Bringing vision to life with the Leica M11 camera and Noctilux f/1.2 ASPH lens

Bringing Vision To Life With The Leica M11 and Noctilux f/1.2 ASPH by John Barbiaux

Gear matters… I don’t mean it matters in the sense that the “best” gear will produce the “best” images, I simply mean that the right gear can be the difference between realizing a creative vision or not. I kissed a lot of frogs so to speak before I landed on the perfect lens/camera combination for me to bring my artistic vision to life and below is the story of how the Leica M11 and the Noctilux f/1.2 ASPH helped me create a body of work that most closely emulated the body of work I had in my minds eye.

Over the past three years I’ve been hammering away on a personal project called Life On Mars, documenting small towns and the American Dream largely following my curiosity and intuition. The title is a bit of a play on the town I live in, Mars, P.A., and capturing seemingly ordinary scenes that, after closer inspection, have a sort of foreign/martian beauty to them. I started this project using a Leica MP and MA using Kodak Portra 800 but quickly found it to be too slow and limiting for the images I envisioned… Eventually switching back to a digital Leica M, the M10P. Further, because of my job and family I was/am only able to shoot in the wee hours of the morning or late into the evening (i.e. low light) which necessitated a fast lens. Using a tripod is possible but draws unwanted attention when shooting in close proximity to folks homes (I’ve had several encounters with Police, all positive, at the behest of concerned citizens even without a tripod), so I wanted to handhold all images and needed a camera with a sensor that could push the boundaries of ISO and a lens that could basically see in the dark.

With the M10P I was getting close to the results I wanted but I missed the film look I had with the MP or MA which got me thinking… I have a bit of a disdain for clinically perfect lenses that seem to produce these sterile images that lack a certain perfect imperfection that film provides, I would peruse images from various cameras and lenses and they all started to look too similar (mine included). I went back to the drawing board and tried several lenses with little luck and eventually stumbled upon Leica’s website and the write-up about the 50mm Noctilux f/1.2 ASPH, a lens that had some real character and stuck pretty close to the original design from the 1960’s (high five to Leica’s marketing/design department). I placed the order and was amazed with the rendition this vintage-esque lens provided. Now I was getting someplace, my vision was starting to make the difficult journey across that border between my minds eye and reality.

In January of 2022 Leica announced the Leica M11 with the promise of even better low light quality and the ability to adjust the number of megapixels the sensor could capture which immediately caught my attention. I could fine tune this new camera to enhance it’s ability to basically see in the dark and with my new secret weapon lens, the Noctilux, I could create the perfect rig to bring my project the rest of the way to what I felt was it’s full potential. I made a call to the fine folks over at Leica Store Boston and got one of the first M11’s they received. Immediately I affixed the Noctilux to the M11 (it has not left the camera since and may never save for normal maintenance) and hit the streets. Finally, I had found the perfect combination for my vision and it felt like magic.

The combination of the M11 and the Nocti f/1.2 convinced me that gear really does matter. I suppose there is no guarantee that any combination of gear will allow me to bring what I envision to the real world but I’ve realized it certainly reduces the barriers to do so which is invaluable to me as an artist. You can check out more of the project on Instagram @PhotolisticLife or my website

About me: Barbiaux’s photographs have been published in the likes of National Geographic Traveler magazine and numerous websites. He has written countless educational articles for online photography platforms such as PhotolisticLife, DecisiveShot, Digital Photography School, and PetaPixel, and maintains a well-trafficked Instagram account @photolisticlife where he frequently shares his latest work. Barbiaux has been commissioned for several large-scale installations of works from his Fractal Cityscapes series, some of which reach four stories in height. His first solo exhibition, Environs, was shown at The John Hermann Art Museum in May 2022. The artist currently lives and works outside of Pittsburgh.

Leica gear discussed in this post:

This entry was posted in Leica M11, LR Guest Posts and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • FCC disclosure statement: this post may contain affiliate links or promotions that do not cost readers anything but help keep this website alive. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission. Affiliate programs and affiliations include, but are not limited to, the eBay Partner Network. Thanks for your support!