There is nothing which develops an understanding of a lens like handling it in action. This is an article on the perfections and imperfections of the 75mm Noctilux after having traveled the world with it, for three months
There can be only one. That was sort of my idea when I started out with the 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. There can only be one Noctilux in my household, and the question was, will it be the 50mm or the 75mm?
Before I became an addict of the Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95, I used the f/1.0 version. Once the f/0.95 arrived, it was clear that this was taking over and there was no need for the f/1.0 as well. They look very alike in the overall image, only the contrast, micro detail rendering and overall color clarity is improved. The 75mm Noctilux f/1.25 is the next step up in lens design.
The 75mm Noctilux has a lot of perfection, which makes it a great lens. See the images and specific samples of perfection throughout this article. But it also has less of a “Noctilux look” because the Noctilux is not about perfection but about living on the edge of the dreamy look: If pushed a few microns, it would all become a milky white image without much sense.
With the 75mm Noctilux, Leica Camera AG climbed to a safer point further from the edge. But if you want perfection, the new Leica SL lenses, or the Leica S lenses, offer a new level of image quality. And there are other alternatives such as Phase One which I will cover later in this article.
The 75mm Noctilux is very much a lens between two chairs. It wants to be extreme, but it also wants to be perfect. It reminds me of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper that he had to paint on a wall and leave space for a doorway in the bottom of the painting. Also, he decided he didn’t want the rush of making it a fresco (wet in wet painting where you have to finish before it all dries), but wanted three years to finish the work, so he went with more traditional means; which made the painting start deteriorating already 25 years later (none of the original painting is left, it’s all renovation and remake).
All that is wrong or odd about the Last Supper didn’t prevent it from being (one of) the most important and most admired paintings of all time. The same is true for the 75mm Noctilux f/1.25 which stands as a statement of daring lens design, without losing a beat in terms of what is possible to obtain in image quality.
Even if never used for anything, the 75mm Noctilux will stand on the shelf as a proud statement of excellence in design. The 75mm Noctilux perhaps has too much perfection, too much control of everything, and too bulky a posture to become a real soulmate for a Leica M shooter.
The 75mm Noctilux has less of “the Noctilux look” which has made the 50mm Noctilux a legend. The depth of field is given, which I will address a bit further down. What makes a Noctilux a Noctilux, is the dreamy way of handling light that results in a bokeh (shape of out-of-focus areas), that makes the viewer believe they are subject to magic.
If you ever wondered what made the super low-light lenses like the Noctilux 0.95, the Canon 0.95 (and let’s just include) the Canon 85mm f/1.2, so dreamy; it’s moving the design so close to the edge that it gets really dangerous.
Still, due to the perfection in lens design and assembly, the 50mm Noctilux stands out amongst all the daring low light lenses as superior in clarity, control, details, contrast and “an overall grip of the picture”. All super low-light lenses have the dreamy look we admire, but only the Noctilux maintains high image quality at the same time. Canon climbed on safer ground withe their 85/1.4, but still offers the 85/1.2.
Traditionally, low light lenses have been made by opening up a lens to more light than the lens (and the lens designer) was able to handle. Back when low-light lenses became extreme and a must-have for any reportage photographer and war photographer about 60-70 years ago, the lenses simply became more light-strong by opening the aperture wider; but the result would mostly be a proportional degrade of quality or lack of “grip of the picture”. Contrast was lost, colors became milky and one could even get a yellow or purple cast. The focus wasn’t exactly optimum. Micro-details were gone in a blur. But you could use it in less light, and that was the mantra back in that period.
The first Leica 50mm Noctilux f/1.2 (1966) was a breakthrough as it was a low-light lens that made extraordinary progress in image quality. Today it’s a collector’s item, which is why it sells for $20,000 - $30,000. It’s certainly not for its sharpness or image control, which was impressive back in 1966 on a film camera, but doesn’t impress mush today on a digital sensor. The f/1.2 was a breakthrough lens, but with fuzzy edges and a lack of details, non-existent micro-details.
The next Noctilux f/1.0 (1976) was a great improvement not only in more light through the lens, but also in having a grip on image quality to a degree that you didn’t really see the step from the 50mm f/1.4 standard low light lens (1960) to the extreme f/1.0.
The Noctilux 50mm family: From bottom and clockwise, the 50/1.2, the 50/0.95 silver, the 50/1.0 and the 50/0.95 in black on the camera.
With the Noctilux f/1.0 something else also happened: We got a lens that performed as a standard lens, but had a look like nothing else. I don’t know what the lens designers thought about it, or what was said inside the factory. But I’m sure they must have wondered what people would use this lens for. Such a strange dreamy look, but a terrific lens for low light!
Only two lenses from Leica have had the description in the brochure, that “it requires a professional to utilize this lens”. One was the ‘terrible’ 80mm Thambar f/2.2, the other was the 50mm Noctilux. In other words, this is the internal lingo for lenses that are so far away from the traditional ideal that they may become subjects of either eternal love or eternal scrutiny. Still, 80 years after the Thambar came about, nobody seems to be able to decide if it’s genius or terrible.
As history tells us, the Noctilux became “The King of the Night” and has a really unique position: No other lens, from any producer, does what it does, with so much dreaminess or rock’n’roll, and with so much technical control and excellence at the same time.
With the f/0.95 (2008), the fingerprint of the 50mm Noctilux was unchanged, but the contrast, micro detail, overall clarity, and the color accuracy were improved visibly; even if the lens was made a bit more light-strong.
The daring move to 0.95 (which is an 11% increase of light and a somewhat 300% more difficult lens design to control) probably was both an attempt to excite the lens designers themselves, as well as a (successful) attempt to produce a 50mm f/0.95 that is perfect where nobody else has been able to do this (by which I refer to the Canon f/0.95 50mm which could be classified as an ‘exiting disaster’ – daring, funky and fun, but by no means able to produce a high-quality optical result at f/0.95).
The 50mm Noctilux life-line from 1966 until today thus shows an improvement over time of contrast, color accuracy, details and micro details. At full aperture they all display vignetting (darker corners), light rays traveling seemingly at their own determinism, and a few other odd things – which have all become part of what makes a Noctilux an amazing and unique lens that defies any simple characterization.
