I’ve been shooting with the new 35 Summilux since February, but I wasn’t aware of the launch date until the day before we came to Crete. So I’ve been using the M11 with the 35 Summilux almost exclusively since we arrived; we’ve become the best of friends.
Mostly I have just used the rangefinder (with Live view for the odd close-up shot), but sometimes, the EVF has been mounted. It’s a little like shooting a 35 mm Q2 on steroids! However, the upshot of this is that the bulk of this article has been written on an iPhone mini while sitting on the beach. At any rate, here are my thoughts on the new lens.
Since the early days of 35 mm images, photographers have been divided as to whether 35 mm or 50 mm is the real ‘standard lens’. Of course, there isn’t a proper answer; it depends on what you shoot and on your personal preference.
What certainly is the case is that since the arrival of the first Summilux lens (the 5 cm Summilux in 1959), the Leica Summilux has been the workhorse lens for photographers around the world. The first 35 mm Summilux arrived in 1961 (the ‘steel rim’) and is still a lens prized by collectors and photographers alike.
The first Aspherical 35 mm arrived in 1991, but fewer than 4,000 copies were made. Perhaps because of the difficulty in manufacturing, with its two aspherical elements, it was replaced by the 35 mm Summilux Asph in 1994 (with one aspherical element). This was in production until 2010; a fantastic lens, but rather subject to focus shift.
To solve the focus-shift issue, Leica introduced a new 35 mm Summilux with a floating element in 2010. Generally known as the 35 FLE, this lens has been the centre of many photographers’ arsenal for more than a decade.
The Leica Summilux-M 35 f/1.4 ASPH (Close Focus)
When the FLE was released, the M9 was Leica’s flagship camera. There was no Live View or electronic viewfinder, so there was no incentive to improve on the close focusing limit of the rangefinder (0.7 metres).
By the time the SL2 and the M10 were released, times had changed, and there was a real possibility of making M lenses with closer focus. The 35 APO Summicron was the first lens to support this newly designed ‘double cam’ focusing mechanism, and the new 35 Summilux CF allows you to focus down to 0.4 metres. The focusing throw has been almost doubled to 176 degrees, and there is a clearly felt resistance at 0.7m, beyond which you need an EVF, live view or Leica Fotos for precise focusing.
Although the screw-in lens hood of the FLE was a definite advantage over the clip-on (drop-off) offerings of earlier lenses, it still added considerably to the bulk of the lens. The new slide-out lens hood is still better and seems to be just as successful at reducing flare. The result of these changes is that the new lens is about one millimetre shorter than the old one and about one millimetre fatter, not something which will be easily detected.
The FLE had nine aperture blades, which helped to produce its great bokeh; the new lens has eleven blades improving the bokeh for all apertures smaller than f/1.4 (where the aperture is round for both lenses).
I have been using the new lens since February, largely with my M11 but also with the SL2. I’ve carefully compared the performance with my 35 FLE, and it seems that the new lens has a slightly more relaxed and gentle bokeh.
Like the FLE, the new lens is prone to a small amount of chromatic aberration with high-contrast edges, especially at wide apertures (think tree branches against grey sky). This is easily fixed in Lightroom or the processor of your choice.
The new close-focus option is lovely to use and also creates great photo opportunities. I have been using it mostly on the M11 — both with Live View and with the EVF.
I am writing this from Crete, where the high contrast and bright colours create many opportunities to use close focus. Here the electronic shutter really comes into its own, making it possible to shoot wide open without using ND filters.
This lens has three benefits over its predecessor:
- Close-focus opportunities
- Newly designed body with twist-out lens hood
- Eleven as opposed to nine aperture blades for better bokeh
The optical formula is the same as the FLE (no bad thing). It comes in black and silver anodised versions which weigh the same.
If you already have the FLE, then the new lens might not be a compelling upgrade, but Leica has made some real incremental improvements to what was already a great lens. If your principal camera is an M11 or an SL2, then the upgrade may seem quite compelling.
Personally, I’ve found that the combination of the close focus and the excellent EVF on the M11, together with the improved ergonomics, has made the 35 Summilux remake a lens to fall in love with.