The Leica 35 Summilux Double ASPHERICAL (AA) Lens Review – A Classic full of Magic!

The Leica 35 Summilux DOUBLE ASPHERICAL (AA) Lens Review  – A Classic FULL of Magic!

By Steve Huff

 

Video Correction – This lens was introduced in 1990-1991 and only 1000-2000 were made. The much more common ASPH was brought out in 1994. So, this lens was NOT released in the 70;s as the video states! Sorry!

How cool is this? I mean, REALLY…how freaking cool is this? I am back home from Seattle and one of the attendees, Ed Tan was at the workshop sporting one of the RARE 35 Summilux ASPHERICAL (AA) lenses. You may or may not know of this lens but I do know it is hard to find, very expensive, and tough to find samples from this lens on an M9 (if you can find any at all). Ed was so nice he let me TAKE THE LENS HOME so I could review it for all of you guys! The only problem is I have fallen HARD for this lens and if I had the cash ($9,000 – $13,000 IF you can find one) then this lens would be my choice in the 35 focal length for the M9. What I mean by that is, if I had hundreds of  thousands of dollars of disposable income this would be my 35 of choice, lol. As it is now, I can’t even afford the current latest and greatest 35 but I have enjoyed shooting with Ed’s lens so THANK YOU Ed! Hmmm…maybe he won’t mind if I send him a cron back instead, hahahah.

CLICK ON IMAGES TO SEE THEM IN BETTER QUALITY!

Roger Paperno and Ed Tan during Lunch in Seattle – F1.4, black and white out of camera (M9-P) – No focus issues in my samples and its very sharp wide open (focused on Rogers Eyes).

Roger giving the thumbs up to the AA and Ed smiling because he knows the lens is HIS!

Ed…no Post Processing, OOC B&W JPEG!

Yes, I LOVE the latest 35 Summilux ASPH II FLE but I have to say, the rendering of this ASPHERICAL is out of this world delicious. Do not get this confused with the previous 35 Lux ASPH…nope, this is the lens that came out BEFORE that one (around 1990-91) and has the word ASPHERICAL printed on the lens instead of ASPH (which came out in 1994). Its pretty small without the hood attached and not too heavy. The focus ring on this one is smooth though the Aperture rings seems like it needs a cleaning and lubricating, which is always one thing to expect when buying a used 20+ year old lens.

I have written about the 35 Lux ASPH, and the 35 Lux ASPH II FLE but this is the one lens I always dreamed of trying out and here it is. There is not much I can say about it that has not already been said in the other Summilux reviews but it is a SUMMILUX, so it is an f/1.4 aperture lens. It is DOUBLE ASPHERICAL and it is gorgeous! Yep, this lens was VERY hard and expensive to make as it had TWO Aspherical elements that were hand polished. Leica stopped making these after they produced about 1000-2000 of them due to the high costs. They replaced it with the ASPH version which has ONE Aspherical element. THIS “AA” Version is simply breathtaking though and I wish Leica would have re-introduced this version, but I guess we can’t have it all!

Sometimes the color of the older lenses have odd shifts, but this one has GREAT color that just pops. The Bokeh is pretty smooth in my opinion. Wide open at 1.4, as all Leica lenses should be 🙂

The BEST 35?

When I reviewed the latest 35 Lux ASPH II FLE lens I proclaimed it the best 35mm lens you can get for your M9, and this still holds true. It is the best lens you can buy in the 35mm focal length when buying a new lens for your camera. $5000, new, warranty, box and case, and a beautiful “perfect” lens with a modern rendering of your subject with a very smooth look. If I could afford one of those, and if they were actually readily available, I would buy one in a nano-second. The 35 Summilux lenses, all of them…they all have some kind of magic but…but…but… this double Aspherical version seems to have a perfect mix of what I really love. Classic rendering and great color, but also very sharp at the focal point when wide open, which are all ingredients that can add up to some serious fairy dust magic when the light is right. It may not be everyones cup of tea as I remember Ashwin saying he preferred the current FLE Lux to this one as it fits his lens kit better (more modern Leica look) but for some this may be the golden ticket.

Enjoying lunch and also the 35! Out of camera B&W, no Silver Efex here… Leica M9, 35 Summilux AA wide open. Bokehlicious.

35mm. It’s A great Focal Length. A classic.

