hexar lenses Focussed properly on the m8 nor m9.
    A uc-hexanon is perfect focus.
    I’d suggest people not generalize or spread misinformation with no direct, personal experience.

  23. Kristian,
    I don’t pretend to know half of what Steve knows. The point that I’m trying to make is that if we pay $11,000 for a lens we should expect it to work properly. Like Steve and maybe you, we all worship at the Leica altar to the extent that we don’t even expect perfection for the high camera/lens prices that we pay. I recently purchased the new Leica 35mm Summilux and think that it’s a great lens. It cost me $5,000 and, thank goodness, I don’t think it need recalibration. But there are plenty of good cameras and lenses out there and we’re all too quick (including Steve) to concede that Leica lenses and camera are the very best. I have an M8.2 and like it a lot. But, I don’t think it’s ISO capabilities can even come close to many Canon or Nikon point and shoot camera. Furthermore, Steve raves about the M9 and I haven’t tried on yet, but I doubt that it’s ISO functionality can match that of many, many other cheaper digital camera. Yes, Steve is a Leica nut and so am I. I just think that if we get to the point where we can excuse the poor functionality of an $11,000 lens, then we’ve all gone too far. Furthermore, I think my $2,000 Canon 35mm f/1.4 L series lens can hold it own even against my $5,000 Leica 35mm Summilux. We all have our opinions. Sometimes, however, despite the fact that I’ve been following Steve’s site since it’s very beginning, I sometimes think that Steve has consumed too much of the Leica hemlock. I still love his work.

    1. Rick, I for one certainly don’t worship the Leica alter and no one should. I agree that we should expect the highest level of quality from Leica and I do….but all manufacturers have their issues. Canon has had more focus issues than any manufacturer, especially so with the 1D mark III. I agree that the Canon 35/1.4 can hold it’s own against the Leica, but it’s still behind, at less than half the price mind you.

      I’m the first to admit that I think the Voigtlander Nokton is a better performer than the Leica Summilux ASPH II, and I’ve been attacked on the Leica forum for saying that, but regardless my expectations of Leica have not changed. I expect better quality from Leica the same way I do with Mercedes or BMW. They are better made with better materials than a Toyota, yet they don’t have the same reliability record of Toyota/Lexus.

      The days of the absolutely reliable mechanical Leica died with the MP. Yes my M9 had failed me once, but so has my D3s when it’s shutter died in under 50,000 frames. Nothing is full proof, at any price, and Leica doesn’t promote themselves as a reliable camera for the money. The problem with most Leica consumers is that their expectations are too dependent on the price they’re paying and that is the mistake of the consumer, not Leica.

      Remember its because of amateurs just like Steve that Leica is still up and running and making the expensive cameras we love to hate on. At the end of the day Rick you own a Leica and happy its been reliable for you so far. Frankly I’m shocked that you’ve never had issues with Canon. I lost count of the number of issues I had with them, but gotta give it to them, their service is 1st rate.

      Back to the Noctilux, firstly, Steve is really making his life hard by shooting the Noct wide open at a concert. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it sure is a challenge and good on him for taking it on. I’ve used my Noct in the same situations and come up with hit and miss results. It’s impossible to not, and the Noct is very much a risk-taking lens in such situations. If I was shooting for a client I woud shoot my stock with my D3s and have the Noct as a specialty shot lens when the shot calls for it. Certainly if there are special moments that happen during the performances there will be a huge risk depending on the Noct in that situation….but when you nail the Noct wide open and everything is right, the reward is breathtaking.

      In my experience, it’s probably the camera that is not correctly calibrated. I would put my money on the lens. While depth of field increases with distance, the Noct was designed to be shot at close focus distances, and therefor it really does require much more care when focusing it beyond 15 feet. At that distance anyway, the distinct look disappears somewhat, and/or the foreground becomes unrecognizable when out of focus.

      Cheers

      1. Just one more thing to add. The Noct is not a lens to own if you care about always obtaining sharp in-focus results. As a risk-taking lens, you need to be forgiving when you acquire images that aren’t perfectly in focus. Focus is only one (key) element to a picture, so be prepared for such images and accept them, and appreciate the ‘other’ attributes that potentially make the image great!

