A Taste of the vintage Noct Nikkor 58 f/1.2 Lens on the Leica SL
By Steve Huff
So earlier this week I sort of scratched an itch I have had for many many years. I was able to try out a lens (just received it) I have been so curious about for so so long and that lens is the vintage Noct Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 Lens. This lens is special for a few reasons and there are some who have owned this beauty since they bought it new 40 years ago and would never think of selling it. I have heard that is just how good it is, or should I say “unique” as by todays standards for lens perfection, this would get an F.
So what is so special about this Noct Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 Lens and why would anyone pay up to $4000 for one when you can get a new production Nikkor 50 1.2 for $700 or so?
Well, if this costly Noct Nikkor is older, more expensive, only available used as it’s no longer made…and people are still buying them then there must be something to the lens (other than collectors buying them). I am a huge believer in being unique, being different and trying to forge your own path in life by separating what you do in life from others. This Noct Nikkor is sort of like that as it will make your images different from what we see so much of today, which is nail biting sharpness in lenses that can be almost too perfect. Sterile. Cold. The Noct Nikkor is the opposite of that and IMO offers much more beauty and vibe over any lens of this type I have previously tried.
The Noct Nikkor wide open. This is not one of those uber fast vintage lenses that have low washed out contrast wide open. Rather you will find a strong contrast and micro contrast wide open at f1.2.
I will state that I do feel it is overpriced, and probably not worth the current asking price to the general public ($1500 would be nice) but for those like me, who prefer things such as glow, bokeh, beauty and rendering over sharpness and corner to corner sharpness. This lens may be worth its weight in gold as again, there really is nothing like it. Much like the Leica Noctilux f/1. To this day it sells for almost $6000 used and it’s an old classic vintage design. I actually like this Nikkor better than the old Noctilux (shot with one for 2 years) but people buy the Noctilux up for it’s unique rendering and signature. Different strokes for different folks.
No other lens I have tested or tried or owned over the last 20 years can replicate the look of the Noct. Wether it is a look you like is another story.
Some would say “nothing” is special about this Noct Nikkor while others may say “there’s nothing quite like it” while some will say “it’s overhyped” and yet others may say “It’s the most beautiful lens ever made”. One thing is for sure…this lens is hyped and it is EXPENSIVE to buy and yes, it is no longer made so finding a good used copy could be a challenge but a quick search on Ebay shows there are plenty for sale and plenty to choose from.
A simple shot of my chlorine floater in my pool. The Noct Nikkor turns the scene into something artful and serene. Almost like a painting. There are lenses that can do shallow depth of field, but none I have seen turns the background into a beautiful painterly like scene quite like this Noct Nikkor.
I can not believe I finally have one of these in my hand..on my camera..on the Leica SL! Finally. Mounting it to the SL was easy as I have a cheap Nikon to T adapter and it works perfectly. With the SL’s huge EVF focusing is pretty easy, almost as if the camera was made for this kind of lens. It feels really nice mounted and the lens, this copy, feels like new. Looks like new. Focusing is so smooth and easy, and I guess it should be. These lenses were painstakingly hand made, with hand ground aspherical elements. While it was designed to minimize coma flare, it seems these days it is sought after for the look it delivers, which is indeed unique to this lens and sits in the same company as the legendary Leica Noctilux F/1 (which is much more money).
F/1.2 – click it for larger.
When shot wide open at f/1.2 this lens will bring forth its super power and make anything you aim it at look a little bit ethereal. It’s sort of an extreme Bokeh lens wide open but it may be the most beautiful bokeh I have ever seen in any lens. At least up there with the best of them. There is some slight vignetting and the beauty of this lens is that it is NOT perfect but may be one of the most beautiful character lenses ever made.
This is a cropped image but even at f/1.2 using manual focus it was not that difficult to focus on my dogs eyes. She was going for a swim today with Debby ; ) Leica SL and 58 at f/1.2
This lens has a mystique about it and for this reason the prices on the used market have been ridiculous. Anywhere from $2800 to $5000 depending on condition but for a nice 9/10 condition, as of August 2019… without a box, expect to pay $3500 on average. With a box in new condition you will be closer to $4500+ This Nikkor is a lens that I feel has similarities to the classic Leica Noctilux F/1. A lens I adore to pieces and due to the costs of that lens used, I do not own one! The Leica comes in at around $5-$6000 on the used market so one can pick up a Noct Nikkor for much less if you look around. I have shot extensively with the Noctilux f/1 and have to say, it reminds me a lot of this Nikkor. Both offer a unique look and rendering and in all honesty, I prefer this Nikkor a bit to the legendary Noct. It seems to have a little bit more soul and may be sharper at f1.2 than the Noctilux is at f/1.
Take a look at the 3D effect. I was about 10 feet from the lights, it was dark out. I set the lens to f/1.2, pointed the Leica SL at the lights, focused and fired. When I saw the image on the LCD I was blown away as it appeared that it was still light out. In reality it was dark but this lens soaked in the light to make to appear brighter. The way the jars are separated from the background is so nice.
