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Learning Leica In Reverse: From Noct to Cron

Learning Leica In Reverse: From Noct to Cron

What do I mean the first Leica lens I bought was the Noctilux f/0.95?

Let me backtrack a little. Six years ago, I had all of a sudden, after a long absence, decided to get back into photography. When I mean absence, it's not as if I didn't touch a camera during that time. I mean I did upgrade my Nikon system from time to time. But for the last couple of many years, I really didn't do much with my camera, other than use it on vacations, or shoot friends and family. In truth, the last time I really took any pictures was back in the days of film - and that included work!

But when I had started to shoot again on my Nikon, I realized how unsatisfied I was with my Nikon's low light ability. Mind you, if I knew what I know now, I might have dealt with my problem quite differently. Like, instead of shooting with my f/2.8 Nikkor zoom lenses, I could have resolved my low light problem by just using faster f/1.4 prime lenses. Or better yet, get a Nikon D3s with better high ISO capabilities. Or even better, just do both.

But no… like a genius, I went online, and googled fast lenses. And wouldn't you know it, the first couple of results I got back were about the Leica Noctilux-M f/0.95.

In my younger years, I had always known that Leica was a desired camera brand. And even though I inherited a Leica M3 during my adolescence, I had always preferred through the lens focusing, given that it was better with zoom lenses, which was all the rage when I was a kid. So once I got into SLR photography, and later DSLR photography, I really didn't think much about Leica at all. So when Leica came out with the M8, I didn't even know about it, since it wasn't on my radar. And besides, even if I did know, I wouldn't think it was worth it. I mean for that money, you could get a whole lot more camera and lenses from Nikon (and yes, even Canon). It makes you wonder why anyone would buy a Leica, I thought. But then again, it's not like Nikon made a f/0.95 lens. Maybe Leica was onto something?

So all of a sudden, I thought about getting a Leica, because of the Noct. And at the time, I never realized how unrealistic I was - to get a M9 and the Noct, as if it were that simple. But it was. In truth, it happened quite fast. I went to B&H, and on the day I was there, they had a Noct in stock. And after the initial sticker shock, and some soul searching that I was worth it and that I've been good and that I haven't splurged much in recent years on gear, I got the lens. Little did I know at the time how lucky I was, because over the next couple of months (actually 10 months to be exact), everything else that I had on my Leica bucket list was out of stock.

Koi. Noctilux wide open. Focused on the orange and white fish on the left facing right. Think I spent the first ten months shooting a lot of fish.

Koi. Noctilux wide open. Focused on the orange and white fish on the left facing right. Think I spent the first ten months shooting a lot of fish.

As a result, this Noct was the only lens I had for 10 whole months. 10 months, I tell you. 10 whole months! 

Well, coming from the world of DSLR, I didn't think it was a big deal. I mean I did buy my M9, because of the Noct. And since I really wasn't a seasoned Leica photographer, I wasn't really all that bothered by the weight of the Noct. And after I got accustomed to the lens, especially it's long focusing throw and blocked viewfinder, I was actually quite happy. 

In fact, I was so happy with my Noct, that when I bought a bunch of second hand pre-ASPH lenses, I always found my way back to my Noct. I don't know. It's all just preference, I guess. But honestly, I really did not care for the rendering of the pre-ASPH 35mm Summicron versions III and IV, nor did I like the pre-ASH 50mm Summilux version II, when compared to the Noct. It's not to say that these are bad lenses. It's just I preferred the look of my Noct.

I loved how the Noct rendered, and I loved it's contrast, it's amazing bokeh, and I loved the way it was sharp, even wide open. For the longest time, I really thought that I would be happy with a one lens Leica kit - albeit a one-heck-of-a-heavy-Noct-lens kit.

Teppanyaki. When shot in low light and wide open, the Noctilux can render in a Chiaroscuro-like look. Obviously still working on my focus.

Teppanyaki. When shot in low light and wide open, the Noctilux can render in a Chiaroscuro-like look. Obviously still working on my focus.

But eventually, some of the lenses I wanted finally found its way in stock. My next lens was the 35mm Summilux, which was also very exceptional. The pictures it shot had that same creamy look that my Noct had, but wide enough to get two subjects into the frameline. In truth I liked the 35mm Summilux a lot. It is very versatile. If you want bang for your bucks, this is really the lens to buy.

But it wasn't until I got the 50mm Summicron did I fully understand the enjoyment of owning a Leica. Yes, it is true that we all lust for the 50mm Noctilux-M f/0.95 and the 35mm Summilux-M. But there is something deeply magical about the 50mm Summicron. 

I love the way it feels. It's nothing like the Noct that I have. It's not heavy, and it doesn't block all that much from the viewfinder. And did I mention how beautifully it focuses? None of that long focusing throw of the Noct. It focuses fast, and it's very forgiving. And the way it renders pictures - it's like nothing else I've ever seen. It's sharp. It really is. But it isn't harsh at all.

Barney's New York. The 50mm Summicron is a much less attention getting lens than the 50mm Noctilux 0.95.

Barney's New York. The 50mm Summicron is a much less attention getting lens than the 50mm Noctilux 0.95.

And because the 50 Summicron is so small, it does a much better job in not attracting attention. Street shooting is a lot easier. But I admit, the 28mm Summicron or Elmarit does a much better job, given it's wider depth of field for zone focusing. However, this is not to say that the 50mm Summicron doesn't zone focus. With the relatively more shallow depth of field, zone focusing on the 50 Cron just requires a little more preparation. 

As a non aspherical lens, the 50mm Summicron isn't like the non aspherical 35mm Summicron or the 50mm Summilux. With those lens, I felt that it's rendering wasn't as contrasty as I would have liked it. Some people like it, especially for B+W photography. But for me, I just don't find the rendering of the pre-Asph 35 Cron and 50 Lux to be as modern as the current aspherical lens, and the current 50mm Cron.

If only I knew what I know now… the 50mm Summicron would have been my first lens. But then again, it wasn't as if I got a Leica for conventional Leica reasons. If you recall, my initial reason for getting a Leica was because I wanted the fastest-low-light lens available, which happened to be the f/0.95 Noct. But wouldn't you know it... it's from buying the Noct that I learned to love my Leica. 

So in reverse, from Noct to Cron, I finally understood why generations before me found their way to the Leica M Mount and the 50mm Summicron. So take it from me, get the 50mm Cron if you are starting out. True, you'll always lust for a Lux or a Noct, but you will never regret of getting your first 50mm Cron.

***AN UPDATE***

My go to lens is now the 35mm Summicron. It's the best compromise between the 50mm Summicron and the 28mm Elmarit, in giving me a discreet, light, and ideal focal range for most types of photography.

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