The 75mm Noctilux is a further development towards excellence in lens design. Gone is the vignetting and purple fringing, and what remains stands crisper and more detailed. The question then is whether there is any of the Noctilux left in it.
The 75mm Noctilux was maybe originally a project of making an updated 75mm f/1.4 (1980-2007). But then somebody in the lens department started having dreams at night about doing more and better, which is never a bad thing. Then, maybe inspired by the success of the Noctilux, and the consistent request from Leica users for a 35mm Noctilux, Leica Camera AG ended up making an f/1.25 Noctilux.
I get tired at the idea of finding explanations as to why it became a 1.25, and why it is called a Noctilux. This lens is so much a lens between two chairs that I can’t come up with any logical reasons as to why it isn’t an f/1.2, or (for god’s sake) a real f/1.0 Noctilux.
I like the idea of strengthening the Nocilux lineup, which is my favorite lens by far (the 50mm Noctilux f/0.95). It is a unique lens and masterpiece, confirming Leica the position as the best lens-maker in the world.
I have a clear and present sense that what the lens designers wanted to make, and what the marketing department wanted to sell, didn’t align in this case. But I wouldn’t know.
Last time the lens designers at Leica were allowed to live out their dreams was the 50mm APO-Summicron, and despite all predictions about how bad that would turn out in terms of sale, it proved a milestone in lens design, and a commercial blockbuster.
In any case, a 75mm f/1.25 is what we got, so let’s deal with what it does and how it does it.
(Footnote: If the 35mm Noctilux has a smaller aperture than f/1.0 I will paint the front glass of it with silver and use it as a mirror for nose hair trimming).
This sweet prototype of an f/0.85 75mm, or very limited edition made for the US military, was sold on auction for 4,000 Euro in 2008. I should have bought it.
In this day and age of high ISO performance, there is no need for the speed of low light lenses. You can buy a Leica Summarit f/2.4 lens and you hold in your hands the most perfect lens design for just $1,995.
But it’s never going to deliver the extreme depth of field and dreamy look that a real well-designed low-light lens does, such as an f/1.4 or f/0.95.
Since around 1990, the Leica approach has been to deliver lenses with optimized performance over the full aperture range and with a strong emphasis on the wider apertures. Hence the saying that Leica lenses are optimized for wide open use.
The 50mm Noctilux f/0.95 is optimized for being used at f/0.95, and stopped down to f/2.0, it performs same as, or better than, the APO-Summicron f/2.0. Not that this makes us not own both lenses.
Recently I compared the 101 MP Phase One images of David Shedlarz with the 24MP images of the 75mm Noctilux.
In the below images you can see the full image, as well as the close-up of the perfection the two lenses produce. The Phase One with 101 MP back is a $70,000 camera, the Leica M10 with a Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25 is a $20,000 lineup.
The complete workflow of Thorsten Overgaard,
made easy with pre-flight checklists and step-by-step introductions on how to set up and use Capture One Pro.
The Capture One Surival Kit also includes simple and to-the-point tools on how to use Meda Pro for Digital Asset Management catalogs, Photoshop for better clarity, how to do backup and how to organize pictures archives and bakup.
Also: Specialized first-help chapters on how to
escape Apple Photos, how to empty photos out of an iPhone, how to get out of Lightroom CC ... and more.
For computer, iPad, smartphone and Kindle.
Capture One Survival Kit 11
Buy Today. Instant delivery. Price $498.00 Use the code:AMBOVERGAARDon checkout to
get the special price of only $249.00
100% satisfaction or 100% return.
Capture One Styles with discount
You can download a number of film styles, matte styles, black and white styles and more to use in capture One. Write in "Enter Promotional Code": AMBOVERGAARD for 10% discount on the Capture One Styles download page.
Capture One with discount
You need the desktop software application "Capture One Pro" to utilize my Capture One Pro Surivival Kit and to edit pictures in Capture One. You can download both Capture One Pro software and software updates:
Write in "Enter Promotional Code": AMBOVERGAARD for 10% discount in checkout on the Capture One download page.
Depth of Field
Any low-light lens will have the exact same narrow depth of field, because a lens’ focal length and its aperture is what gives the depth of field. It’s a physical rule and can be predicted, just as the speed of a coin thrown out from the 75th floor window can be predicted.
You as the photographer can use the dept of field “in a Noctilux way” by choosing long backgrounds that will blur out (the further away, the blurrier). You can choose highlights in the background that will create interesting Noctilux-looking bokeh. You can move close to your subject, by which the dept of field becomes even more narrow. In other words, if you want, you can make an f/2.0 lens look like it was a Noctilux lens.
By that I also imply that photographing using a Noctilux is a way of seeing and creating photographs, rather than simply a lens.
50mm Summicron table decoration looks like a Noctilux photo. Thanks to a long background with sparkling light and close focus at 1 meter (3 feet), the depth of field is extremely narrow and is amplified by the distance to the background objects. To me, this confirms that the Noctilux look is to a large degree a way of using a lens, just as much as it is the lens producing the effect. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 II.
Another 50mm Summicron shot as Noctilux. Good distance to the background, sparkles, and close focus at about 1.2 meter. Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 II.
The Leica 75mm Noctilux has some of the qualities, such as crispness and high contrast in common with the 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (which is basically an APO design; meaning that it captures colors really well).
The 75mm Noctilux has very little in common with the 75mm Summilux f/1.4, other than that they are both 75mm lenses. As far as the drawing of the picture, they are entirely different. The 75mm Summilux is soft but detailed with low overall contrast; the 75mm Noctilux is crisp and detailed with high contrast in the focal plane.
A portrait lens is generally thought of as a short tele lens, for example a 75mm or a 90mm. To me, the reason 90mm was labeled “a great portrait lens” is due to the advertising back when the first 90mm lenses came from Leica about 90 years ago.
Back then, a 50mm lens was typically an f/2.8 or smaller aperture, resulting in a great deal of the background being visible. When the 90mm came out, the background would be out of focus and the subject isolated in the portrait. Hence, a great lens for portraits, providing a different look than what was seen with the eye.
Today, a 50mm lens at f/0.95 or f/1.4 makes it possible to blur out the background and isolate the subject.
