Leica Noctilux is a lens, or rather a family of lenses, which is capable of transmitting more light than any lens in the world. To be more exact, at its full aperture of f/0.95 (in case of the previous version, f/1), loss of light is only due to internal reflections from optical surfaces, which is, for practical purposes, is almost negligible. The implication of it is gigantic: Noctilux gives a photographer freedom to shoot in near darkness without a tripod.
|Leica M9, Leica Noctilux 1/50 @ f/1, 1/30, ISO1000|
What is more amazing, even at f/1 Noctilux delivers image quality sufficient for professional use in photojournalism, editorial and even advertising photography. The photo above, for example, was taken in the evening, with just two light sources: twilight from the store front, right in the man’s face, and a lamp with a 15W tungsten bulb, which you see in the picture. At 1/30 of a second I managed not only avoid motion blur (which at 1/15 would be very problematic), but make the scene look about two stops brighter than it actually was. This digital image sustained very little post-production (minor color correction compensating for the difference in color temperatures of sources and low sharpening), which literally took less than a minute. The picture, however, can be successfully enlarged for at least an 18x24” print.
In an interest of a full disclosure, I have to mention that other manufacturers, namely Canon and Vöigtlander also made super-fast lenses in the range of f/0.95 to f/1.1. These optics, however, did not gain much recognition despite their substantially lower prices, for the reason of their inferior image quality. Inferior to Noctilux, that is.
Obviously, image quality at full aperture cannot be expected to match what can a comparatively modest Summicron 50mm f/2 deliver at setting. In fact, no other lens can, because this very 50mm Summicron is a de-facto industry standard normal lens for 35mm photography. The main reason for this disparity lays in serious trade-offs that have to be made in designing super-fast lenses. For instance, in order to control spherical aberrations, the lens must be designed with lower overall contrast. Even use of aspherical optical elements and special glass with anomalous light dispersion characteristics cannot fully address all existing issues. That is why pictures taken with Noctilux at its widest aperture settings, especially when it is done in aggressive lighting conditions (strong hard light, very high contrast, overexposure, contre-jour, point light sources within the field of view), and frequently lack in contrast and sharpness. The most serious drawback of Noctilux is its propensity
|Leica M9, Leica Noctilux 1/50 @f/4|
to chromatic aberrations when shooting against the light. Even three stops down from f/1 strong backlighting can create purple fringing, yellow/blue and red/green color splits. The image above shows this very problem: a contour of the model’s face looks unsharp, while the rest of her silhouette is sharp. Initially this area was bright purple and remained fuzzy when the color was taken out in post-processing. In this case it worked for the image, while in most cases chromatic aberrations can ruin a shot.
Having said that, I must acknowledge that the latest version of Noctilux delivers much improved optical performance. At apertures of f/1.4 or smaller, in fact, one will be hard pressed to tell this lens apart from 50/1.4 Summilux ASPH, which was not the case with any of the previous Noctilux incarnations.
|Leica M9, Leica Noctilux 1/50 @ f/1|
One of the most important skills of successfully using Noctilux is an ability to resist a desire to keep the aperture open all the time. Not every shot requires f/1, and often times the strong, almost psychedelic effect that this lens creates at full aperture is detrimental to perceptibility of the image.
Even with the previous, optically softer version of Noctilux, correct post-processing in Adobe Lightroom (which is provided free of charge with an every Leica M9 body) makes photos taken at f/1 sharp enough to be visually indistinguishable from slower Leica lenses on an 11x14” print.
Incredible light sensitivity is not the only property that makes Noctilux so desirable. With DOF so shallow, the way that the lens renders out-of-focus areas and transitions between focused and blurred parts of an image, plays an important role. Is easy to understand taking into account the fact that at f/1 rather often only a minor part of an image remains in focus. Hence if the posterior bokeh (this is a fancy name for the blurred background) is harsh and aggressive, the picture is unpleasant for the eye. A significant part of the Noctilux “signature” is its bokeh, which is not as neutral as of 35/2 Summicron ASPH, yet pleasant (see picture below).
|Leica M9, Leica Noctilux 1/50 @f/1|
To summarize, understanding when the super-shallow DOF will benefit your subject matter is extremely important.
Also, as I have mentioned previously, this is not an easy lens to use. Overall, shooting with Noctilux is a considerably slower process than with with a lens one or two stops slower. There are several reasons to that:
- It is heavy and somewhat cumbersome (compared to slower 50mm lenses).
- It requires special skills in composing the image regardless of aperture used, just because it obstructs at least 1/4 of the 50mm frame.
- Shooting at apertures from f/1 to f/4 requires special attention to the direction of light and overall contrast of the scene.
- It attracts attention because, even with people who do not know what it actually is, the lens is large enough to look "professional".
- At last, its undoubtedly exuberant price may, in some instances, make you overly conscious of the risks, which will negatively influence results of your work.
