LEICA 35MM F1.4 SUMMILUX-M ASPH (Pre-FLE)
Updated July 8, 2017
|Leica Product Number||11874 Black / 11883 Chrome|
|Lens Composition||9 Elements / 5 Groups, 1 Aspherical Element|
|Angular Field of View||64º|
|Minimum Focus||.7 Meters / 28 Inches|
|Aperture||9 Blades, Non-Circular|
|F-Stop Scale||F1.4 to F16 in 1/2 Stop Increments|
|Filter Size||46mm, Non-rotating|
|Lens Cap||Leica 46mm #14231 (Replacement)|
|Lens Hood||Leica #12589 (Replacement)|
|Weight||Black = 250g / 9 oz.; Chrome = 415g / 15 oz.|
|Lens Size||53mm Wide x 46mm Long|
I purchased the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH circa 2009 and around the same time upgraded from the Leica M8 to the Leica M9. I had a difficult with the M8 to M9 transition because the M9's color rendition was much different than the M8's, the M9's sensor rendered a softer image than the M8, and going full frame was a big change compared to the M8's 1.3x crop factor. It was very a bumpy ride. I even considered leaving the M system and sticking with dSLRs.
Looking back I realize that bumpy road was more about my transition into being a "35mm-shooter". The M9 was a different animal than the M8, but my style was also changing. I started including more background in the images to give some context. I was stopping down to F5.6 and F8 more often. In most cases a simple 35mm/90mm kit was all I needed. I did not go out the door one afternoon, take pictures for 2-3 hours and come back home and proclaim my 35mm allegiance. Getting to this point was a slow evolution over several years.
Nowadays I cannot imagine my M lens kit without a 35mm lens. The 35mm lens is the anchor lens of the whole kit. From a technical standpoint, I marvel at Leica's 35mm Summilux's because Leica somehow manages to package excellent optical performance and a fast aperture into a tiny 9 ounce lens about the size of a kiwi fruit. In 2012 I replaced the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH with the newer Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE, so in a way the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH was short-changed by my "what the heck am I doing this lens" phase.
Excluding different colors and special editions, there have been essentially four generations of the Leica 35mm Summilux-M -
The first generation is soft at F1.4, and some people will nostalgically refer to this softness as the "Leica Glow". The second generation added TWO aspherical elements and is sometimes referred to as the AA (double A). This is a very expensive used lens because the production run was small and short. Leica supposedly discontinued the lens quickly due to production costs. The AA was replaced by the third version which is pretty sharp wide open, but often cited as having focus shift (more on this later). And finally we have the fourth generation "FLE" which added a floating element to address the focus shift. The FLE generation is exceptionally sharp at F1.4. This review is for the third generation.
What amazes me the most about the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is that Leica was able to pack such great performance into such a tiny lens. In comparison to a traditional F1.4 35mm SLR lens, the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH M is minuscule, weighing a mere 9 ounces. The barrel and mount are metal, the focus and aperture rings sport finally machined knurling, markings are engraved and hand painted, tolerances are tight, focus is silky smooth. The build quality is excellent, which is expected from any Leica lens.
Compared to Leica's current screw-in metal lens hoods, the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH's plastic lens is a bit coarse. There are two slots on the lens to guide where the lens hood should slide in place, then a ring at the base of the lens rotates about 30º to lock the hood in place. Attaching the lens hood is easy, but not really something you would to take on and off the lens on a daily basis. The lens hood is intended to be attached and left in place, so the lens hood includes a hood cap to protect the front element.
The lens hood does partially obstruct the viewfinder, but there is a cut-out. The image below shows approximately how much of the hood is visible on the Leica M8.2’s 35mm framelines -
Viewfinder Blockage Approximation on a Leica M8.2
When I first started using Leica M's, viewfinder blockage really bugged me. Over time I normed to it and now I do not notice the blockage with most lenses. The 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is a “tabbed” lens, meaning it has the ergonomic lever (tab) on the focus ring. The focus tab is another feature that struck me as odd when first using Leica M gear, but nowadays if a lens does not have a focus tab, I miss it. With the focus tab a can quickly determine by touch if a lens is focused at the near or far end of its range. Also, with compact lenses the focus rings are not very wide, so the focus tab is a quick way to find the focus ring and adjust focus.
The Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH epitomizes what I like about Leica M gear - a high performance compact lens with manual controls that feel great, like the ultra smooth and nicely dampened focus ring. The lens is light and I can carry the M and the 35mm Lux all day and never be bothered by the size or weight. The refined tactile experience adds to my overall enjoyment when using the lens. It just feels like how a camera should feel.
My performance reviews are anecdotal - I buy a lens, shoot with it for a couple years and write about that experience -
- Sharpness: Wide open sharpness is very good. Not quite as sharp as the Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, but after shooting many portraits and landscapes across the F-stop range, I have zero concerns about sharpness. If wanting the utmost in wide open sharpness (for a 35mm F1.4), look into the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE.
- Chromatic Aberrations: There is some minor coma and color fringing at the extreme corners of the frame (on the M9) at F1.4, but it is minor and radically better than the Canon 35L. I am not experiencing any purple fringing in the focus plane (the DNGs are being processed in Phase One’s C1 software).
- Contrast: Generally the shadows are open with good detail and the highlights do not blow out easily (my Canon 85L II would clip highlights very easily for some reason). Overall I am pleased with the contrast rendering, it is not heavy handed like the Canon 35L.
- Color: The Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH's color is somewhat muted compared to Leica's more modern lenses such as the Leica 21mm F3.4 Super-Elmar M ASPH, Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE and Leica 50mm F.95 Noctilux-M ASPH. Leica's latest lenses have more contrast, saturation or vibrance in their colors. The difference is not huge, but it is there. The difference is probably an evolution in Leica's lens coatings.
- Focus Shift: Focus shift is a legitimate concern. My lens is optimized for F2 at 1 meter, so any effect focus shift has at F1.4 and F2.8 has been negligible. Likewise, F5.6 and up have been a non-issue because depth of field tends to hide the focus shift. F4 is the danger-zone on MY lens. At F4 the keeper-rate has been questionable, so I avoid F4.
The bokeh can be smooth, but depends heavily on the background composition and the background distance relative to the focus plane. Overall the 35mm Lux’s bokeh has surpassed my expectations which is pleasantly surprising given that it is a relatively wide-angle lens. The Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M FLE is generally considered to have "busier" bokeh than the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (Pre-FLE), but as the example below illustrates, both lenses are challenged with a busy background -
There is alot of double image bokeh (nisen bokeh) going on in both images, and neither lens is a bokeh rock star in those images.
The 35mm Summilux-M ASPH has been a very pleasant surprise, and my concerns about focus shift have proven unwarranted. The previous owner is the genius who had had the lens calibrated for F2 @ 1 meter. The end result is a 35mm lens that I feel very confident with on the Leica M8.2 and Leica M9. The 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH is sharp both wide-open and stopped-down, no color fringe issues and has great bokeh. At F1.4 there is the aspherical sharpness we expect from a Leica lens, but there is also a smooth, delicate nature to the contrast and bokeh which works very nicely for intimate candids.
The Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (pre-FLE) served me well for several years, but ultimately I did change over to its replacement, the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE. Initially I felt the FLE's bokeh was harsher and could provoke that harshness in lens tests. However, in "real world" use the FLE's bokeh proved fine and has not bit me in 4 years of use.
In 2011 and 2012 I would have fully recommended the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH. It is still a wonderful lens, but I like the newer FLE version better. The FLE's wide open sharpness is amazingly good (in my opinion) and I like not having to worry about focus shift. Simply put, I just feel more confident with the newer FLE version. Either way, they are both great 35mm Summilux's, but if your budget allows for the FLE version, the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE would be my recommendation.