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Leica Noctilux: the ‘Light Giant’ turns 50
04th October 2016
Leica Noctilux: the ‘Light Giant’ turns 50

Leica celebrates 50th anniversary of the legendary Noctilux lens



Fifty years ago, the first Leica Noctilux lens was unveiled at the 1966 Photokina exhibition in Germany, astonishing visitors and industry media with its revolutionary optical performance.

In the 1960s, photography enjoyed enormous popularity around the world and demand for high-performance lenses rose dramatically, particularly among professional and fine art photographers. As the use of flash was not yet widespread, or even frowned-upon, the extraordinary specifications of the Noctilux lens attracted unrivalled attention. This extraordinary lens offered a gigantic maximum aperture, and exceptional optical performance, even when used wide open. The signature characteristic of the Noctilux was its unique contrast rendition. Brilliant, sharp pictures without flare could be achieved with the lens wide open – even in candlelight, subtle colour nuances, the finest textures and minute details were distinguishable.

Leica Noctilux 50mm f/1.2 (1966)

The most outstanding feature of the 1966 Noctilux model was its two aspherical elements – the first time such elements had been included in a serial production lens manufactured by Leitz. One of these two asphericals was made from special glass with a high refractive index. The task of the aspherical elements was to reduce chromatic aberration at maximum aperture and increase quality in the image field. The Noctilux 50mm f/1.2 was designed by Prof. Dr. Helmut Marx and comprised six elements in four groups, with the asphericals as the first and last elements.

At that time, the production of asphericals was a particularly complex and costly process. Even the most innovative new machinery was no alternative to the highly experienced optical engineers, who finished each element individually, polishing it entirely by hand. At the same time, new testing methods were also being developed to ensure the quality of future lenses.

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.0 (1975)

At Leitz, enormous effort was made to achieve the ultimate aperture of f/1.0. At the same time, Leitz turned to the use of only spherical lens elements in an attempt avoid the almost prohibitive costs of producing asphericals. Both challenges were successfully mastered at Leitz Canada by lens designer Dr. Walter Mandler, resulting in the launch of the Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.0 in 1975. The glass employed in the construction of this lens had an exceptionally high refractive index, contributing significantly to its impressive performance and the extremely natural look of images captured with the lens. Whereas photographers using other manufacturers’ large aperture lenses were forced to stop down to produce acceptable results, the Noctilux could be used wide open – not only in theoretical, but also in practical terms.

Even wide open, the Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.0 impressed photographers with its consistent resolution, almost three-dimensional rendition of details, and the clear and finely nuanced colours it delivered – often in situations where other lenses would be incapable of gathering enough light to expose the film correctly. In effect, a truly outstanding masterpiece of optical engineering.

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH. (2008)

More than 30 years after the introduction of the Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.0, which had become a firm favourite among photographers thanks to its unrivalled aesthetic qualities, Leica presented a new-generation Noctilux at Photokina 2008, with a previously unheard-of maximum aperture of f/0.95.

Furthermore, the lens had been considerably improved in other aspects of optical performance. To achieve this, Leica employed its many years of experience gathered in the design and construction of the two previous lenses, and took advantage of the benefits of the latest research and technologies. Although the production of asphericals remains an extremely elaborate process, today it is much more efficient and practical than the days of the first-generation Noctilux in 1966.

The optical design of the Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH. comprises more than eight elements in a symmetrically arranged, Double-Gauss design with its two halves located back-to-back with the aperture between them. The two aspherical elements ensure the outstanding imaging performance of the lens. Three of the other elements are made from glass with an extremely high refractive index, and a further five from glass with anomalous partial dispersion. To ensure that the Noctilux also delivers outstanding results at closer focusing distances, the construction also features a floating element that shifts the position of the last group in relation to the rest of the system, depending on the focusing distance.

The original properties of the Noctilux are also applicable to the new lens: the maximum aperture is a usable aperture – it is not necessary to stop down to achieve better performance. The extremely shallow depth of field when shooting wide open is a feature of the Noctilux lens that can be deliberately used as a creative tool.

Peter Karbe, head of the optical development department at Leica, commented, “Even today, after 50 years, the Leica Noctilux still stands for extreme lens speed. The ‘Light Giant’ masters situations in which images can be captured only with great difficulty – or not at all – by other lenses, and achieves it with exceptional imaging performance. The combination of incomparable colour rendition, rich contrast, and shallow depth of field made possible by its outstanding speed, enables photographers to create images with a uniquely fascinating aesthetic.”

