Leica Noctilux Comparison, 0.95 vs. 1.0

Due to the scarcity of M9, I’ve not yet been able to allocate one of these for myself. I was lucky enough to have one loaned to me for the weekend from Leica, via Tom Brichta, the representative from Northern California. I have been yearning to do a side by side comparison of these lenses for quite some time and last weekend was my opportunity. The results are as follows.

Reference: The lenses tested were the 50mm0.95 Asph #4085786, from Nov ’09 delivery and a 50mm1.0 Noctilux-M #3738627, which has been 6-Bit updated by Leica. All images were made with a tripod and self timer delayed activation. Critical focus was insured by the use of the 1.4x magnifier. The RAW files were converted to TIFF in Photoshop using “As Shot” white balance and “Default” settings.

For the first set of images, the point of focus was the highlight on the wire corner. Both lenses were tested at minimum focus distance of 40″ and at maximum aperture. The 50mm0.95 Asph is shown on the left and the 50mm1.0 is shown on the right.

Click the images to open full screen
Overall, the images look similar. Both lenses have comparable Bokeh. If you’ve not heard the term before, Bokeh refers to how the lens renders the out of focus areas. The Noctilux lenses are renowned for how much separation can be imparted by opening up the lens. From this and other images that I have seen, the traditional look of the Noctilux is maintained in the new lens, which should be a comforting note to current non-Asph Noctilux users.

The above images are shown at 100%. The 0.95 Asph is clearly sharper with better contrast. Upon secondary inspection of the images, I thought the the 50mm1.0 may have been slightly back focused. This was exceptionally perplexing as I was extremely careful focusing. Returning to the full screen images, you can note that the debris on the glass table is in the same plane of focus on both images, so I am concluding that this is simply a difference in how the two lenses resolve focus and also the difference between f0.95 and f1.0. If the comparison is as accurate as I believe it is, this is much more of a difference than I expected to see. Photographing with these lenses at maximum aperture and minimum focus distance definitely accentuates the subtle differences in the two lenses.

The next set of photos were made at infinity focus at f8.0 with lens detection enabled. I wanted to see what these looked like if you wanted to use it under more normal conditions. There is a slight difference in the auto metering as the 50mm0.95 image has more sky, but otherwise they look pretty similar.

Upon close inspection, you can see that there is a bit more contrast in the 50mm0.95.

This was a test to see how each lens compared with 6-Bit (Lens Detection) turned on and turned off. The first set is the 50mm0.95 Asph and the second set is the 50mm1.0. Both were taken at /250th sec at f8.0

As you can see, the 50mm0.95 has subtle vignetting, but the 50mm1.0 is much more pronounced. In some occasions, the vignetting is nice for black and white images and it would not at all be noticed if you were using this on an M8. In any case, if you have an earlier Noctilux that is not 6-Bit, I would have it converted. Leica also changes the lens mount which insures that it focuses properly on the digital M cameras.

The next test was to see if there was any perceivable depth of field or sharpness difference on the 50mm0.95 Asph lens from f0.95 to f1.0.

Here are images from the 50mm0.95 and the 50mm1.0, both are at maximum aperture.

Here are two more sets, comparing both lenses at f1.0 and f1.4.

Conclusion: To my eye, the new 50mm0.95 Asph retains the traditional Noctilux look, while having a slight increase in contrast and color saturation. The lens has substantially less vignetting and renders fine details more sharply at open apertures. Another nice feature of the new lens, which was not previously mentioned, is that the Asph has a shorter focus throw, so is it quicker to focus. The lens does seem to have better focusing accuracy, wide open, at minimum focus distance. While either lens would make a fine addition to any M system, the new lens is clearly an improvement. At $9995.00, the 50mm0.95 is definitely an investment, but certainly one which will be enjoyed!

Sean Cranor
President, Camera West

P.S. A few non test environment snapshots…

Underwater shooting and the odd French accent.

We can certainly credit Jacques-Yves Cousteau for a lot of things. A greater appreciation for our aquatic environment inhabitants, a sense of adventure in exploration of our planet earth and last but not least, some terrible but very amusing attempts at producing a French accent of which you cant deny not having tried at some point. 

In all of his travels and exploration, Jacques-Yves was a real innovator. He developed equipment out of necessity, which often lead to the creation of a entirely new design, which was quickly adopted by fellow explorers and spread to mainstream use. Jacque’s team indeed invented the Scuba (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) system which is now in use world wide.

At this point you may be wondering how this all relates to cameras, because in the end we are a camera store and that’s what we talk about. In all his travels and exploration Jacques needed to take pictures. In order to share the underwater environments with the rest of the world, his design input was utilized for development of the first commercial waterproof camera, which eventually led to the Nikonos-V 35mm film camera.
The design of the original camera was sold to Nikon and then re-branded to Nikonos, which then saw its first market appearance in 1963. The Nikonos was an instant favorite with professionals and amateurs alike and was a real leader in the market for many years.
What really set the Nikonos apart from the rest was its lenses, which were designed specifically for underwater use and would not in fact work when in open air. Later Nikon produced a set of lenses that would work in both environments. There is speculation that even today there still is no rival to their underwater performance. Some would also argue there is still not a waterproof camera that has the classic styling and looks of the Nikon. Perhaps some credit should be attributed to its French origins. Nikon finally  wrapped up production and development of these popular units in 2001.
Some information sourced from Wikipedia.