Gears :: Noctilux f/0.95 as the perfect lens for snowing scenes

Noctilux f/0.95 ASPH, like all the Noctilux's before it, is seem by people who don't yet own it or those who own it but don't shoot it often as the lenses for the night. Few people recognize that it's also the perfect lenses for shooting snowing scene.

This spring due to the extreme climate in Europe, Paris was graced with several bouts of snow as late as in March. While any lens could take snow photos and convey the atmosphere if enough thoughts are put into it, Noctilux f/0.95 really distinguishes itself from the others.


Confused tourist in front of Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre.


First let's think about the focal length. While wide-angle lenses are perfectly fine taking photos after-the-snow, they most likely won't give you what you want in the snow. Wide-angle lenses will not be able to capture snowflakes in the air in any meaningful sizes. Even if it snows heavily enough that layers of snowflakes are visible, the street subjects will overwhelm them and viewers are distracted and confused.

Telephoto lenses are great in compressing the depth and giving a feeling of heavy snowing. One can take superb snowing photos with it when it snows moderately. One risks having too much snow layered in the frame though. Also the subject might be difficult to focus automatically as snows creates in general a constantly moving high-contrast scene. Note that we're talking about non-Leica cameras and lenses here obviously as Leica practically does not have true telephoto lenses. While it's possible to still focus a telephoto lens manually via a DSLR view finder, most modern telephoto lenses are designed for the super powerful autofocus system on the cameras that their manual focusing rings have very short travel distances, which renders manual focusing practically impossible.

As it's perfect for street photography, 50mm is also perfect for shooting in the snow on the streets. Unlike the highly dramatic telephoto shots, with 50mm you see the realistic rendering of snowflakes both near and far, as you see it with your own eyes. When the snowflakes are perfectly sized, the results could be magnificent.


Montmartre Marathon in the snow


We all know 50mm lenses are easily found and mostly cheap in any kind of 35mm camera systems. However, as always Noctilux's f/0.95 aperture separates it from EVERYONE ELSE, hands-down.

In a 50mm perspective with snowflakes drifting down near and far from the sky, f/0.95 gives a truly intoxicating dreamy effect to any photo. If the subject, mostly a person, is in focus, the snowflakes nearby him or her will also be in focus. However, unlike a non-snowing scene where one relies on the surrounding objects such as buildings, traffic signs, trees, benches, etc, of different distances to be rendered out of focus, conveying the unique f/0.95 atmosphere, snowflakes come in every distance by default. This means that there will always be a normal distribution of different levels of blurring in snowflakes, making any shot as dreamy as one could dream of - no puns intended.


Lady in the snow in Saint-Germain-des-Prés


Note that f/1.4, the next most common wide-open aperture in commercially available 50mm lenses, will not be nearly as effective in a snowing scene. As snowflakes come down in a limited spatial density, empirically f/1.4 already renders too much snow in focus, let alone f/1.8 or smaller apertures.

I'm on the other hand curious about how the previous Noctilux's perform in a snowing scene, most notably Noctilux f/1.0, which was born in the same year of 1976 as I was. If you're a f/1.0 owner, I'd love to hear your opinion.


The classical focal length for shooting in Montmartre is definitely 50mm

Jerry Yang#gearsComment