Leica Camera AG, an exclusive but small German manufacturer of high-end lenses and cameras, is going for the speed crown again, making the world's "fastest" lens for still cameras.
Before camera makers gained an advantage over each other with the number of megapixels, they gained an advantage over each other with the zoom range of their lenses. In addition, before that, in the 1960s, the "speed" of the lens, its ability to gather light, was the big selling point.
Recently, Leica has just created a new version of its Noctilux lens with an aperture number of 0.95, which in the inverted math of optics means it gathers 11% more light than the old version, which had an aperture of 1.
A lens that gathers more light performs better in poor lighting conditions, but an increase of 11% is hardly noticeable, so the difference between the old and new lenses is mostly in bragging rights. In addition, actually, Leica cannot claim the fastest-ever crown, because the Japan's Canon Inc. also made a lens with an aperture of 0.95 for a few years in the '60s, at the height of the lens-speed craze.
Nevertheless, either the previous or the new Leica Noctilux lens is substantially faster than the zoom lenses that come with regular digital cameras. They often have an aperture number of 3.5, which means they gather just 7% as much light as the new Noctilux.
To gather more light, a lens needs to have a bigger glass surface, and super-speed lenses like the Noctilux are at the limit of practicality. The lens weighs 1 pound, 6 ounces, and dwarfs the Leica cameras it mounts on. It has focused manually and does not zoom, but has a fixed focal length of 50 millimeters.
According to Stefan Daniel, a product manager at Leica, the lens will cost $10,000 when it goes on sale in December. Leica had been selling the older Noctiluxes at a similar price, which held back many would-be buyers.
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