Shooting a 35 on the Leica M9 is so natural. I have gone back and forth from the 35 to 50 and one day I may love the 35 and the next day I may love the 50. I also love the 28 but my true love in the lens world for Leica is the old 35 and 50. Two lenses I can live with for life (which is what I do). I have now tried out every 35 Summilux, even the older PRE-ASPH but my personal favorite rendering has come from this AA version. Just wish it was not so damn rare and expensive! There is also a huge lack of information online about this lens which is why I thought it would be cool to have a quick review and video here for it. As you may have seen, the video is at the top of this page.

Another out of camera B&W image (this lens seems to do well with B&W or color). Wide open!

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and some more out of camera color…

Why are you only posting wide open shots?

This lens, or any SUMMILUX Leica lens is meant and made to be shot WIDE OPEN. I will not be posting F/8 landscape shots as if you want a lens for that purpose then a 35 Summarit or Summicron would be a better choice. When you buy a Summilux lens, a 1.4 lens, this means that Leica has built this lens for maximum performance WIDE OPEN. This is in part what gives us that “Leica Look”. The mix of sharp subject, creamy backgrounds, the way the lens handles the light and even sometimes creates it own…these lenses create images with DEPTH. There is nothing flat about ANY Leica Summilux or Noctilux lens. When you stop them down to F/8 they become just like any other lens in existence. Nope, for me I shoot Leica for the beautiful glass and shooting that glass wide open is where it shines. It is not a gimmick, it is a LOOK and a look that goes along with MY style. Wide open baby! With that said, here is a sample at f/2.8 🙂

f2.8, out of camera JPEG with color set to one notch above standard “Medium High”

FULL SIZE SHOT FROM RAW BELOW!

Here is one from RAW, and a FULL SIZE 18MP file from the M9. Click the image for the full file. SHOT AT f/2.8

This is a lens that you will not find much info on and in fact, some sites who claim they know all about Leica lenses skip this lens in their listings and reviews. It’s not an easy find, nor is it cheap when you do find it. I mean, you can find it USED for about the same price as a NEW 0.95 Noctilux OR MORE. This is much to high IMO, but when something is out there that is this rare, has the name Leica and the word SUMMILUX on it, AND is a double Aspherical lens…well, I guess we can expect it to be priced into the stratosphere!

So maybe there will be a day when I walk into some yard/garage sale and there will be a table with camera gear…maybe, just maybe, there will be a Leica 35 Summilux AA lens for $100 and I will snag it. That would be amazing. Unlikely, but amazing! Thank’s again to Ed for letting me borrow this little beauty so I could share my experience with you guys! If you have the cash stashed and want a beautiful 35…take your pick as they all have magic, but this one has more MOJO than the others. At least I think so.

Some Alien Skin conversions…both ISO 2500, late night & low light, 1.4

Straight from camera JPEG  – COLOR is nice. Click image for large version.

Wide open, again, OOC JPEG

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34 Comments

  1. Well, I finally acquired my own AA Summilux 35mm ASPH. So I now have both the Summilux 35mm ASPH FLE as well as this Summilux 35mm ASPH AA. I am happy to do a shoot out comparison if anyone is interested . . .

  2. And I have seen this lens in a Hong Kong second hand shop, heavily abused, with marks on screws formed by unsuitable screwdrivers, coatings on lens being wiped off. Be careful!

  3. This lens is definitely remarkable, though I have heard collectors saying that each 35 Lux AA varies in performances. The grinding and mounting of the aspherical elements may vary……not sure, I don’t have the money nor connections to compare two 35 Lux AA when both are new (not abused).

  4. Hi Steve,

    I remember well when Leitz first offered the 35 Summilux aspherical. I’d been happy for the most part with my pre-aspherical for a couple decades, but the promise of what the new lens had to offer was something of dreams. The Leica rep called with my name on one, unfortunately the list price of $4,000 back then made it just a bit out of my budget. So I had to dream awhile. I finally found one about 6-7 years ago that set me back a few hundred more than the ASPH I ended up selling – didn’t have to think more than a few seconds (maybe) if it was worthwhile!