Another reason for choosing a short 75mm or 90mm tele for portraits would be to avoid that the nose becomes too big due to distortion (the face changes shape because the nose and things closer to the lens becomes proportionally bigger than the rest of the face), but that’s really not a concern until you go to wide lenses such as the 35mm and 28mm.
So, what are we going to use our 75mm and 90m lenses for? That’s a really good question as I use my great 90mm APO for 3% or less of my photos, and my “classic” 75mm Summilux for less than 1% of my photos.
“Could a 75mm Noctilux change my pattern?” was the question I posed myself when I took on the 75mm Noctilux. And I’ve used it consistently for the last three months, throughout Europe and North America, so by now you should think that I know.
I’ve been through this experience numerous times in my life:
A 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 produces crisp sharpness, much more than the 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. With the 50mm Summilux, it continues to amaze me and others, how crisp every hair and texture detail stands out. The colors of the 50mm Summilux are outstanding due to the fact that it’s a sort of APO tele lens design applied to a normal 50mm focal length (but at the time of launch, lens designer Peter Karbe felt it was a weird thing to label the lens APO).
If you go to the 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0, also known as “the world’s best 50mm lens”, it gets even better. You get a lens that is a real APO design: The colors are exact, the detail level of skin and texture details is exquisite.
When I choose the picture of Fred above for this article, I thought it was one of the coolest 75mm photos, and every time I looked at it, I became more and more decisive that the 75mm is a really cool lens. A day later I rememeberd that I did two days of shooting in this location, and the second day I had used the 50mm Noctilux. So this photo "I really like how the 75mm does that", turned out to be with the Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. A Freudian slip, I guess.
Feel, don’t look
Then you look at the Noctilux f/0.95 and it just feels better. The Summilux and APO-Summicron may look better, but the Noctilux photo just feels better.
This may not be true for everybody. We all have our own standards and things we look for in a pictures. But I’ve done countless shoots with the Noctilux and the Summilux or APO as the second lens, and in 99% of the cases, it’s the Noctilux photo that wins. It’s always easy to see that the APO-Summicron or the Summilux has more crisp details and micro-details, but the Noctilux has the better feel.
The 90mm APO-Summicron ASPH f/2.0 is a step up in color clarity and texture feel, but down in micro details in that it maintains the traditional “soft but crisp” Leica look. It treats the skin details softer than the 50mm APO and the 50mm Summilux, but with a clarity so you really sense the wetness of the skin.
The 75mm Summilux f/1.4 … well, people ask, and here is the answer: The 75mm Summilux is beautiful soft, but the lens is long, has a slow focusing thread that seem to travel forever around the barrel before you reach focus. It may or may not work magic on a monochrome sensor, and it can look magic on film cameras. It has its magic and awesome moments, but a workhorse for street photography and portrait work it is not.
The 75mm Summilux was the favorite of lens designer Mandler, and it is an admirable lens in so many ways. But in practical use … well. I have this habit of looking back at numbers when I compare which lenses I admire, and which ones I use. Comparing how many of my photos were made with which lens, the 75mm produces around 1% of the photos that I ever use. So a workhorse you bring with you it is certainly not. The size, the slow focus and the lack of great photos produced with it makes it a great piece to have on the shelf. I love that lens, but I don’t use it.
Now, get this: Speaking of portrait lenses, the good old 50mm Summicron f/2.0 “rigid” from the 1960’s is a great portrait lens. And why is that? Because it is soft and detailed; and the more soft, the less shadows and wrinkles you have in the face. Soft perfect skin, isn’t that what we all dream about?
This was what the whole Hollywood look was about. Vaseline on the lens to soften the image, but still sharp enough to appear as a good photo of an actress with seemingly perfect skin.
The 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 “rigid” is so soft you must add contrast when editing the photo, to obtain what we in current times consider correct contrast. But the end result is less heavy than a modern lens with high contrast. When you increase contrast and add black during editing of a portrait, which you will want to do to make it crisp and sharp, you also add years and tiredness to the face.
This is where the photographer gets to test his devotion to making the subject look beautiful, versus his devotion to make the photographer and his equipment look beautiful.
Let’s not omit the excellent 75mm Summicron f/2.0 lens which from birth was deemed “too sharp for portraits” because it showed every wrinkle in the face. This might be one of my next projects, because if you light a face with soft light so it makes the skin look soft and doesn’t accentuate unwanted details in the face, a high-contrast 75mm Summicron-M f/2.0 will not be “too sharp for portraits”. At least it’s an experiment worth doing, I think. It’s a grossly under-estimated and under-used lens.
This brings us to the 75mm Noctilux, which clearly is an amazing lens design deploying precision, lens coating, exotic glass and assembling par to nothing seen before.
It’s great in many ways for street photography in that the image quality and clarity is outstanding. You can capture details that I’ve only seen in the best R lenses, S lenses and SL lenses. It has a lot in common with the 90mm APO-Summicron, but with even more clarity and overall control of the light and colors.
So, what’s not to love about it? Well, it’s a drag to carry, and when I look back at my images, they are perfect photographs, but something I could likely have done with the much smaller 50mm APO-Summicron, or with a the 75mm or 90mm Leica SL lenses.
In terms of portraits where I work closer to a subject, the difference between the 75mm Noctilux and the 50mm Noctilux is less outspoken. The 75mm Noctilux’ qualities in clarity and detail is less needed, and the depth of field (out of focus backgrounds) is about the same: No matter if I use a 50mm or 75mm, I will want to frame the person so I include shoulders and a little extra space on the sides. The framing will be the same, and thus a 50/0.95 and a 75/1.25 will result in the same.
But there is another reason why I usually use a 50mm and not a 75mm or 90mm lens for portraits, and that is mainly to work closer with the subject. A 90mm puts me 10 feet or so from the subject, whereas a 50mm puts me just in front of them.
I have a 50mm on the camera most the time, so if I do street, interior or portraits, it’s the same lens. It works for me. The 75mm Noctilux also works for me, but at larger distances on the street and in the portrait situation.
Considering how little knowledge, or defined terms, there exist to describe bokeh (the out-of-focus areas of a photo), it's astonishing how beloved a good bokeh is. Where the iPhone-stick-tourist can't ignore a good sunset, a Leica photographer can't walk by a good bokeh lens without buying it.
