Recently an opportunity came across my lap and got me excited, my brother in law was looking into getting into the Leica system and was jumping straight into it with purchasing a Leica Noctilux. He has asked me to purchase it in advance and my only response was heck yeah as this would give me a week to try out the legendary Noctilux. Its very rare that you get to hold and shoot with a $10,000 lens so this was an opportunity that I was excited for and had me waiting for the UPS truck to arrive.
Upon arrival and quickly unboxing the package and lens, you will automatically know that this is no ordinary lens. It feels like opening a luxury watch when you open up the Leica Noctilux. With the price tag of this lens as $10k, you would expect it to arrive this way. Upon holding the lens, all I can saw was wow! You almost instantaneously feel the build quality and heft of this lens, and you start to realize just how much engineering, glass and mechanisms it took to build a 0.95 aperture lens. Aperture clicks feels snappy, focus ring is butter but at the same time nice and firm. You really need the focus to be firm with this lens to nail down the focus given the shallow depth of field. So here I was in awe of finally being able to use and shoot with the Noctilux, my Leica SL already bare with no lens as I was excited to get it on there.
Align, snap it in and I hear the lens click as I attach the Noctilux on the Leica SL. Here it was, the Leica SL + Noctilux combo, and first thing I notice is how the weight is balanced with the SL. The lens is truly a heavyweight for M lenses, but with the Leica SL it feels just right. Yes, I am used to a lighter combo with my other M lenses but with the Noctilux it did not feel all to shabby. The current SL lenses available are way heavier anyways so this was no big deal. Great, here I was and all I wanted to do was shoot something, and here came my son Noah walking in the door. Snap and all I can think of was wow again, bokehlicious as Kai Man Wong would say. First thing I can say just by the first shot is how the Leica SL makes focusing this narrow depth of field a breeze. Second thought is color rendered by the lens and third of course is the 3D pop from the bokeh.
First Shot with the Noctilux, Noah walking in the door
Chicago Winter Storms
One thing about this week with the Noctilux is that a hand full of winter storms were arriving and it was going to literally snow every day of the week. Nothing to hold me back with though as this would also give me a chance to test the Noctilux with cold and snowy conditions. We would get about 8-10 inches of snow for the week so this tells you that this was no light snow showers but the real deal. Combine this with the weather sealed Leica SL and I really had confidence that there would be no issues for the week. I shot this in heavy snow down pours and all I can say is that the Noctilux was great to use, low light conditions was a breeze and that was my expectation. Every time I shot with this lens there is just a character to it and you start to believe the reviews of what is called the "Noctilux Look". The more I shot with this lens the more I fell in love, you just hold it in your hands and appreciate the overall work and engineering that was put into this lens. Image IQ is amazing, contrast is high, and overall look and feel of images is something else.
Tree shadows on 10 inches of snow
Snow Plow Waiting
Snowy Parking Lot
The next things I wanted to test was the color rendering of the lens. How would the colors out of camera look? How does skin tones render? I did not have much time to setup anything formal as I only had a week with this and with the snow storms there really was not much to do outside the house. With this my photography models would have to be my kids. Trying to get three year old's to stay put is a challenge by itself. Pair this with the 0.95 Noctilux and shallow depth of field and I thought that this would be a disaster.
To my surprise, nailing shots in these conditions was not that hard. The Leica SL EVF, zoom focus and focus peaking all enable me to focus at a snap. The more I shot, the more I found the tones and colors that came out of the Noctilux to be amazing. As with Leica lenses, tones were warmer vs the colder tones from Japanese manufactured lenses. Colors popped and as always you get that Leica look with the colors rendered. Skin tones were nice and accurate. Overall, the look is different but in a very good way. Here are a few random shots of my kids and even a self portrait in which I just loved the skin tones and warmth that I am posting it here. I am not very fond of being in front of the camera and would rather be the one taking the photos so this is a rare occasion of posting myself.
Taking photos of each other
WWWT (Wonder Woman Watching TV)
On one of the last days with my time with the Noctilux, we were driving home and noticed the sunset colors that were starting to encompass the entire sky. With a random decision, we turn right and start heading for the woods. In my mind this would be the perfect time to get a shot of contrasting bright snow with the pink and orange sky. Why not test this scenario with the Noctilux while I have it by my side?
So here we are speeding down the road, trying to catch the sunset in the woods. We arrive at the parking lot and all I can do is pop the lens cover off and dash into the lake front view. Little did I realize that in the woods, the snow is not shoveled and I would be walking in 10 inches of snow. What I was wearing was surely not ready for trekking in these conditions. But with the sun setting, little did I care about the freezing snow going in my sneakers, socks and pants. I make it on to the lake edge and start snapping away. As I look at the shots now, the colors and soul of the lens just give me satisfaction of making the decision to dash on through the woods and walk in snow.
Captain Daniel Woods Lake Sunset
Snow and Starburst
In summary, my week came to an end with the Noctilux, but it was a week that gave me inspiration and joy to finally experience the Noctilux. Scary as it was to always be holding over $14,000 dollars worth of equipment at my side, it was also a blessing to shoot and behold the engineering that took place to build this lens. Will I ever own this lens myself, probably not, unless I win the lottery. But having a week with it is something I can say not many have the chance to do. The colors and overall soul of the lens will always stay with me and this lens really is bokehlicious!
Some additional low light shots below from eating in a dim Teppanyaki restaurant.