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LEICA 50mm f/1
NOCTILUX-M (1976-2008)

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Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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Leica 50mm f/1 Elmarit

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1, twice actual size (60mm filters, 20.612 oz./584.3g, about $5,000 used). Vergrößern. You can get them at this link to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay) and you also can get them from Adorama and from Amazon . This free site is supported by your using those, and these links, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

December 2013   LEICA Reviews   LEICA Lenses    All Reviews

 

Introduction       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio
I use these stores. I can't vouch for ads below.

In it's era, the LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1 was the fastest lens in photography.

This 50mm f/1 replaced the earlier LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1.2 aspherical (1966-1975), which was the world's first production aspherical camera lens.

The 50mm f/1 NOCTILUX-M reviewed here is not aspherical. This 50mm f/1 is a conventional spherical design, using special high-index glass to get its performance.

This f/1 lens was in turn replaced by the new LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH in 2008, which is aspherical once again.

Canon made the world's first 50mm f/0.95 rangefinder lens five years before Leica came out even with the f/1.2 lens, and Leica is still smarting from that. This Canon lens is why Leica has to use the weasel word "aspherical" when describing the Leica 50mm f/0.95 as "the world's first f/0.95 aspherical lens," because Canon had already made the world's first 50mm f/0.95 lens fifty years ago.

Leica has made faster special-purpose lenses used for projection and CRT (fluoroscope and oscilloscope) recording, like a 75mm f/0.85 in 1934, as well as f/0.85 lenses in WWII for night reconnaissance. We'll let Leica win this one, since this is the NOCTILUX' review.

The NOCTILUX-M is a very special-purpose lens for low-light. If you don't need f/1, avoid it. The 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON-M has better optical performance from f/2 on, and the NOCTILUX is so big that it blocks much of the camera's viewfinder, suggesting the use of an external finder like Leica's excellent VIOOH Imarect finder (1940-1964), which not only corrects parallax, also corrects for different magnifications based on distance. The VIOOH is also more accurate and more precise than the M9's own finder.

What impresses me the most about this NOCTILUX-M is how much better it performs than I expected. At f/1, so long as you can get it in perfect focus, it's sharp and contrasty in the center, without any of the lower contrast or spherical aberration I'd expect. At f/1, this NOCTILUX' image quality is far better than the 35mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX at f/1.4, for instance. I was expecting the same, and was quite pleasantly surprised.

 

Compatibility    top

The LEICA 50mm f/1 NOCTILUX-M is perfectly compatible with every LEICA M camera, from 1954's LEICA M3 to the brand-new LEICA M7, LEICA MP and of course the LEICA M9.

 

Versions and History    top

 

1966-1975: LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1.2: 11 820

LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1.2

LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1.2.

The world's first production aspherical camera lens, with two hand-ground aspherical surfaces.

It took Series VIII filters and weighed between 470 and 515g.

Spare hood: 12 503.

These sell for about $5,000 used, but don't appear that often. They are the world's first mass-produced aspherical lens,

 

1976-2008: LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1    top

There are three cosmetic versions of this f/1 lens. All use the same optics and focus to 1 meter.

 

1976-1983: 11 821

58mm x 0.75mm (E58) filters.

20.7 oz. (580g).

External lens mount: A61 (61mm diameter).

Bayonet vented, reverse-conical hood: 12 519.

Front cap: 14 205.

Dimensions: 69mm diameter x 62mm extension from flange.

 

1983-1993: 11 821 (from serial number 2 919 657)

E60 (60mm x 0.75mm) filters.

20.7 oz. (580g).

External lens mount: A62 (62mm diameter).

Front cap: 14 290.

Vented reverse-conical hood: 12 539 (early), 12 544 (later, from Nr. 3 220 709).

Dimensions: 69mm diameter x 62mm extension from flange.

 

1993-2008: 11 822 (reviewed here)

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1.

E60 (60mm x 0.75mm) filters.

Two-section telescoping hood.

20.612 oz. (584.3g).

Front cap: 14 290. The cap is smart: you must remove it to extend the hood.

Dimensions: 72.05mm square hood x 64.50mm extension from flange, hood retracted. 75.18mm with hood extended.