A question that is probably the most often asked about Noctilux is why one would spend in excess of $10,000 for the luxury of an access to f/0.95, but at a cost of image quality by definition inferior to what a $2000 lens can deliver. Despite its obvious shortcomings, the whole idea of Noctilux, in my opinion, is not excessive at all, at least in professional photography. Even if you look at it from a purely economical position disregarding any aesthetic implications that shooting at apertures wider than f/1.4 may have (although, believe me, they really matter), Noctilux turns out to be well justified when used for what it is intended. When working on assignment, being able to shoot at f/1 (or f/0.95 with the last version) frequently means getting the shot versus not getting it. In professional photography it easily translates into thousands of dollars.
|Leica 50mm / f0.95 ASPH. (E60)|
|Leica 11667 Noctilux-M 50mm/f0.95 ASPH Normal Lens, Silver|
|scrum break away by al booth|
from Sport competition
|Chinese Acrobat by lim yau tong|
|Parking Deck by Olaf R|
from Your City - Parking Garage
|Communication Tech by alberto_b|
|With & without by OBellini|
from Empty - Full
In this weeks' Throwback Thursday article, Simon raises a toast to the Sony Digital Mavica FD71 - a little camera which used really big memory cards.
It's been half a decade since Canon first debuted the original 6D and finally its successor is here. So what does five years of innovation look like?
The Canon EOS 6D Mark II brings more resolution, better autofocus and faster continuous shooting to Canon's entry-level full-frame camera. And we've had the opportunity to shoot with one.
The Canon 6D Mark II will ship to consumers in August, but we've been able to do some shooting with a pre-production unit well in advance.
Rumors have been swirling around for a while, and Canon has just unveiled the long-awaited successor to the popular and long-serving EOS 6D. Read all about it in our hands-on preview.
Canon's latest entry-level DSLR is here. The new Rebel SL2 (EOS 200D) is the belated successor to 2013's Rebel SL1, billed at the time as the smallest and lightest DSLR on the market.
Nearly five years after the announcement of the EOS 6D, Canon has finally replaced it with the EOS 6D Mark II. The Mark II features an all-new 26.2MP Dual Pixel AF full-frame sensor, 6.5 fps burst shooting, a fully articulating touchscreen, 1080/60p video and much more.
Canon has announced the EOS Rebel SL2 (also known as the EOS 200D), which replaces the aging SL1. This ultra-compact DSLR features a 24MP sensor, DIGIC 7 processor, Dual Pixel AF system and a 3" fully articulating touchscreen LCD.
When one of his friends got a filter stuck on his $1,700 Canon EF 24-70mm F2.8L, former MythBuster Adam Savage removed it using an unlikely, terrifying tool: a band saw.
The New Yorker asked Magnum's famed photographers, in town for the agency's 70th anniversary, to go out and capture 'the fleeting beauty of New York City's golden hour.' This is what they shot.
Roger Cicala is a difficult man to impress, but he's been waxing lyrical over at Lensrentals about Sony's new 12-24mm wide zoom.
Glassware is one of the most challenging subjects to photograph, especially against a white background. This tutorial shows you how to do it with hardly any gear.
Handevision is now shipping its all-metal Iberit 90mm F2.4 short telephoto lens for Leica M-mount 35mm and full-frame cameras.
Isocell comprises four sub-brands: Bright, Fast, Slim and Dual which are tailored to specific mobile device market demands.
The new store will be located at the Fotografiska center for contemporary photography in Stockhom, Sweden and carry the full range of Hasselblad products.
A recent vacation gave Richard a chance to think about the needs of travel photography – and how our reviews might recognize the perfect travel camera.
Need more evidence that 2017 is the year analog begins its comeback? Well, welcome another new film stock to the world.
The winners of the 10th annual iPhone Photography Awards have been announced, and they're striking.
If you were disappointed by reports that the Sony a9 struggles with adapted Canon glass, you might be able to take some comfort from Metabones' latest update.
Blackmagic Design has dropped the prices of its Video Assist external monitor/recorders for a limited time. Prices of the SD card-based recorders will be reduced in all markets, while supplies last.
Instagram has started testing a new feature called 'favorites' that enables users to share photos with only certain people. Only a small number of users have access to the feature at this time, though it may roll out to everyone in the future.
Lensbaby has announced the Velvet 85 F1.8 for interchangeable lens cameras. The lens is available in Canon, Nikon, Sony E, Sony A, Pentax K, Samsung NX, Fuji X and Micro 4/3 mounts.
It's the end of an era. Parent company Micron has announced that they are discontinuing the Lexar retail brand. This includes 'memory cards, USB flash drives, readers, and storage drives.'
Youthful trainspotter turned adult photographer, John Sanderson has traveled across the United States, documenting the country's railroads. But you won't find any trains in his pictures.
Sony's new CMOS sensor is backside-illuminated and offers an all-pixel global reset function which should drastically reduce rolling shutter effect when panning.
Shoulderpod has converted its offerings into a lego-like modular system by offering all individual parts of existing products separately, allowing users to build exactly the rig they need for a specific project or simply replace a damaged part.
Photographer Felix AAA has spent the past ten years touring the world with a variety of musicians, capturing behind the scenes shots and portraits. He talks about some of his favorite images on the FujiFilm Blog.
A roll of film discovered in an Argus C2 from an Oregon Goodwill turned out to contain some incredible images – and has been re-united with the original owner's family.
Nikon's 28mm F1.4E ED appears to roundly complete the company's updated lineup of fast, professional prime lenses. We've already seen some initial images from a Nikon ambassador, but we've worked through a gallery of our own, with a lens of our own over the past week. Take a look.
Google is holding a competition that could see your Pixel photos gracing millions of screens.