Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 Lens – Field Test – Review

For years photography world was divided between DSLR and rangefinder users. The presumption is that if you were doing sports photography the only way to capture action would be to use a dedicated DSLR.

Rightfully, if we were to search for sports photographs taken with Leica cameras, especially M series, we would be hard pressed to find anything online. In fact, lack of fast autofocus believed to be the vital ingredient to sports photography missing from rangefinders had everyone convinced that the field of sports photography belonged to DSLRs.

We wanted to test that premise. But we also see how well Leica’s Noctilux would perform under low light conditions which in this day and age has turned most camera manufacturers into a frenzy to have six digit ISOs which make any rendition of photography almost useless for anything but social media postings.

How would the fast lens in the world perform in low light condition? I took my favorite camera, Leica Monochrom with my silver Noctilux to a nearby boxing gym known for its fierce fighters.

Some may wonder why I would choose a camera like the Monochrom instead of a CMOS sensor Leica M-P to photograph fast moving subjects. The obvious truth is with the Monochrom the standard ISO settings start at 320 while Leica M-P has a base ISO of 160 and a dynamic range that allows photographing at 6400 ISO.

Arguably, CCD-based Monochrom is a full stop slower regarding low light performance. Yes, technically it is true that Leica’s M-P 240 would be a more prudent choice. But, actual rendering of photographs will tell a different story which I will touch upon in my future reviews.

Our team was filming a scene. The lights in the gym were turned off, only lighting coming from our studio lights, I took the leap of faith in capturing what would some consider an “impossible” task of photographing a fast moving subject, the boxer with the aperture wide open.

The obvious question that comes to mind is, how do you focus with a rangefinder if the subject is moving when it is wide open at f/0.95. Logic dictates that to capture an image that is in low light, fast moving would require high shutter speed and stopping down in the aperture.

Some would jump the gun and say “Oh, he used hyperfocus.” Seriously, rethink that statement again, please. Stopping down in a low light situation to capture an image with almost nonexistent lumination….

The answer is nearly all photographs were taken with the widest aperture of f/0.95. What that would make is anything moving fast before the lens almost impossible to focus. Right ? Au contraire, Noctilux coupled with Leica Monochrom had all that was required to photograph this project.

Gamble all, place all the bets on the table and let the dices roll.

Here is one of the first images out of the camera. Untouched, that means no photoshopping or lightroom editing, only converting to JPG for posting here.

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f1 lens Review - Low Light Photography Tutorial - Leica Review - Oz Yilmaz

You see, there is the ease of going out on a day light to see how your camera manages to capture images. Then you can dissect, crop to see if they are actually sharp. That in my point of view is more of an academic exercise than the art of photographing.

Noctilux is designed around a wide aperture that aims to give a “unique look,” if while photographing this boxer I could capture that “Noctilux feel” then one could arguably say camera and lens combination has performed as they were meant to.

In my point of view like any professional who excels in his trade, a photographer who captures images for artistic purposes chooses his tools as a painter would select his paints and mixes them to create that unique color rendition.

If my aim was to capture images in ultra sharpness, I might have chosen to use Leica Summicron 50mm f/2.0 APO and more lighting. Here though, I wanted to see the boxer in a “timeless” period such that if someone were to look at these photographs, one would feel the “magical” timeless quality.

It is the artist’s responsibility to combine the right elements to create what he has envisioned, as a photographer, this required precise combination aperture, shutter speed, positioning, lighting and more.

Boxer rapid movements meant to stop action would require high shutter speed. So, how would I position my angle of view so that effect would be created; that is the art of photography.

As a photographer, I find that when people pose they often look “unnatural”. This meant that if I told the boxer to pose all “naturalness” would be lost. More importantly, his state of mind during training created that characteristic persona of a boxer which was what I wanted to capture.

Noctilux performed flawlessly. In some images, the action was suspended in midst air, freezing time, stopping all for an instant to observe and immerse oneself in the transient moment of life.

Leica Monochrom is a splendid camera that often has people asking “is that an old camera ?”. It is a delight to hear because I like everything brought to its bare essence, functionality, and nothing else.

Imagine an old Harley Davidson that performs flawlessly, even though more than twenty years have gone by. Leica monochrom with its core functions of shutter speed dial, an aperture dial, focus ring to perform what a camera is essential designed to do; a solid built that can last a lifetime.

No, this camera is not for the wanna be’s, unlike smartphone shooters thinking that they have magically turned overnight into a pro-level photographer, this camera asks of its user to compose, understand basics of photography, become intimate with the camera.

Like a painter using his oils to render an image and knowing the right combination of colors to create another color, Leica Monochrom does require an understanding of aperture, shutter speed, and all the essential elements of photography.

There is a learning curve involved. This means an amount of time has to be invested. Investing time in something that requires you to immerse yourself in the process creates a bond. That is why Leica is unique in the way, it is. You own it. For Life…

This flies in the face of consumer ideology that everyone can be a photographer by pointing a smartphone to take a photograph or that you can be a better photographer if you acquired the latest gear with more functions and higher ISO settings.

As Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”. For professionals who attempt to perfect their art through years of devotion and hard work, Leica’s Noctilux presents a tool with an extraordinary amount of possibilities.

I believe that like the ancient singing bowls of Tibetian monasteries, with the use of Noctilux over many years the photographer is molded into a craft master of his trade. This requires dedication and love of photography.

My recommendation to anyone who is an amateur photographer, buy another Leica lens that is less challenging and easier to learn. The learning curve you will have with other lenses will give you the opportunity to hone your skills.

When your skills have evolved to a level that calls you to own a Noctilux, you will know that the right time come. On that faithful day, you shall drive pleasure from photographing with a Leica Noctilux as you were on the first day you got your first camera.

But for some that time may never come, as a sword practitioner may never evolve to the level where a katana handcrafted by a swordmaster is needed.

If however, you are already own this fantastic glass, I will make a few humble suggestions. One is to buy an ND filter. If you don’t know what it is, then you should not own a Noctilux. You will need an ND filter if you plan to use it during day time with wide open aperture.

Secondly, know that focusing at f/0.95 is not easy, especially, if the subject is moving. So, don’t hesitate to shoot at f/2.0 or higher.

More, importantly if you are lucky enough to own one of the latest Leica digital camera’s like M-P 240 gets the electronic viewfinder. It is an indispensable tool if you are into sharp images and photographing at wide open aperture.

Finally, this lens is heavier than other Leica lenses, that means during a whole day of photographing you will feel the weight. So, if you are traveling to a destination where you will walk around all day, you should get a lens like Leica’s Summicron 50mm F/2.0 APO. It is the sharpest lens that will allow your to photograph everything from buildings, landscape to people. Plus, its price is a little less than a Leica Noctilux which would mean you can use it on splurging on something you fancy.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. Please, help us to keep our website running so we can bring you independent reviews. That is as simple as letting others know about this site. And, come back often to read our other reviews and articles.

Thank you

Oz Yilmaz – Leica Review Team

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