At the end of production, Leica had sold its Canadian factory in which these were manufactured, and retained an arrangement where the new owners continued to make these for Leica.

When the one guy there who knew how to make these retired, that became the end of this NOCTILUX-M. In Leica's words, "it needed a redesign anyway," and thus the 0.95 came to be.

In first-klasse marketing fashion, Leica didn't tell anyone that there was a much better lens on the way. Leica merely announced that this classic was coming to a close after 30 years, and struck a commemorative edition!

The Last 100

Die schwarze Holzbox. Vergrößern.

 

The Last 100

Die schwarze Holzbox geöffnet. Vergrößern.

 

The Last 100

Vergrößern.

After they sold these, then they announced:

 

2008-today: LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH 11 602     top

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/0.95.

Der neue König der Nacht, this aspherical NOCTILUX-M way outperforms any of its predecessors.

It takes the same E60 filters, but only with an accessory filter holder, and weighs an even more beastly 700g.

It's 73mm in diameter and extends 75.1mm from the flange.

enlarge image or more information (no review yet).

 

Price    top

In 2010, the LEICA 50mm f/1 NOCTILUX-M sells used for about $3,500 for an early E58 version over eBay (see How to Win at eBay), to $6,500 or more at a dealer for a really nice one as shown here. Overall, expect to pay about $5,000.

 
Catalog price, corrected for inflation in 2010
Catalog price, uncorrected
1978 Nov.
$3,500
$1,056
1988 Dec
$3,850
2,095*
1992
$5,600
$3,630
1992 Dec
$4,150
$2,695*
1998 Dec
$3,850
$2,895*
1999 Dec
$3,650
$2,795
2003 Oct
$3,400
$2,895*
2010, used
$3,500 - $7,000
 

*Actual selling prices at B&H in NYC.

As we can see, the rich keep getting richer, even corrected for inflation.

Investing in a NOCTILUX, or preferably several of them, pays much better than the stock market or other zero-benefit (financial) investments. If you had bought a NOCTILUX, you'd also be enjoying it all these years.

 

Specifications       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

 

Name

Leica calls this the LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1.

 

Optics        top

Cross section, LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1

Cross-section. Vergrößern.

7 elements in 6 groups.

Elements 2 and 5 are made of magic Leitz glass Nr. 900402, which has an index of refraction of 1.9005.

Mostly single-coated mostly in magenta and amber.

Similar design to the earlier Canon 50mm f/0.95; just compare its internal diagram.

 

Diaphragm    top

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1 at f/5.6. roll mouse over to see at f/1.

Vergrößern f/5.6.  Vergrößern f/1.

10 blades.

Stops down to f/16.

Half-stop clicks.

The diaphragm has straight edges from f/1 through f/2, and from f/5.6 through f/16.

It has inwardly-curved edges at f/2.8 and f/4.

 

Close Focus

1 meter (3.3 feet).

 

Size        top

See Versions, above.

 

Weight        top

This sample: 20.612 oz. (584.3g).

See Versions, above for the other versions.

 

 

Hoods        top

1978-1993: See Versions, above, for details pertinent to the earlier versions.

1993-2008: Built-in two section telescoping hood:

Leica 50/1 noctilux

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50/1 with hood extended. Vergrößern.

 

Caps        top

See Versions, above, for details pertinent to the various versions.

 

Part Numbers        top

11 821 (1976-1993) and 11 822 (1993-2008).

Rear cap: standard 14 269.

See Versions, above for details of the other parts.

 

Filters    top

 
E58
E60
UV
13 270
13 381
Yellow
13 235
 
Yellowgreen
13 245
13 392
Orange
13 250
13 383
Red
13 255
 
Circular Polarizer  

was 13 376.

now 13 406.

 

Quality        top

Made in Canada, only, eh.

Leica made all its big lenses of these eras, the 90mm f/2 SUMMICRON and the 135mm f/2.8 ELMARIT-M, only in Canada as well.

Germany has never made these bigger lenses until recently

 

LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1. Vergrößern.

 

Performance       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Focus is your biggest barrier to sharpness.

There is a load of light falloff at f/1.

It's so big it blocks much of the finder.

Thus, use this only for veneration and very dark conditions.

