USER REPORT: Leica Lumix Melange + Noctilux 0.95 vs. 1.0 Comparison on mFT
By Helge Hackbarth
The exceptional picture composing options of bright prime lenses make them desireble especially for the MicroFourThirds camera system. 3D-Kraft demonstrates how a bright standard lens transforms into a fantastic portrait focal length and compares the qualities of the Leica Noctilux-M 1:0.95 / 50mm with its predecessor, the Noctilux-M 1:1.0 / 50mm.
The recent success story of the mirror-less, and thus relatively compact Micro Four Thirds (mFT) camera system was pushed forward also by the fact that quite quickly the usual focal lengths from wide angle to telephoto were covered with compact and high quality lenses from Olympus and Panasonic. Even attractive ultra wide-angle and super telephoto zoom lenses are available meanwhile. However bright prime lenses lacked for a long time.
The enormous demand for the – mostly sold – Voigtänder Nokton 25mm/0.95 shows the strong desire for such primes. It’s not just the high gain at low light, that many users require, but also the associated shallow depth of field (DOF) available for attractive image compositions. Because of the smaller camera sensor (crop factor 2 compared to a “full frame” sensor) the focal length required for a certain viewing angle halves as well but the ratio of focal length and full aperture diameter doubles for a comparably shallow depth of field. Thus a person to be portrayed in front of a background that should appear with a smooth and creamy bokeh requires focal lengths of about 35 to 50 mm and an open aperture starting at about f 1.0 to 1.4 which makes these lenses usually much more expensive.
Viewing angle / Crop of a FourThirds sensors compared to a “full frame” 35mm sensor at identical focal length.
(Image courtesy: Peter Lück, Camera-JPEG Leica Noctilux 1.0 with open aperture at Leica M9)
Fortunately, you are not forced to wait for the offering of such a lens segment in the MFT. The possibility to adapt almost any other lens system to Micro Four Thirds System cameras because of the mirror-less design was quickly recognized, so there are lots of appropriate adapters available meanwhile. Because of an only slightly different flange back distance of the Leica M system, lenses for cameras with the M-bayonet can also be used in the MFT system and they are – thanks to their high quality – even after many years coveted hunting objects in the second hand market. In general, they have no auto focus or lose this ability with other systems through the most purely mechanical adaptation. With some practice, manual focusing on such specialized lenses will be appreciated soon, because it allows for the sometimes only inches deep depth of field set more preciisely than with any automatic. Very useful here are electronic view finders (EVF) that can be easily activated and that allow 5x or 10x magnification.
When you enter the area of extremely large-aperture lenses, you will sooner or later come accross the Leica Noctilux 50mm/0.95, which is currently the world’s brightest aspheric lens. It appeared in 2008 and is the successor to the legendary “King of the Night”, the Leica Noctilux 50mm/1.0. It represents like not other Leica’s excellence to develop and manufacture such high-quality lenses. While the current 0.95er Noctilux is hard to get and because of its price tag of approximately 8000 EUR it is often beyond the budget. Its predecessor has better availability in the second hand market now and can be won around around 3500 to 4800 EUR – depending on age and condition. Of course there are some much cheaper alternatives, such as the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm/1.1 or the 50mm/1.2 Canon EF. They may be worth its price, but achieve balance with regard to sharpness, contrast and bokeh not on the level of a Leica Noctilux. So who is willing to invest such sums into a manual fixed focal length, will ask as the next question, if the additional expenditure for a new Leica Noctilux 50/0.95 against a 50/1.0 – in good condition – appears justified.
1st image: Leica Noctilux-M 1:1.0 / 50mm (E60 version with extensible, slightly square lens hood)
Bottom image: Leica Noctilux-M 1:0.95 / 50mm (with extensible lens hood))
A few facts first about the older Noctilux: It was manufactured in Canada since 1975, initially in a version with 58mm filter thread, and later as “E 60” with a 60mm filter thread. The hood changed its shape over the years as well. Was it at first round and screw-on, it was later fixed but extensible. The latest E60 version is already 6-bit coded, has a rather square, sliding hood with rounded corners that produces less shade to the viewfinder of a Leica M camera. The optics was based on the same calulation throughout the entire period but the antireflective coating is rumored to have changed over the years. The actual focal length of each item is measured in the final production step. The result is engraved in the housing using the following codes: 00 for 50mm, 01 for 51mm and 02 for 52mm.