Bokeh is basically what (seemingly) can't be controlled in a picture.
It's the out-of-focus areas and how they randomly look when the lens doesn't hold them in a tight focus grip.
You could say that the 75mm Noctilux ASPH f/1.25 is razor sharp ,but that would only be in lack of other words. Skin details and eyes comes alive, and the overall image is relaxing to look at as a Norwegian river. I don't mean sharp as in edge-sharp, but alive and detailed as in human skin like you could touch it with your fingers and it would feel alive. The wetness of the eyes.
This is the essence of the Leica look, or quality. Sharpness can be clarity or edge sharpness. Say you photograph a book page. Edge-sharpness would be sharp letters. If enhanced, it will result in a contrast-edge that looks like an outline around the letters.
Clarity would be that you can sense the texture of the paper, and the texture of the ink. That is what I mean.
The 75mm Noctilux produces this, the extreme tactile touch without the ugly edge-sharpness.
The application of science is an art. That's what distinguish the computer-designed lenses made for machine-assembly from the the lenses where excellent lens designers have applied their own aesthetic vision to the "optimum calculation" and thus comes up with lenses that have soul.
I remember I spoke with lens designer Peter Karbe one day in the canteen at Leica Camera AG, and I realized I was talking pictues and he was talking design. I was talking about light effects I remembered in pictues, and Peter Karbe was making drawings of MTF charts and calculations on a paper. We used different ways to describe the same phenomens and characteristics.
"When we read the MTF, we try to imagine how the picture will look", as Peter Karbe said.
Focusing the Leica 75mm Noctilux
I’ve met people who say they can only focus the Leica 75mm Noctilux f/1.25 using the EVF, and I expected to feel the same in the beginning.
But I realized it’s easy to focus, actually. I’ve used the 75mm Noctilux consistently with just the rangefinder of the Leica M10, and to my astonishment, it’s been very easy to nail the focus.
The difference between using an EVF and the built-in rangefinder is – apart from the smaller size of using a Leica M10 without the EVF – mainly that working with the rangefinder is intuitively fast. Also, I believe that working with the rangefinder, you create the picture more, than if you “see what you get” using the EVF.
But even then an EVF is not a guarantee for perfect results. We tend to focus the lens using the EVF, but then forget that between focusing and releasing the shutter, the subject or the photographer may move slightly. And there goes your accurate focus.
There is no universal truth of this. I feel that anyone who have a Leica M10 should try an EVF to see what it does for the eyesight, taking photos in the dark and overall precision in results. Then you can decide if it’s for you or not. You can’t rule out the EVF just because it’s not “the classic way” of using a Leica M. You have to try it first.
The 75mm Noctilux handles light excellent, except when the front glass is covered in strong sun from the side. Then it tends to milk out, as most modern lenses with coating technology seem to do (this is true for the 50mm APO as well).
One can spend many hours admiring the 75mm Noctilux’ image quality in detail. I’ve been astonished time after time of the crispness and clarity in details of the photograph.
It is as if you boosted the 24MP sensor of the Leica M10 so you can easily crop and still have an excellent high-resolution photograph. The 75mm Noctilux has much in common with the 50mm APO in this aspect.
You can read this article any way you want. If you look for an excuse to get the 75mm Noctilux, you have my blessing. There are plenty of reasons to get one. If you read this to avoid spending $12,500 on the 75mm Noctilux, you got that too.
You may also read it as science fiction about a first world super-pro lens out of reach economically. Then read the part about the 50mm Summicron again. Besides what a lens does for the image quality, even more important is what it does for the creator of the photograph.
On the other hand, if you are still undecisive, then “get one to get over it”. That’s my advice on any craving for equipment. You cannot spend years wondering if you should get one. If you keep thinking about it, it’s because it’s meant to be. Should you get one and realize it isn’t for you, then you know why it wasn’t, and you’ll never miss it for a moment when you sold it again.
The Leica 75mm Noctilux (as well as other recent adventures with Leica TL lenses) have made me realize how fortunate we are to use the Leica M system. It was originally coined “the littlest camera” when first introduced almost 100 years ago, and it is in fact the smallest camera with the best lenses in the world.
There seem to be a devotion to making lenses “big enough to be perfect” at Leica currently. The TL lenses, the SL lenses, the S lenses are all huge lenses in comparison to the M lenses. And so is the 75mm Noctilux, though in this case the reason is more the glass than the optical construction and the need for auto focus.
The Leica M was designed with small lenses, because the lens sits close to the sensor. Other more flexible systems have the lens sitting further away from the sensor, which require larger lens designs to cover the sensor. The Canon 85mm f/1.4 is a huge lens in comparison with any Leica M lens, but is as small as possible for that kind of system.
The Leica SL system introduces new lenses as if size was no consideration; which again opens the possibility for lens designers to design the best possible lenses without size restrictions and assembly restrictions.
The Leica M is a testament to the fact that if you have to, you can make it work. Seen from a lens design viewpoint, small lenses are not a good idea. Yet, Leica M lenses represent the best optics in the world, and the Leica 75mm Noctilux is one more added to that lineup.
"I have just been reading your eBook last night, which opened my eyes for more than
I have been thinking about before. You have a great sensitivity that I feel
connected with, and I enjoyed every word."
"I am reading your book, Finding the Magic of Light. Exactly what I crave."
"I find your books very helpful and thought-provoking."
"A must have. Personally useful for street photography."
In this easy to read and apply eBook, Thorsten Overgaard takes you on a journey to see, understand and simply use light.
"One of the most important ways to get an aesthetic and pleasant picture is to find the good light."
"Finding the Magic of Light"
New 2nd edition (April 2015)
eBook for computer and iPad. (87 pages) Only $47
Order now - Instant delivery. (Note: If you bought the first edition of this book, this new edition is free. Simply send an e-mail for your free update).
A walk-through of the Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25 FLE.
The aperture ring for the Leica 75mm Noctilux features an f/1.25 as the widest opening. Simply for space reasons the 1.25 is placed to the left of 1.4 and the actual position on the scale is marked with a white line.