 

Bokeh        top

Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus areas as opposed to the degree of defocus, is neutral in the center, and weird (poor) on the sides.

Here are crops from images shot on the LEICA M9 and extremely enlarged to about 36 x 48" (100 x 150cm), or the equivalent of looking at LEICA M9 images at 100% on-screen.

A vertically polarized phase lattice was set up at 3 meters (10 feet) on which the NOCTILUX-M was focused, and the synthetic reference vegetation seen out of focus in the background was at 15 meters (50 feet).

 

Bokeh, center    top

f/1: Edges of blur circles are slightly enhanced, but no big deal.

 

f/1.4: Edges of blur circles are very slightly enhanced.

 

f/2: Neutral.

 

f/2.8: Neutral.

 

Bokeh, right side     top

The funny business is on the sides and in the corners. Here are different crops from the same images:

f/1: Weird coma-like batwings. Poor bokeh; dark from falloff.

 

f/1.4: The same weird coma-like batwings. Poor bokeh, dark from falloff.

 

f/2: Batwings. Not as bad, but still funny bokeh.

 

f/2.8: Starting to become almost normal.

 

f/4: Finally: nice bokeh.

Analysis    top

Bokeh is ho-hum in the center. It's not that great at f/1, and normal at smaller apertures.

On the sides, bokeh is awful until you stop down to f/4 or so. If you have to stop down to f/4, then why did you buy a NOCTILUX-M?

Bokeh looks the same at f/1 and f/1.4 on the sides because there is so much mechanical vignetting that the same amount of light gets through at each of these settings.

 

Coma        top

Coma, or saggital coma flare, is weird smeared blobs that appear around bright points of light in the corners at larger apertures.

Coma is common in fast and wide lenses at large apertures.

The NOCTILUX-M has coma until f/4. At f/1, the corners get blurry because of it.

Here are crops from images the same huge size as above, from the top left corner, of the reflection from a chrome bumper 8 miles away:

 

Diaphragm Calibration        top

The calibration is perfect.

The meter in my M9 tracks each full-stop click perfectly.

This is remarkable because the mechanical diaphragm has to cover an 8-stop range, or 1:256, and the NOCTILUX-M does it perfectly. When you want perfect mechanics, Leica is the answer.

Few other lenses cover such a broad range. This is the same range as if an f/2.8 zoom stopped down to f/45!

 

Discrimination           top

Another reason people buy the NOCTILUX-M is its ability to discriminate among subjects.

 

Depth-of-Field

The NOCTILUX' depth-of-field is can be so narrow that nothing other than a paper-thin plane is in focus.

Focal length affects depths-of-field as as aperture. Let's compare how far out-of-focus the same background can be thrown when we compare other lenses.

In this case, I'm shooting each lens wide-open, and moving closer or father away to retain the same subject size.

What we're seeing is the same as if we wanted a portrait, and had our choice of this 50mm f/1 lens at 1.85 meters, a 90mm f/2 at 3.33 meters, or a 135m f/2.8 at 5 meters.

These are also tight crops from much larger images.

50/1

90/2

135/2.8

What? The NOCTILUX-M is only a little better than the 90mm f/2 SUMMICRON and 135mm f/2.8 ELMARIT-M. What's up with this?

Simple: focal length is as important as aperture. In this application, what matters is the diameter of the front of the lens (its entrance pupil).

Let's compare. The entrance pupil is calculated simply by dividing the focal length by the f/number.

 
50mm f/1
90mm f/2
135mm f/2.8
Entrance Pupil
50mm
45mm
47.7mm

AHA! They are almost the same.

Yes, truth be told, each of these lenses does about the same job of having narrow depth-of-field In these examples, I used a 90mm f/2 SUMMICRON from 1973 and a 135mm f/2.8 ELMARIT-M from 1977. Each is worth no more than $300.

The longer lenses will render much better portraits because you'll shoot them from a more pleasing distance. Head-and-shoulder shots made with 50mm lenses look freaky because you're too close.

 

Halo Effect: The Light of God    top

While detractors might whine about the hellacious light falloff (dark sides and corners) of the NOCTILUX-M, the chosen know that this effect is used to illuminate the center of the image, and thus shine the Light of God on the subject.