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Leica heads for the stars Leica SL mirrorless camera plays important role in NASA space mission
20th September 2016
Leica heads for the stars

Leica SL mirrorless camera plays important role in NASA space mission

On 17 August 2016, a sounding rocket from the RockSat-X program launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia, USA) – also on board was a Leica SL camera.

The payload of the rocket consisted of a number of modules with experiments devised by the students of various US universities that were to be conducted under the exceptional conditions of suborbital flight. The students of the University of Puerto Rico chose the mirrorless Leica SL system camera as a part of their module for research into high-density particles, primarily because of its outstanding performance and robust construction. The task assigned to the camera was the documentation of the flight in Ultra High Definition (4K) video. The special control algorithms required for the Leica SL on its mission were programmed in collaboration between the students and Leica Camera AG.

In addition to this, the effects of the extreme conditions on the camera and its optical systems were tested during the flight. These experiments, within the framework of an ongoing joint research programme with the participation of the university and the Bifrost Corporation, deliver important performance data for a planned mission to investigate the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights). The Bifrost Corporation is accompanying the project by the name of ‘Bifröst - Into the Aurora’ with a series of short films. In addition to the collection of material for interactive exhibitions, the aim of the mission is also to produce a visual documentary in feature film length. The artists Eric Adamsons and Heins Kim are working together with various international corporations and academic institutions on the realisation of this aspect of the project.

Before the flight, the Leica SL had to undergo an extensive programme of NASA tests to prove its resilience. The Leica SL passed all the tests with flying colours – from balance and the effects of extreme environmental influences, to mass moment of inertia testing and vibrations with exceptionally high acceleration forces of up to 50 gravities continuously.

The mission, a part of the RockSat-X program, was carried out in collaboration with the ‘Colorado Space Grant Consortium’, a higher education organisation that includes twenty-one colleges, universities and institutes. Colorado Space Grant is part of larger program called the National Space Grant Fellowship and Scholarship program which is funded by NASA. The objectives of the Colorado Space Grant organisation are to provide students with access to space through high-altitude balloon payloads (BalloonSats), Sounding Rocket experiments (RockSats), and small satellites (CubeSats). In the course of their projects, students get the chance to work with scientists and engineers from NASA and other astronautics concerns on the design and testing of new technologies and, ultimately, are given the opportunity to have them launched into space by high altitude balloons, unmanned sounding rockets, or orbital rockets.
Distinctive. Timeless. Elegant. Leica announces the Leica M-P ‘TITANIUM’ Set
15th September 2016
Distinctive. Timeless. Elegant.
Leica announces the Leica M-P ‘TITANIUM’ Set

Leica Camera has unveiled a very special limited edition of its classic rangefinder camera: the Leica M-P ‘TITANIUM’ Set.


The Leica M-P ‘TITANIUM’ is the fifth annual edition to be made from titanium, lending the camera and lens an exceptionally elegant and distinctive appearance. The set consists of a Leica M-P (Typ 240) digital camera and two lenses – a Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH. and a Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH. – and will be strictly limited to 333 units globally.

With the Leica M-P ‘TITANIUM’ Set, the top plate, base plate and control elements of the camera are precision machined from solid titanium. This resilient, hard-wearing material reinforces the robust nature of the M camera and makes it approximately 90 grams lighter than the standard production model. Other distinguishing features include the classic Leica script engraved on the top plate, and a special edition serial number on the accessory shoe, indicating the camera’s position in the series. Furthermore, the camera body is finished with an elegant, full grain leather trim, which also ensures an outstanding grip. A matching leather carrying strap is included in the set.
L Mp Tit 2L Mp Tit 1
The anodised titanium finish of the aluminium lenses is perfectly matched to the camera, and the focusing scale distances and focal length engraving are highlighted in red. In addition, both lenses feature a special serial number: on the Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH., this appears on the front element retaining ring, and on the APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH., it is engraved on the bayonet ring.

In all other respects, the technical specifications and performance of the camera and lenses are identical to those of the serial production products. The Leica M-P offers all the technical benefits of the iconic Leica M digital rangefinder system cameras, which are renowned for their robust and enduring qualities.

With its compact size and exceptional performance, the fast Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH. is an ideal wide-angle lens for reportage photography. Its outstanding speed makes it particularly versatile, producing brilliant imaging results even in challenging lighting conditions.

The Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH. offers the perfect combination of sophisticated design and precise construction, from its extraordinary optical properties to the meticulous manufacturing and finishing of the product, and is considered to be the reference lens among standard focal lengths, delivering unrivalled resolution and sharpness.

