In this episode we have special guest photographer, Mark de Paola! Mark has had many years of experience using all iterations of the Noctilux in his own practice. Thank you again to Mark and Sage for all your help and expertise with this episode!
First appearing on the market in 1966, the Leica Noctilux-M has always been considered a masterpiece of optical engineering that brings photographers enormous creative freedom. It is the world’s fastest aspherical lens for 35mm photography especially when shooting in low light, it reveals fine details that are hardly visible to the naked eye.
Typically photos made with a Noctilux are characterized by their unmistakable bokeh and border the line of impressionism. It’s a captivating tool that presents each photographer with visual and artistic challenges to master. The Noctilux-M has a unique rendition of contrasts which results in pictures with outstanding brilliance, sharpness and minimal flare and coma effects when shooting wide open. The character from any of the iterations of the Noctilux remains unrivaled to this today.
The Noctilux astounded visitors to the fair and the industry press with its virtually revolutionary optical properties. For those days, it offered a simply gigantic maximum aperture, but not only that, it was also a maximum aperture that delivered exceptional optical performance.
It’s worth stating that for its time, the f1.2 Noctilux was the first ever lens produced to feature two aspherical lens surfaces. One of these two asphericals was made from special glass with a high refractive index. The task of the asphericals was to reduce spherical aberration at maximum aperture and increase quality in the image field.
At that time, the production of asphericals was a particularly complex and costly process. Fun fact: There was only one Leitz Employee, Gerd Bergmann, who could successfully operate the special grinding machine for making its two aspherical surfaces. There were many rejects so only 1000 lenses were manufactured give or take. OG - Considered a “holy grail” for collectors.
As of 2021, Leica reissued this legendary lens and has been part of the current Leica lens profile.
More than 30 years later, at photokina 2008, Leica presented the new highlight of the Noctilux family: the Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 ASPH. It redefined the limits of the physical possible and catapulted the potential's experimentation with planes of focus into an entirely new dimension.
To achieve this, the latest technological advances were combined with the many years of experience gathered in the design and construction of both of its predecessors. In consequence, the new Noctilux owes its exceptional imaging performance to a combination of specially formulated glass types with anomalous partial dispersion, glasses with high refractive indices, a floating element, and two ground and polished asphericals. The latter are manufactured lens-by-lens in consistently perfect quality. Although the production of asphericals remains an extremely elaborate process, it is today much more efficient and, in turn, more practicable than it was in the days of the first-generation Noctilux from 1966.
Photographers can once again rely completely on the promise made by the first and all following Noctilux lenses: the maximum aperture is simultaneously a working aperture. In other words, there is no need whatsoever to stop down to achieve better imaging performance. The extremely shallow depth of focus when shooting wide open is a feature of the lens that can be consciously used as a creative tool.
50mm F1.2 Noctilux:
50mm 0.95 Noctilux:
Determining the best version of Noctilux for you primarily hinges on the aesthetic you desire and the form factor that best suits your needs. We hope this dive into the distinctions between the Noctilux lenses is beneficial for your own understanding if you are trying to determine which lens works best for you. Of course, if you do have any questions we encourage you to reach out and talk to us about which Noctilux would fit your photography and needs best. The distinctions between the two lenses are evident, resulting in notably different renderings. Mark, for instance, opts for the f1 version, as he finds its look more fitting for his work. Therefore, choosing the ideal lens is a subjective decision, grounded in personal preference and the specific demands of one's craft.
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Special Thanks to Mark de Paola for offering his insight on the Leica Noctilux. We encourage you to follow his photography via the links below and explore his photo books in-store and online.