    2. @Rick M, I agree that perhaps people are too quick to jump to the defence of Leica, and for an $11k lens, maybe we should not have to defend it. However, I’d suggest that with Leica, you’re not paying for dependability, reliability or any kind of technical perfection. You’re paying for an outstanding hand-built lens with a look that’s hard to replicate anywhere, and of course the red dot.

      That is not to defend or criticize Leica, but I see Leica as like buying a Noble sports car, in optimum circumstances, it will outperform a Toyota in every way. However at 10% of the price, the Toyota will be more reliable and get the job done better in less than optimum circumstances for most people. It will also not need a service in 10 years, but you’ll be getting the Noble tuned up every year or so.

      With Leica, they are not the dependable workhorses of Nikon or Canon, but you do get an experience which many find irreplaceable. I love my Zeiss Ikon, but if I *needed* to get results in a harsh environment, then I’d take an SLR instead.

      1. I’m shure Michael Schumacher would still outperform you if he was driving the Toyota and you the “Noble sports car”. My conclusion: don’t spend so much time on equipment, but more on taking photos.
        Cheers :-)

      2. Kristian/Garry,
        It’s a beautiful day here in NJ and I’m headed out to take some photographs with my Leica M6 TTL and 28 mm Elmarit. Never had a problem with Canon 30D, 40D or 5D. Nor have I had a problem with any of Canon’s L series lenses. I shot a handful of weddings with my Canon gear and never had a single regret. But, like all Leica snobs, I like to tell people that I love shooting with my expensive Leica camera and $5,000 Leica 35mm lens. And, although I can afford to purchase an M9, I never bought one and wouldn’t consider shooting a wedding with it. There are tools and there are other tools, if you know what I mean. I wouldn’t use a screw driver to drive home a nail.

    3. Yes but Rick mate..it’s quite simple. Use your Canon/Nikons or whatever it is you’re convinced is better than Leica. You’re totally missing the point because you don’t understand the gear that is being discussed here. The Noctilux works perfectly, it’s not meant to focus accurately at all distances. It is optimized for a very particular kind of situation. All of this talk about Steve and others drinking the “Leica hemlock or cool aid”, it’s a little disrespectful and it implies that we’re all stupid.

      Do you think you’re the only one here that has other big and clunky DSLR gear to compare to? Of course not. Most people who have Leica gear be it Nociluxes, M9’s or whatever also have the usual suspects or have at least had them at some point. Mate, anyone who knows me will tell you that my gear collection is bordering on the ridiculous, my wife doesn’t even asking anymore, she just accepts my obsession when the fedex/ups van arrives with yet another piece of gear from Ken Hansen, KEH or whomever. That said I can tell you that your claims of the aforementioned gear focusing accurately every time is nonsense and untrue. My point is that they’re state of the art and even they don’t focus with great consistency or accuracy. The RF concept is as old as time, it was right there at the very birth of photography. Leica still uses that system today and you’re expecting it to perform miracles in the accuracy department. Mate…it ain’t gonna happen!

      It’s one of the main reasons I am using my film M’s on this trip and I suspect I’ll be doing that for a while. It’s why my dear friend Riccis (a professional wedding photographer) turns up at a job with an M3 around his neck. We’re tired of all of the neurosis that digital brings into our lives. The RF system has always been floored, we just never sat in front of LCD screens scrutinizing every image that came out of the camera as soon as we took it. Honestly, it drives me nuts and stops me enjoying photography.

      When Steve posted his findings with the Noctilux, it was meant to be informative based on his experience with the lens. He is learning it’s behavior like all of us, he wasn’t pointing out a floor or saying that it’s bad…it just is what it is.

      Rick and anyone else obsessed with focus-alignment or accuracy in any camera just needs to let it go, it’s a buzz-kill and you will NEVER be happy. Sometimes I wish that digital had never been invented. If you cannot let it go then shoot film, it will set you free.

      `6

  24. Totally agree with Kristain regarding aperture selection. Obviously leica lens are great wide open but I feel way to many leica shooters are way too concerned with it.

    It shows a complete lack of thought about composition if your just blurring out the background of every shot.

