Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Review: Leica NOCTILUX-M 75 mm f/1.25 ASPH

Review: Leica NOCTILUX-M 75 mm f/1.25 ASPH

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Introduction

It’s always exciting receiving a new lens from Leica for testing. Unlike with the camera bodies, it is often a long time from prototype testing until the lens is introduced. I’ve had several versions of the 75 Noctilux over an 18-month period. It seems that one of the biggest challenges of lens development is to turn the perfect prototype into a perfect production lens.

I tested the most recent lens for about three months, it went back to Leica in February 2017. All the lenses seemed to behave perfectly from an optical point of view without a perceptible difference in quality, and although I’ve not spent any time with a production copy I imagine that they are very similar.

When looking at the images in this article it should be borne in mind that they have been shot with a prototype lens.

  The Way Up - ISO 100 1/350th Leica M10
The Way Up – ISO 100 1/350th Leica M10

Fast Lenses

The original 50mm Noctilux (f/1.2) arrived in 1966 during a period when the major manufacturers were all racing to produce fast standard lenses. These lenses were powerful weapons in the photojournalist’s armament, principally because film speeds were so much slower than the ISO values available to digital photographers today.

The advances in the production of aspherical elements, higher quality glass and precision production technology has helped to produce better and faster lenses and these have usually been bigger and heavier as well.

It’s worth noting that, large as this lens certainly is, it’s around the same weight as the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 and a bit lighter than the Ziess Otus 85mm f/1.4 (1200g against 1055g for the Noctilux). The diameter at 90mm is roughly the same as the Otus lenses, but the Noctilux is considerably shorter at 101mm (the Otus 50 is 140mm long).

It could be argued that with the sensitivity of modern digital cameras (certainly a 4-stop advantage over film) that the need for fast lenses is over. However, the possibilities of shooting in very low light, and the attraction of very limited depth of field has increased the market for high quality wide aperture lenses.

  It
It’s a family affair – ISO 200 1/180th Leica M10
  Iceburn - ISO 100 1/4000th Leica M10
Iceburn – ISO 100 1/4000th Leica M10

The Noctilux 75 f/1.25

It is a logical design development from a 50mm lens to a 75mm. This can be seen in the pairing of Walter Mandler’s 50mm Summilux, and his much acclaimed 75mm Summilux of 1980 (said to be his favourite lens). More recently Peter Karbe’s 50mm Summilux Asph and the 75mm APO Summicron (certainly my favourite lens). Similarly, the new 75mm Noctilux is a design sibling of the 50mm Leica Noctilux f/0.95.

The Maximum aperture of f/1.25 is a function of the entrance pupil, the focal length and the 67mm front element. The lens has two aspherical elements, and the slightly smaller aperture and field of view (75 vs 50) both allow the 75 Noctilux to perform even better than the 50 Noctilux.

A group of three elements floating nearest to the camera eliminate the problem of focus shift, but also ensure that the lens can make better quality images at the shortest distance of 0.85m (the minimum focus distance of the 50 Noctilux f/0.95 is 1m)

  Pick Up the Telephone - ISO 4000 1/125th Leica M10
Pick Up the Telephone – ISO 4000 1/125th Leica M10
  Blue Train - ISO 100 1/180th Leica M10
Blue Train – ISO 100 1/180th Leica M10

Links

There are some interesting articles about the lens on the Leica website and blog:

  Best Friends. Right? - ISO 200 1/125th Leica M10
Best Friends. Right? – ISO 200 1/125th Leica M10

Depth of field, bokeh and isolation

Recently I’ve seen quite a lot of criticism of very short depth of field as a concept, but very little criticism of images which use it as a device. Personally, I like to use it; it’s often good to concentrate on details, and a limited depth of field and smooth bokeh helps with this.

The human eye is the ultimate expert at ‘focus stacking’, and most of the time we see everything in focus, from infinity to right up close. Shoot the 75 Noctilux wide open at a couple of meters and the in-focus area is limited to millimetres. It is another tool in the photographer’s bag, and the new Noctilux does it so very well; the roll off between sharp and out of focus areas is gentle, both in front of the point of focus and behind it. And then the in focus area is so very sharply in focus!

  Dixie Chicken - ISO 200 1/125th Leica M10
Dixie Chicken – ISO 200 1/125th Leica M10

Traditionally the classic portrait lens is the fast 85mm, but the 75mm has been my favourite for some time. Modern high-resolution sensors mean that it’s possible to crop, and fast lenses like this new Noctilux mean that you can control the depth of field very easily.

During my testing of the lens I was careful to look out for chromatic aberration (purple fringing) and flare, in both cases the lens performs really well, CA is kept to an absolute minimum (better than the 50 Noctilux in my experience) and flare seems to be well controlled as well.

  No Hidden Path - ISO 100 1/1500th Leica M10
No Hidden Path – ISO 100 1/1500th Leica M10

This 75 and that 75

While I was testing the Noctilux I made a detailed comparison between the new lens, the 75mm APO Summicron and Mandler’s 75mm f/1.4 Summilux (thank you for the loan Cam Wilder). It was a fascinating comparison, especially in the light of the perceptions of the internet community, which seems to be that the 75 APO f/2 is ‘clinical’ and the 75 Summilux is just wonderful.

