Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH review

I purchased the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH lens new in September 2013. A lens that many people dream about. A lens that many people hate without ever having tried it. This review will be based on my experience with this lens over the course of 10 months of usage. During those 10 months the Noctilux has been my go-to lens for every day photography, being the only lens I owned for my digital camera during this time. This review will not be very technical, there are many other reviews available online that deal with the in-depth technical details.
All pictures in this review are made with a Leica M Typ 240 and the reviewed Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 ASPH. All images were captured wide open at f/0.95.

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I’ve previously used a Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH for the course of one year as my only lens, on a Leica M Monochrom camera, and I recently re-purchased the Summilux again after selling the first example that I owned. As of today I have sold the Noctilux as I feel that the Summilux fits my needs and requirements for the Leica M system better. This is mostly due to the wide-open performance of the Summilux, which I find to be significantly better than the Noctilux even at f/1.4, and leaps and bounds better if you compare the Noctilux at f/0.95 and the Summilux at f/1.4. The portability, weight, close focusing possibilities and lack of distortion of the Summilux is also key factors to why I went back to the Summilux as my primary lens. But the Noctilux is a magical lens, and I’m very happy to have the opportunity to have owned it.

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When I received my Noctilux back in September 2013 I was not completely satisfied with it. It back-focused slightly on my Leica M Typ 240, and, the aperture ring was loose, which made it very easy to accidentally change the aperture without intending to do so. After a few trips back to Leica in Germany the lens was perfect, and the calibration on my M240 was matched to the lens. The result was a perfect focusing action, perfect resistance on the aperture ring, and basically the best mechanically built lens I have ever had the pleasure of using. It’s like holding a gem. A large, heavy and very dense gem. When I first started using it I was actually not very impressed – mostly because of all the hype and reviews that are available for this lens online. I expected more than it delivered, especially considering it’s price tag! That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this honest review – simply because I feel there is too much hype and glamour surrounding this lens than what it deserves. As I said the Noctilux is a magical lens, but it’s by no means perfect.

Summer

This is mostly in regards to wide-open performance: sharpness, chromatic aberrations, purple fringing and distortion. Coming from the Summilux, I expected similar performance wide open at f/0.95 – which is far from reality – even though many people claim this. The Noctilux is sharp at f/0.95 if you consider the aperture value. It’s definitely sharp considering it is an f/0.95 lens, but it is definitely not sharp at f/0.95 if you compare it with a Summilux at f/1.4. The Noctilux will give you a lot’s of chromatic aberrations and purple fringing – it is basically unavoidable, especially on high-contrast scenes with strong backlight. As long as you have some strong light sources in your frame and you use it wide open you have to be prepared to always look for purple fringing and use the proper tools to remove it in post.

By the river

The Noctilux also has about 1% distortion, whereas the Summilux and Summicrons has 0.3% distortion. 1% distortion isn’t a lot, but compared to the Summilux and Summicron 50mm lenses, 1% is still a lot more than 0.3%. And it is noticeable. The distortion is the type of distortion that make human subjects look rounder than they actually are if they are in the center of the frame. That is not something that is very desirable for photographs of people! Fortunately Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw has proper lens correction profiles for the lens that fixes the distortions. The lens correction profiles will crop your frame slightly though.

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The colors the Noctilux renders is very similar to that of the Summilux 50 ASPH, but even more close or almost identical to the Summilux 35 ASPH FLE based on my long-term experience with all three lenses. I would describe the colors of the Noctilux to be a bit warmer and slightly more saturated than what the Summilux 50mm gives, although it’s very easy to adjust this in post so that the colors look identical. The Noctilux also has slightly less contrast than the Summilux 50mm at every f-stop, and wide-open at f/0.95 the contrast in the center drops dramatically.

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In some pictures the drop in central contrast looks very good, as it makes it look like the subject in the center of the frame is illuminated by a light source. This effect is also very nice to use during night-time photography, as the lens seems to pick up more light than what’s actually available. Less contrast also means better dynamic range, which makes this lens excellent for night-time photography with bright street lights and dark shadows. But this effect also has major drawbacks for other types of pictures – as it tends to apply a haze looking effect on the center of the frame on pictures in daylight, or of subjects with many details. Not very ideal for pictures that you need or want good technical quality on. But then again, if that’s what you need then you wouldn’t be using it at f/0.95 in the first place. Stopping down to f/1.4 gets rid of the “haze”.