Aperture normally goes from f/1.0 to f/1.4 to f/2.8 and so on, with each step reducing the light to half of the previous step.
f/1.25 is mid-way between f/1.0 and f/1.4; a "half-stop".
Aperture ring is sometimes called diaphragm ring (dia=through, phragma=fence) as it controls how much light comes through the lens.
and distance scales
The manual focus scale goes from 2.8 feet / 85 cm to "infinity", which is marked with the ∞ symbol.
The focusing barrel has two scales. An orange for feet and a white for meters. Before 1950, some Leica lenses had only one scale, so there were models for some countries shown in meters and other models for other countries shown in feet. At some point some genius figured both scales could be on the lens.
Depth of Field Scale
The many lines "meeting in the center" shows how deep a field will be in "acceptable focus" at any given f-stop and distance.
At closest distance, the 1.25 lines shows that basically a hair-line will be in focus at f/1.25.
At closest distance, if the aperture is set to f/16, the area from 75cm - 90cm would be in focus.
As the subject in focus is further away, a greater depth of the field would be in focus: If you look at the picture above, at f/16, everything from 10 meters to infinity would be in focus. In other words, the closer you move to a subject, the more critical (thin) becomes the focus. You want the background more blurred? Go closer!
By the way, the ∞ symbol is infinity. If you stop down the lens to f/16, the midst of the ∞ symbol would be above the f/16 line (which would make the distance from 4 meters to infinity in focus). Take a lens and play with the depth of field scale to grasp it easily.
"Acceptable focus" is a term from the film days and basically means this area will look really sharp.
At close focus there is a great distance from 1 - 1.2 meters on the focusing ring, whereas the distance from 5 to 10 meters is relatively short. When you bring the depth of field scale lines into this, you see that the depth of field becomes more narrow the closer you go.
Focal length marking
In recent years, all Leica lenses have gotten an orange marking on the barrel with the focal length so the user can see which lens is mounted on the camera. In this case a 75mm lens.
The serial number of most Leica lenses is engraved on the front. In some cases, lenses have the serial number on the side of the lens barrel.
You can refer to my Leica Lens Compendium for what year a lens (approximately) was produced (down towards the bottom of the page).
Twist lens hoods
When you turn the built-in lens hood it extrudes. It's very easy to move the hood out.
Below you can see the difference between the hood in and out.
Besides offering a natural protection for the glass against bumps, it shades for light from the side that eventually would cause unwanted reflections in the lens, which would cause the image to "milk out".
The silver button on the camera, next to the lens bayonet, is the release button. You press it and turn the lens counter-clockwise until the red dot is above the silver lock. Then you can take it off.
Red alignment button
The red button goes straight above the release lock when the lens is mounted, then you twist the lens clockwise until the lens "clicks" into lock (see below).
On the back of the lens you can see the small tab that the camera locks into to make sure the lens stays on the camera.
The three small holes you may be able to spot on black part of the lens back is for mounting in the factory (special tools, don't try this at home).
The white and black lines on the back of the lens bayonet is not a message from aliens. It's the individual code on each lens model that tells the camera which lens is mounted.
This is how you can see on the display of the camera which lens is mounted; and the information is also recorded in the EXIF data of each picture.
The lens profile in the EXIF data allows Lightroom and other software programs to apply lens corrections to the file (straighten lines, etc.).
Older lenses from before 2003 don’t have a bit code, but it can be engraved by Leica Camera AG.
On the 75mm Noctilux the model number is really well hidden.
Mostly the model number of a lens is engraved on the outside of the barrel, on the bottom, closest to the camera.
The Noctilux model number (which is Type 11676) is tiny and almost below the lens. But it's there!
Below the 75mm Noctilux is a 1/4" tripod mount that you do not mount the lens on! You use the accessory enclosed (see next picture below).
The instruction manual on the lens say it is "not permitted" to use the lens thread. Offenders go to prison and the lens goes back to Leica.
Tripod accessory for Noctilux
To make a perfect balance of camera and lens on a tripod, the tripod accessory is attached to the lens. It further stabilizes the whole set and prevents the lens from being damaged. Leica traditionally always has tripod mounts on larger lenses.
The tripod accessory is free with the lens and is enclosed the box in a protective leather pouch.
Nice tripod adapter for optimum stabilization when doing video or ling exposures.
E67 filter thread
The front of the lens says E67, which is the Leica designation for 67mm filters.
For a 1.25 lens one should get a 3-stop Neutral Density filter (ND-filter), which works like "sunglasses" for the lens so you can use it in sunshine.
A 3-stop ND-filter reduces the light going through the lens 3 stops, so wide open at f/1.25 it will take light in as if of f/3.4 but remains the narrow depth of field of f/1.25.
I recommend "X4-ND" 3-stop filters from Breakthrough Photography.
The manual specifically says the 75mm Noctilux is optimized for f/1.25 and using the aperture to stop down should only be done for depth of field control.
I hope you enjoyed my article on the 75mm Noctilux. I will be writing more on other cameras and lenses, so sign up for my free newsletter to stay in the know.
As always, feel free toemail me any comments, suggestions or questions.
AF = Auto Focus. The idea is that the camera does the focusing itself (the word auto comes from Greek "self").
Aperture = (also written as f/) = The metal blades inside a camera lens that regulates how much light passes through the lens. On a f/1.4 lens, the lens is "fully open" at f/1.4. At f/2.0 the aperture inside the lens makes the hole through the lens smaller so only half the amount of light at f/1.4 passes through. For each f/-stop (like f/4.0 - f/5.6 - f/8.0 - f/11 - f/16) you halve the light. The f/ fundamentally means "f divided with": The aperture of the lens is basically the focal length divided with the f/-stop = size of the hole (50mm divided with f/2.0 = the hole is 25 mm in diameter, or 50mm at f/1.4 is 50mm divided with 1.4 = the hole through is 36mm. ). ORIGIN: Late Middle English : from Latin apertura, from apert- ‘opened,’ from aperire ‘to open’.
The aperture blades inside the lens is clearly visible in this photo.