    Focus seperation, bokeh, nd filters. Ahhhhh no more please!

    F8 street shot. The best haha

    1. Dont think a f8 shot at a concert (like the Seal show) is possible. People don’t shoot pictures with an open lens only to get a nice bokeh – sometimes you just need as much light as possible.

  25. I never had focusing issues with any of my Leica lenses. I pay enough for them to assume that they will focus perfectly. By the same token, I’ve never had any focusing issues with any of my Canon lenses. They always seem to be perfectly calibrated and right on target. And, of course, the Canon lenses (even the L series) cost much less than any Leica lens. Is Steve telling us that Leica lenses may not always be perfect? How is that possible when we are constantly touting the remarkable images created by Leica lenses? Maybe Leica is not what it’s “cracked up” to be. If I pay $11,000 for a lens, I expect it to work perfectly without having to send it back to Leica for recalibration. The “magic glow” may not be worth the money!!! I own the new Leica 35mm Summilux and it seems to work perfectly. But, after paying $5K for it, isn’t that what I should expect? Are all the Leica followers out there (like Steve) blowing smoke up out butts? Wish I was able to attend the recent concert tour with a few fast L series Canon or Nikon lenses. These .95 Nocti fans might be surprised.

    1. Sounds like you should have your own site…possibly named “I know more than Steve because I expect it to work perfectly because I paid a lot of money for it”.

      If Steve is blowing something up our butts, ‘you’re’ definitely buying it, or you wouldn’t be here trolling.

    2. I think a Leica is made in a totally different way than a Nikon or Canon camera where I think the production is a lot more automized. That alone makes a Leica camera or lens a lot more expensive than many other brands.

      I think it is a matter of taste which camera you prefer or maybe even dislike.
      Also some cameras will suite the assignment better than others. For instance for indoor sports a Nikon D3s may be the very best, while for landscape photography a Hasselblad/Phase one back may be the better choice and so on.

      Most high end cameras of any brand are excellent today (some more than others), but in the hands of a skilled photographer they can all be used for taking excellent pictures like the many wonderful images taken by Steve on this site.

      Generally I think a lot of people talk too much about equipment instead of taking pictures and talking about how to improve the quality of pictures with the available equipment.

  26. Firstly, well done so far Steve. The Noct is not sn easy friend to get along with. It’s like finding ‘the one’ but then having tall the issues come out at once. I would ALWAYS recommend using the 1.4x magnifier on it 100% of the time. It helps tremendously.

    I’ve had a lot of experience with the Noct 0.95 so I understand Steve’s frustrations. Yes the longer the distance, the harder it is to focus and this lens will really test how calibrated your camera really is. I would put my money on the lens being well calibrated and the camera out, as this was my experience before having the body fixed.

    The ONLY way to correctly focus this lens is to focus past the focus point (according to your eye), and come back once or twice, to be very sure and increase accuracy. If you’re using this lens for work, as i was then i feel it is worth the money. $10,500 may be a lot for a lens but my Profoto 7a generator costs about that much and all it does is fire flashes.

    The thing is that the Noctilux is a pro-spec lens, and like most high end pro-spec equipment it’s expensive and only justifiable by professionals utilising it’s unique qualities. An example is the hasselblad 35-90 lens for the H system. It’s a 35-90 with a f/4-5.6 max aperture range. in 35mm terms it would be worth $200. But for Pros it’s a necessity and well worth the $7.5k price it commands!

    I recently decided to sell my Leica M9 kit for a Hasselblad H4D-40/35-90 kit for work. The reason? because the Leica didn’t do anything that my D3s couldn’t, and therefor wasn’t helping me make more money. I felt my money was better invested in a larger format system to better cater to my clients’ needs. BUT, I still feel the Noct 0.95 was worth the money because I fully appreciated the benefits (not the bokeh) of this unique lens. I have made some really successful images with it and therefor feel happy for having owned it….and truly miss it now.

    ‘Steve’ i’m sure that the more special images (focused successfully) you take with the lens, the more you’ll start to lean towards appreciating it’s value. A lens is only as good as the content we shoot with it. Shooting plants to check out it’s bokeh will leave you feeling unappreciative, at best. Shooting Seal successfully when all the elements come together, and where the lens’s max aperture becomes as necessity, you’ll feel the benefit of using such a lens.

