The Leica Noctilux f/1.2 Double Aspherical Lens Review. 100% Classic.
By Steve Huff
Video Review of the 50 f/1.2
Today Leica offers a new version of this classic, recreated as closely as possible to the original. In fact, here is a blurb about it:
“The re-issue of the iconic Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2 ASPH Lens from Leica is the return of a one of the most famous M-mount lenses, carefully adapted with modern design and production advances to recreate its unique aesthetic for contemporary photographers. Images captured at an open aperture feature a soft, dreamlike quality, creating an unmistakable look with exquisite bokeh. The optical design is almost identical to the original 1966 lens, providing a classic, vintage feel. Two large-diameter aspherical elements control spherical aberrations for improved clarity and reduced distortion. Although the Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2 has a unique look at a wide aperture, the lens is versatile and rugged enough for everyday use.”
I have been lucky as I have been able to shoot the original version and the new version, though my time with that original lasted about 30 minutes.
THREE with the ORIGINAL Double Aspherical 50 Noctilux from back in 2011.
As you can see above the background of these images is buttery smooth, and the detail in the portraits is soft, smooth and lovely. THIS is what makes the lens so special yet at the same time, the new version has a trick up its sleeve as when stopped down it can work as an everyday lens. By f/4 this lens is as sharp as a 50 APO and therefore offers up a dual personality within those pieces of magical glass.
A Cool $60,000! WHAT?!?!?!?!?
Today on eBay I see those original lenses from the 60’s listed with prices at $40k and up. It’s insanity really, as there is no way in the world this lens is worth that kind of cash. I know, I know…”collectors” buy them and I guess those who bought on back in 2010-2011 when they were selling for $10-$13k were very smart as they now have a lens that is worth much much more. I will still say though…this lens is in no way worth what they are going for on eBay today if you intend to USE IT. Even if you intend to collect it I can not imaging this lens climbing in value much more due to the new version that replicates it going for $8k.
The original 50 1.2 on the M9
Shelf it for 20 years, maybe…just maybe it will rise more, who knows. I am no expert on vintage lens costs but I know I would never spend even $15k on the OG when a new one with warranty can be had for less, and yes, the new one keeps the same look and vibe of the original.
Leica brought this old 1966 lens back to life with an all new model which is indeed modeled after that original version. The same soft performance wide open, the same dreamy bokeh and the same vignetting. One could buy the new version for just under $8000 and have a soft, blurred lens with muted colors and that classic swirly glow if that is what floats your boat. When shot at f/1.2 this lens is VERY DREAMY and VERY soft. Again, how it is supposed to be.
This is for those who want extreme character above all else, and yes indeed, this lens is full of character and paints an image that looks like it came from 1966.
I recently had the chance to shoot this lens on the Leica SL2-S with the Leica M adapter. This way, the lens 6 bit code is read and corrections are applied. Corrections you ask? Basically barrel distortion is corrected when the lens profile is enabled but the vignetting pretty much stays when shot at f/1.2. It is after all, part of the character of this lens.
Debby photographed with the Leica SL2-S and 50 Noctilux f/1.2 Reissue.
It seems some are enamored with this lens and its soft focus performance and I was excited to give it a go myself to see if I would fall in love with this new version of an absolute classic. I am after all a guy who prefers character above all else as that is what sets images apart from the rest. A lens such as this can indeed make your images pop from those who are using lenses that deliver razor sharp results across the frame. This is a lens of beauty and bokeh my friends and it is legendary. Even so, there are other lenses that can give you a dreamy look.
Two from the NEW Leica 50 1.2 Noctilux. Click them for larger.
It has always been so dreamy with such a unique rendering and I will say it is sharper at f/1 than this new 50 f/1.2 is at f/1.2 but it has a different draw. When the f/0.95 came along I loved that as well as it kept that amazing character and bokeh but brought along sharpness and improved corner detail. It also has less vignetting. When I look back now, I feel the 0.95 version also lost some of its magic compared to the f/1 and today I would much prefer the f/1 version over the current f/0.95 version. Again, I love character.
