Shooting wide open in the sunlight with fast glass

Shooting wide open in the sunlight with fast glass

So you went out and bought that Leica Noctilux ASPH or SLR Magic Hyperprime T0.95 for your Leica M8 or M9 and you are one of those who want to shoot the lens how it is meant to be shot…WIDE OPEN! Yes, lenses like the Noctilux ASPH are meant to be shot WIDE OPEN and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise! Why else would we spend many thousands of dollars for a 0.95 lens? Well, we wouldn’t! This is also why these types of lenses are generally not meant for every day use. There are better lenses to use stopped down due to the weight and size of these super lenses so when we use one of these masterpieces of lens designs we WANT that 0.95 aperture!

The problem is that many of us who own these expensive but unique lenses realized that we can’t shoot in daylight when the lenses are wide open! I live in AZ and Here in Phoenix it is crazy tough when the sun is blazing down. Even at the base ISO of 160 with the M9 I would normally have to stop down to F/4 or f/5.6 just to shoot the lens, which means if I want that 3D look, that creamy shallowness, and signature look then I am out of luck…UNLESS I buy an ND filter.

I am sure that the majority of you know what an ND filter is but just in case you do not, an ND filter is simply a glass filter you attach to the front of your lens that will block most of the light from coming into your camera and hitting your sensor, allowing you to shoot wide open at slower shutter speeds even in full harsh sunlight.

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For lenses like the Noctilux and SLR Magic I would recommend (and I own) a high quality filter such as the B&W 1.8 64X multi coated ND filter. The Noctilux takes a 60mm filter and the SLR magic takes a 62mm filter.  With this filter attached you can set the lens to 0.95 and shoot away, even at high noon in the harshest of sun. When the light goes down you simply take off the filter. I tested out my ND filter at the renaissance fair this past weekend and it worked out great. Usually I would shoot something like a 50 1.4 or 90 f/2.5 at these types of events but I decided to see how the ND filter would handle shooting at 0.95 all day long.

I found minimal vignetting and that crazy cool 3D effect you can get when shooting in the sun at 0.95. I found out the same thing as Ashwin Rao when he shot the Noctilux wide open using an ND filter but I used the SLR Magic T0.95 Hyperprime, and I was wowed by the performance yet again from this lens. If you have ultra fast glass for your 1/4000th second Leica M9, think about picking up an ND filter for daytime use. Not only can you get some unique and beautiful images, you can also have some fun with it.

All images below were shot with the M9 and SLR Magic Hyperprime T0.95 LM lens. Some out of cam JPEGS and a few from RAW. Without the filter, I would not have gotten this “look” which many love and many hate.

Speaking of the SLR Magic…after shooting more with the lens I have to say that it is indeed just as good (if not better) in IQ than the Leica Noctilux ASPH. This lens has a sharpness and 3D pop that is absolutely incredible. Never a focus problem, never un-sharp, and NO CA in any of the shots I took this weekend. Amazing. It certainly is not inferior to the Leica and I think many of you saw that as well since SLR Magic sold out of their 1st run of this lens in a matter of hours last week. The only issue with this lens AND the Leica is that the depth of field is EXTREMELY shallow when wide open. You can see the effects of this in some of the images below. Even with that, it is great to have a lens like this in your arsenal, even if they are insanely expensive. Enjoy!

Click the images for larger, sharper and better 1800 pixel wide versions


  1. There’s that legendary Leica/magic look from the Legend himself! I love it!!

  2. Hi Steve,

    Great article but one thing which I did not see mentioned but which might add to the value of this article – do you have any thoughts / rules regarding WHITE BALANCE settings when using an ND filter?

    Obviously it will depend on the situation however I did come across someone else claiming to use ‘Daylight’ setting 95% of the time. Or will most users get away with using AUTOWB most of the time?


    • I always use AWB on the M9 and if it needs to be adjusted I do so in the RAW processing. But usually in daylight AUTO is good, or daylight is good.

  3. I want to get an ND filter for my micro 4/3 kit . . . where I mainly shoot the 46mm threaded Panny lenses (20 mm 1.7 and 25 mm 1.4). How many stops should I get from my “first” filter? .6, .9??

    (Btw, I also love my Oly 45 1.8 . . . but that is a different thread size and will require a second purchase).

    Thanks for any advice!

  4. the picture of the ‘gifted’ woman is phenomenal…

    the color, the lighting, proper sharpness, bokeh is right on this one (not so on few of them), sex appeal…

    just the bottle that she’s holding is putting me out of her fantasy and my mind wants to see what was below…er, her legs 😉

    anyway- this is the shot I would like to take one day, as I said, phenomenal…

    • Thanks. Yes, your observations are spot on as I notice the same thing. I will be trying to do a shootout with Ashwin Rao in Seattle..just waiting for him to return from a vacation he took to South America, which I think is today 🙂 So soon! The Leica has much more CA than the SLR Magic.

