The Leica 35 Summilux 1.4 ASPH (Pre-FLE) Lens Review (this is an older transferred here from my old site)
The Leica 35 Summilux ASPH. Yes, one of those lenses that I have always wanted but never did buy for my M8 for various reasons. Why you ask?? First of all, the price is a LITTLE bit out there these days. This little bad boy retails for $4195 new, and that is one hell of a price to pay for a standard 35mm lens, even if it is a fast 1.4 aperture!

Hell, Canon has their 35 1.4 (review here) for under $1300 and Voigtlander has the 35 F1.2 Nokton IN AN M MOUNT for under $900 so why on earth is this Leica so damn expensive?!?!

The second reason I have not bought this lens for my M8 was due to the internet chatter about this lens having “focus shift” issues (with the M8). What is focus shift? Many of you know about this but I will assume that most of you will not. Let’s say you are taking a portrait, say at F2 or so and you focus on the eyes of your subject. When you look at the image on your screen you realize the eyes are out of focus, but the ear is IN focus! What has happened is either you A: Missed Focus, or B: Your lens had a bit of focus shift at F2.

Some lenses do this and they can’t help it. It’s part of their design! For example, the Zeiss Sonnar 50 ZM for Leica M mount has some focus shift when shot at 1.5. Unless you get the lens optimized by Zeiss, your subjects will be a bit out of focus when shooting wide open at 1.5. Another lens with focus shift is the newest Canon 50L 1.2.

So what do these three lenses have in common besides focus shift? They are all beautiful lenses that have a very unique fingerprint. They all render your images in a beautiful, gorgeous way and in the case of the Leica 35 Summilux, when it is good, it is magical good. When its bad, it is still great because the shift is minimal.

So with that explanation out of the way you may be wondering who would pay $4200 for a lens that has focus shift. Well, many do and a high percentage of those who buy this lens proclaim it as their favorite lens ever. I was curious as to why the owners of this lens loved it so much.

After seeing some really cool shots recently from the 35 Summilux on an M8, mostly from this blog, my lens lust disease hit me hard! I wanted this lens so bad. I mean, I wanted to see for myself what all of this focus shift BS was about. Maybe it was not a big deal?

I recently tried out the Voigtlander 35 Nokton 1.2 and to be honest, I did not like that lens AT ALL. Very soft, low low low contrast, colors were muted and dull and the images just seemed sort of flat to me. I had to see how the 35 Summilux ASPH compared, and I was hoping it would be MUCH better than the Nokton.

I went on over to the B&H web site and searched their used lenses. They just so happened to have one at a pretty good price in a 9+ condition so I jumped and bought it with money I had set aside for my kidney transplant (just kidding)…

The lens arrived and it looked like a new in box lens! I put it on my M8 and snapped some test shots at 1.4. When I opened the files I was blown away. When using this lens on the M8, and shooting wide open at F1.4 the look can be magical. Yes this is a lens that has a unique quality that is smooth, creamy and organic. It can be moody, romantic and sometimes pretty special if your lighting is just right. It also excels at low light shooting and even my high ISO files seem better with this lens. How can that be? I do not know, but it seems that this lens just makes everything look extra special.

The shot below was taken of my wife late one night in our kitchen. The light was low and the ISO was set at 1250. In the 2nd image I missed focus but did it take anything away from the image? I do not think so, and I actually like the way these came out. If I would of shot this with the 28 cron at F2, the mood would of been totally different as that lens does not have the nice dreamy look that the 35 CAN give in certain lighting.

LEICA 35 SUMMILUX AT 1.4 – M8.2

 

So what about this focus shift I always hear about? I wanted to get to the bottom of it and see for myself if this made the lens unusable. I mean, damn, Leica sells this for $4195 so why would they sell a lens that works like crap on the M8 for so much? I was not buying all of the focus shift BS, but maybe I was wrong. Either way, I was about to find out.

BINGO! DAY ONE AND I NOTICE THE FOCUS SHIFT!

Damn! The first day I shot with the 35 Summilux ASPH I noticed the focus shift starting at F2.8 and it fixed itself by F8 due to the depth of field. I researched more online and found it odd that many people were saying that their 35 Lux was perfect on their m8, while others were saying that ALL 35 Lux lenses have focus shift. I was on a mission to find out, and wanted a good one so I decided to order a new in box one from Ken Hanson (superb Leica dealer). Ken had a great price and had a new one in stock so I was going to return the used one to B&H and just keep the new one. This way I would have a warranty, and most likely have a perfect lens. So I received the new one and tested both of them side by side.

Results? Well, I will go into the results a bit later in this review as I did in fact test each lens, and yes, there were slight differences between the two. But before I get into all of that boring stuff let me tell you about this beautiful lens and why I fell in love with it even with all of these focus shift issues.

This lens on an M8, due to the 1.3 crop sensor is just about equal to a 50MM focal length on a full frame camera. On FF cameras my preferred focal length is 50, so having a 35 on an M8 feels like a match made in heaven to me. It is wonderful! Not a wide, not a tele, but somewhere in the middle. I find it to be great for people and street stuff as it gives you some room between you and your subject, but not too much. So the focal length is very natural when shooting on an M8.

The other thing that I absolutely LOVE about this lens is the gorgeous BOKEH  (out of focus rendering) when shot wide open. I am not just talking about the out of focus areas in close up shots, but also the way the focus smoothly falls off when shooting distant subjects. See my examples below:

This shot sort of reminds me of the way the original Leica NOCTILUX draws. The out of focus background shows bokeh that is painterly, swirly and unique. The vine in the center is in perfect focus as this copy of the lens focused “dead on” at 1.4.