The camera in Aperture Priority Mode
Aperture Priority Mode. When the shutter speed dial on top of a Leica camera is set to A, it is short for “Aperture Priority” and allows the user to set a specific aperture value (f-number) while the camera selects a shutter speed to match it that will result in proper exposure based on the lighting conditions as measured by the camera's light meter. In other words, you set the aperture as priority (f/1.4 for example), and the camera calculates a shutter speed (1/250 of a second) that matches that. If you change the aperture to f/2.0 by changing the aperture ring on the lens, the camera will re-calculate the speed to 1/125 so as to get the same amount of light to hit the sensor (f/2.0 is half the light through the lens as f/1.4 and 1/125 if twice the amount of light on the sensor as 1/250).
ASPH = stands for "aspheric design".
Most lenses have a spherical design - that is, the radius
of curvature is constant. These are easy to manufacture by
grinding while "spinning" the glass. This design
however restricts the number of optical corrections that can
be made to the design to render the most realistic image possible.
ASPH lenses, however, involve usually 1 element that does
*not* have a constant radius of curvature. These elements
can be made by 1) expensive manual grinding, 2) molded plastic,
or 3) Leica's patented "press" process, where the element
is pressed into an aspherical ("non-spherical")
shape. This design allows Leica to introduce corrections
into compact lens designs that weren't possible before. Practically,
the lens performs "better" (up to interpretation)
due to increased correction of the image, in a package not
significantly bigger than the spherical version. Sphere: ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French espere, from late Latin sphera, earlier sphaera, from Greek sphaira "ball".
Normal spheric lens (grinded)
ASPH (note the shape of the glass as result of pressing rather than grinding)
Auto- means “self”. The idea is that when a camera has auto-(something), it does that (something) by itself.
Bokeh = The visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens: It's a matter of taste and usually photographers discuss a 'nice' or 'pleasant' bokeh (the out-of-focus area is always unsharp, which is why the quality discussed is if one likes the way it renders or not by a particular lens). The closer you get to something, the 'more' bokeh' you get (in that the focus becomes less for the background and foreground at close distances than at long distances). ORIGIN from Japanese 'bo-ke' which mean 'fuzzines' or 'blur.'.
Camera -is today’s short name for Camera Obscura (meaning “a dark room”). CamerameansChambre and was used only as a Latin or alien word, actually only for Spanish soldiers’ rooms, until popularized in connection with photography in 1727: “Camera Obscura”. In 1793 the slang term “camera” was used by Sterne Tr. Shandy: “Will make drawings of you in the camera” and by Foster (1878), “The eye is a camera”. Camera Obscura was described by Iraqi scientist Ibn-al-Haytham in his book, “Book of Optics” (1021) and by Leonardo da Vinci in 1500; popularized and made widely known in 1589 by Baptista Porta when he mentioned the principle in his book “Natural Magic”. Johannes Kepler mentions Camera Obscura in 1604.
Camera = chambre (room), Obscura = dark (or cover).
Contrast - The degree of difference between tones in a picture. Latin contra- ‘against’ + stare ‘stand.’
Lens distortion looks like this. The lines are not straight. Our eye uses distortion correction. Lens designers can design lenses so they have very little distortion, or they can make less complicated lens designs and "fix" the distortion in software.
Distortion = In photo optics/lenses: When straight lines in a scene don't remain straight because of optical aberration.
Lens designers can correct for distortion to a degree so the whole image field is perfect corrected and all lines remain straight. In modern lens design many designs rely on Software Distortion Correction (SDC).
The eye adjusts for distortion so we always see vertical and horizontal lines straight when we look at things. Even when you get new prescription glasses (if you use such), you will often experience distortion in your new glasses. After a few days they eyes have adjusted for the glasses and the distortion you saw to begin with is now gone. Software Distortion Correction (SDC) is far behind what the human eye can perform of adjustments. (Also see my definition on Perspective for more on the eye and optics)
DNG = Digital Negative, an open standard developed by Adobe. It is a single file that contains the raw image data from the sensor of the camera as well as date, time, GPS, focal length, settings, etc.
The alternative is a RAW file + XLM file where the RAW file contains the image information and the XML contains the rest of information about where, how and when the picture was taken.
A Camera Raw profile (that is specific for that camera) in the computer helps the software program, for example Adobe Lightroom, to translate the RAW data into the image.
A raw file (or DNG) is simply the full recording of digital data (1's and 0's) from the sensor. In the computer, the sensor data is translated into the exact colors, via a camera profile.
DOF = Depth of Field. This is how much of the image will be in focus. Shallow DOF is a generally used term in photography that refer to lenses with very narrow focus tolerance (which can be used to do selective focus; for artistic reasons or for specific storytelling, like making irrelevant subjects in the foreground and background blurry so only the subjects of essence are in focus and catch the viewers eye).
Depth - Distance between front and back. Distance from viewer and object.
Dynamic range. The grade of ‘contrast range’ (or number of tones) a film or sensor, or simply a photograph, possess between bright and dark tones. The human eye is said to have a dynamic range of 10-14 ‘stops’ (but because we scan area by area and compile a concept of the overall scene, they eye is often thought to have a much higher dynamic range), Film used to have 7-13 ‘stops’ and some modern sensors have up to 15-17 ‘stops’.
Elmarit = Refers to the maximum lens aperture - here f2.8 . The name is obviously derived from the earlier (and slower) "Elmar" designation. Not every f/2.8 lens is called an "Elmarit" though, the most obvious current exception being the 50mm f2.8 Elmar-M collapsible lens which for nostalgia and marketing reasons has kept the original 1930's Elmar name (the 50mm f3.5 collapsible Elmar, manufactured 1930-59, was one of Leica's most famous and popular lenses). Vario-Elmarit is Leica Camera AG's name for zoom lenses.
EVF = Electronic ViewFinder. The Leica M10/T/TL/TL2 uses the Leica Visoflex model 0020. The Leica M240 and M246 uses the Leica Visoflex EVF-2.
f/ (f-stop, also knwn as aperture).
f- (focal length).
f/1.25 is the size of the "hole through" the lens, the aperture. f/1.25 means focal length divided with 1.25. In the Leica 75mm NoctiluxM ASPH f/1.25, the "hole through" the lens at f/1.25 is 60mm in diameter. At f/1.4 the "the hole through" is 53.5mm in diameter. At f/4 the "hole through" is 18.75mm in diameter.
