Bonus Crazy Comparisons: Bokeh between Fast Leica Primes, Current and Vintage

This is a syndicated blog post from Street Silhouettes. All images by Horatio Tan. Used with permission.

In order to give something back to my readers, I intend to post these crazy comparisons that may not otherwise be published on other sites, given the availability of the equipment, or the availability of some of my intended combinations. These comparison will not likely be useful for many, but all the same, entertaining, especially if you are a photographer… well… I suppose you’ve got to be a photographer, to some extent, to even visit my site… ha ha!

For the inaugural crazy comparison, I will provide sample images of three current fast Leica lenses, versus two vintage fast Leica lenses. Ideally, I would have wanted to do a three to three comparison of images, but Leica doesn’t have a vintage 28mm Summilux.

So which lenses bokeh, in addition to the 28 Lux, am I comparing? And by the way, I’m only comparing wide open shots, because why else would anyone be interested in getting any of these lenses. It’s for the sake of the wonderful way these lenses isolates objects and renders amazing background blur that allows Leica to charge a large premium. And with respect to those vintage lenses, the reason why second hand dealers could command an even higher premium.

But I suppose the question that most people are wondering is whether it’s worth it to lust after these vintage lenses. Or rather, just how different are these vintage lenses from their contemporary versions.

So I will be comparing the bokeh of Leica’s 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux with their first version 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux. And I will also be comparing Leica’s 35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE (as it is commonly called on the street) with their first version 35mm f/1.4 Summilux Double Aspherical (or AA as it is commonly called on the street). And just because it’s here, I will also have bokeh image samples of Leica’s 28mm f/1.4 Summilux, just because it would be interesting to see what a wider focal length in the same shoot would look like compared to the 35mm and 50mm focal distance.

First off in this comparison is the 50mm focal length – not exactly fair, given that the maximum aperture differs from f/1.2 versus f/0.95.

50mm f12 noctilux

50mm f/1.2 Noctilux

50mm f095 noctilux

50mm f/0.95 Noctilux

50mm f1.2 noctilux 2

50mm f/1.2 Noctilux

f095 noctilux 2

50mm f/0.95 Noctilux


Next off is the 35mm focal length – both at f/1.4

35mm f14 Summilux AA

35mm f/1.4 Summilux AA.

35mm f14 Summilux FLE

35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE

35mm f14 Summilux AA 2

35mm f/1.4 Summilux AA.

35mm f14 Summilux FLE 2

35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE

And finally, the 28mm focal length, at f/1.4.

28mm f14 Summilux

28mm f/1.4 Summilux.

28mm f14 Summilux 2

28mm f/1.4 Summilux.

So my conclusion. On quick overview between the two 50mm lenses and the two 35mm lenses, the modern version is crisper in its sharpness. However, I personally believe that the vintage versions does have an intangible quality to it, with respect to the way it renders the image. Perhaps being less crisp in its sharpness adds to its character. There’s an analog quality to it – that subjectively – I think, makes the image a little more film-like than digital. Of course, this is my personal feeling, and it truly doesn’t justify, for most, the premium in acquiring a rare vintage lens.

Another way of looking at lenses, and the way it renders an image, is a painter with regards to paint brushes. The lens is the photographer’s paint brush, and he uses the unique quality of different lenses to produce image rendering that’s more unique than the ubiquitous renderings of current version lenses. If that is something that you want as a photographer, then accepting these premiums is something you may want to consider.

As for the 28mm Summilux, which I lumped into this comparison, I’m actually rather pleased with how well it isolated the image and rendered bokeh. At first, I wasn’t interested in the 28mm Summilux, but after seeing many images from the Leica Q, and it’s slightly slower 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens, I decided to give the 28 Lux a second look. I thought that maybe the 28mm Lux is in consideration for my all around, most perfect travel lens, in that it can be shot closer up and also shoot in lower light situation.

I really like the rendering of the vintage lenses, but I also believe most people will like the more modern look of the current version lenses. As for the 28mm Lux, I think that I will consider it for a longer term review. Follow my Instagram for updates on that.

A side note on post processing of the images. I have tried to retain as much of the original raw images as possible, with the exception of tweaking the exposure. I did that so that the lighting of the images between the different version lenses would be as uniform as possible. The purpose of doing that is to make the comparison easier. Also, the white balance of the indoor shots have been tweaked, because Leica sensors apparently do not have a clue, when it comes to indoor white balance and especially the variances in incandescent light flickering.

Special thanks again to Olga.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.