Down the stairs

The biggest reason to get a Noctilux over a Summilux is the extra stop – f/0.95 vs f/1.4. Many people tend to say that the Noctilux draws like the Summilux from f/1.4 and up. After many comparisons I find this to not be entirely true. Even at f/1.4 the Noctilux has visibly more bokeh than the Summilux at the same aperture. The Noctilux has a swirly type of bokeh however, which can be quite dominating in some scenarios, whereas the Summilux is just very smooth and creamy. The Noctilux is also softer in the edges of the frame at every f-stop compared to the Summilux.

All in all this makes it look like the images with the Noctilux at f/1.4 has a more pronounced bokeh effect than the Summilux at f/1.4. At f/0.95 the Noctilux is in a league of its own, of course. But you pay a big price in regards to loss of resolution and chance of a significant amount of purple fringing by using that aperture. Using the Noctilux at f/0.95 constantly is very tempting. I mean, that’s what you pay $11,000 USD for, after all. Right? Not every picture looks good at f/0.95. But it’s just very addictive to use it wide open! Stopping down the Noctilux yields excellent results. Almost up there with the Summilux in regards to resolution, and more saturated colors, and less vignetting at every f-stop. I also noticed that at every aperture between f/2.8-f/8 the Noctilux smeared the extreme corners of my photographs noticeably more than what my Summilux does. So in that regard it is not suitable for photographs that require edge-to-edge sharpness.

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The Noctilux is a magical lens though. It has this ability to make a boring scene look interesting if the photographer is skilled enough to take advantage of the creative potential of such a lens. Shooting wide open at f/0.95 all the time however is not something I would advice anyone to do. Even though the Noctilux lets you shoot at f/0.95 – it shouldn’t be used at this aperture all the time. It creates excellent results at all apertures, and if you’re willing to live with the 1 meter closest focusing distance and the cost, size and weight, it can easily work as your only 50mm lens. It’s also one of the best lenses I have used in regards to resistance to flare. You don’t ever need to use the hood on this lens. Just point it directly at the sun and snap away without worrying. And if you get flare in some of your photographs its most probably caused by that flat UV (protection) filter that you put in front of that beautiful glass.

Dreams by the Sea #1

I sold my Noctilux mainly due to size and weight. I bought the M system for portability, light weight and compactness. I want to be able to bring my camera with me everywhere I go. The Noctilux made me leave the camera at home more and more simply because it was too big and heavy to carry with me at all times. The M240 + Noctilux combo made my neck hurt after carrying it on a strap over my shoulder for more than two hours. After almost a years use I also got tired of the “wide-open look” and started to use it stopped down to f/2.8-f/8 more and more, and to ensure proper IQ I also avoided using it at f/0.95 and rather used it at f/1.2-f/1.4 when I wanted a dreamy look (which it gives in spades also at these apertures). By stopping the lens down to f/1.2 you also eliminate most of the purple fringing. There is a reason as to why most pictures made with the Noctilux are converted to black and white images. The large amount of purple fringing isn’t always easy to get rid of without things looking somewhat weird.

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If the dreamy wide-open look is your thing, then I advice you to get it if you can. At least try to rent it or borrow it for a while. I would not sell all my cameras and lenses to get it however. If you do, I think you will be disappointed. I must admit it’s a very exciting lens to have owned and used under all types of conditions. And you won’t know if you like it or not before you’ve actually used it for some time. But don’t expect the Noctilux to be “the perfect 50mm” (which many Noctilux owners usually say) – because it’s not. It’s technically inferior to the APO-Summicron 50mm and the Summilux 50mm ASPH as well as other 50mm lenses. It’s big. It’s heavy. It’s slow to handle and to focus compared to the Summicron and Summilux, and ergonomically on the M cameras it’s not easy to hand hold steadily compared to smaller and more balanced lenses. I have to say that due to the somewhat long focus throw it is easier to precisely focus the Noctilux than the Summilux and Summicrons however, which is absolutely critical for using it at f/0.95.