The successor is a completely new development and is made since 2008 in the German Leica headquarters in Solms. It uses aspherical elements, as well as “floating elements”, is a bit bigger and heavier and has a shorter focus thread. Its vignetting on full frame sensors is less than its predecessor and it has a better sharpness in the edges.
…and which differences appear when attached to a mFT system camera?
The illustration of the crop factor relationship shown above also indicates the vignetting and slightly recognizable loss of edge sharpness of the Noctilux 1.0 at open aperture when attached to a full frame Leica M9. The red marked rectangle shows the crop that mFT a sensor actually use from the full frame image. It is well recognizable that the stronger vignettiing and the edge blur of a Noctilux 1.0 opposite a Noctilux 0.95 affect the image only within areas that are not covered by the mFT the sensor. With other words: MFT cuts only the “piece of filet” from the lense’s picture circle.
The Noctilux mounted to a micro Four Thirds camera results in an unusually balanced combination, but still appears “visually” balanced. If your camera is equipped with an electronic viewfinder providing magnification it is very helpful for precise focusing. The Noctilux 1.0 is said to have a certain focus shift on rangefinder cameras like the Leica M9, which was opimized ith the new 0.95er version. However – on cameras with electronic viewfinders this plays no role.
Leica Noctilux 50/1.0 adapted to a Panasonic Lumix GH2
Let us consider some comparative examples, all of which are viewable by clicking on it in full size
– First with open aperture:
Noctilux 1.0 at f1.0
Noctilux 0.95 at f0.95
Both images are comparable in terms of sharpness in the focal region. For portraits of this kind a certain softness and “glow” is OK and may be desired. Both lenses show at open aperture a tendency to color frings which ar not atypical for this light intensity. A typical difference between the old and the new Noctilux is already clearly visible: while the circles of confusion have the “bubble” shape that is characteristic for the Noctilux 1.0, the new aspherical corrected Noctilux draws the them clearly neutral.
Noctilux 1.0 at f1.0
Noctilux 0.95 at f0.95
In these examples you can see the smoother out-of-focus rendering in the background of the aspherical Noctilux below whereas above you see the typical circles of the older Noctilux.
The following two pictures show the image composition options in daylight and aperture f1.4. Due to the tremendous intensity here you usually will have to provide provided a gray filter (in the examples, an ND filter from B & W) for a darkening of three stops otherwise even at a shutter speed of 1/4000s you willl get over-exposed results.
Noctilux 1.0 at f1.4
Noctilux 0.95 at f1.4
Both lenses provide excellent sharpness at f1.4 already, but are also struggling with minor color frginging even at this dimming. At f1.4 the bokeh has hardly noticeable differences.
• With regard to sharpness and contrast both Noctilux generations are head to head in the crop area of a Four Thirds sensor.
• Both offer exceptional brightness and provide a unique visualization in the area of avialable light photography
• The aspherically corrected Noctilux has a slightly more neutral creamy bokeh at open aperture whereas the predecessor at f1.0 has its own “bubble” character. Who likes this more or less is substantially influenced by personal preferences. It is the balance between perfection and character.
• At open aperture center-weighted auto exposure tends for both lenses in a slight under-exposure, since the brightness decreases towards the edges. With the old Noctilux this effect is even more distinctive and should be taken into account in setting the camera by a slight increase in exposure.
• In the operation of the old Noctilux focussing is slower but may be easier to adjust accurately. In my tests, the rate of correctly focused images with the old Noctilux was slightly higher. For video applications the shorter focus trasnlation might be helpful.
