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Light eater

I always figured that a reasonably decent Fermian way to identify the most technologically advanced nation on Earth would be to find the one capable of manufacturing the fastest general-purpose camera lens. Until recently, I didn't know that for a couple of decades the answer to this puzzle was "Canada"—thanks to a genius named Walter Mandler. The Elcan (Ernst Leitz Canada) company in Midland, Ont., is now an independent contractor that concentrates on defence imaging, and it seems that Leica, always vaguely embarrassed about having the Noctilux assembled in Canada by relatives of Old Shatterhand, has repatriated production of the newest Noctilux lens (f/0.95!).


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Comments (9)

Read between the lines on the Noctilux f/1.0: vignetting wide-open, lots of "special" lens characteristics for aficionados to swoon over, &c.

Leicas have their attractions, but for the price have always seemed to me a sort of moron-trap, a Lamborghini or mechanical Swiss watch of cameras. This lens is emblematic: it's very cool, but also absurdly expensive and compromised in some pretty fundamental ways.

If I could afford them (Lamborghini, watch, or Leica), I might change my tune.

That's a cruel assessment, but look at, for example, Pentax, a company that produces underrated, great-performing lenses, and also does wacky things like sell a trio of ultra-compact primes, or build image-stabilization into pretty much every dSLR they sell.

All the quirkiness, half the aggravation, and one tenth of the price.

Also, Nikon and Canon are currently building cameras with such astounding light-sensitivity that one of their top units equipped with a fairly typical f/1.4 is probably more sensitive in low-light conditions than the Noctilux mounted on any camera that will take it. Exhibit A is this ISO 5600 (!) photo taken with a Nikon D3.

That's all pretty inarguable, though (a) if you have a specific need/desire for a rangefinder camera, the DSLR builders have done nothing but flip you the bird for 20 years, and (b) the salient quality of the old Noctilux 1.0 was that performed about as well as the Summilux at 1.8-3.0, yet could still pop open to that ridiculous supra-ocular aperture (with the predictable compromises) for a low-light situation in which you might be content with a moody, grainy, vignetted B&W shot.

Pentax really seems to be an emerging hero for prosumers on a budget. I carry three primes and I could have had the entire Pentax "pancake" trio for what I paid for my 85 alone, though my coverage wouldn't be quite as wide and I assume there must be optical compromises involved.

(Noctilux group on Flickr, for those curious about context.)

You know what, Mr. Cousineau's points are well-made, but that didn't stop me from reading that lens description with a vague sense of awe and "do they make it in an EF mount?"-style wonder.

I say this as a man who bought the entry-level Canon Rebel and has since added on one entry-level lens, so you know I'm in dreamland. :P

The optics on the Pentax pancakes good, I believe, but a 40mm f/2.8 is unimpressively slow, until you find out it's barely thicker than a body cap.

I didn't realize the 70 was actually faster (f/2.4). This review says both lenses are not bad, but suffer from modest imaging flaws (including, sigh, vignetting wide open on the 40).

As for Colby's context, it reminds me that all the hypothetical camera-gear-nerding in the world, when confronted with actual, gorgeous photos, should just go slink off to a corner and die.


Colby, I can't remember whether you belong to the Nikon or Canon faith. In any case, you should be aware that you can have loads of fun purchasing inexpensive older lenses on eBay and mounting them to your dSLR.

My current fave is a 20mm Carl Zeiss Flektogon "Zebra" that I've mounted to my Canon 5D via a $15 adapter. I've gotten some fantastic images with this lens.

Tsk, you left out the "Jena". Commie glass built by slaves! Not in my kit, fella!


A bit OT, but anybody who's been in the Canadian army will instantly recognize the Elcan brand -- most of our C7 rifles and C9 machineguns, for better or for worse, are outfitted with a big, rubbery Elcan optical sight.


Well, I don't like to brag, so I left out the Jena. And HOW THE HELL does one avoid buying "commie" crap built by slaves when damn near everything comes from China now?!?

Getting back to the Commie glass thing, you can have some serious fun with Arsat glass:


I've got one of these and also the 80mm. I use them on both my MF bodies and my Canon 5D.


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