To many in photography, the name “Leica” conjures up a feeling of photography mystique and attraction. This interest is further heightened when the label “Noctilux” comes into the picture. Today we will be taking a look at not only the Noctilux 50mm, but the very 1st version of it, typically nicknamed the E58.
With roots in Latin, the word ‘Noctilux’ comprising the words ‘Noct’ & ‘Lux’ implies ‘night light gathering’; Leica’s answer to low light photography.and ‘Lux’ has nothing to do with the word ‘Luxury’, which some believe
But the magic of the Noctilux series, which Leica first released in 1966, was not only its maximum aperture that varied from ƒ1.2 to ƒ0.95 across the decades. The Noctilux magic was also the drawing of the optics, and the quality of bokeh that kept it at the top of the pedestal amongst Leica optics.
The original Noctilux released in 1966 was their state of art lens for photography in low light, and has been updated across the years.
Noctilux 50mm versions (An abbreviated history)
1966 to 1975: Leica Noctilux 50mm ƒ1.2 ASPH
1976 to 1983: Leica Noctilux 50mm ƒ1.0 E58 V1 (pin hood)
1983 to 1993: Leica Noctilux 50mm ƒ1.0 E60 V2 (pin hood)
1993 to 2008: Leica Noctilux 50mm ƒ1.0 E60 V3 (clip-on hood) and
Leica Noctilux 50mm ƒ1.0 E60 V4 (internal hood)
2008 to now: Leica Noctilux 50mm ƒ0.95
2021 to now: Leica Noctilux 50mm ƒ1.2 ASPH Reissue
The version discussed today is Version 1 made in 1978, the E58. The only version across the decades with a 58mm filter size, Version 1 is characterized by the most vignetting while shooting wide open but, some will say is the most characterful version of the Noctilux.
While modern lenses are no doubt, well-corrected and rank high on benchmark tests, I do feel they tend towards being clinical and at times, lacking in character.
Lens Character and the Mandler Glow
The drawing of lenses has over the years been ‘tuned’ to a heavier dose of saturation, and in some cases, contrast in lens designers’ attempts to work towards the taste of the modern generation of users, which will, may rank the lens higher on benchmarks but does lend to a lack of differentiation across the drawing of lenses.
The Noctilux 50mm ƒ1 Version 1 has been cited as the version most highly recommended for portraits at times.
What is different about this Noctilux 50mm ƒ1 Version 1 compared with the later versions is that colour reproduction is much muted and hardly as vibrant as the latest versions. Back in the 1970s to 1980s, some of Leica’s lenses were known for what some photography aficionados refer to as the ‘Mandler Glow’. At the same time, some critics define this as just a successful marketing campaign.
I am not bothered by which side is right, and I hardly care. In fact, why bother?
When used wide open, the image output from the E58 as a result of its coating and design, gives a good dose of the ‘Mandler glow’, subsequently leading to the skin’s soft texture. The bokeh character is painterly, giving the butter-smooth creamy signature bokeh. Add the heavier dose of vignetting that draws one’s eye to the subject in the center, and one gets the unique E58 output.
Not just the maximum aperture, but it is the sum of all the parts that gives the characteristic and unique look from the Noctilux 50mm ƒ1. I never thought I would write about Mandler’s glow but here we are.
In fact, the subsequent versions were designed to be 60mm filter sizes to lessen the vignette.
*nope, this glow I am referring to is not the same as the unsightly glow one sees due to over-sharpening efforts in post-processing.
Of course, the Noctilux 50mm ƒ1 Version 1 is not faultless. It is hardly sharp by modern standards. Like all large aperture lenses, purple fringing is easily part and parcel of almost every shot one makes with the E58, which is easily removed by modern post-processing tools.
Using the Noctilux 50mm ƒ1 Version 1 is hardly a walk in the park; framing has to be intentional, and this is hardly a lens for snapshots. My hit rates using a 1.25x magnifier on the rangefinder was a dismal 50% at most due to the extremely thin depth of field at ƒ1.
I will say using the Noctilux is a planned process. If one is into candid moments or snapshots, the Summaron-M 28mm ƒ5.6 will be a much better tool.
I love the Summilux-M 50mm Summilux ASPH, and I believe anyone who feels the same way will fall in love with the Noctilux 50mm ƒ1. Photographing with the Noctilux wide open is a process of creation, and takes a good amount of practice for any level of consistency. If one is into making the maximum number of shots per unit of time, the Noctilux series is not suitable.
The Noctilux 50mm ƒ1 version 1 works exceptionally well as a portrait lens, not only because of its Noctilux heritage but also of its vintage and unique rendering, as elaborated above, which is refreshing in my current world of oversaturated, over-contrasty images.
I am not someone who can simply afford to walk into a Leica boutique and buy a Noctilux off the rack, that is life, but I sincerely wish that anyone keen on portraiture gets an opportunity to try the Noctilux one day, and when you are doing so, remember that even among the revered Noctilux series, the E58 version 1 is unique.
Thank you for reading.
- All product photos and samples here were photographed by me. I believe any reviewer with pride should produce their own product photos.
2. All images were shot with the Leica M10-R and the Noctilux 50mm ƒ1 Version 1.
3. This review is not sponsored; the lens is a loan from a dear friend and returned. The M10-R belongs to me, and kudos to Leica Asia Pacific (Singapore) for doing a great job in checking/servicing/cleaning it recently.
4. I do not do affiliate purchase links to keep myself neutral. I write as a passion and a hobby, and I appreciate that photography brands are kind enough to respect and work with me.
5. The best way to support me is to share the review, or you can always help support me by contributing to my fees to WordPress for the domain using the Paypal button at the bottom of the page.
5 Replies to “Portraiture with the Leica Noctilux 50mm F1 version 1 – A unique and enduring love.”
This is one of the best writeup of this lens I have read! Thank you very much Keith.
Hi Kristi, thank you for the kind words .