Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.2 ASPH (reissue) – Forced Love Does Not Last
Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.2 Double Aspherical (reissue)
Forced Love Does Not Last
Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.2 ASPH (reissue) – Forced Love Does Not Last
“You cannot make yourself love something twice” I told myself the other day and that was the line before sending this lens for a better home. In 2010, I started with a Leica M6 Classic and a Summicron 35mm f2 IV (king of bokeh). I was curious and new to Leica but I was deeply attracted by a legendary lens some called it AA or double-aspherical. It is the original Noctilux 50mm f1.2 Aspherical M produced in 1966 to 1975 and only 1757 units have ever been produced. At that time in 2010, a good copy could cost you around US$18k. Best way to deal with this price tag was to close my browser immediately and never look at it again. Out of the blue, in early 2021 Leica decided to bring it back.
But what’s so special about this original Noctilux? And why do collectors love this lens?
The world’s first lens to feature aspherical elements
f/1.2 maximum aperture that was enormous by the standards of the time with two hand ground aspherical elements that allowed for a sharper image and achieved at a large aperture value at that period of time. Unofficially they said there was only one person in the factory who can manually grind the glass and the fail rate is extremely high and we are talking about these high reflective optical glasses and they are costly to manufacture at that time. To pass the quality assurance and to achieve the highest level of precision, I must assume Leica had chunked so many of these glasses to bring only some said 2450 copies of that and each of them is unique and performance varies. They aren’t standardised like what we use today with machine ground. It is like a Leica dream for every collector to obtain this lens.
Size is compact like a Summilux 50/1.4 V2
It is a fast lens that has f/1.2 aperture value but fitted in a body that is bigger than a Summilux 50mm f1.4 and way smaller than Noctilux 50mm f1 for sure very attractive. Just like fitting an F1 engine in a road car. I have always been a fan of the Summilux 50mm but looking at its bigger brother, it looks so sexy to mount it on your camera body and it has the right balance between the body and the lens. Most importantly, the focusing scallop feels so solid and clean that you couldn’t find it anywhere in modern days.
No shortage of emotion
Since the beginning of my Leica journey, I have been chasing moody images. But sometimes you would like to try different combinations to see if this fits you or not. For example, I tried Canon 50mm f0.95 to match with certain films to give out that cinematic vibe. Any Leica user would not say no to this Leica Noctilux f1.2 that adds interesting emotion in your photographs but I would say it is very tricky to use because of the soft focus point, everything becomes less sharp and it is hard for me to tell where the focus point is.
2021 reissued Noctilux is FINALLY back!
In early 2021 Leica Camera announced the reissue of the legendary Noctilux 50mm f1.2 rangefinder lens that was originally produced in 1966. It is available in black anodized and silver chrome plated. Both come with its signature vented hood but different is the original packaging. Silver one was 100 units limited but I heard the black one is also 1800 pieces limited. Everything seems exactly the same except the coating colour and the filter thread so I started to look around and see if I could get hold of it. I was so excited and everyday I hoped there would be some news about this lens. So I finally got it in late 2021 and I spent hours and days using this lens and hope this is going to be a happy ending with it. I have tested it on both digital Leica M10-P and film including Kodak 5207 250D, Ektachrome E100 as well as Ilford Delta 100. Let’s go through some facts and basic info about it.
“The re-issue of the iconic Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2 ASPH. Lens from Leica is the return of a one of the most famous M-mount lenses, carefully adapted with modern design and production advances to recreate its unique aesthetic for contemporary photographers. Images captured at an open aperture feature a soft, dreamlike quality, creating an unmistakable look with exquisite bokeh. The optical design is almost identical to the original 1966 lens, providing a classic, vintage feel. Two large-diameter aspherical elements control spherical aberrations for improved clarity and reduced distortion. Although the Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2 has a unique look at a wide aperture, the lens is versatile and rugged enough for everyday use.”
This is the quote from Leica
Filter size and vignette
The original 1966 Noctilux hood is now over USD25k and without that you cannot use any filter. This reissued Noctilux f/1.2 takes a 49mm filter rather than the series VII the original one does. However, adding a filter in front of this lens adds quite an obvious amount of vignette. I have used a B+W nano filter and the original Leica slim filter. Compared with B+W, the Leica slim filter does a better job than B+W with less vignettes. So this might be something you could consider.
