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QUICK TAKE - Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE

 
 

From the start the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE has been a somewhat controversial lens because its existence fundamentally acknowledged focus shift in its predecessor. To minimize minimize focus shift, Leica changed the placement of the aperture blades and updated the lens group behind the aperture blade with floating lens element (FLE) design. While Leica initially passed off the changes as a mild update, the marketing verbiage on Leica’s website has changed over the years -

“The Leica Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. is a further revised version of this popular wide-angle lens for the Leica M rangefinder system. Thanks to the latest developments in the fields of optics and precision engineering, the new 35mm lens sets a whole new standard in the fast wide-angle lens portfolio. Whether it's a matter of selective focus in the close-up range, high-contrast available light applications or landscape shots with immense depth of field, the lens delivers persuasive arguments in any situation.”


With these changes came the proverbial “storm in a teacup” as the Leica aficionados debated the merits of the new FLE versus the outgoing Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (reviewed here).

The 35mm Summilux-M FLE is 2 ounces heavier than the pre-FLE version. The added weight is noticeable at first, but I no longer notice the difference. The lens’ appearance is more industrial - especially the new metal lens hood with its angular design. The lens barrel is a bit wider too. I liked how the pre-FLE version looked on the Leica M9-P (reviewed here), but now I prefer the updated look - especially the new hood design. The new lens hood is smaller and does not block the viewfinder as much. The hood screws on and is perfectly centered when fully screwed in place. The focus and aperture rings are well placed, the focus ring turns very smoothly with little resistance. My only niggle was some rattling from the aperture mechanism which Leica said was normal (back in 2012). In August 2013 I sent the lens to Leica and asked them to fix the rattle (I had read on the forums it could be fixed), and sure enough - rattle fixed.


When looking at pictures from the 35mm ‘Lux FLE, the first and most obvious difference is sharpness. The FLE’s wide-open performance is stunning. It is easily as sharp as the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, and so far it seems like the 35mm ‘Lux FLE manages chromatic aberrations better than the 50mm ‘Lux ASPH. If wide open sharpness is a top priority, then the 35mm ‘Lux FLE is a clear-cut winner. But this new design outputs a different image rendering compared to the pre FLE ASPH. Leica hints at these changes in their marketing description, “Thanks to the latest developments in the fields of optics and precision engineering, the new 35mm lens sets a whole new standard in the fast wide-angle lens portfolio.”  Some other initial impressions:

  1. DEPTH OF FIELD - even at F1.4 there seems to be a lot of depth of field. On the plus side this makes focusing very forgiving, but the negative side, separating the subject from the background is difficult. I am finding the 35mm FLE to be a great a landscape lens, but at this point I still have a slight preference for the 35mm ASPH for people pictures.

  2. COLORS - perhaps Leica changed their lens coatings, whatever the case is, in a contrasty setting the colors are very saturated. Since I prefer to shoot color, this is fine with me. Initially sharpness blew me away, but these days it is the colors that blow me away. The 35mm FLE and 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH have a different color rendition than my other M lenses, and I am really like this new color rendition.

  3. BOKEH - probably the mostly common cited difference in the new 35mm Summilux FLE is its “harsh” bokeh. After taking many side by side test shots with the FLE and non-FLE, while the bokeh is different, there is not a clear winner. I do agree that the new FLE has a more “nervous” bokeh in general, but both lenses are equally capable of producing a nervous bokeh.

  4. REFLECTIONS - when taking pictures at night, there has a been some double imaging artifacts (sometimes referred to as ghosting) around bright spots. The chances are this is light bouncing off the Leica M9-P’s sensor, reflecting off the 35mm ‘Lux FLE’s rear element and then back onto the sensor. I have not seen this problem with the Leica M Type 240.

 

OVERVIEW AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

PebblePlace Copyright

Updated January 5, 2014

Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE

M9-P • F1.4 • 1/160 • ISO 160

Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE

M9-P • F8 • 1 Second • ISO 160

Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE

M9-P • F8 • 1/8 • ISO 160

Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE

M-240 • F8 • 8 Seconds • ISO 200

Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE

M9-P • F1.4 • 1/4000 • ISO 160

Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE

M9-P • F1.4 • 1/2000 • ISO 160

Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE

M9-P • F2.8 • 1/160 • ISO 160

Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE

M-240 • F5.6 • 1/25 • ISO 200