At the NOCTILUX' largest apertures, the central subject will shine out like a shaft of gold when all around it is dark. This is a very powerful artistic effect, and something that the 90mm f/2 SUMMICRON and 135mm f/2.8 ELMARIT-M don't do. I don't know of any other lens other than the NOCTILUX which do this so such a large extent.

 

Distortion           top

The LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1 has some simple barrel distortion. It will be visible if you're looking for it, which would serve you right. Compared to other LEICA lenses, it is strong, but still about the same as the newest Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S.

This distortion easily corrects with these figures in Photoshop's Lens Distortion Filter.

 
Correct with
10 meters (33 feet)
+2.2
3 meters (10 feet)
+2.0
1 meter (3.3 feet)
+3.5

© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

Ergonomics        top

LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1, actual size at 106 DPI. Vergrößern.

If we ignore the reality that this lens weighs as much as a camera body alone, and that it blocks much of our viewfinder, it is otherwise very easy to shoot.

Focus feel is flawless: the big ring is geared just right to give the perfect combination of precision and speed.

The aperture sets as does every other: with the light touch of a fingertip. Bravo!

 

Finder Blockage        top

Whoa Nellie! Most of the lower right quarter of the finder is blocked by the lens!

Here is how it blocks the finder of the LEICA M9. Other cameras should be the same.

infinity

At infinity.

 

1m

At 1 meter.

If you actually intend to photograph with this lens (few owners actually do more than once), you might want to consider a shoe-mounted external finder like the VIOOH.

 

Focus        top

Focus accuracy is a personal issue between your sample of body and your sample of lens.

I doubt you'll get perfect focus unless you send your lens and body to your technician for precision adjustment.

That said, I have no problem noting how far off any given camera and lens pair are, and simply correcting the focus ring by feel.

 

Falloff    (darker corners)         top

The LEICA 50mm f/1 NOCTILUX-M has heinous falloff at f/1.

Falloff doesn't go away until f/5.6.

It's obvious at f/1. Be sure to use it for creative effect.

I've greatly emphasized it below by shooting a gray field and presenting it against another gray field

 

LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1 falloff on full-frame M9
at infinity, ISO 160, 11 822 in-camera profile:

f/1

f/1.4

 

f/2

f/2.8

 

f/4

f/5.6

 

Same, but in-camera profile OFF:

f/1

f/1.4

 

f/2

f/2.8

 

f/4

f/5.6

© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Lateral Color Fringes        top

There no color fringes anywhere, either on film or on a LEICA M9.

 

Materials and Construction        top

Like all LEICA lenses, this NOCTILUX-M is made of are solid metal. The only plastic is the red mounting index ball.

To save weight, much of the outer barrel and control rings are made of anodized aluminum, with brass for the helicoids and most of the internals.

All the marking are engraved and filled with paint.

 

Sharpness         top

Surprisingly, this NOCTILUX is sharp and contrasty in the center at f/1.

Your challenge is to get that hair-thin plane of focus, the only plane where anything is actually sharp, to coincide with your subject.

Few camera and lens combinations are accurate enough. Most of the time, you're not really going to be in focus, and miss out on all the sharpness of which this lens is capable. Instead, you'll think the lens is less sharp than it is, because you'll often be just a little bit off.

With a lens this fast, "a little bit off" means images much softer then they could have been.

If sharpness is important, use the LEICA 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON-M, which is sharper at every setting, especially f/2, compared to this NOCTILUX, and yes, I have shot then side-by-side.

This NOCTILUX is for speed, not sharpness.

 

As shot on the LEICA M9:

 

f/1

Center: reasonably sharp, and contrasty, too!

Sides and corners: dim from falloff, blurry from coma, and not that sharp to begin with.

 

f/1.4

Center: Sharp and contrasty.

Area between center and sides (r=15mm): soft, the softest part of the image.

Sides and corners: dim from falloff, blurry from coma, and not that sharp to begin with.

 

f/2

Center: Sharp and contrasty.

Area between center and sides (r=15mm): soft, the softest part of the image.

Sides and corners: dim from falloff, blurry from coma, and not that sharp to begin with.

At f/2, the current LEICA 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON-M is much sharper, since it's sharp all the way out to the edges, even at f/2.