I’m glad to have owned it for almost a year. It made it possible for me to find out what I really prefer. But it’s not a lens I’m planning to re-purchase – unlike the Summilux lenses, that I have re-purchased, and which are the best compromise of low weight, small size and low-light capabilities in my opinion – at least for my use. I would have loved to use the even smaller and lighter-weight Summicrons, but f/1.4 is already borderline problematic for me for really low-light use – something that I really enjoy doing a lot of. The North is dark during wintertime, so having low-light capabilities is a must if I want to be able to practice my hobby and passion during evenings after work.

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If you’re considering buying a Noctilux I strongly suggest that you make sure that you have a properly calibrated rangefinder on your camera. If not, get ready to send it in to Leica for calibration. I also suggest that you purchase the EVF at the same time. I almost feel that the EVF is a requirement for shooting the Noctilux wide open, especially when it get’s dark.

No entrance

All in all the Noctilux is a marvelous lens. It’s a very cinematic, poetic and romantic lens, but it’s not without its flaws. It’s the best compromise f/0.95 lens on the market. The size, the weight, the sharpness and other optical qualities are all compromises, and I don’t find it to be superb at anything but being able to capture a lot of light, and to be able to make very dreamy photographs with a poetic feel. If it’s worth the cost is a different story. That depends on you and your use of the lens. I really liked the example I owned, but, I like the Summilux more for my type of use. And I would feel bad about having a Noctilux just sitting on the shelf.

More examples:

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I have more photographs made with the Noctilux in my Noctilux album on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/borgei/

© Børge Indergaard 2014. All rights reserved.

  • Anonymous

    Thank’s for your feed-back, I really appreciate your comments about your choice of selling the Noctilux and starting back to the Summilux
    The quality of your pictures are really awesome. Than you !
    Luc

  • Anonymous

    Thank you a very honest and thoughtful review. I have the 50 Summilux and on the “M” it seems to fit my needs as well

    • My pleasure!
      The Summilux 50 is a classic that I feel very at home with. Enjoy yours!

  • At last, I would say. At last a realistic approach to a fascinating, yet overpraised lens.

    • Yep. It’s a really fascinating and unique lens, but it’s not a “perfect lens” like many seems to claim. There are many optical and usability compromises made to make it f/0.95. I love it for what it is, but I couldn’t justify owning it as a secondary specialty lens to my Summilux.

  • Jajay

    Your work sucks

    • Milan

      HAHAHA …but so does your comment!!

  • Thank you for the review and the nice photos here, Børge. I’m with the Noctilux since early 2013 now – got infected after a workshop with Thorsten Overgaard. I sold as well my Summilux 50 and an Elmarit 28 for it. I love the very special rendering of the Noctilux. Although it is not perfect I never considered selling it. All the points that you have described above I have encountered myself as well. The lens has some limitations, but to me it is still THE lens. The price tag is somehow a little bit ridiculous, yes. But I’m actually considering trading mine in for the new silver version….When I need some lightweight lenses with excellent rendering while shooting wide open I’m travelling with an older Summicron-M 50 and a Summicron-M 35. Photographers interested in the Nocitlux should very well think what to expect and know the limitations. And be prepared to have the M and the lens adjusted at Customer Service at Wetzlar. Which is always a nice trip if you are not living on the other side of the globe. For better focus I use the 1.4 magnifier glass with the rangefinder on the M.

    • Thanks Robert!
      The Noctilux is indeed a special beast! There’s nothing quite like it. Sounds like we share the same experience.
      The Noct + Summicron is a very good combination!

  • John goerten

    Thanks for your Story, that could have been written by me. Same History. Owner of the 50lux. Sold it and bought the noctilux. Tried it for a few months. Same experience! Too Heavy too Big. M is a portable System. Sold the noctilux and bought the 50lux again.

    • I’m glad to hear that there are more of us 🙂
      It almost seems like the Noctilux is one of the most sold and 2nd hand bought lenses in the M world.
      I’m very happy to have cured my curiosity for it though!

  • Your review and comments on the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux lens is one of the best that I have read in a while with excellent photographs and thoughtful commentary. I couldn’t agree with you more about the lens being “magical” in rendering. I too owned the lens and found myself going back to the 50mm Lux in time and eventually sold the Noctilux. For me, the 50 Noctilux was a “great date”, but the 50mm Lux is a life-long keeper.