The following series illustrates the development of the circles of confusion across different aperture settings at the older Noctilux 1.0.
At f1.4 you see already nearly circular lights, at f1.0 the rings turn into bubbles.
Concluding several other examples that show the character and composing options of such an extraordinary lens.
(f1.4, ISO 800 – here some candles were the dominating light sources)
Leica on Lumix (me shot with the Noctilux 1.0 attached to a Leica M9 by “Dierk”)
For further examples please follow this this link.
[ad#Adsense Blog Sq Embed Image]
Steve–Long time reader, 1st post.. Excellent article and images, as always!
I’m very impressed with youre shots using the Noct 1.0 – especially at 1.4; Very artistic bokeh and drawing style. I currently own the .95 version – though technically it’s quite flawless, i’m missing some of that imperfection and dreamy rendering of the 1.0 (i’ve never used a 1.0)..i guess the grass is always greener.
Here’s one of my recent images wide open with the .95, i think this lens would benefit from some of that swirly bokeh 🙂
…Now if they would just miniaturize the size 😉
Thanks for this review! It shows me 2 things:
1. I really don’t like the bokeh of the old Noctilux at f/1.0. It looks nice at f/1.4 and up, but if that’s needed to get a pretty picture I could just buy a slower f/1.4 lens instead. In that light the price of around 4000€+ used seems excessive to me.
2. I’d change the name of the Noctilux f/0.95 to Desirilux. Or So-breathtaking-you-will-sell-your-firstborn-for-itilux. If there has ever been a perfect lens, this is it!
Thanks for sharing, I personally prefer the f1.0 noct than the newer one due to the swirlyness it produces on its out of focus background..
Thanks for the very interesting article. I am currently shooting Nikon but been looking to change to Leica for a while. I have two questions (one of them I am afraid might sound a little bit siilly, but nontheless):
1. Is the Leica f/0.95 assisted by some sort of automatic focusing system? I am thinking maybe in the shots overnight, at fairs and other events where you may not have the time to focus manually. Does it have that ability?
2. The shot of the two fireeaters, the last one, where was it took? May I know where and when? I’d love to go.
Thank you for your comment, Damian.
@1.: The lens is focused manually.
@2.: The fireeaters were shot in Hamburg during an event called “Venzianischer Maskenzauber” which means something like “venetian mask enchantment”.
Thanks for the info. Really appreciated.
Excellent article and images!
I don’t have access to a rangefinder camera to test the theory, but I have read and heard of people unable t use rangefinders due to age-related vision problems. If this proves to be the case with me, as I near my half-century mark, I may find myself wanting to use Leica glass on something other than a rangefinder. Or, perhaps, I will be content to use my fast fifty L lens on Canon DSLRs.
Great images. Never had a doubt about the quality of Noctilux lenses. I have seen pictures of comparable quality from a Canon 5D MkII with an 85mm 1.2L, a kit costing about $5000 total, compared to the 10,000 for the Noctilux. But then, I am perhaps a philistine who doesn’t understand the whole Leica RF “aesthetic.” Maybe its a swiss watch phenomenon where people spend thousands of dollars to buy Piagets, A. Longe whatever for their impeccable craftsmanship and exclusivity, however that begs the question as to when cameras became a fashion accessory instead of an artists tool?
I apologize for bringing up this tired debate– sometimes my emotions get the better of me 🙂
Great article! I hope people realize how special a 100mm equivalent lens is. It is the perfect portrait lens. Yes, I realize that you can achieve the same effect by simply cropping an m9, but that does not detract from the wonderful results displayed above.
Some say why?, I say why not? This is the perfect example of having fun with photography and making incredible art. If someone offered to let me borrow a Nocti, I would shoot it on whatever I could beg borrow or steal.
Thanks again Helge
Thank you very much for your appreciation and also you critical comments.
