When most of us are dealing with ultra-high-quality low-light specialist lenses, something like an f/1.2 aperture usually fills most needs. But for those who want the most sumptuous quality where price is no object, then the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH is a very likely candidate. The original Noctilux f/1 version of this lens has been around since 1976 and gone through quite a few design iterations. Now it’s the turn of the 50mm f/0.95 ASPH to impress the most discerning.
Now, this lens isn’t your regular 50mm prime, especially with its bargain basement price of just $12,500. That vain attempt at sarcasm means the Noctilux-M is going to be a specialist lens for not just its low-light capabilities, but also for its individual image rendering. This means it’s not just about how sharp the end results are, but also about the lens’ unique character, which you will clearly have to pay for.
Getting down to the nuts and bolts of the Leica Noctilux-M, just like its older sibling, this is a manual focusing lens that comes in at a rather heavyweight 700g. The outer shell of the lens is not too dissimilar from the f/1, having a manual aperture and focus ring.
The optical makeup follows the classic double Gauss-type design, wrapped around eight elements arranged in five groups. Five of these elements are of the anomalous partial dispersion variety, with another three being high refractive index versions. Another two aspherical elements have been included to control lens aberrations and improve overall image definition.
The old school design makes perfect sense for the lens’ target audience. The types who will be eyeing up the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH will most likely know its pedigree and where it comes from. As a lens that has had a certain aura for decades, it makes sense to have a classic design that makes it feel closer to its past linage.
The Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH In Use
Strapping on the Leica, it’s immediately apparent that you don’t have an average lens in your hands. It’s heavier and faster than its older sibling, with a rock solid build construction. And what’s the first thing we do with a lens such as this one? Obviously try it out at f/0.95 to see what it can do.
The original f/1 rendered its images with a slightly soft look. This was part of the appeal, which you either bought into or not. The new lens is more optically correct, which means sharper focus at the widest apertures. The new f/0.95 also provides deeper contrast, with slightly more saturated colors and definition.
One of the standout aspects of this lens is the way it renders bokeh and highlight balls. Balls of light are smooth and very rounded, without the harsh characteristics that you get with cheaper lenses. Out of focus areas tend to look smoother and more contrasty than before, making it a very good portrait shooter.
Bokeh is one thing but low-light capabilities are the other half of the story. The Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH lens is fast and once you get the hang of focusing, it becomes a quick process to compose and shoot at a moment’s notice. As shutter speeds can be kept high at f/0.95, those precious moments can be captured with a lovely degree of contrast. The main thing to bear in mind when shooting up close is the very shallow depth of field, so if you’re shooting more than one subject, they had better be in a line or you will need to stop down the aperture.
The lens may also display slight amounts of chromatic aberration in very high contrast areas. But this is a symptom of most very wide aperture lenses, which can be mostly corrected in post-processing. The lens also has very low distortion levels and virtually no vignetting in the corners.
Overall, the Leica Noctilux-M provides an almost Filmic look to every image. The lens provides a natural level of sharpness and contrast, which needs very little post-processing.
How Does It Compare?
The only direct equivalent to the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH is the older f/1, considering its price point and unique nature. But if you’re more interested in f/0.95 capabilities, then there are a few lenses out there that go this wide. One of these is the Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 III, which at just under $700 is really an apples and pears comparison. Compared to the price of the Leica, they are almost giving it away.
However, when the Zhongyi is evaluated on its own merits, it has a highly usable f/0.95 aperture, manual focusing, and is respectably sharp where it counts. This lens is obviously not in the same league as the Leica, but for such a wide aperture 50mm prime, it’s about as cost-effective as you can get for f/0.95 workings. One other lens to consider is the Zenit Zenitar 50mm f/0.95.
|Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH||Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 III|
|Min. Focusing Distance||1m||50cm|
|Elements||8 elements/5 groups||10 elements/7 groups|
The Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH maybe one of the best 50mm primes you can get your hands on, but you will have to pay to achieve this level of imagery. The lens is definitely a step up in sharpness and contrast over the older f/1 version. However, some people may prefer the older version for its more dreamy glow-like effect.
The lens also stands on its own not just because of its price, but mainly due to the way the final images are rendered with sumptuous quality. In other words, you simply won’t be disappointed with the end results. Even with the aperture wide open, images are sharp and the bokeh is as good as it gets.
In other words, if you want the ultimate 50mm lens then look no further. However, I can’t help but think that laying down $12,000 for a lens should bring in the best image quality around, no questions asked. This ultimately means that the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH obeys the same laws of diminished returns as anything else. If you want that extra level of quality above everything else, you will have to pay the price.
To check out other high-end options, read our guide on the Best Leica Lenses.