    • Thank you Mark.
      I completely agree with you. The 50 Lux is a keeper. It might not be as exotic as the Noctilux or APO-Summicron, but it’s just a perfect combination of qualities and usability, without any significant compromises.

  • Refreshing to read a real-world and honest review of the Noctilux.

  • I loved the earlier versions of the Noct, of which I owned three and used strictly with film. I purchased — and returned — the 0.95 version, as I found the chromatic aberrations to be so severe as to render the lens useless for my needs when shooting it mounted on the M240. Maybe if I had shot monochrome film with it I would have been happy, but not otherwise.

    • Chromatic aberrations can be an issue with the Nocti depending on light and colors but they can be removed on a picture by picture basis in Lightroom.

      • I wouldn’t say it can be an issue. It is an issue in every photograph with a contrasting light source.
        Removing the CA in Lightroom works OK, but it can also look weird, as it can leave grey/green traces where the CA was, usually forcing a B&W conversion for the image to look good.

        No lens that’s for sale today has as much CA as the Noctilux 0.95 ASPH.

        • Agreed on that; I returned my 0.95 specifically because the CA was so bad. It was in *every* shot that I took during one week of testing, including early morning snow shots with low amounts of flat light. My only recourse to get completely rid of the CA was to convert everything to monochrome, which — for a $10K lens — was utterly unacceptable to me. So I returned the lens to Leica for a full refund.

  • Nice pictures

  • Interesting article, after reading it I think I will stick with my Summicron 35mm, Love the second photo a real beauty.

  • Stephan

    Thank you for your great and honest review… I’ve been sitting on the fence about the “Noctilust” and you writeup has given me a great perspective on this lens. I may still go ahead and obtain one, but now I am going in with eyes wide open (as opposed to eyes wide shut). I follow Steve Huff periodically and he had great writeups on Leica…. but his initial review of the Nocti lens dropped when he was reviewing the new 50mm F/2. APO Summicron. Somewhat disappointing to read that in all honesty. Didn’t think he would sway the way the wind blows like some other bloggers.

    • The Noctilux is a gem that can get people very ecstatic and enthusiastic. Which also causes many people not being able to stay neutral. I was very disappointed with the Noctilux after seeing the results from it, but, it grew on me once I learned how to use it properly. It’s a lovely lens for what it is. But I can’t say that I think it’s worth the price tag it currently has. Maybe if the price was 50% of what it currently is.

  • Pingback: Good real-world review of the Leica Notilux()

  • Stuart Feen

    First, Borge has an excellent photographer’s eye. I always enjoy viewing his photography. Second, Borge brings to his equipment discussions great common sense, which isn’t so common.

    Borge, thank you for your 0.95 Noctilux review based upon actual and longer term use than the usual equipment review.

  • I see magic! I can’t compare as I am a Canon user, but it was interesting to read your observations and enjoy your gallery.

  • Laurent andrė

    Thx for thïs honest review. I have the Sx 50 and received the Noc last month. Was soooo disappointed by its optical performance ! Even my plastic 50 mm AFS nikkor is sharper.
    Sent every Leica lens (7) and body (2) I have to Solms to be calibrated. After 6 weeks, everything is back and my Noctilux still has bad performance wide open.
    I tested it on my Lens align system and it has a slight back focus
    Reading your review makes me feel less stupid. Maybe I waa expecting too much ! Thx anyway !

    • My pleasure. I’m sad to hear about your findings. If you don’t appreciate the lens for what it is, then I would advise on selling it.

  • David Chia

    Hello Børge

    I believe you can add one more kindred spirit to your experience with the latest Nocti. Uncanny, how similar many of our experiences are, even down to trips back to Germany for a CLA and what not. And I am from Australia. Had to do without the monster lens for over 3 months. You have many wonderful sample to demonstrate what the lens is capable of, though I thought the second image of the woman in the armchair is just so Noctilux-like in rendering. I found the OOF sometimes rather harsh especially when you have foliage in the near background (say 6 to 10 feet behind the subject); in fact, rather annoying and I don’t even mind some of the swirly bokeh one gets from a lot of exotic fast lenses. So that says something about what potential purchasers may want to watch out for.