The 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON-M remains better than this NOCTILUX-M at every other aperture.

 

f/2.8

Center: Sharp and contrasty.

Area between center and sides (r=15mm): soft, the softest part of the image.

Sides and corners: greatly improved, but not great.

 

f/4

Center: Sharp and contrasty.

Area between center and sides (r=15mm): the softest part of the image, but reasonably sharp now.

Sides: greatly improved over f/2.8.

Farthest corners: still blurry.

 

f/5.6

Most of the image is sharp and contrasty, except for the farthest corners, which are still blurry.

 

f/8

Most of the image is sharp and contrasty, except for the farthest corners, which are still blurry, but better than they were at f/5.6.

 

f/11

Most of the image is sharp and contrasty, except for the farthest corners, which are still blurry, but better than they were at f/8.

f/11 is optimum.

 

Spherochromatism         top

Surprisingly, there isn't any visible spherochromatism. Out-of-focus highlights look like out-of-focus highlights, with no color fringes.

 

Rear, LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1

Rear, LEICA NOCTILUX-M 50mm f/1. Vergrößern.

 

Compared       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1and SUMMICRON-M f/2

LEICA NOCTILUX 50mm f/1 and SUMMICRON-M f/2. Vergrößern.

Optics

I've shot these directly against each other on the M9 at the test range. This is the result of live-fire exercises, not an analysis of charts.

At f/2 and smaller, the current LEICA 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON-M has clearly superior performance. Unless you need f/1.4 or f/1, leave this old NOCTILUX-M to armchair enthusiasts.

Compared to a LEICA SUMMILUX 50mm f/1.4 from 1964, this NOCTILUX-M is superior at f1.4. At f/2, the two lenses are similar, and at smaller apertures, the NOCTILUX is generally superior. That SUMMILUX isn't that hot on the M9. What's weird is that Dr. Mandler designed this NOCTILUX and today's SUMMICRON-M in the 1970s, but for some reason never redesigned the SUMMILUX, which could have used improvement. Leica sold this same SUMMILUX optical design for 43 years until 2004.

I have not compared this NOCTILUX-M against the newest LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH.

 

Ergonomics

Are you kidding? I'd do anything I could to avoid having to shoot with the giant NOCTILUX-M, and especially the even-heavier new NOCTILUX-M ASPH f/0.95.

 

Recommendations       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

This NOCTILUX-M exists to be shot at f/1, and maybe at f/1.4.

f/1 is powerful. I saw shutter speeds come up that are unworldly. I could shoot in much darker light than I'd ever desire.

At f/2 and smaller, it makes much more sense to use the optically superior LEICA 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON-M.

The smaller f/1.4 and f/2 lenses are lenses you'd actually want to take out and use. The NOCTILUX-M is more an item for use during religious services in Veneration of The Martyr than for actual photography.

The ergonomics of the NOCTILUX-M are poor: you can't see out your finder, and its too heavy. The NOCTILUX exists mostly as an engineering exercise and to grant a halo effect to the rest of LEICA's line.

If you get one, be sure to be sure that you camera and NOCTILUX focus well together. Look at the results: they should be perfectly sharp, even at f/1. If not, your focus is probably off.

If I was going to get one, I'd look for the earliest E58 version because it:

1.) sells for the least amount of money,

2.) weighs the least,

3.) has a normal (58mm) filter size,

4.) has a more intelligent vented hood design, all of which add up to

5.) less potential finder blockage, and less to carry, for less money, with the same optics.

If you do have one, it can make images as good as any of the other 50mm lenses, it's just quite a handful to have to cart around. If it's not fun, why do it?

A great thing about this old NOCTILUX is that it's widely available used, so you can get one to use until your f/0.95s comes in.

Did I use the plural? Yes, believe it or not, most people who buy a NOCTILUX, just like the people who buy Ferraris, buy a few so that they don't have to travel with them as they move among their various homes.

 

ServiceLEICA Service

If I had one of these and needed my camera calibrated to it, I'd send it to Leica specialist Gus Lazzari.

 

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to OC Camera for loaning me this NOCTILUX-M so I could review it here.

 

Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!

Ken

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March 2010