“Perhaps the most versatile M lens.“ This is a quote straight from the Leica site. And that about sums it up. The Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE was designed to be even “more compact” with even “higher performance” than its predecessor, which did not feature the floating element and was available from 1994 to 2010.
I have not yet had the opportunity to try the previous model but I have had the newer version on loan from Leica for a couple of weeks and want to share some of my findings.
For the past few years I have been using the Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH with my M9 and only recently with the Leica M Typ 240. I was always glad to strap on the Cron, really appreciating the contrasty, sharp and overall nice results that lens could achieve. I did not think I would ever need f/1.4 on a moderate wide-angle at all. I usually do not tend to shoot too much in extemely low light and could not care less for more shallow depth of field with this focal length. That is what I thought…
But now, after trying the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE on the new M, I am almost tempted to spend some extra cash and trade in the trusted Summicron. The new Summilux is simply amazing and I had great fun putting it to use in the little time I had with it. Trouble was, the weather happened to be so appalling most of the time, I hardly had any opportunity to shoot it in good daylight – most of the time it was overcast and either pouring cats & dogs or drizzling with temperatures closer to winter rather than late spring. Good thing I had f/1.4 after all 😉 .
Basic Lens Specifications
More details on this lens including a PDF with all the relevant technical data following this link to Leica Camera AG
Build Quality and Ergonomics
This is what Leica lenses in general excel at and this Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE certainly is no exception. The lens feels just right, with nice weight and size and that unique precision tool feeling you can only get from Leica products. It has great ergonomics right down to the all-metal hood that can be screwed on and off with ease. This hood is the same as used with the Leica M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH, which happens to be my all time favorite super-wide. Look out for a review on that lens soon.
The older version of the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH as well as the newest Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH do not have this special screw-on hood. They both only feature a plastic clip-on version which makes the handling a little less fun. They also have strange wishy-washy lens caps or rather slack push-on covers whereas the new Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE has a very much nicer slip-on kind of cap – albeit still made of cheap rubber.
I have found myself cursing the clumsy Summicron clip-on hood solution and fiddly rubber cover more than a few times. After loosing the first one or two caps you can get quite annoyed. They cost around €25 or $35 which is a lot for such a simple thing (probably not even a dime in production). But that is not a problem to be discussed with the new Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE.
Only a very small part of the rangefinder viewing window is obstructed by the lens with the hood mounted. The cut-out on the upper left of the hood is sufficient for precise framing. If you leave the hood off and put on the supplied special metal screw-on protection ring (that is supposed to protect the male thread for the lens hood), you can even use the also supplied E46 lens cap instead. This way there will be no finder blockage whatsoever.
Did I mention this lens is really quite small? Just look at the comparison with the latest version of the Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH below. There is not too much of a difference. The Summicron is only 11.5mm smaller to be precise (compared without hoods). This does not really make any difference in actual use.
I even found the Lux to be a little easier to handle due to its slightly bigger size. The focus ring is a lot stiffer than on my 35mm Cron. Some might prefer a buttery smooth focus ring though. The new Lux has a nicely engraved DOF (depth of field) scale which may come in handy for zone focusing. The half stop detents for adjusting the f-stops feel like they are oozing quality as well.
The previous version of the Summilux was said to have the tendency to focus shift. The new FLE version seems to have this problem sorted out. At least my copy did not show any shift whatsoever. All in all there is absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to build quality and ergonomics with this very special lens.
In one word: superb. My Summicron may be a great lens but this 35mm Lux ups the ante. Colors look vibrant, contrast is perfect in my view and the lens is bitingly sharp from edge to edge. You can check for differences in sharpness in comparison with the latest Summicron looking at the images below (click file for large view). You will see the Lux is quite the better (especially when comparing corners) but not overwhelmingly so. I did the comparison using one and the same camera mounted on a tripod changing lenses within minutes (repeating the procedure a couple of times to be sure everything was set identical including the point of focus in the centre of the frame). This naturally does not take into account possible sample variations that might occur when testing several copies of each lens, nor was this done in a sterile laboratory environment.
It would not be fair to do too much of a comparison between a Summicron and a Summilux. They serve different photographic needs and the Lux is almost twice the price. I just wanted to show in real life, there is quite a difference – but the Cron is no deadbeat either.
Back to the Lux: even wide open this lens performs tremendously. I could hardly see any differences going from f1.4 to f2.0 and even above that differences in image quality are only marginal – except for when looking at DOF (depth of field) of course.
And DOF is something I want to discuss a little further. It is a widespread belief, that wide-angle lenses cannot really put anything much out of focus even when used wide open and the results then would look quite mediocre. This may be true to some extent. But with the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE you can get quite nice results. Shot at f/1.4 this lens can show a good smooth and shallow depth of field and give a nice enough bokeh. For portraits or subjects where bokeh is of higher significance, I would still prefer the rendering of the Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH though. Below are some examples shot with the 35 Lux @ f/1.4. Please keep in mind, these are not meant to have any artistic value and are just to show what f/1.4 can be like with this lens in different shooting situations. Images have not been tweaked in post at all (OOC DNG converted to JPG via LR 4.4).
Searching my files I could not find any that showed substantial chromatic aberration (CA). It seems to be no great issue with this lens. Vignetting is the only thing that might make you think twice about using the widest aperture. It can be quite pronounced – at least on the Leica M Typ 240. In some situations it might be wiser to stop down a bit – unless you like to add some darker boundaries to your images (e.g. when shooting portraits).
Other than that this lens is great fun to use under almost any conditions. The lens shows little tendency to flare and after using it with the M Typ 240, I was very impressed with the dynamic range. There are some general sample images below with slight editing applied in LR 4.4 and Silver Efex Pro II (for B&W). Again no artsy aspirations.
Ouch! That`s the part where anyone in a solid state of mind would have to start flinching. € 4.200 or about $ 5.150 is way more than most people would want to spend for a single lens. Even for a Leica this is big money.
But consider this: if you were to choose this beauty of a lens to make up a single lens kit alongside the Leica M camera of your choice, you might not need any other lens – ever again.
Of course, if you are a 50mm kind of guy you would probably rather have a Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH (or maybe even a Noctilux or the new crazy expensive Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 f/2 ASPH) to serve as your standard lens. And many of us frequently like to swap focal lengths anyway.
Is it worth it?
For every photographer who appreciates the field of view 35mm lenses offer – it simply cannot get any better than this for full-frame digital or analog 35mm photography. IMO the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE is worth every cent. But if you can live with a very slight difference in image quality and do not need a faster aperture, the latest 35mm Summicron still is a great choice. This is why I can only give the Lux three stars out of five for price (i.e. value for money). Your mileage may vary on this though.
I currently own the Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH but I would not mind keeping the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE for myself. Pity I have to return it to Leica. At least now I know what I am missing…