    Lastly, for those shooting this lens for ‘bokeh’ uniqueness, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s bokeh has little distortion and renders backgrounds with great accuracy, and therefor little ‘craziness’, except for the corners. This is a highly corrected lens and great for true reportage – not for portraits focusing on background blur. In such situations like concerts, the ability of this lens lies solely on it’s speed, and not it’s bokeh – as often, the backgrounds are black, or with some OOF lighting. – but Steve is doing a good job by including all the key elements to tell the story. To fully appreciate this lens, one needs to avoid shooting it wide open all the time, just cause they can. Shooting at max aperture ‘can’ eliminate very important elements that make an image, especially in documentary. Shooting this lens should not change the rules of aperture selection. The 0.95 aperture is there to be used when ‘needed’ and should not be overused.

    All the best, Kristian

  27. Nearly all of the lenses I use on my M9 are old (1972 and earlier). They have very slight variations, tending to have sharpest focus just in front of the indicated point, but generally not enough to notice on “real” pictures. Results seem similar at all distances. I had my 90 TeleElmarit worked on just before I got the M9 and it is spot on. Also “perfect” are my 1948 Summitar and (luckily) the 50 1.5 Nokton I recently added. The Nokton is the only one that doesn’t have an individually profiled (ground shape) cam surface. Curious how the Japanese can be so close without all the hand work.
    I suspect the 60s and 70s lenses were optimized for film, which doesn’t make a perfectly flat focus plane like a digital sensor.

    If you use a single lens/body combination you can test focus and determine how to compensate: how much rangefinder “overlap” to get best focus at different distances. That’s part of knowing the tools. I had to do that after having my M4 serviced. It was perfect for 40 years before that, but never again.

    Steve: I’d be interested if you can get “compensated” focus sharp at distant settings. If not, perhaps it is the optics not optimized for far distance.

  28. Focus calibration issues are a fact of life on range finders, Leica, Zeiss, or Bessa, they all have the same issue. The fact is that the range finder is a mechanical mechanism which relies on perfect calibration to focus very fast lenses like the Noctilux.

    Even if calibrated perfectly, a 50mm lens with f/1 aperture focusing on a subject 2 metres away has a depth of field of around 6 cm, so if your subject moves slightly, then you’re out of focus.

    SLRs have the same problem of shallow DOF, but of course on an SLR you can actually see the focus, assuming your eyes are good.

    This is not meant to criticize range finders, not at all, but fast lenses and range finders will give you trouble at some point or another.

  29. AH: I’ve had a focus issue with my Nikon 135mm f/2.0 DC, and had it checked by Nikon who confirmed there was an issue. But I’ve also had to have my M9 adjusted when I found it mis focused with more than one lens (including the Noc), so I guess it just comes with the territory . . .

  30. Never had focussing issues with the 50mm Summilux but have sent it with the M9 for calibration recently. 90 summicron is a different story, will try the 1.4x magnifier otherwise I have a duff lens.

  31. Amazing that lenses at that price level are not adjusted or get out of adjustment. Never had any problems with my prof. Nikon lenses.

  32. This seems to be a uniquely Leica problem. I’ve just received both my 21 summi and 90 cron back from Solms after a four week service interval. The 21 was incapable of focusing at infinity and the 90 actual focus was out of alignment with the viewfinder focus. I have to say I now feel like sending my entire lens collection off to Solms for calibration. This type of issue should not be affecting glass of this supposed quality.

  33. Interesting post ….. so what would you recommend when using either the Nokton or Zeiss lenses as far as calibration goes ?

  34. I really do not understand why Leica, such an expensive brand, has OOF issues. Not only the nocti but also other premium lenses (summi 35mm) sometimes suffer the same OOF issue.
    And now also the body could need calibration…
    I am convinced that, at this price level, every item leaving the Leica factory needs carefull testing before wrapping and sending and not the end user sending it back for calibration.
    I hate it when my new or almost new stuff needs to go back to the store and gets ‘a treatment’.
    Is it all worth it, this Leica glow?

