I have been hooked on to the Leica Noctilux on the Panasonic S1…
The Leica Noctilux is a special lens. It is a Rolls Royce among 35mm format lenses. As I write this It is listed at a whopping $11,295 at www.bhphotovideo.com. You can buy a whole camera system for that price. Please note: I did NOT buy it at that price, I bought it used :).
There is a reason it costs that much. One, it’s has a Leica stamp. Leica for all practical purposes invented or at least popularized 35mm photography and has a legacy. Two, Leica lenses have a build quality and optical specifications that surpass any other brands tolerances and precision. Three, it is a 50mm lens which has a widest aperture of f0.95, yes, you read that right!
Leica is not the first company to produce a 50mm 0.95. Canon made a 50mm 0.95 for its Rangefinder camera the Canon 7 and marketed it in 1961. https://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/s43.html. The lens is nicknamed ‘The Dream Lens’ for its fantastic and unique bokeh quality. The lens sells even now for about $3500. It’s original price in today’s value was less than $3000. So, good lenses are always a good investment.
Coming back to the Noctilux. It is not an easy lens to operate. As you can imagine, the depth of field is almost nonexistent at f0.95. Being a manual focus lens, fixing focus perfectly is tricky and it is a heavy lens.
For a lens like this you need a few things:
- Focus throw should be optimal, not too long, not too short. Focus throw, simply put, is how much you must turn the focus ring to reach the farthest focus distance from the nearest. An optimal focus throw helps in fixing focus perfectly as you turn the focus ring.
- Smoothness of the focus ring becomes very important, especially if you are shooting on the move or moving objects.
- The lens must be tack sharp even at f0.95. Lenses are generally soft at their widest apertures. This calls for a lot of optical perfection and craftsmanship on the glass.
- When one shoots wide open, the fall off should be very beautiful and the out of focus elements should not be disturbing.
- The Camera you use this lens on must be perfectly calibrated with your lens. This is true in case you use it on Rangefinders.
- A good mastery over manual focusing. The ability to manually focus almost by muscle memory which comes with a lot of practice.
The Leica Noctilux shines in all the points above, from 1 to 4.
Noctilux on a Rangefinder: While it was made for Leica Rangefinders, it is not the easiest of lenses to use. On Rangefinders, the focus point is right in the center and is an optical assembly. So, by the time you focus and recompose your shot there is a fair chance that you would miss focus, unless the subject is absolutely still. Of course, you can anticipate movement, use a narrower aperture etc and still get a sharp picture.
Noctilux on Leica M10 Rangefinder
The boon of Mirrorless:
With the advent of Mirrorless Cameras, lenses like the Noctilux have become much more valuable.
Mirrorless cameras have:
- Electronic Viewfinders: You can exactly see what is in focus with a depth of field preview.
- Focus Peaking: Indicates the exact areas in focus in a different color like red, yellow, white etc.
- You can compose and then focus and have lesser chances of missing the shot due to recomposing. The focus peaking works across the frame.
- Adapters to put on virtually any other lens with a different mount.
I have tried the Noctilux on the Fuji APS-C cameras, the Sony Full Frames, the Fuji Medium Formats, the Leica SL and now on the Panasonic S1. I shoot the Noctilux at f0.95 almost 99% of the time, even at weddings and even if there are more than 2-3 people in the frame. The impact is very dreamy and surreal.
On the Fuji APS-C it gives a field of view of 75mm and therefore is not optimal.
On The Sony cameras it feels slightly out of balance as the Sony cameras are small and light and the combination becomes front heavy but the rendering and ease of use is pretty good.
The Noctilux on the Sony
On the Fuji Medium Formats the field of view is wider than 50mm but has a prominent vignette and the picture must be cropped. See my review of the Noctilux on the Fuji GFX 50R here.
On the Leica SL, the focus peaking feature was very faint.
The Noctilux on the Leica SL
The BEST combination of mirrorless and the Leica Noctilux has been with the Panasonic S1.
- Focus peaking, in terms of accuracy and prominence within the viewfinder. I have nailed focus way more than with any camera I have tried before.
- The S1 is full frame and the field of view is exactly of a 50mm.
- The S1 has one of the best electronic viewfinders in current mirrorless cameras. Makes life much easier while focusing manually and composing.
- The Panasonic S1 is a sturdy, slightly bigger and solid camera with a great grip. The Noctilux balances so well that it almost feels this lens was made for this camera.
- This is my guess but the compatibility of the lens optics and the S1 sensor feels exactly like shooting on a Leica camera probably because there would have been some technology know how exchange between Leica and Panasonic, courtesy the L Alliance.
I am just loving this combination and see myself enjoying this for a long time to come. Here are some pictures for you to gage the brilliance of this combination. Let me know what you think.
Noctilux on the Panasonic S1