  5. Fantastic photos, the look this lens provides is very nice, excellent “pop” to your portraits.

    Me, when I shoot wide open during the day, I like to use Efke R25 or I pull Acros. It allows you to shoot wide open in the middle of the day and you get that nice shallow DOF you don’t normally get in the bright midday sun. I also have an ND filter for those really bright situations.

    Looking at these posts about the SLR Magic, I’m very tempted to get one for my M2, but my better half would kill me! Maybe one day, when I win the lottery…

  6. Great set of photos Steve. Beautifully done. My favorite was the … eh … hehe. I won’t say it. Just in case my girlfriend ever reads these comments!

  7. Hi Steve

    Thank you for your great post!

    I am using a M8 with a Nokton 35mm F1.2 ASPH Ver. II. Which filter is a better choice for me?

    1/ B+W 1.8 64X multi coated ND filter OR
    2/ B+W 0.9 8X multi coated ND filter

    What are the major differences / impacts to my photos?


    • Well, I use the 64X (1.8) so I can be assured of shooting wide open in even the brightest of light. Both of these are high quality filters and should not have much impact on your photos.

  8. Good post, although I find it a bit absurd that there’s guys out there with over 15k of Leica glass and full frame digital bodies that don’t know the basics of such simple things such as the ND filter.

    • Yes but it’s not just for 15k leica glass it could apply to a used pre-asph summilux just as well.

      I’m sure there is a lot of people that could benefit from this kind of review. Nice article Steve.

  9. Is there some situations where a Polarizing filter or combination of Pola and ND (Singh-Ray) could be preferable with the lens at 0.95? Could it increase the perceived sharpness? or give other 3D effect with colors??

  10. We love shallow depth of field because that is how we see the world. People talk about the value of context and that is made possible by taking pictures stopped down but in reality, a stopped down photograph is nothing like how we see the world. We get context in the real world by using the best autofocus system in the world by a million miles (the human eye). We can move our focus point from near to far in a split second in in so doing we get context. I love shallow depth of field photographs because when I look at a subject with my naked eye and focus on it, the background is out of focus, then I take the photograph and when I get the photo developed, it is almost exactly how I remember it, you won’t get that with stopped down photos. Funnily enough, with stopped down photos (and this is a plus for them for sure) is that in the developed photograph we often notice things we did not see at the time we took the photograph (why?) because we were looking at the scene in shallow depth of field and we simply missed it. That is why great sportsman can see the player in front of them but also the players beyond that and the gaps that open up. They see the field of play deeper than average players, called it stopped down if you like… (ok, sorry, got a bit carried away there)

  11. Steve,
    can you comment on how much “swirl” is in the bokeh of this lens? Or take shots of say, thin foliage or pebbles on the ground? I know you did say it has more barrel distortion vs the Nocti, but I personally dislike swirly bokeh. I find it very distracting.
    I notice the swirl in the second picture of the couples (w/ the green fence in the back) and in the picture with the guy+guitar.
    Thanks Steve.

    • This lens has no more swirl than the Leica f/0.95 ASPH. In fact, I prefer the Bokeh from this lens over the Leica though the difference is slight with the SLR magic out of focus highlights being a teeny bit “fatter”. This is a faster lens than the Leica though which is why the bokeh is a bit fatter. After using this lens for a while now I can easily say with confidence that besides the barrel distortion (that is only really evident with straight lines up close) this lens is actually a better lens than the Leica in regards to image quality and sharpness and overall look/feel. Build is up there with Leica (same heft and feel) but since I do not know what the inside of the SLR Magic looks like, I would have to think the Leica is actually built better. This is speculation though because I can not say for sure.

  12. I wonder what would be a better lens to get in terms of resale, the hyperprime or Noctilux f/1 version. I certainly like the classic images out of the f/1 Noctilux as well.

    • The Nocti F/1 sells used for $6500-$7500 depending on version you find. The SLR Magic is a m ugh better lens in regards to color, sharpness, speed and even vignetting. I would think if you bought a F/1 Nocti for $7k, you could sell it for $7k in 2-3 years. If you buy an SLR magic for $4288 today, you could probably sell it for $4288 or $5288 in 2-3 years as this lens appears to be just as hard to get as the Leica with long waiting lists already. I do not see THIS SLR Magic lens going down in value at all unless they start falling apart in a few months, which I do not see happening. 🙂

  13. Holly Molly…and for sure everyone (man at least) do know what photo I do mean!


    Besides that – lovely shots in sunny Arizona Steve. Using an B&W ND-filter since day one I bought the Noctilux.