After snapping off just a few quick shots today with this lens attached to the Leica SL, it reminded me of not only the Noctilux f/1 but also the new Voigtlander 75 1.5 ASPH (my review) in some ways. But compared to the old Noctilux, I feel this Nikkor just edges it out. Personal preference but this lens vignettes but a little bit less than the Noct f/1. It also seems to have nicer color performance, going from memory. It’s lighter and smaller as well as almost half the cost on the used market. The Leica is amazing but for anyone thinking of a character lens such as this do not be afraid to take a look at both of these before making a plunge as they are two of the best. They are in the same “family” when it comes to the way they draw an image to the sensor.
More snaps with the Nikkor 58 1.2 on the Leica SL. All at f/1.2 where this lens should LIVE. When you want to modern it up, just step down to f/2-f/4.
But this lens is not a lens for the masses. In fact, in the grand scheme of things not many own one of these lenses, and not many would pay this kind of money for one. It’s considered a collectors lens today but many do enjoy using the lens and they appreciate how unique it is. Again, this is sort of a specialty lens, and one that brings with it a look that will be in all of your photos taken with it. It’s the type of lens that will wow you at first and if you start to use it all the time you will tire of the look, and then use it only on occasion for when you want a taste of the magic it can bring. That’s OK though, same goes for all lenses like this.
The depth of field is so extremely thin so focus is a little challenging to hit perfectly but man, look at that smooth bokeh. 100% crop embedded here.
When this lens was made it was for a purpose. It was not marketed as being a “Bokeh King” as no one cared about bokeh back then. The lens was made for low light shooting and mainly was designed to render light points in a nice way (reducing coma). Due to its f/1.2 aperture, it also created images in such a unique way that no other lens could quite match its style. No other lens has matched it ever since according to some owners, some who have multiple copies of this lens and swear by the magic of it. Stopped down to even f/2 it sharpens up and brings a rendering a lot like the $8000 Leica 50 APO f/2 Summicron. It gives an almost medium format feel when shot on the SL due to the color, depth and smooth yet sharp character at f2.
The lens gets crisp by f2
The color is deep, the bokeh as smooth as it gets, and the depth of field razor thin. Click images here for larger better versions.
There is a Nikkor that has the same vibe as this one, is still new production and comes in at around $700 and may even be a tad sharper wide open at f/1.2 (that is something I am not sure on though). I have shot with it before and that lens is the 50 1.2 Nikkor. In fact way back when I reviewed the Nikon Df I shot it with the 50 f/1.2. While that lens looks similar in build and design, and both have f/1.2 apertures and both are in the 50mm range one would think they would put out an image that is the same. Nope. The Noct Nikkor has a slightly different signature. It has much more contrast wide open. Much better color. The 50 1.2 has a little more “glow”. It has a different bokeh style as well. Images taken with the Noct have a buttery smooth look about them that the less expensive 50 1.2 does not recreate. Can’t put my finger on it but it’s easy to see when you use both. That 50 1.2 is fantastic and the wiser choice for the $$$ but when you want the one look that only the Noct can deliver, it seems there are no imitations.
I have to say that after just a day with this lens and snapping off just a few shots around the house I am finding it to be a very romantic lens. Snap an image and what you get back is a different version of reality. A more beautiful version. This is another one of those lenses that can make a photo look like a painting. Make your photo look ethereal, smooth, unique, organic, classic, yet pleasing.
At f/2 it sharpens up nicely
It was made in a time when lenses were made to last forever. All metal build and solid construction with those hand ground elements made to perfection for the time. No, they do not make lenses like THIS anymore and if they did the cost would be insane. Look at the new Leica 75 Noctilux f/1.25..$13,000! When looking at it like this it makes the Noct Nikkor appear…affordable for what is. This lens to me is indeed special and also really reminds me of the super rare Leica Noctilux 50 f/1.2 which can fetch up to $16,000 these days.
This lens is even more dream than the Canon dream lens!
Crazy times but one thing is for sure, a cel phone can not recreate the look of the Noct Nikkor. No matter how hard it tries with fake bokeh and whatever tricks current tech can bring. There’s nothing like an old manual mechanical hand made lens that delivers something different, unique and beautiful. Some out there could never understand paying $3500 for a lens like this, but then again, I can not understand paying $13,000 for a Leica 75 Noctilux, yet some do. It’s why I will not even review that lens, I feel it is insanely overpriced for what it is and strictly for the rich.
The Noct Nikkor, I feel one day will hit the $6-7K price mark on the used market for a nice clean copy as they will only go up as they have been for years. That’s another thing…it may be expensive to get in at around $3-4k but over time it will appreciate rather than depreciate as all new lenses do. Not a bad investment at all.
A quick candid snap of Debby shot at f/1.2 wide open. I missed focus a little bit but still like the image.
This is a pretty cool lens. I’m enjoying it so far but will be shooting some bands with it this weekend in some lower light clubs. I’ll report back with some photos and more thoughts after shooting it on the SL and A7III. I hope to be shooting it alongside the Voigtlander 75 1.5 and Voigtlander 50 1.2. Should be fun! This was just some first thoughts and a first look with some around the house snaps to get a feel for the character.