In my opinion, the Noctilux is a very special lens – on a M9 as well as when used on m4/3. It’s a shift to another application area and not a misuse or a waste. The article should indicate that – if you think about using such an exceptional lens on m4/3 – you may come as well to the conclusion, that the additional charge for the ASPH Noctilux is justified on fullframe but not necessarily on m4/3. I had the option to borrow the 0.95 ASPH sample used in this comparison for some time – and decided to continue just dreaming of it. May be I cange my mind with a M10… 😉
Regarding image quality: As the GH2 is equipped with a 18 MP sensor (16 MP used effectively in 4:3 format), you get very good results and crop provision already within this system, when shooting RAW and using lenses of exceptional good quality like those from Leica and the Voigtländer Nokton 25/0.95.
Regardings compactness: Yes, with a Noctilux you lose the compactness advantage of a m4/3 camera – as well as you lose it with a M9. For most users (also those who own the M9) it is a specialist and not a lens you carry in your bag every day.
Meanwhile I replaced my 1.0 Noctilux with a Summilux 50/1.4 as I recognized that most of the time I also used the Noctilux at f1.4. It does not have that magic and character of the Noctilux but a perfect balance of sharpness and bokeh already at open aperture (and less purple fringing than both Noctilux). Even more it is much more compact and so the perfect companion for m4/3 (also for video purposes).[img]http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5064/5624079947_89035cc78f_m.jpg[/img]
Nice article Helge… You can achieve similar look if not the same for a lot less on the m43 system without breaking the bank.
Nice article and great shots to support it. Bravo!
I see no point in spending that kind of money on a lens to use it on m4/3 where most of the uniqueness is lost due to crop factor.
You lose the compactness of the m4/3 system and gain a clinical lens that can’t show it’s character.
I would rather get myselft an m9 + 50 summilux any day of the week.
I am not hating on m4/3, I love it but this is just a waste.
I do agree that it is a bit strange to use lens as expensive as this one on micro4/3 cameras and the point that 50mm becomes 100mm equivalent certainly reduces its versatility to mainly a portrait lens but the article was aimed anyway to the people who presumably own Leica camera body as well and also to show what is the potential of micro4/3 cameras which it did very well. The photos look very nice.
Also if it was not said in the article that the photos were taken with micro4/3 camera but that it was presented as a comparison of old and new noctilux lens all people would praise magic of Leica M9.
nice to see someone going to the time and effort to put this article together. whatever the end result both lenses are brilliant….looking forward to see if leica can push the boundaries further
wrong. you’re just jealous that it can still deliver on a system other than the leica you own. dont hate.
This lens is just a plain failure on MFT. Nuff said…
Have to disagree here. Ok, not the Nocti look due to the crop factor etc but wow, how good are these photos? Exceptional.
Yes, absolutelly agree, if Helge didn’t say what camera was used no one would complain about the lack of “signature look”, just goes to show ammount of snobery in some people or pure envy when they see such acomplished photos.
Great write up! Enjoyed reading it!
I really like these shots also. I just wish Olympus would offer a Pen style body/sensor worthy of the expensive lenses coming down the pike.
if nocti then ( Full frame > 4/3)
That’s a pretty direct way to put it, but yeah, I agree.
if ( budget == unlimited)
Seriously though, if I had 10.000€ lying around begging me to get spent, I’d rather buy a crop camera + the 8000€ Noctilux than a full-frame rangefinder camera and a cheaper lens. I remember Steve’s NEX versus M9 review in which the NEX performed really well considering the differences in price and sensor size.
Some great really great photographs, thanks for sharing
These are really eye opening shots. This is why I haven’t given up my M4/3 over X100 yet, just endless possibilities. I thought my Nikkor 50mm f1.4 on an E-P2 is good, wait till you see these. Purple fringing is a problem on mine too until f2, manual focus without EVF is little sluggish, otherwise, I’m very happy with mine.
Really wish Oly E-P3 will have a built-in EVF, doesn’t have to be fancy as X100.
Really enjoyed these comparison, nice work Helge
Helge I can’t afford either but a very good article nonetheless. Personal preference? I’m less enthused about the egg shaped circles produced by the Noctilux 1.0.
Thanks for sharing