Pricing and availability

The Leica M-P ‘TITANIUM’ Set is scheduled to be available in the UK from mid October 2016 at a suggested retail price of £17,500 including VAT.
All the way from Memphis, William Egglestone
11th July 2016
All the way from Memphis, Critics called his photographs a con when they were first shown 40 years ago. But William Eggleston’s colour-saturated work has found lasting fame while still defying interpretation. By Andrew Dickson, a Guardian Review first published on 9th July 2016.

On 25 May 1976, an exhibition opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that blew apart American photography. Curated by long-term director John Szarkowski, it contained around 75 prints by an artist in his mid-30s based in Memphis, Tennessee, self-taught and barely known outside the in-crowd. His name was William Eggleston.

Click here to read the Gaurdian Review
The Leica Checklist.
05th July 2016
The Leica Checklist.
‘The Collector’s Checklist of Leica Cameras, Lenses and Accessories’ compiled by Dr A Neill Wright and the late Colin Glanfield and edited by Ivor Matanle with contributions from Tom March and Stan Tamarkin et al was first published in October 1974.The Book enjoyed international success and ran to 4 editions, the last one being published in March 1980. In addition to the main topics specified in the title it included chapters on Projectors, Enlargers, Exposure Meters, Periodicals, Leica Patents and a Bibliography. Although not illustrated it contained in its 186 pages much information that cannot be found in other Leica books thus making it a useful reference book for the Leica collector/historian. Indeed at one time the tutors at the Leica School used it as their reference book and anyone applying to join the LHSA (Leica Historical Society of America) was required to purchase a copy before being admitted as a member.
I learned these facts during a recent visit to the editor Ivor Matanle and subsequent telephone conversations with Dr Neill Wright. When I visited Ivor in November last year he was preparing to move to a small bungalow for health reasons and he explained that as a consequence he had abandoned a project to update the text of the checklist and was about to throw a large batch of new covers (illustrated) for the book into the skip. These I rescued with a suggestion that the existing text might be reprinted and made available to Leica Society members – a suggestion to which Ivor gave his full blessing. The committee were also in favour subject to reassurances on the issues of copyright and commercial interest. Discussions with Dr Wright revealed that he had bought the copyright when the original publisher, Thoroughbred Books, ceased trading but after much discussion he readily agreed to the suggested reprint and willingly transferred the copyright and reproduction rights to The Leica Society.
Hence, an initial print run was procured, bound in the new binders and launched at the recent AGM during which 15 copies were sold to attending members. Further copies are available to purchase at £15 plus post and packing (UK £3, Europe £7,USA & Canada £11). Orders should be sent to myself together with a cheque for the appropriate amount or may be placed via the TLS website: www.theleicasociety.org.uk/shop
Geoff Hood. LRPS. (Membership Secretary).
Leica M5: How Jim Sarsfield put new life into my oddball rangefinder
31st May 2016
Leica M5: How Jim Sarsfield put new life into my oddball rangefinder
by William Fagan

Jim Sarsfield of the Small Battery Company may not know it, but his name is very well known in my country. Patrick Sarsfield the Earl of Lucan, was a well known Jacobite soldier and we were taught a lot about him in our history lessons at school. His battle cry was ‘Sarsfield’s the word, Sarsfield’s the man’. Jim Sarsfield, no relation as far as I know, certainly is a man of his word and the Wein Cell which he supplied to me has breathed a welcome puff of new life into my M5.

click to read the article
Leica M-D: The return of anticipation
28th April 2016
Leica M-D: The return of anticipation
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'Restless, from tempest to tranquility' by John Brockliss
22nd January 2016
John Brockliss delighted to announce that my new book, 'Restless, from tempest to tranquility' is published today by Blurb Books. The result of five years work, 'Restless' is a photographic documentary of the conflicting moods and ever-changing faces of our marine landscape.
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Leica Cameras in the 1930s: A decade of progress by William Fagan
20th January 2016
Article by William Fagan, illustrating some of his own collection items.
Leica Cameras in the 1930s: A decade of progress by William Fagan
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One Mans Story of Online Camera Auctions and Collecting Classic Leicas
30th October 2015
Leica cameras are made to be used. But, as mechanical and historical objects, classic Leica cameras, lenses and accessories can also give pleasure as collector items.
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A new biography of Ernst Leitz II
09th February 2015
A new biography of Ernst Leitz II
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A German 45 minute video on Leica (in German).
31st May 2014
In: News
A German TV channel has produced a good 45 minute documentary, and whilst obviously in German still worth watching.
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