    Some interesting facts about the lens… Although the original product was set at 2000 lenses, at about 700 the factory had to order another series of lens tubes, and with the problems/costs they decided not to. So, although product figures may say 2000 were made, probably not more than 800-1000 actually produced. Legend tells us the aspherical elements were ‘hand-ground’, this isn’t completely true, a custom made grinding machine was used, but did require a great deal of skill by the one person that did this throughout its production. Basic production was very similar to the Noctilux 1.2, and I imagine this lens will (and is) taking on the same legendary status.

    The lens mount is ‘old school’ Leica. 10 aperture blades for a round opening at all aperture settings. The ASPH had 9 blades. Also, the aperture blades are controlled by 2 pins, Leica used a 1 pin system in the ASPH lens. Focus throw is a bit longer than the ASPH and most modern Leica lenses. I like this myself especially with a fast lens, focusing is a bit more precise. Physically its a bit shorter 15mm, a bit lighter at 300gms than the ASPH lens. And although I keep a B+W MRC filter on it, I rarely use the hood, doesn’t seem to have a flare problem for most use.

    The focus on my example is very ‘buttery’ smooth with just the right amount of feel. Its one of the best Leica lenses in this regard of any Leica lens I’ve ever used. And the dual focus hold with the grooved ring and tab (the smaller, less edgy 70s/80s plastic tab works ideally here) for the finger is very positive. Its a great handling lens!

    And I agree with you about the imagine quality. A sharp good contrast lens even wide open, not over-the-top modern look, but with a ‘classic’ feel. Over-all a milestone in lens development and a dare good lens to use too!

    On the M9 I’ve not seen any of the focus shift problem.

    • I bought it some twenty yaers ago and then I even could compare two of this same “AA” 35 mm; they did not really differ. I used it on a M3 and M6 and now as a “50 mm” lens on my “latest Leica”, the Sony NEX 6, beautiful combination.
      I agree with Steve Huff that you should use it wide open. Not especially in low light, as 3200 ISO is no problem nowadays, but especially if you want real narrow depth of field. Great quality, no match for the 35 mm 1.4 before it. Stopped down to 2,0 contrast betters a little bit, but it is not necessary to do that, and if yoo find 2.0 OK, then use the 2.0 the Summicrons 35 Asph or 50 mm non asph., they are both very good (or use the longer ;ens for narrow depth of field, for instance the very old 135 mm 4.0, still outstanding, as you can read on this very informative website).
      But use the AA not only at 1.4 because at short distances you sometimes need 2,8 or 4,0 to get a not too narrow depth of field. It is outstanding at those openings, as the Summicrons are. I like the stopped down “bokeh” even more than at 1.4.
      On what I read I don’t think the 35 mm Asph. will differ in quality or character fron the “AA”.
      That surely is the case in the former Noctiluxes, they make different pictures. As for sharpness and contrast, the two aspherical 35mm lenses are far better at 1.4 than the Noctiluxes at 1.0, 1.2 or 1.4 or even 2.0 (I once owned the non-aspherical 1.0. Noctilux).

  5. Nice, to find something about this great lens on the web 😉

    I use a 35 Lux ASPH as a daily shooter, but don’t like it’s rendering too much – veeeery different from classic lenses as the 50/1 (my most used lens) or the older spherical lenses.

    Here is a candid shot in Shanghai with the 35 Lux ASPH wide open, that shows the clear difference Nº1 from it’s 35 Lux ASPHERICAL predecessor – Ed should spot the difference at once, I guess 😉

    [img]http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5149/5869648533_8e8345e9dc_o.jpg[/img]
    “bandana girl” on flickr:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/teknopunk/5869648533/

    I definitely want one of those ASPHERICALs 😉

  6. I don’t want to rain on your gear parade, and if you all want to lust over this lens then that’s fine. I love my Leica gear, too. However, at some point it really does become less about photography and more about acquiring gear. IMHO, this 35 lux looks just like every other 35mm lens you’ve reviewed here, maybe worse than average. The bokeh is really busy and distracting, it doesn’t appear to be sharp (though that may be due to PP) and I have the sneaking suspicion that many of you are enamored with this lens more for its rarity and cost than for its performance.

    And that’s fine, if that’s the case. Let’s just call a spade a spade.