From an objective point of view there seems to be a perfectly sensible development from the 75 Summilux through the 75 APO to the new Noctilux. The sharpness gets better (especially wide open), the roll off between in-focus and out-of-focus improves, and the quality of the bokeh is softer and less busy. All of this doesn’t detract from the charms of the 75 f/1.4 (I still love the ‘look’). From a technical point of view however the new Noctilux is a clear winner, and from an aesthetic point of view there absolutely no room for complaint.

  Yellow - ISO 100 1/125th Leica M10
Yellow – ISO 100 1/125th Leica M10

Practicality and focusing

The 75 Noctilux is a heavy lens (just over a kilogram), but it’s relatively compact and handles well on an M10 body (and of course on the Leica SL).

The existence of the Leica SL and the Visoflex EVF on the M10 have made the development of lenses like the new Noctilux more practical. The Leica articles do rather suggest that you should be using either the Visoflex on the M10 or the SL. However, I’ve found it relatively easy to focus with the excellent new rangefinder on the M10 (which is how the majority of pictures in this article have been taken). Of course, there are occasions when you might not nail focus wide open, but that doesn’t detract from the charm of the rendering (and it is charming).

  This is the Picture (Excellent Birds) - ISO 500 1/250 Leica M10
This is the Picture (Excellent Birds) – ISO 500 1/250 Leica M10

Conclusion

Clearly this is a specialist lens; for an M lens it’s relatively large, expensive and heavy. Focusing it wide open on an M camera requires some practice (unless you use the EVF), on the SL the focusing is even more straightforward. Either way the rewards are obvious; resulting images are wonderfully sharp right from f/1.25 and the out-of-focus areas are soft and subtle, both in front and behind the point of focus. Transition areas (often the weak point on very fast lenses) are gentle and well under control.

  Dogsong 2 - ISO 100 1/250 Leica M10
Dogsong 2 – ISO 100 1/250 Leica M10

© Jonathan Slack January 21st 2018

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Lovely photos as usual, Jono. If I could, I would nominate that dog of yours for an Oscar. You are right that this is a specialised lens, so specialised that I had to look it up on Ivor’s site in order to see what it looks like. I am glad to hear that focus shift has been eliminated on this lens. I have poor eyesight at the best of times and can’t imagine how I would be able to focus with this lens. I only have one 75mm M lens, the Summarit version. It is fine for the very occasional times that I want to use a 75mm lens and does not exhibit focus shift. I mainly use 35mm and 50mm lenses and I find that the two M Summilux Asph lenses (my 35mm is non FLE) are both prone to focus shift on digital Ms, even on the M10 (on film both lenses are fine). Accordingly, I generally use the Summicron versions of both lenses instead on digital Ms as they are much more reliable and, of course, they are lighter and more compact. I note that the 75mm Summicron is regarded as clinical, whereas the 75mm Summilux is regarded as wonderful. I wonder do any of those lenses exhibit focus shift? I hope that Leica AG is planning to introduce an FLE version of the 50 Summilux. I have the impression that the current version of that lens was better on the M9 than it is on the M10, with the M240 somewhere in between, but I have not worked up the energy to do a test on all 3 cameras.

    As regards the 75mm Noctilux, I imagine it might appeal to any professional portrait photographers that are using Leica M cameras. It certainly would be one for the studio rather than use as a walk about lens. It will be interesting to see what photos, taken with the lens, will turn up on the Leica Forum when it hits the stores.

    William

    • Hi there Bill
      Thanks for the nice words about the snaps – I’ll tell Caspar he’s due an award!

      Well, so many things:
      1. both the 50 summilux and the 75 summicron have floating elements
      They are siblings in rather the same way as the 50 Noctilux and 75 Noctilux.

      1. If I ever read again that the 75 summicron is ‘clinical’ I think I’ll go crazy – what’s it supposed to mean? Like in a hospital? The lens is sharp with fantastic bokeh and a great roll-off. (and a floating element)

      As for the new lens – I didn’t find it too difficult to focus, and I rarely used the EVF, I guess lots of people will use it on the SL (where it works really well).

      If I could afford one, then I’d certainly buy one!

      All the best
      Jono

  2. Nice images Jono, I am still turning the M conundrum around in my head, while I continue saving for a Q. I love manual focusing my X, however not sure I would want to manual focus everything. So I am cogitating while I save on which Leica to own next.

    I would vote Casper for the doggie equivalent of an Oscar based on his performance here.

    • Hi There Dave
      To be honest, I think it should really hinge around whether you like to use a rangefinder. If you do, then there isn’t much doubt that the M10 is the dog’s doodah. If you don’t then it’s pretty worthless!

      I loved the Q (but I don’t have one), Come to that I loved the 75 Noctilux (but I don’t have one). I have had a long term loan of a 75 Summilux (which I love – thank you Cam) and also a 75 summicron which I also love.

      Interestingly I did use the 75 Noctilux on both the SL and the CL . . but none of the snaps made the cut (gofigure).

      Like to make a bid for Caspar? 🙂
      All the best

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