  14. Hi Steve, can I use the SLR Magic T0.95 Hyperprime on my Panasonic GF1 via a Leica to Micro 4/3’s adapter ?

    • Yes of course. It is an M mount lens but if you never plan on using it on a Leica, there is a cheaper non coupled version for use on other cameras like M4/3, NEX, etc.

      • Do you ever think an E to X mount adapter would be possible? That would let the less expensive E mount lens work on the Fuji X-Pro1?

  15. One of he reasons I like my M8, which goes to 1/8000th… allowing me to shoot f/1.2 in most situations without an ND filter, although I usually bring my Hoya x4 filter just to be sure.

    • That was one of the first things I noticed when I moved from the M8 to the M9 last summer. I’m not sure why Leica dumped 1/8000 on the M9.. I found it very helpful in bright situations.

  16. I like fast film – and i like shooting wide open – on occasion i’ve explored those preferences in the mid day sun of the american desert while using cameras that top out at 250th of a second (shutter in the lens) . . . . . . to make this work i’ve used 9 or 10 stop neutral density filters made by hoya and b&w – why i bother to mention any of this is to call attention to the fact that one of the few attributes that a rangefinder has (and shares with other cameras where one is not viewing through the “taking” lens) in comparison to your typical slr is that you can use a filter with 10 stops of neutral density, which means you can’s hardly see through it to focus . . . i thought all you leica types might find that gratifying, though not exactly necessary for dealing with your typical turkey on a stick renaissance crap . . . .

  17. The woman with red hair is so cute, I almost forgot to read the review and to watch the other pics 😉 Seriously, amazing photos Steve with overwhelming nice bokeh. Still waiting my nex7, I do not understand why most of photographers seem to avoid to use bokeh, are they not aware it exist this possibility or just is not so that easy to get bokeh ? Mainly with the bokeh you do, the subject in the photo, really, seems to almost jump out of the monitor, he-she-it seems real in real 3D ! Shortly, your pics seem ALIVE !

    • Thanks Luca. Shallow DOF can be overused but sometimes it is fun to use it. I shot all of these wide open so I could test out the ND filter, and…this lens screams to be used wide open.

  18. beautiful 3d pop to these with such vibrant colour! Superb! What would be the shutter speed if the lens was shot wide open at lowest iso in broad daylight with no nd filter, compared to fastest shutter speed on the M9?

  19. *Ahem* Steve…. the plane of focus isn’t on the red head’s eyes… We’ll chalk it up to rangefinder calibration. Yes. Rangefinder calibration.

    • 😉 That’s what I was just thinking.

      You were focusing on her eyes, huh Steve?

        • Wow… oh wow, oh wow! The look in her eyes says a lot more than words will ever produce. You’ve captured her thought(s) picture perfect and sharp as ever! Beautiful pictures, each of them tells has a story. Nicely done.

      • It’s kind of funny ,.the more I see that image the more I fell down into a Trap ,..maybe “BoobyTrap”,..LOL

    • Maybe it was, but when she realized that a camera was aiming at her she might have pulled her shoulders down, thus tilting the had slightly back:)

      • Not to be too crass on a public forum, but I’m pretty sure the 3d effect would have been there at F8 if you know what I mean…

        Nevertheless, wonderful photos steve–looked like a fun time. #1 and 3 are my favorites.

  20. I would just add that you can get the 3D effect even stopped down. Probably something to do with distance from the subject (I certainly don’t claim to know the science behind it but I know it when I see it ;).

    I was astounded by this image take a few weeks ago in South Africa at Cape Point where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. This was shot at about f/8 with Ektar film, summilux 50mm and Leica MP. The more you look at the image the more rocks and the lighthouse separate from the ocean and it becomes 3D. Not sure if this is a film v digital thing (I suspect not) but it is amazing. This is a web reduced file too, the original tiff was 134 megs and the 3D was almost tangible and this was stopped down? Would love to hear from the gurus as to why this is.

  21. Hi Steve,

    Great photos!

    I noted the purple fringing is kept to a minimum in the above shots. The colours are vibrant and the bokeh is smooth. Nice 3D effect in the photos too!

    I am interested what ND filters you used? Cos it still maintains nice colours in the photos!

    Best regards,

    Wilson Chong

    • The SLR Magic purple fringing is very minimal, quite a bit less than the Leica which is surprising to me. The ND filter was mentioned and linked to in the text above so you can see the exact one I used. It is a B+W. Thanks!

  22. Great set of images Steve. I know from experience it takes skill to shoot with a lens with such shallow depth of field, but when one gets it right the images look almost in 3D! Looking at the one of the girl in her bikini outfit for example, it’s so sharp you can see the goosebumps on her breasts yet her shoulders are already going out of focus. Can’t think why I ‘focused’ on that frame in particular 🙂

  23. great set Steve… with you on the ND’s, have to use them constantly down here (OZ) in the glaring summer sunlight.

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