Each step smaller from f/1.4 to f/2.0 to f/2.8 to f/4.0 and son on is a reduction ofthe light to half for each step. The Noctilux f/1.25 therefore lets 50% more light in through the lens than a 75/1.4 Summilux.
Flare = Burst of light. Internal reflections between (and within) lens elements inside a lens. Mostly, flare has a characteristic "space travel" look to it, making it cool. Particularly in older lenses with less or no coating of the glass surfaces to suppress this, it can be a really cool effect. In newer lens designs, the coatings and overall design try to suppress flare and any reflections to a degree, so that there is seldom any flare to be picked up (moving the lens to pick up a strong sunbeam), but instead a "milking out" (or "ghosting") of a circular area of the frame; meaning simply overexposed without any flare-looking flares.
Sunlight creating flare in the bottom right quadrant of the image.
The camera moved slightly to avoid the flare.
Focus, in - Sharp and clear in appearance. Focus - “The burning point (of a lens or mirror)”. In Latin the word focus meant fireplace or hearth. The word was probably first employed outside of its Latin literal use as “the burning point of a lens or mirror” in optics, and then came to mean any central point. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler first recorded the word in this sense in 1604.
A 28 mm lens has a 74° viewing angle
Focal length = (also written as f-) = On the Leica 35mm Summilux-TL ASPH f/1.4 it is 35mm and originally referred to the distance from the sensor (or film in older days) to the center of focus inside the lens. Nobody uses that measurement, except those who construct lenses! For users of lenses, focal length refers to how wide the lens sees. The viewing angle, which is often given in for example 90° viewing angle for a 21mm lens, 74° viewing angle for a 28mm lens, 6° viewing angle for a 400mm lens, etc.
Each human eye individually has anywhere from a 120° to 200° angle of view, but focuses only in the center.
The Leica TL2 has a APS-C sensor, which "crops" the traditional focal lengths with 1.5X, reducing the angle of view of view with 1.5X.
Full Frame is "king of photography"
Full Frame (FF) = The size of the sensor is 24 x 36mm which is the format Oskar Barnack and Leica Camera AG invented with the first Leica that was introduced in 1925. Many other formats invented since, such as APS, APS-C and all usually refer to Full Frame ratio, by which it means what size they have compared to Full Frame.
The 24 x 36mm Full Frame format is so "king of photography" that it has continued to be the ideal for all cameras. Besides this, there exists Large Format cameras such as 4x5" (100 x 125 mm) and Medium Format 6x6 (60 x 60mm amongst other sizes in that area).
Ghosting = Secondary light or image from internal reflections between (and within) lens elements inside a lens. The reflected light may not always be in focus, so overall it looks like a "milked out" image. A subject in focus has brightened patches in front of it that come from reflections inside the lens. the most elementary look of ghosting is when you look in a rear-view mirror in a car at night and you see doubles of the headlights behind you (a strong one and a weaker one), because the headlights are reflected in a layer of clear glass on top of the mirror glass.
Degrees of ghosting from strong sunlight entering from outside the frame. To the right the outside light has been shielded with a shade.
ISO = Light sensitivity of the camera sensor is given in ISO (International Organization for Standardization). It's a standard that was used in film and is now used in all digital cameras also. The base ISO for the Leica TL2 sensor is around 100-150 which means that this is what the sensor "sees". All other levels are computer algorithms calculating the effect as if the sensor could "see" more (hence noise at higher ISO levels).
ISO goes in steps of doubling: When the ISO is raised from 100 ISO to 200 ISO, the camera only need half the amount of light to make the same picture. For each step in ISO to 400, 800, 1600, 3200, etc. the light sensitivity is doubled for the sensor (and the camera sensor only need half the light of the previous ISO to record the same image).
JPEG = A standard for picture format made in the 1990's by Joint Photographic Experts Group). Mostly referred to as JPG as in L1003455.JPG which would be the name for a JPG file from the camera.
Leica = A compound word derived from " (Lei)tz" and "(ca)mera". Apparently they were originally going to use "LECA", but another camera company already used a similar name in France, so they inserted the 'i' to prevent any confusion. Before that the brand name was Leitz.
Lens - A piece of glass or similarly transparent material (like water or plastic). It has a shape so that it can direct light rays. The word “Lens” is used both for single piece of glass as well as a camera lens with several lenses that works together. From ‘lentil’ because similar in shape.
Lens hood = A tube or ring attached to the front of a camera lens to prevent unwanted light from reaching the lens and sensor. ORIGIN Old English hod; related to Dutch hoed, German Hut 'hat,' also to hat.
Light = Tiny particles called photons that behaves like both waves and particles. Light makes objects visible by reflecting off of them, and in photography that reflecting off of subjects is what creates textures, shapes, colors and luminance. Light in its natural form (emanating from the sun) also gives life to plants and living things, and makes (most) people happier. So far, nobody has been able to determine exactly what light is. The word photography means “writing with light” (photo = light, -graphy = writing). Read more about light in my book Finding the Magic of Light.
Live View = This is the ability to see the image the sensor see, live, via the screen, or via an electronic viewfinder (EVF).
MACRO = Macro lens. The Leica 60mm APO-Elmarit-Macro ASPH f/2.8 is both a 60mm lens for portraits, landscapes, etc. as well as a near focus macro. The word macro comes from Greek makros ‘long, large.’
Maestro II - A processor developed first as Maestro for the Leica S2 and upgraded to Maestro II for the Leica S (Typ 007). The Leica Q has a Mestro II (Leica Q edition) processor developed by SocioNext Inc. based on Fujitsu's Mibeault architecture.
mm = millimeter(s), as in a 50mm lens. (Earlier in lens history lenses focal length was given in cm = centimeters; as in a 5 cm lens). For anyone used to centimeters and millimeters, it’s no wonder. But if you grew up with inches, feet and yards, you may have had a hard time grasping what a 50mm lens was. But as lenses were designed first in Europe, the metric system with centimeters and millimeters was used to describe lenses.
The reason a 50mm lens is a 50mm lens is that there is 50mm from the focus plane (the film or sensor) to the center of focus inside the lens. When photography was a young subject, it was engineers who made it all, and the users were expected to understand. The engineers were so into the making of the lenses, that it apparently never dawned upon them that today’s users would think of a 21mm lens as a wide angle lens rather than a lens where there is 21mm from the sensor to the center of focus inside the optics.
