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Review by Markus Stamm, published December 2013
Special thanks to Dr. F. J. Heimann for providing the lens!
Eleven. Thousand. Bucks.
That amount of money can buy you a lot of things. A new large flat screen TV, a state-of-the art gaming PC, that cruise you've always been dreaming of (or your wife), a pre-owned car maybe, or finally that full-frame camera with a nice set of quality primes.
Or a Leica normal prime. A single 50mm lens.
Not any lens, of course, but the Noctilux ASPH, the "worlds highest-speed aspherical lens" (Leica), a lens that "outperforms the human eye" (again: Leica), the "king of the night" (Leica addict) or simply a "magical dream lens" (another addict). The words chosen to describe the lens and the images it produces already give a hint, that there is something special about this lens.
The product name "Noctilux" has some history in the Leica brand. Unlike other Leica lens names, which usually indicate a certain aperture speed, Noctilux lenses have always been simply the fastest ones in the system. Which means, over time Noctilux lenses have become faster and faster. The first Leica Noctilux lens featured a maximum aperture of f/1.2, followed by a f/1 version, which stayed in the portfolio for more than 30 years (in different versions).
The latest update, introduced in 2008, brought the aperture speed down to f/0.95, something that has not been seen on a 35mm camera since the days of the Canon 7s. In addition, the Leica engineers added aspherical lenses and also floating elements, to keep the performance on a high level at close focus distances.
Given the ultra fast aperture, there were obviously some challenges to master. This may be one of the reasons why the Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH currently is Leica's most expensive lens.
Leica M lenses in general are known for their excellent build quality, so one can certainly expect no less from their premium lens, and the Noctilux does of course not disappoint in this regard. Everything on this lens feels extremely solid, well engineered and executed. The focus ring is nicely damped and works smoothly. The minimum focus distance is 1m, which is a bit of a disappointment. The focus path from infinity to MFD is roughly 90 degrees.
The aperture ring features half stop clicks and, unlike on older Leica lenses, has no play. The smallest aperture setting is f/16.
As you can see in the product images above, the lens extends a little when focusing closer.
The lens has a built-in telescopic hood that can be extended. It doesn't feature a lock in the extended position, but nonetheless stays well in its place in the field.
Due to the sheer size of the lens, a part of the rangefinder image is blocked, especially when the hood is extended. In addition, the comparatively heavy weight of the lens (compared to other system lenses) makes the Noctilux a little awkward to use for longer times. After several hours of shooting, one feels the weight of the somewhat front-heavy combination in the wrist.
|Optical construction||8 elements in 5 groups, incl. 2 aspherical elements|
|Number of aperture blades||11|
|min. focus distance||1.0 m (max. magnification ratio 1:17)|
|Dimensions||73 x 75.1 mm|
|Filter size||E60 (non-rotating)|