Leica 75mm f/1.25 Noctilux-M ASPH + Leica APO 75mm f/2 Summicron-SL ASPH + A Little Extra More - Part II
One cannot fully appreciate bokeh, unless one shoots at night. It's only after dark, when the bright lights of the big city provide the right conditions to realize a lens's true out-of-focus potential. Needless to say, I wasn't satisfied with my reviews of the Leica 75mm f/1.25 Noctilux-M ASPH and the Leica APO 75mm f/2 Summicron-SL ASPH. From the context of optimizing background blur, capturing sample images at dusk seems a step too far from a complete effort.
I mean, if I'm going to review these lenses, I really should dot my "i's" and cross my "t's".
Still, posting examples of nighttime bokeh may seem a little gratuitous, if not questionable in intent. Without a worthwhile objective in mind, how could the viewing experience of this post offer a meaningful glimpse beyond what's already been shared? For this reason, it only made sense to expand my effort to amend this oversight by examining the user experience and rendering of the 75 Noctilux-M and the 75 Summicron-SL, in a side-by-side comparison.
Having said that, a straightforward comparison does seem to be somewhat derivative. I mean, if I'm already committed to the undertaking of this followup blog post, I might as well do a little extra more to make the viewing experience more useful. With that in mind, obligation stirred my ambition to go the proverbial distance. Besides, it made perfect sense to explore further, given the inherent differences between the two lenses.
It's not as if a comparison between the 75 Noctilux-M and the 75 Summicron-SL is going to be strictly apples to apples. Because of that, it made sense to go beyond what's expected of a straightforward approach. Immediately coming to mind is the possibility of including film capture. With the 75 Noctilux-M being an M-mount lens, showing how it rendered wide open on film was inevitable, in addition to assessing the user experience on an analog rangefinder.
No less important in offering a complete effort is a more comprehensive evaluation of how the 75 Noctilux-M and 75 Summicron-SL compare in rendering at maximum aperture. With that being the case, it only made sense to include a sampling from the Leica 75mm f/1.4 Summilux and the Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH in this comparison. Admittedly, I already did that before - but not with nighttime examples captured under the bright lights of the big city.
Also worth mentioning is a small sampling of the Leica 75 Noctilux-M adapted on the Leica SL included in this post. From the context of being complete, evaluating the user experience and rendering of this pairing deserves some attention. Unfortunately, my effort seemed to have fallen short of its intent. I goofed-up by forgetting to take comparable side-by-side images on the Leica M10 and the Leica SL natively with the 75 Summicron-SL.
Too overreaching in ambition? Maybe just a little.
In evaluating the 75 Noctilux-M and the 75 Summicron-SL, taking the derivative approach would be the most logical place to begin. Immediately, what becomes observable is the main difference in what each lens is designed to do. Clearly, the 75 Noctilux-M at maximum aperture is intended for rendering an impression, while the 75 Summicron-SL at maximum aperture (and across the aperture range) is intended for documenting the subject.
From the context of comparative rendering, this makes sense. With the 75 Noctilux-M, the paper thin depth of field makes retaining environmental definition inconsequential beyond providing a palette of background details to blur. Invariably, this marginalizes documentary interest, by limiting definition to a plane of focus, where only a specific detail is visibly defined. As a result, an impression of definition is rendered.
With the 75 Summicron-SL, the relatively more forgiving depth of field makes subject isolation possible, while retaining sufficient background details to decipher environmental context. In addition, the noticeable sharpness of the 75 Summicron-SL within the field of focus at maximum aperture provides exceptional subject definition. As a result, the overall effect demonstrates how well intended the 75 Summicron-SL is in keeping documentary focus on only the subject.
From the context of comparative user experience, the 75 Noctilux-M would also appear to be intended for rendering. Given the ergonomics of manually focusing a bulky lens, complicated by a paper thin plane of focus, deliberate image taking becomes a necessary concern. As a result, achieving tack focus takes precedence over documentary objectives in capturing the decisive moment. Invariably, image rendering becomes the focus, leading to rigidity in subject gesture.
By comparison, the benefit of electronic focusing aid gives the 75 Summicron-SL a completely different user experience. By simply making autofocus quick and accurate at maximum aperture, the process of image taking becomes spontaneous. This leads to an overall relaxation in subject gesture, since deliberate image taking is no longer required. As a result, rendering becomes a secondary consideration, with optimization of the decisive moment taking precedence.
Having said that, I much prefer the 75 Summicron-SL from the context of productivity. Speaking as a photographer and on behalf of the subject, the experience of using autofocus is far less taxing than fine tuning manual focus, at maximum aperture. However, the 75 Noctilux-M is a special lens. Admittedly, the 75 Summicron-SL can document 95% of what the 75 Noctilux-M can. But it's that extra 5% that gives the 75 Noctilux-M it's legs in rendering.
No more is this advantage in rendering at maximum aperture more apparent than on film.
To be frank, I was surprised by how much better the 75 Noctilux-M rendered on film. What I ended up with had a unique look of sculpted refinement, in addition to its characteristic blurring of background details. However, what astonished me more was the focusing experience. On the Leica MP-6, it was noticeably easier than on the Leica M10. In my opinion, the finder on the MP-6 seemed larger and brighter, which made the user experience on film comparatively better.
Also worth noting is the user experience and rendering of the 75 Noctilux-M adapted on the Leica SL. Predictably, getting tack focus is significantly easier with the assistance of electronic focusing aids. However, accuracy in documentation seems to lead to a more clinical rendering. Normally, this shouldn't be an issue. But, a noticeable loss in micro contrast, as a consequence of light fall off from adapting lenses, seem to reinforce this clinical look.
And last, a final word on comparative rendering between the 75 Noctilux-M, 75 Summicron-SL, the 75 Summilux-M, and the 50 f/0.95 Noctilux-M in the context of the 75mm focal length. In my opinion, the rendering of the 75 Noctilux-M at maximum aperture combines both perceived sharpness at normal resolution, and provides the most background blur. The 50 Noctilux-M does comes close, when cropped or shot at the 75mm equivalent. However, it's still noticeably less sharp.
From this extensive comparison, it reaffirms my opinion that the 75 Noctilux-M is a special lens. This doesn't make it the best lens, but it does make it unique. Some might say that the Canon 85mm f/1.4L or the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E can produce similar results. Anecdotally, I know that isn't the case, given the differences in micro contrast. But having said that, the only way to know definitively, is if I conduct a comparison at a later date.
As for the 75 Summicron-SL, it is a spectacularly proficient lens for productivity. It feels good in hand, and brings out the best of the Leica SL. As for the 75 Summilux-M, it still is a charming lens. However, from the context of rendering, it is no longer as contemporary. The same can be said about the 50 Noctilux-M. That said, the 50mm focal length isn't intended for the same kind of portraiture as the 75mm focal length.
PS - The lengths I go to justify nighttime shots of gratuitous bokeh, under the bright lights of the big city. Well, I can only hope this accompanying write-up can offer some practical use.
All images have been optimized in Lightroom. No digital images have been cropped, except for the penultimate image (as stated under its caption). Film scans were likely cropped slightly by the Pakon F135 scanner. Contrast, clarity, saturation, and vibrance has not been altered.
Negatives were likely damaged by X-Ray, while I was traveling from New York City to Hong Kong. This has impacted contrast, color balance, and I suspect the saturation of skin tone. I had forgotten about the film I had in my bag, of which one roll was used in this blog post. Damage from X-Ray also explains the poor results from my first couple of blog post regarding film.