Essentials is a series featuring products we’re currently lusting over in quick, bite-sized posts.
No matter how many photographers say that you should stop fixating on perfect bokeh, I’m not sure how many photographers can truly gawk at what the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux is capable of. “But the price!” is what the IRL version of the Simpson’s Comic Book guy will say behind the protection of his PC screen and the broadband internet that he uses from his mom’s basement. Yes, the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux is expensive. But the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux isn’t a purchase you make because it’s logical or because you’ll get the greatest images out of it. Quite honestly, you buy it because you want it. And to hit home even harder, I’m positive most of you are into photography because you want to be. It’s a hobby that has practicality, unlike watches and whiskey. And if you pair the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux with a fine film like Kodak Ektachrome, the resulting images are bound to remind you why you adore this hobby so much.
Editor’s Note: My only experience with the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux was on an all-expenses-paid trip to Germany with Leica. As such, all the images here were taken during that trip as I had the lens for around 24 hours. This isn’t a sponsored post and we’re always completely transparent. This piece is more of a love letter to my photographic fling with that gorgeous piece of glass. The film photos in this piece were processed on the Phoblographer’s own tab. We bought the film from Adorama.
When I was loaned the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux in Germany, I was ecstatic. Whenever I communicate with my Leica reps, I always ask them about borrowing some of their more exotic lenses. But as things would have it, it rarely ends up happening due to us being too busy with other coverage. Whenever I test a Leica M camera or lens, I’m returned to a place where I started. I was trained on Leicas. I’m taught to think and shoot photojournalistically on them. They’re expensive, but they’re also a badge of honor. In the same way a Gran Seiko may cuddle with your wrist, a Leica film camera and a lens like the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux may adorn your neck. They’re photographer’s jewelry that can also serve a serious purpose.
While my rep kept urging me to try the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux on the Leica SL, I knew it really didn’t belong there. Sure, it delivered great image quality, but it didn’t feel at home. On my Leica M6, the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux felt pretty right. This is a big lens, and impractical in many ways. The Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux is a shorter portrait focal length that takes time to get used to: it’s not an 85mm or even a 90mm. Everything about the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux is pretty impractical. At f1.25, it’s difficult to get a subject in focus and critically sharp. It’s also a longer focal length that requires you to stay very still with high resolution, low ISO film. Further, the lens is over $12,000. Given enough time, I can generate a list of stuff that you’d be better off spending your money on.
But in all honesty, you buy a Leica M film camera because you want it. You shoot film because you want to. You go for rare and exotic lenses for their unique look and because you won’t settle for anything less. Those who laugh at you don’t understand. And in the age of the internet, less and less people understand interpersonal experiences despite the massive library of information that’s available at your fingertips. In a way, technology has made us dumber: which is a big theory in the world of communications and journalism. But the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux pulls us back to an era where one really had to work for the shot. What that means is that, if you’ve got bad eyes, you’re going to need to work harder for the shot.
What’s to love about the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux? The all-metal build. That fast aperture. The click of the aperture ring. The beautiful image quality that it can render. The smooth turn of the focusing knob. And most importantly, knowing that Leica is treating its employees pretty ethically. We’ve been to many factories where it looks like people are packed in like sardines. But when visiting Leica’s, we found that they’re smaller than others and that everyone is well paid. There are lots of specialists too. So when you buy Leica, know that you’re supporting folks who can then afford to be able to do cool things too.
So, let’s start geeking out. Take the Leica 75mm f1.25 Noctilux and stick it in front of some beautiful film like Kodak Ektachrome 100 and you’ll get some fantastic image potential.