On Assignment – Leica 50 Noctilux
By David Paul Morris –
It’s been called many things. The Naughty Lux, The Night Time Predator, The Nifty Fifty…..it sees detail that our eyes can’t in darkness. Maybe I’m not quite used to it yet but the images this lens produces are unlike anything I’ve seen in certain circumstances.
This is not a review but more of an observation from a working photojournalist. I’ve been swimming within the Leica eco-system for several years now, most recently using the SL2s with SL assorted lenses as well as the M system for much longer. So I already knew what I was getting myself into with this holy grail of 50mm lenses.
Some things to note are: This is a BIG lens, a lot of girth! It is a HEAVY lens, very dense. If you’re interested in adding to your workout and developing your upper body strength this lens is for you. And it’s a PRICEY lens. For some it wouldn’t be worth it or practical.
I found mine used at Leica Store San Francisco. It was more than 50% off the sticker shock price for a new copy and even though it looks a bit ragged and beat up the glass is clean, the focus is smooth and the aperture ring is not loose and feels right. After some lengthy back in forth and going by my mantra ‘I’d rather regret what I have done then regret what I haven’t, I pulled the trigger and bought this infamous bokeh monster.
After emptying my pockets of all my dinero for this lens I took it out on an assignment to Shasta Lake in Northern California. I was there to document the water levels of California’s largest reservoir. My first observation was this lens is one of the most beautifully built and nicest feeling prime lens I have ever used. The aperture ring is snappy with every click so I know exactly where I am. The focus is butter smooth and the throw is long. After some time using the lens I got used to this and actually found it helps with critical focus when shooting wide open.
The images have a unique look to them unlike any other lens I’ve seen. There is a special look of depth and quality to the files almost looking 3 dimensional that I have not seen in images made with other 50 M lenses. I have the 50 APO f/2.0 and that lens, while it is razor sharp, its almost too clinical. With the 50noct shooting wide open the color and sharpness of the images straight out of the camera have a dreamy edge to edge sharpness to them with slight vignetting on the edges and the focus follow off is endless. Knowing this using the Noct allows me to be more creative and not so clinical when I am shooting. In my mind a perfect portrait lens.
During my daily assignments for Bloomberg I’ve been finding that this lens is a true performer, one that I could count on to be right. It is heavy but the balance with the M11 and especially the SL2s is perfect for me. I didn’t feel exhausted or sore after a few hours on my shoulder and I am guessing it is because of the balance. Focusing wide open, as these lenses were designed to do, seems to be easier and after using it constantly I found my average ‘hit’ rate was growing to be acceptable.
If there is one negative with this lens I would say this. Because the lens has no APO elements and with the design of the groupings, when you shoot wide open into the light or anything bright occasionally it will produce a purple fringe around the edges of some of the highlighted areas. Granted you can fix this in post but it’s still a drag to see.
Maybe I am concentrating more looking through the viewfinder but for some reason the patch in the M seems to be clearer and easier to see. And with the EVF of the SL2s it’s so crystal clear and the magnification feature in the SL helps with critical focus.
The end result and conclusion is that I am confident using this lens daily and happy I bought it and you can be as well. It’s a fantastic addition to my bag and will be used! If you’re interested hit up Leica Store San Francisco for some good bargains on pre-owned 50mm Noctilux.
Photographs above ©DavidPaulMorris