Noctilux = Also known as "King of the Night" because "Nocti" means Night and "Lux" means Light. The f/1.0 lenes from Leica are named "Noctilux". The first Leica Noctilux lens was the 50mm Noctilux f/1.2 which shortly after it's introduction was improved to the 50mm Noctilux f/1.0. In the current model the f-stop has been improved further to f/0.95.
"Noctilux" refers to the maximum lens aperture - here f1.0 . "Nocti" for nocturnal (occurring or happening at night; ORIGIN late 15th cent.: from late Latin nocturnalis, from Latin nocturnus ‘of the night,’ from nox, noct- ‘night.), "lux" for light. The Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 is famous for enabling the photographer to take photos even there is only candleligts to lit the scene. See the article "Noctilux - King of the Night"
Optic = Eye or vision. From French optique or medieval Latin opticus, from Greek optikos, from optos ‘seen.’
Perspective - The way objects appear to the eye; their relative position and distance. Also, selective focus (foreground and background out of focus) can change the perception of perspective (also see Three-dimensional). A wide angle “widens” the perspective and makes objects further away appear smaller than they are to the eye, and objects nearer, relatively larger than they are to the eye. A tele lens will “flatten” the perspective and often objects further away will appear relatively larger than nearer objects, compared to sizes in real life. A 50mm lens is the one closest to the perspective and enlargement ratio of the human eye.
S = Single image. When the ring by the shutter release on top of the camera (or in the menu of a digital camera in case it does not have this ring on the ourside) is moved from OFF to S, the camera takes only one photo at the time (Single). The other possibility is Continuous (see above).
SDC = Software Distortion Correction. A correction of lens distortion (not straight lines) applied in the camera and which is part of the DNG file. In Lightroom the SDC of the camera file is applied automatically (and cannot be removed), in software like AccuRaw one can open the DNG file without the SDC correction. Sean Reid Reviews have written a good article on what SDC is and does in "Software Distortion Correction".
SDC (Software Distortion Correction): In Lightroom the correction profile for the Fujinon 23mm is applied automatically and cannot be turned off.If you go into Develop mode in Lightroom and look under Lens Correction > Profile, you will see a message in the bottom with an exclamation mark. When you click on that, you get the message above.
Sensor = A device that detects a physical property (like light) and records it. A camera sensor is a plane plate with thousands of small “eyes” with a lens in front of each, which each individually records the amount of red, green and blue light rays that comes through the lens. together Red, Green and Blue form all colors of the spectrum. From Latin sens- ‘perceived’.
Saturation: How colorful, intense or pure the color is. Less saturation would be less colorful, more saturation would be more colorful. In today’s photography, desaturating a photo on the computer will gradually make it less and less colorful; and full desaturation would make it into a black and white photo.
Sharpness - See “Focus”
Shutter speed dial - The dial on top of the Leica M where you can set the shutter speed manually. It can also be set to A which stands for Aperture Priority (where the camera suggests a shutter speed; or when you move the dial away from A, the camera will show arrows in the viewfinder, suggesting which direction to change the Aperture to, to get the correct exposure).
Shutter speed dial set to 1/1000 of a second.
SLR = Abbreviation for Single-Lens Reflex; the lens that forms the image on the film/sensor also provides the image in the viewfinder via a mirror. The Leica Q has no traditional viewfinder and no mirror. the image seen in the EVF is what the sensor sees.
Summicron = Refers to the maximum lens aperture - here f/2.0 . There are many guesses how this name came about, a popular one being that the "summi" came from "summit" (summit means the highest point of a hill or mountain; the highest attainable level of achievement) while the "cron" came from "chroma" (ie. for colour). Not so: The name (Summi)cron was used because the lens used Crown glass for the first time, which Leitz bought from Chance Brothers in England. The first batch of lenses were named Summikron (Crown = Krone in Deutsch). The Summi(cron) is a development from the orignal Summar (the 50mm f2.0 lens anno 1933). Vario-Summicron is Leica Camera AG's name for zoom lenses f/2.0 as the one that is on the Leica Digilux 2.
Summilux = Refers to the maximum lens aperture - here f1.4 , "-lux" added for "light" (ie. the enhanced light gathering abilities). In Leica terminology a Summilux is always a f/1.4 lens and a Summicron is a f/2.0 lens.
Three-dimensional = Having the three dimensions of height, width and depth. In photography and lens design, three-dimensional effect is also the perception of even small micro-details; the texture of skin can appear flat and dead or three-dimensional and alive. Also, selective focus (foreground and background out of focus) can change the perception of depth. Also see Perspective.
Vario- is the Leica Camera AG name for zoom lenses. Vario-Elmarit and Vario-Summicron and so on.
Viewfinder a device on a camera showing the field of view of the lens. Also known as the German word "Messucher" (or Meßsucher).
1) A built-in viewfinder in a camera that simply show the frame you get when you look through the viewfinder.
2) A rangefinder viewfinder which is also used to focus the lens. In Leica M cameras two pictures has to meet and lay 'on top of each other' for the picture to be in focus.
3) An external viewfinder, usually on top of the camera in the flash shoe, so as to show the field of view of lenses vider than what the built-in viewfinder can show (15mm, 21mm, 24mm, 28mm etc viewfinders exist)
4) Very simple "aiming-devices" on top of a camera that is simply a metal frame without any optics. Just a frame, as for example very old cameras (the original Leica), or when using cameras in diving where you can't look through the camera.
LEItz CAmera = LEICA
Founded 1849 in Wetzlar, Germany.
Thorsten von Overgaard by Markus Iofcea.
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator.
Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.
I am in constant orbit teaching
Leica and photography workshops.
Most people prefer to explore a
new place when doing my workshop.
30% of my students are women.
35% of my students do
two or more workshops.
95% is Leica users.
Age range is from 16 to 83 years
with the majority in the 30-55 range.
Skill level range from two weeks
to a lifetime of experience.
97% use a digital camera.
100% of my workshop graduates photograph more after a workshop.
1 out of 600 of my students have
asked for a refund.