Leica is regarded as one of, if not the, best camera lens manufacturers in the world. The crowning jewel of Leica lenses is the Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 lens that retails for a cool $11,000. On the Leica SL (Type 601), the Noctilux has become my go-to 50mm lens because of it’s incredibly thin depth-of-field and night vision like capabilities.
But I wanted to see how the Noctilux - the best lens in the world - compared to the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH lens that was released with the SL. The comparison isn’t exactly fair… the Vario-Elmarit has a best aperture of f/3.6 at 50mm (compared to f/0.95), but I was curious to compare bokeh on like apertures as well as sharpness.
A quick note - I’m not a professional lens comparer, but I am a professional photographer who wants ‘good enough’ comparisons. If you are looking for results in a lab, look elsewhere!
For this test, I setup my Zone VI large format camera against a neutral wall and put the Leica SL on a tripod nearby. The primary light source is a large window to the right of the camera, although there was also a floor lamp on elsewhere in the room.
All photos were taken at ISO 800 and the Vario-Elmarit was set to 50mm. The focus point was the shutter speed numbering scale on the front of the lens. Files were shot at .DNG and converted to .JPEG in Lightroom with minimal image adjustments (all adjustments were synchronized between images).
Finally, it’s worth noting that the EXIF data for the images shot with the Noctilux does not accurately reflect the exact apertures I used; since the SL cannot communicate directly with the lens, it makes a ‘best guess’ at the aperture. I am providing the aperture values off the top of the lens for the Noctilux images and any images where the aperture and EXIF value don’t match are denoted with a “ * ”.
Click on any image for a full-sized preview.
The first comparison is at f/8. I chose f/8 because it’s an aperture that should render most of the camera in sharp focus. Side-by-side the results are very similar, but a crop shows the Noctilux renders the entire camera in focus, while there is still a bit of soft bokeh on the Vario-Elmarit. I was a bit surprised by this, considering the Noctilux has the ‘king of bokeh’ title!
The next comparison was to evaluate the ‘best possible bokeh’ from each camera by shooting at the largest respective apertures (f/0.95 for the Noctilux vs f/3.6 for the Vario-Elmarit). Clearly the soft bokeh of the Noctilux won here (no surprise), but I was really more curious to compare detail at the focus points. Both were equally sharp along the numbers, but the Noctilux displays some very strong chromatic aberration along the lever that cocks the shutter and the edge of the lens. The colors between the two are remarkably similar, and although I can pick out differences of darkness between the lenses, those are adjustments that could be made in Lightroom.
Note: This is best viewed on a computer or tablet - the mobile version removes the side-by-side images.