    1. yeah – other brands don´t have issues? Steve describes a problem HE has with a certain setup. This does not mean, that every M8/M9 with the same setup has the same issues…

  35. I find this issue to be the most frustrating in dealing with Leica. I have run into the exact same problems with a 35 cron and a 28 elmarit while all my other lenses performed perfectly. I kept going back and forth with Leica and they always wanted the camera body as well as (All) the lenses I use. I wouldn’t mind sending them everything except they take FOREVER!! I need my equipment within two weeks and I don’t think that is too much to ask. It was nearly 30 days and I finally had to call them and just tell them to ship me back everything. Done or not. Oddly enough… I have never had one of these calibration issues with Zeiss glass. I too am perplexed at how one can spend a small fortune on lenses that are not perfectly calibrated. Perhaps Leica should take a lesson out of the Zeiss manual.

      1. Mike. That would be the paragraph which states “Our lenses will accurately focus at the distance indicated on the lens and such distance will correlate with the focus indicator in your range finder.” I’m pretty sure that’s what “Garon” was referring to.

  36. So when you mention “… but a quick trip to Leica service can fix it right up” is that Leica in Germany?

    It makes me a bit nervous to send me precious jewel accross the ocean to get it calibrated.

    Also, do you know about how much something like that costs?

    Great images and thread.

    1. Calibration @ Leica Solms is about €120 plus applicable taxes/custom if there are no issues with the lens.

      Best,
      Michael

  37. My M9 developed a non linear focusing error just after three months of use. It was weird because it focused fine at close distances but it was back focusing on some distances. The defect was most apparent when shooting Noctilux wide open and focused to five meters. It was fixed by Leica but it left me disappointed about Leica reliability. I’m not the only one from what I’ve heard.

    1. Did you even read the numerous D7000 reviews, describing all the focus issues that has? Ignorance is a blessing, isn’t it? ;-)

      1. The D7000 isn´t professional at all. I use at the D3/D3s for concert photography. Canon also has some great professional bodies.

  38. Hi Steve,
    I notice the same behavior with my Noct. I sort of wonder whether the lens is optimized for close to medium focus…I have compensated by adjusting my focus with the lens a bit, but agreed, there’s a certain frustration that a 11,000 lens doesn’t come perfectly calibrated.

    I think the only way to really deal with focussing issues is to send both camera and all lenses into a someone (Leica, DAG, Sherry Krauter) to adjust focus and get everything up to par. I have “gotten to know” most of my lenses, and their behaviors. What keeps me coming back is the IQ, when focus is spot on…that’s where the Noctilux shines…

  39. I had this with my 50mm Summilux. It was right on at close range but off by several feet at wider ranges (20-30′). It was so frustrating that I stopped using it. After weeks I put it back on and used it for several days and the focus was right on at any distance. Maybe it felt into some Miracle Grow.

  40. Hi Steve,

    Really enjoyed this post, both for the words and the wonderful images you’re producing on tour with Seal.

    Question for you: do you think you need to send new lenses to be calibrated to a new body as soon as you buy them from Leica, or should they work “out of the box” and only need an annual service?

    Roger

    1. Try them out. Usually they should work right of the box but things can always get misaligned during shipping. Don’t mess with a working system. If you don’t see any problems then don’t change anything.

  41. i used to have a bessa r3 that was always going oof…..easy to notice as the two images in focusing area wouldn’t match at infinity…they come short.

    you could send the camera to be fixed (a chink of money as this happened quite often) or do it at home…with the power of internet for instructions.

    i would never think of doing this with a leica…but wondered with anybody has had that problem in-camera on a leica?

    1. Actually, robert, when I got my used M8, the rangefinder was slightly misaligned, and I had the same problem with infinity. I then used my 50/1.5 Nokton to adjust focus wide open and close up as well as at infinity, and from thereon it worked flawlessly with all my lenses. It’s just a matter of twisting a little screw with an allen key. Nothing to be afraid of. (Although you CAN of course make things MUCH worse if you do it wrong …)

      1. so long to get back to you…apologies. good to know you can do it on a leica as well. thought leica would have the body closed shut that you wouldn’t be able to do it on one let alone an m8/m9…good to know thanks!

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