    As an aside, I have been fortunate enough to visit Iceland and also far north Norway (Tromso-based) in recent winters and found the Noctilux came into its own under the circumstances. I will be visiting the Lofoten region this February but will likely leave the big lens behind as I will be doing landscapes primarily. A great deal of weight for the odd portrait is my thought. Any advice on what I can do in Oslo for a day, photography-wise?

    Many thanks and also for this wonderful post.

    David
    Australia

    • Hello David,

      The OOF can indeed be very harsh and swirly at times, but other times it can be very very smooth indeed. It depends on the light and what fills the frame.
      The Noctilux is fantastic for low-light work. Actually, this is where I miss mine the most. It enabled me to use the M240 at 1250-1600 ISO even in the darkest conditions. With the Summilux I have to bump the ISO up to 3200 to get the same shutter speeds. And as you probably are aware – 3200 ISO on the M240 can cause severe banding on dark parts of an image.

      Oslo is full of opportunities for photography. It depends on what you’re looking for, and what you want. Send me an email at borge@me.com and I’ll gladly give you some more advice on what to do in Oslo while you’re here.

      Best / Borge

  • Thanks for your review Borge. A very good write up. I am on the cusp of buying my first ever Leica, the M Monochrome with the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH and your review helped me decide that the NOCTILUX-M 50MM F/0.95 ASPH might not be best. I primarily shoot african wildlife landscapes.

    Happy New Year,
    Glen Weaver
    Washington, D.C.

    • My pleasure Glen.
      Enjoy the M Monochrom and the Summilux. They are a fantastic combination!

      Happy New Year!

      Borge

      • Anonymous

        Hi

        I just wanted to say thank you for an excellent read.

        Best regards

        Josh

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  • Thanks for the honest review and words. i am kind of in the same situation, where i have grown a bit tired of the Noctilux “look”, its faults and i am thinking about selling it after using it for a bit more than a year.

    • My pleasure. Yes, it seems to be a common phenomenon with this lens 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your candid review of the Noctilux-M 0.95. I presently own both the APO Summicron-M 50 ASPH and the Summilux-M 50 1.4 ASPH, and have been obsessing over the Nocitlux 0.95, but now, thanks to your insightful review, I can take that off my list of obsessions.

  • Tom Woods

    I have had a 0.95 Noctilux for about 7 months now, after having owned a Summilux Asph 50mm lens for several years. I have become a Noctilux fan, and use it about 95% of the time. I have not grown tired of the Noctilux look, but I suppose it could happen somewhere down the road. It’s the best lens I have ever owned, and I doubt I will ever sell mine. Having said that, the 50mm Summilux is less than half the cost, and probably delivers 80% of the “look” you can get out of the Summilux.

  • Thank you for a very honest and thought-provoking discussion of your experiences. I have been looking through many pictures produced by the noctilux on the internet and it seems to me that those pictures taken on film using this lens have a unique quality to them. It may be a matter of taste (yes, poetic, ethereal, etc) and I personally like it. But there is also a place for the more well-corrected and practical summilux. They seem like very different lenses to me. I’m beginning to think there’s a good justification to own both these lenses – especially if 50mm is your main focal length, or even your only focal length as it is for many.

    • Thanks! I don’t really see the point of owning a Noctilux 0.95 ASPH and Summilux 1.4 ASPH, since they share many similarities. The Noctilux would be a good companion for the APO-Summicron 50mm f/2 though. The price of owning those two lenses are so astronomic however, and the money is better spent on other focal lengths in my opinion.

  • Sergio

    Thanks for this very interesting review.
    I hope, however, that none of your comments were made with any kind of filter in front of the lens?
    I realize that for daylight shooting wide open, an ND filter is necessary. But you mentioned a UV “protective” filter that was used. I sincerely hope this was not on the lens for your detailed image quality reviews?
    I was told by several pros to Never put any filter in front of a lens, unless it’s required for non-protective purposes. A $11K lens is the last lens I would put a protective filter in front of! Sort of like putting Kumho tires on a Ferrari, to protect the rims…