LEICA 35MM F1.4 SUMMILUX-M ASPH FLE
Updated July 8, 2017
|Leica Product Number||11663 (Black) / 11675 (Silver)|
|Production History||May 2010 to Current|
|Lens Composition||9 Elements / 5 Groups|
|Angular Field of View||63º Diagonal / 54º Horizontal|
|Minimum Focus||.7 Meter / 27 Inches|
|Aperture||10 Blades, Non-Circular|
|F-Stop Scale||F1.4 to F16 in 1/2 Stop Increments|
|Filter Size||46mm, Non-rotating|
|Lens Cap||Leica 14231 (Replacement)|
|Lens Hood||Leica 12465 (Replacement)|
|Lens Hood Cap||Leica 14212 (Replacement)|
|Weight||324 Grams / 11.375 ounces (includes hood, no caps)|
|Lens Size||58mm Long (when mounted); 57mm Wide (at hood)|
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 35mm 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. The Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE was introduced in May 2010, so much of that controversy has now since passed.
The 35mm Summilux-M FLE is 2 ounces heavier than the pre-FLE ASPH version it replaces. The added weight was 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, 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 only niggle is the slide-on hood cap which is pretty easy to lose.
The focus and aperture rings are well placed, the focus ring turns very smoothly with little resistance. On the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH the focus ring is right next to the lens hood lock ring; they were too close. With the new hood design that problem is eliminated. My 35mm FLE had a rattling sound coming from the aperture mechanism; Leica said this was normal in 2012. In August 2013 I sent the lens to Leica and asked them to fix the rattle after reading on a forum that it could be fixed. And the lens did indeed come back with the rattle fixed.
Ergonomically I love the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE's compact size and light weight on the Leica M-P (Typ 240) and Leica M9-P. The lens' size feels very well matched both in size and weight with the Leica M bodies.
When looking at pictures from the 35mm ‘Lux FLE, the first and most obvious difference compared to the 35mm 'Lux ASPH (pre FLE) 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:
- 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.
- SHARPNESS: compared to the Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (Pre-FLE), sharpness is probably where I see the biggest difference. The 35mm FLE's sharpness at F1.4 is very good - I really cannot imagine it being better. And when stopping down to F5.6 or thereabouts, the sharpness across the frame, at the edges, in the corners - all excellent.
- 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.
- 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-P Typ 240 or Leica M Monochrom Typ 246.
- 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.
One area where the 35mm 'Lux FLE is often criticized is its harsh bokeh. I had covered many miles and many trips with the pre-FLE version, and never had much (if any) issue with its bokeh, so I expected the 35mm Summilux-M ASPH to trounce the FLE. When I compared the 35mm 'Lux ASPH and FLE's bokeh and the findings were mixed. The comparisons helped me realize that my coveted Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH was not as perfect as I thought:
While the comparison shots show the ASPH and ASPH-FLE to be comparable in terms of wide open sharpness, in normal day to day shooting I feel the FLE is markedly sharper and has more depth of field at F1.4. I suspect the increased depth of field is why the bokeh is busier. On the plus side, the added depth of field makes the FLE easier to shoot at F1.4. The corner and edge-to-edge sharpness has improved slightly with the FLE, and again, that is at the consequence of the bokeh. In real world shooting the differences in bokeh do not amount to much. The tree branches above are a worst case (test) scenario with a very busy, very deep background.
Lastly, on the topic of focus shift, I find focus-shift to be a non-issue with the 35mm 'Lux FLE. Focus shift was noticeable in its predecessor (Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (Pre-FLE)), but could be managed. With the new 35mm FLE version, I give zero thought (or worry) to focus shift.
If heading to a family event or just out for the day, very often the 35mm 'Lux FLE is the only lens I carry. For my shooting style, the 35mm focal length captures the subject and the location - without being ultra wide and without having the wide angle perspective. 50mm is great for single person portraits and candid shots, but if trying to capture the context of the location and what is going on around the subject, the 35mm focal length works for me. The 35mm 'Lux FLE is my 'go-to' lens for low-light shooting because:
- A 35mm lens does not require fast shutter speeds, 1/60th is usually sufficient.
- The 35mm 'Lux FLE is pretty easy to focus, so I shoot F1.4 without too much hesitation.
- The 35mm 'Lux FLE is fairly compact and is easy to carry as a single lens set-up with the Leica M-P Typ 240.
- With the 35mm 'Lux FLE's F1.4 aperture and the Leica M Monochrom's Typ 246 high ISO performance, I can shoot handheld in any lighting condition.
- After 1000's of pictures with the 35mm 'Lux FLE, I am confident in the lens' performance.
There are less expensive fast-apertured 35mm alternatives such as the Zeiss 35mm F1.4 Distagon ZM and Voigtlander 35mm F1.4 Nokton ASPH II, but those lenses are larger and heavier. At this point the 35mm 'Lux FLE has worked so well for me that I do not put any thought or consideration into other 35mm lenses. There is no denying that the 35mm 'Lux FLE is a pricey lens, but the performance-size ratio is excellent. And the 35mm 'Lux FLE is among my most used lenses, if not the the most used lens. So as the cliché goes, if it ain't broke, why fix it?
Picking up a used a Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (Pre-FLE) can be financially attractive these days, but I would not down-grade at this point. The 35mm 'Lux ASPH (Pre-FLE) had more purple colored CA (chromatic aberrations) at F1.4 and the focus shift was a concern. The new FLE improves in those areas and offers better resolution and its color rendition has more "pop". There is not much else left me to say - the 35mm 'Lux FLE gets a big 'thumbs-up' recommendation.