It has 16 aperture blades making bokeh round at all speeds and my favourite cat eye bokeh like its sibling Noctilux f1.0 does. But the out of focus area is not as creamy as f1.0, it has swirly bokeh and I would describe the bokeh as “busy” that will distract a viewer when looking at photographs from this lens and I won’t say it is pleasant to me.
I think most of you who enjoy using vintage Leica glass are probably attracted by its imperfection. Leica offers you exceptional colour performance and these discontinued lenses are produced with the best coating they could get in that era. It is just like driving a sports car in the 80s or 90s that those controls and buttons are quite distinct to its own generations. But this reissue Noctilux of course wouldn’t be able to use the original coating, its coating is much higher contrast than the original one and there are less details in the shadow. I would describe it as taking out the distinct character of the original Noctilux.
Focusing and focal plane
However, this lens has extremely soft focusing and sometimes I question myself as if there is something wrong with the rangefinder alignment or problem with my eyesights cause I can perfectly nail the focus with my Noctilux even at f1.0 but indeed my friend told me this lens’s field curvature is tricky and only sharp in the middle. I am not sure if anyone else with this lens has the same problem and I also notice there is some back focus (I have tried it on both film and digital Leica rangefinder cameras and still experience the same issue). But once I stop down the aperture, it is extremely sharp at f2.8. Another thing is that the minimum focus distance is only 1 metre, I understand that they are making it as a reissue but it would be great if they can bring it down to 0.7m.
Shooting experience with this Noctilux
Honestly it wasn’t pleasant to shoot with this lens. I gave up quickly trying this lens a couple of times mainly because I had high hopes for it but it turned out to be quite disappointing. I was never able to get the focus right, maybe it was right but too soft to tell the difference. With the extra half stop from my Summilux 50mm V2, I think that lens has better character in terms of sharpness and is very easy to handle. Please let me know if you have better experience with it and I could be wrong. I tried to sell it for a Noctilux 50mm f0.95 for the first time but the focusing of that copy wasn’t great so I took this lens back and gave it another shot. But you just can’t make yourself love someone twice.
Noctilux 50mm f1.2 vs f1.0
I haven’t really seen anyone using this as an everyday lens but you really have to try this Noctilux f1.2 for a short test to see whether you will like it. I enjoy using Noctilux lenses very much, especially the 50mm f1.0 if you have read my review about it. I would say Noctilux f1.0 has better mood and sharpness and with an extra half stop but I know that the lens is 225g heavier than this.
Forced love does not last and honestly I love my Noctilux f1.0 way more than this and by the way when you are reading this line, the lens has been sold. Yes I have moved on and bought a Summilux 75mm f1.4 V1 (known for its Noctilux f1 vibe. Yes! a Mandler lens!) and am shooting happily right now. The original Noctilux could cost you a fortune but this new (reissued) Noctilux is only an eighth of the costs of the original one. I think I like most of the Leica lenses but this Noctilux 50mm f1.2 and Summicron 35/2 IV pre-a, they are really not my thing. If you would like to get a fast lens that is also a Mandler designed lens, go for Noctilux 50mm f1.0 you won’t be disappointed. So it does not matter the amount of money you are paying for, you have to really try it to tell whether you like it or not. And I am happy that I have now completed my dream.
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Thank you for the interesting reviews you post. I am a 50mm shooter, the V1 and V2 Summilux lenses are beautiful, I also enjoy the Noctilux f1.0 as you do. My copy of the reissue f1.2 lens left me with the same conclusion as you, I could not find a focus point, the entire image was soft at f1.2. I tried several times to shoot different scenes or distances and continued to have difficulties with the lens. I compared it to my Nikkor F f1.2 50mm and it was not all that different in sharpness and other IQ, I returned the Leica re-issue and continue to look at images shot with this lens when they are posted to determine if my single copy was a poor sample concluding that my sample was normal for what the lens does. It is not a great disappointment to find one Leica lens I disliked, there are many others with beautiful image quality.
Thanks Daryl, I am glad to hear I am not alone and another person also commented here. In the end, I bought back this copy just because the price went down and I think I will give it another shot to see how I can bring out the mood of this lens.