    • We all have our own opinions. I have shot with ALL of them, and to me this is the best of the bunch. BUT, Id never buy it due to its price. The newest and latest is incredible as well. If you do not see the differences between this and “every other 35mm lens I have reviewed” then you just don’t see it. That doesn’t mean others can’t see it. This version seems to give a bit more depth and roundness. Ed is letting me hang onto it for a few weeks so will be doing more shooting with it for sure. Thx

      • I absolutely agree with Steve in his pov. There is much of a difference in the oof area. The latest lens is less smooth than the Aspherical. It also shows kind of double images in some background/light situations. After seeing the images of the Aspherical I wish Leica had added two asperical lenses in the latest lens aswell. Steve Ash
        PS: I do not buy this collectors talking. All Leica guys I personnaly know had to economize for their purchase.

  7. Wow!!
    I thought I was a happy guy with my 35mm lux asph v1. Well now I am lusting for this double aspherical. I saw one on eBay few months ago but could not afford it. Instead, I bough my current 35mm lux

    Thank you for this post and thanks to Ed for being super kind to you an the Leica community.

  8. I think this lens review/discussion is well over the top. You must have this lens that is soooo rare and expensive and fantastic, and then, yes only then, you can have that certain, “je ne sais quoi” Leica Mytical Magic, that Heavenly Photographic Breathtaking Quality that no other system even can think of to produce .. Doesn’t anyone pose any questions? I think those Solms guys are laughing their brains out if they are reading all this.
    I think Mr Huff must be more realistic and must come down, back to earth.

    • I totally agree, the tone is more enthusiastic than cult sermon or teleshop adds for slimming devices. I think that it is normal for people to get passionate for their hobby but this one was just so over the top that it just looks artificial.

  9. Hey Steve, many thanks for taking up the offer and reviewing this lens. Users say they are magical, now we have a good and reliable resource to show them some samples. The price was not cheap when they were new. Don’t know if they got discounts from MSRP back then but check out the price on the label. To add to that it came from Glazer’s of Seattle. Welcome back to Seattle, 35 AA (if I get it back from Steve).[img]http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-bzwijv9HNA8/TjDCYphQ4xI/AAAAAAAAAKI/ibry1NfjO6s/s600/35AATag.jpg[/img]

  10. It would be interesting to compare two of these lenses since some elements are hand polished I’d assume there are sample to sample variances. Would be an interesting article haha.

  11. I have to admit I totally agree with you on one thing, Steve, and that is shooting wide open. I do it with just about every lens I have ever owned except maybe when I first bought a Zuiko 24mm f2.8 back in 1979. A lot of this habit comes from HAVING to shoot wide open to get enough shutter speed for high school sports at night or in poorly lit gyms. I even like shooting my copy of the original 18.200mm Nikkor superzoom wide open. While it is only a f3.5-5.6, it gives me the look I want for having a sharp subject with enough of the background to give a good sense of environment. But, again, that is what I like….

  12. Steve, very nice review! There’s certainly something about shooting these lenses wide open. Love my Summilux 35mm and this review just goes to show that all Leica lenses hold up very well, optically and price too.

  13. Hi Steve!

    Great review of this rare lens – and what a lens it is…really shines.
    And the full size picture of the restaurant has crazy detail.

    😉

    Thx for showing us…

  14. Lens looks amazing Steve, thanks for showing us the magic. I just received in the mail today a 35 Lux Asp ( one of the first 1000 made). My former boss and friend is lending it to me indefinitely. Needless to say I’m pretty excited. Since I’m shooting with a M8 I finally have a perfect lens near my favorite focal length, 50mm. After just a few shots I can see why it is so sought after. If someone gave me a choice between a M9 and this lens before today I would definitely have said M9, now I’m not so sure.

  15. Hey Steve, I wish you posted this review few days earlier! I just missed the chance to get one @@!
    How you do compare this one with the 50 Noctilux f/1.2? Which one do you like better expect the focal length? Thanks.

  16. Thanks for another great post … this lens was introduced in 1994 or so, not the 70’s. Even then I remember a salesman at Samy’s telling me I could have one for $5,000, which was far more than the $3,000 list price.

    • Correction…1990-91, only 1000-2000 were made, no one seems to know. These sell for up to $13k and is NOT the ASPH version that came out in 1994. Those sell for about $4500-$5000 these days. There are FOUR versions of the 35 Lux – Pre Asph, ASPHERICAL, ASPH and ASPH FLE. This one is rare…

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