I also adore lenses like the Noct Nikkor f/1.2 and the Canon Dream Lens. They all offer something special in the way of character and for me, the Noct Nikkor took the prize for my personal favorite above even the Leica f/1 Noctilux a couple of years ago. You can see my review HERE of that lens. The Noct Nikkor could be found for around $3500-$4000 (and climbing) in excellent condition on eBay at times and is well worth the cost if you are searching for a lens like it. It did great on the Leica SL.
Keep in mind I have not yet decided on that lens vs this new 50 1.2 Noctilux. I will talk about that down below.
The Leica 50 1.2 Noctilux Reissue wide open. Click the images for larger versions. These were all shot on the Leica SL2-S, my favorite 35mm format digital camera.
When looking at the images above you can see the special qualities that this lens brings that no other lens does. Again, this is not about biting sharpness or being perfect. That is way way overrated if you ask me. Nope, this lens is about beauty. About smooth buttery bokeh. About soft portraits (which can be a good thing) and about being special. It’s why it costs what it does, and why even vintage lenses like the Noct Nikkor and Dream Lens have shot up in price over the last few years. It’s also probably why the original 50 1.2 Noctilux sells for insane cash. If you want THIS look, nothing else will bring it. Nothing from Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.
As for this new Noctilux 50 f/1.2, well, for me it started out as a mixed bag. One one hand, it’s a lovely lens in design and size. Small like a 50 Summilux and works on the M and the SL bodies very well. At $8,000 for the black version though, I originally thought it was a tad costly for what it offers and assumed it could be bested by lower cost lenses that are truly vintage. For example, the Noct Nikkor 50 1.2.
After living with it for longer I started to be drawn to it and soon felt I would much rather have this lens than even the Noct Nikkor of f/1 Noctilux.
There are TWO reasons. First, nothing can recreate this look when it is shot at f/1.2 wide open. Nothing. No software, no phone, no other vintage lenses. You can get an almost simulator vibe from some lenses, and even more character from a vintage Leica lens such as THIS ONE but it still doesn’t offer up the look of this Noctilux.
Second, this lens is gorgeous when stopped down and does offer up that sharpness and detail while retaining the beautiful bokeh in the background.
1st image at f/1.2 and the next stopped down a bit to f/4. Click them for larger versions.
When shot wide open for portraits wrinkles be damned! This lens is not sharp at all when opened up to its widest aperture yet at the same time, this is when its beauty emerges. With the SL2-S one can focus easily but unless your M camera is perfectly calibrated it could be a nightmare to lock in with focus. After you get past f/1.2, say even at f/2 the lens sharpens up considerably.
I fell in love with the lens during my short time with it because it had that dual character and SMALL size. Compared to a 50 0.95 Noct this lens is like a newborn baby. One that hasn’t yet learned about wide open sharpness or trying to be perfect. It’s got a long focus throw, and this is awesome as it makes it that much easier to focus accurately. I do not use M cameras these days as I have had way too many headaches and costly problems with them over the years but I adore the SL system, and this lens is right at home on the SL2s. If Leica would make an M with an EVF of high quality there would be no more focus issues with these cameras. No more calibrations would be needed when you accidentally hit your M camera into something. So no, I did not shoot this on an M but did use the official Leica M adapter which Leica says makes these lenses perform how they were designed to perform.
Two in black and white with the NEW 50 Noctilux f/1.2
If I were asked on day one with this lens if I could recommend it or buy it I would have said no way, but a Summilux for much less. After using it for a while and understanding it’s dual super powers I fully understand it and it has made me want to own one. I do not think that will ever happen due to cost and the fact that I do not NEED this lens but if I had say $16k to throw around Id buy this lens and don’t the other $8k to a worthy charity. It’s a small lens and creates moody ethereal images when shot at f/1.2. If you ask me now, I would prefer this lens over the Noct Nikkor as it is indeed a special lens with a very unique special quality.
If you crave character, ethereal beauty and have a fat wallet this is a lens you may enjoy immensely.
See the difference between f/1.2 and f/2.8 below. It looks gorgeous at f/2.8 and retains that special bokeh quality. Wide open it is dreamy and while this would get old fast, it is nice to have on tap for when you want that special look. Use it sparingly and you will learn to love this lens along with its capabilities.