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SLR Magic: Why Leica Might Have To Pull Their Socks Up

by Felix L. Esser on 02/20/2012

The new SLR Magic 50mm T0.95

Those who have been closely following the announcements on the regular rumors channels in recent months might be aware that a Hong Kong based lens developer called “SLR Magic”, so far best known for their cheap and cheerful “toy lenses” for Micro Four Thirds, is about to introduce a new über-fast 50mm lens for Leica M mount. And from the looks of it, this lens could mean serious competition for Leica’s world-class low-light lens, the highly-regarded and insanely pricey Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95.

SLR Magic: from toy lens to Noctilux-killer

A couple months ago, the online community was provided with pictures of a new superfast 50mm lens from SLR Magic. But this time, it was not a re-badged CCTV lens, as with the 50mm f/0.95 HyperPrime they took over from Noktor. This time, it was a completely new product that was built from scratch. Shortly thereafter, SLR Magic officially announced that they would be introducing a new full-frame 50mm lens with an initial T0.95 aperture that could be used on most mirrorless systems including Leica M cameras.

Today, we know that the development of the lens is in its final stages, that it will be available both in rangefinder-coupled M-mount (for use on Leica M cameras) as well as an uncoupled cine version, and we know the price. The M-mount version will be US-$ 4,288, and the cine version will be US-$ 2,988. Now that’s a whole chunk of money. But make no mistake: this lens is nothing like the previous Noktor HyperPrime. This lens is a completely new and unique design has been built with ultimate performance as the main goal. And if we are to trust the assessment of those who have tested it so far, that goal has been achieved.

The new kid vs. the granddaddy

If that is indeed true, then this lens could become a serious threat to the Leica Noctilux, the lens that has for decades been the king of low light. Having a history of over forty years, the Noctilux in its current form comes as close to optical perfection as possible. Featuring aspherical lenses as well as floating elements, the production process of the current Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 is so demanding and the glasses used so expensive that the final product will set you back almost $ 11k. For that, though, you get a lens that is nothing short of spectacular.

So far, the Leica Noctilux has been unrivaled in the land of superfast lenses. This is about to change, though. At a price of about 1/3rd of the Noctilux, the new SLR Magic lens promises to deliver equal, if not even better image quality. According to Steve Huff, the lens is at least as sharp as the Noctilux when used at its widest aperture setting, and bokeh (i.e. the aesthetics of out-of-focus blurring) a touch “creamier” (which is of course entirely subjective and a matter of personal taste). Additionally, the new SLR Magic lens has a speed rating of T0.95, which means it is in fact slightly faster than the Noctilux. (T stands for “Transmission”, i.e. the amount of light that is acutally transmitted through the lens. In this case, this translates to a physical aperture size of ~ f/0.92).

SLR Magic could mean serious competition for established lens makers

Now this all sounds very fascinating — we all love fast lenses, and we love to drool about expensive toys –, but what is the actual relevance of all this? The relevance is that no-one would’ve believed that a small start-up from Hong Kong that became famous for creating inexpensive “toy” lenses, would be able to produce a lens that could rival the product of the one company that stands for optical perfection like no other: Leica. If the new SLR Magic lens actually turns out to be what everyone says it will be, then Leica will seriously have to pull their socks up. If a small company from Hong Kong is able to design from scratch a product that can rival one that has been refined to perfection for over 40 years, and sell it for almost 1/3rd the price, then this means serious business for Leica.

We do not know if the new SLR Magic lens will be the Noctilux-killer everyone says it will be. It may even take a couple months after its introduction until enough people had a chance to test it and compare it to the Noctilux in order to arrive at a final assessment. But even if the lens will not be able to hold a candle to the Noctilux in every respect, one thing is clear already: those guys from Hong Kong know their craft, and they will become a serious contender on the lens market, no matter what.

I, for one, am very excited to see what they’re going to come up with in the future.

What will the future bring?

In the past, SLR Magic have often asked their customers what kind of lenses they would like to see. A result of one of these queries was the fantastic HyperPrime 12mm f/1.6 for Micro Four Thirds that we tested a while back. While the new 50mm T0.95 will certainly find a liking with many, it does not exactly fill a vacant spot on the current lens market. After all, there are fast 50’s out there aplenty. So, what else could — or better, should — SLR Magic come up with in the future? Here is a selection of items that the staff of The PhoBlographer would like to see.

  • a 35mm f/0.95 or T0.95 lens in Leica M-mount
  • a 17mm f/1.4 for Micro Four Thirds
  • Lenses for Canon and Nikon SLRs

What would you like to see from SLR Magic in the future? Leave a comment below, and maybe SLR Magic will listen to and answer to your calls!

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