by Dirk Moeller
Years back I've read an article about the Leica Noctilux and was mighty impressed about the infamous F 1.0 lens. The photos I saw were wonderful, but given the price point these lenses are sold at, even second or maybe sixth hand would be out of the question.
A couple of weeks later I saw a photographer from somewhere in Scandinavia (can't remember who exactly), who found an alternative - not as precise and sharp stopped down and maybe not as creamy bokeh, but a fun lens at F0.95. He used to post shots from misty landscapes and those looked wonderfully gloomy.
I tried to find out more about that lens and it turned out, there were two versions produced some time in the sixties (?): one for the Canon 7 camera and one version for TV cameras. The versions for the Canon 7 seemed a better fit, because the modifications needed to put it on a M rangefinder were supposed to be minor.
I looked around for months and finally found a TV version on eBay, for what I thought a reasonable price.
It turned out that the price was very reasonable, because the lens came "New, in Box". Apparently the eBay seller was some kind of wholesales person, bought larger lots and sold them seperately. This was from an actual TV station, where it sat on a shelf for years. Just in case one on the camera broke. At some point they got rid of the cameras and then, years later, of the overstock.
So, here it was - now I only needed to find a lens smith worthy of transforming my lens to M-mount. I found him in Paris, a reputable expert and he had converted several of these lenses successfully. It took a month or so and then it came back. He was in awe about the quality of the lens and said it was the best specimen he'd seen so far.
And here comes the sad part: I was happy to have that lens, but wide open the focus area is so narrow that I hardly ever used it on my rangefinders. I was happy to "have" it, but almost never used it.
Now, with the Sony A7r, that might change. For one it looks quite cool on it, because the camera has that old school viewfinder bump:
A rangefinder is wide open always a bit guesswork. You get to know your lenses, know which one has a bit of back focus and which one is spot on.
The general consensus for a great working set of lenses and camera is to send them all to Leica and have them synchronized for focus. That costs a bunch. I've never done that. It was important to me that I know where my focus is and I can adjust accordingly. That is all well and my 1.4 Summilux was always the lens I needed to have spot on (and so I adjusted the camera to it), the other lenses were close and to be adjusted.
Now, with the A7r I have the ability to zoom in to check focus. I look through that lens like through a SLR. And that works 100x better than rangefinder guesswork :)
Here are some demo shots from this late afternoon, wide open.
So, after years in the cupboard, this old but still fresh lens might see some more action in the future. I'm glad I didn't sell it.