REVIEW – LEICA 35mm SUMMILUX f/1.4 ASPH FLE
If you have read any of my other reviews of Leica gear you will know I always start out mentioning I am not a dentist or surprise beneficiary of some recently deceased rich relative (I wish!). So I had to really consider the decision of switching to Leica and if it would be the right one for me. Especially when the admission price to enter the Leica system is so high.
The great side effect of this was my choices in lenses would have to be one that I was going to truly love and want to use for a long time. There would be no purchasing any more for a while (more lenses = divorce in my house!) Because of this, I have been able to spend a lot of time shooting almost solely with this lens, and in turn have developed a deep understanding and feel for using this field of view.
(This is something I would suggest to all photographers, limitations in all artistic endeavors can lead to creativity. You will also gain a much better understanding of your tools by sticking with only one or two lenses and learn to ‘see’ in that field of view, making it easier to visualize the outcome before you take the photo.)
When starting out with a fixed lens prime that you plan on using almost full-time there are really two ‘standard’ lens choices to pick from, 35mm or 50mm. This was a decision I was also faced with when picking a prime lens. There are pro’s and really more pro’s to both, so there is not a wrong choice here, but it comes down to personal preference. 50mm is considered to be most neutral field of view, matching the human eye the closest. It gets out of the way and makes less of a statement, which can allow the viewer to focus more on the subject and less on the tools behind the image.
35mm on the other hand is like taking a few steps back from 50mm and is less intimate, giving your photos more surrounding context. Prior to moving to the Leica M I had been using a cropped sensor Fuji X100T with its fixed 23mm lens (35mm equivalent) for around 18 months. I had grown very comfortable with this field of view. I enjoy photos that show more of the surrounding location, to me the backgrounds can be just as interesting as the main subject itself. So 35mm was my first choice in a prime lens.
(I have to admit though, there are so many photos taken by the greats that inspire me who used 50mm that I’m increasingly feeling the need to pick up another lens! I plan on renting a number of different 50mm lenses to find that one 50 for me, and I will write up my experiences here soon).
Leica have a number of 35mm lenses to choose from. They are:
Summarit: The slowest lens at f/2.4 and also the “cheapest” at $1995.00. Its tiny and beautifully made.
- Summicron: Faster at f/2.0 and also extremely small and sharp. A great lens and still one of the best 35mm lenses. Priced at $3195.00.
- Summilux: The fastest and most expensive at /f1.4 and $4995.00
I decided to go with the fastest lens, the Summilux as I was paring it with a much slower 21mm Super Elmar (read my review here) which is f/3.4. I wanted to something that I could use in low light conditions and since I was stepping into Leica land, I felt I should experience one of their special lenses.
If you are like me, all these names seem a little confusing. I assumed Summilux meant ‘me poor’ based on the price, or ‘German magic’ based on the images it makes! But it turns out it means ‘maximum light’, and at f1.4 it pulls in a huge amount of light. I am always surprised how much I can capture in the darkest of conditions with this lens.
You will notice my reviews are not super technical. Other people do a better job at that than I could ever do. I am more interested in the photos I can take with it. Its the photos that matter when buying a lens so I have tried to include a lot of photos here covering all the genres I enjoy, portrait, travel, architecture, street, sports etc. All the images in this article were processed in Lightroom and Silver EFX Pro.
So how do I feel about this lens after owning it for two years and shooting it non-stop? It’s amazing! By far the best lens I have ever used on any system. It’s tiny, beautifully made and creates a look that I love. So if thats all you need to know – go get it now! But if you want some more details, read on!
The 35mm Summilux has an amazing way of capturing images that give your photo a very three-dimensional feel. It has super sharp focus and a beautiful soft out-of-focus background, especially wide open at f/1.4 that makes the real world look magical and cinematic. Its the look that is a primary reason for my switch to Leica and why I felt the sale of my lesser used organs made sense for this lens!
However, it is easy to be tricked into shooting everything wide-open when using this lens. I feel everyone who buys faster aperture lenses goes through this. It’s kind of a waste too, because this lens is amazing across all apertures. That being said, a lot of the special look and 3D pop comes from the wide aperture and transition between the insanely sharp in focus elements to the background blur. It is really special.
The lens does vignette a lot a f/1.4, but does improve a lot from f/2.0 to f/2.8. I however don’t mind this at all, and feel it adds to the cinematic character of the images. The color you get form this lens is amazing. Really vibrant and rich.
Its a wonderful lens to use and hold. Like all Leica lenses, its beautifully made and very solid. I have the black version, but a silver version has since been introduced as well which looks great. Its a little heavier than other Leica lenses at 328 grams with the hood, but sits well on the front of the M, not pulling it forward when set on the table or hanging around your neck. And compared to other brands lenses with this aperture, its tiny and light.
Due to the floating element (the FLE in the name) it is a little harder to focus and less smooth than other non-FLE lenses like the Summircon’s. But I have noticed mine has loosened up a lot since using it so much. Earlier versions had the complaint the aperture ring was a little loose and easy to accidentally change. I don’t find this a real problem with my copy, but there is a slight give at f/1.4.
This lens really pulls in light, so I find you really need an ND filter for use during the day. I use and B&W 3 stop filter which allows me to utilize the wider apertures in sunshine and direct sunlight and switch to a clear UV filter for low light conditions.
To conclude this review, I would end simply saying this is not only the best 35mm lens I have used, but the best lens on any camera I have used. It’s tiny, built solid like a tank, insanely sharp wide-open and stopped down and has tons of character to give your photos a very special look. So sell those organs and know you are buying the one 35mm lens you will ever want!
WHERE TO BUY?
There are a number of places I would highly recommend for purchasing your Leica M. The local Leica gallery stores are great if you have one in your city, but my main choice when buying anything Leica is Ken Hansen.
Leica Dealer in New York (no tax!) who is a legend. He is the biggest seller of Leica gear in the US and has no store or website – just great service.
A massive store and online presence with a great return policy if anything goes wrong and free shipping.
So easy to deal with, free shipping with Prime and great return policy.