So yea, at this point I am LOVING this lens and even with its focus shifts I feel it is the most ROMANTIC lens I have ever used. Yes, I love the 50 Summilux ASPH but it is more on the “clinical” side, as in sharper and more of a modern look. When shooting with this 35 I am also finding that I am doing less and less photoshop work as the color that comes out of the camera with this lens is so nice.

TESTING  TWO COPIES OF THE 35 LUX FOR THE FAMOUS FOCUS SHIFT ISSUE

The 35 Summilux just had something special about it and after just a few days this lens started to become my all time favorite piece of glass for the M8…EVER. This led me to want a PERFECT version of this lens. I mean, others have said that they have a 35 Summilux ASPH that does not back focus so I wanted one as well!

So as I mentioned earlier I ordered a brand new one to see how it compared to the used one. How exciting! Having TWO of these lenses, side by side! WooHoo! The lens arrived and I tested out the factory fresh 35 Summilux against the one I bought from B&H. As I suspected, there were SLIGHT differences between the two lenses, and I kept the one that performed more to my liking.

You may be wondering why two of the same lens would perform slightly different. Well, after digging around, making some calls and searching online forums I realized that many people send their 35 Summilux in to Leica to calibrate it for a certain aperture. Some have it optimized for 1.4, and some for F2. There are even a few who have had them set up for F4 shooting.

From what I understand, Leica sets them up at the factory these days optimized for F2, meaning at F1.4 you will have a TINY bit of front focus, but pretty much undetectable. At F2 you will be super sharp and by F4 the back-focus will be so small, it will not really affect the image. Basically, as good as it gets with this lens on an M8.

Leica says this focus shift is just part of the design of the lens, and this is true. There really is no 35 Lux ASPH out there that will be tack sharp at all apertures on an M8 and if you feel you have one, I want proof!

I know many of you are asking yourself “How bad is this focus shift??” Well, to me it is not that bad and perfectly acceptable. I mean, this is an all around general focal length and I will mainly use it for people, candids, or low light work. For landscapes I would rather use my 28 but this 35 at F8 is SHARP as can be. I will state once again though, this lens has magic at 1.4 so if you plan on shooting at F4-F8 buy a 35 summicron and save some cash as this lens is at its best wide open.

It appeared that the used lens that I bought at B&H photo was optimized for F2, and the new one I bought was set up for F1.4 so I tested and shot both to see which I liked best! Lens #1 is the used lens, and lens #2 is the new in box lens. Its funny because the used lens had a higher serial# than the new one.

Again #1 is the used lens. #2 is the new in box lens.

FIRST WE WILL TEST BOTH LENSES AT 1.4

100% crop from 35 Lux #1 at 1.4

100% crop from 35 summilux #2 at 1.4

 So at F1.4, both lenses are just about equal. Lets check out what happens at f2…

1st lens at f/2

2nd lens at f/2

As you can see, at F2 both lenses are losing sharpness and the one I bought used, Lens #1, seems to be optimized for F2 as it is just a little bit sharper than lens #2. No real biggie.

So after all of these tests I came to the conclusion that both copies of this lens were close, but lens #1, the used one, did slightly better at F2 and F2.8 so I kept that one and sent back the new one. In real world shooting I do not notice the slight focus shift and if I am going to shoot at F4 I would use my 28 Summicron anyway, as this 35 Lux BEGS you to use it wide open.

So after a couple of weeks of use, this lens IS my favorite lens for my M8.2 HANDS DOWN. If I had to choose ONE lens it would be this one, even with the focus shift. Of course, this may change but the last time I was this happy with a lens was when I bought the 50 Summilux and I still love that lens!

The 35 Summilux rarely comes off of my M8.2 and I have not even touched my 28 Summicron since buying this 35 Summilux. I am probably going to sell my 28 Summicron so I can pick up a 24mm as 28 and 35 seem too close together, and it would be nice to have a lens that is a bit wider than 28. (If anyone is interested in a MINT 9.5/10 28 cron, email me!)

This 35 Summilux ASPH has the character of the old classic Leica lenses mixed with some of the modern look as well. It is not a clinical lens, nor a soft lens. It is a perfect balance of old and new and works wonders, especially in people pics.

But if the focus shift scares you or you think it is an issue you do not need, then I would skip this lens and opt for the excellent 35 Summicron (review coming in the near future). The 35 Cron is exceptional but is not an F1.4 lens so you will not get that “romantic” feel of the 35 Summilux at 1.4. Still, many prefer the 35 Summicron as its rock solid and has no issues whatsoever.

Here is a shot I liked quite a bit and if you click on the image below you can download a larger version. This one was taken at F1.4…

If after reading this you really want this lens, let me make a recommendation. Yea, you can buy this lens at B&H photo, but if you want the BEST price give Mr. Ken Hansen a call in NY. He is probably the BEST *Leica dealer* I have come across and his customer service is flat out AMAZING, while his prices are some of the best I have seen. If you want his info, just send me an e-mail. For Leica, I have not seen any better than Ken.

The Leica 35 Summilux lens is a lens I can HIGHLY recommend for the M8 or M8.2. I would be happy with it as a one lens kit with my M and when a Full Frame M9 comes out, the 35 Lux will probably be even better! If you have a local Leica shop and you own an M8, bring your camera to the shop and try out the 35. My bet is that you will love what you see.

In real world shooting, it is gorgeous. Low light, overcast, or sunlight this lens is a winner in my book. The contrast is low to medium and it seems to help the camera retain highlights very well. All around it is a great lens, but it is priced a bit high new IMO. Just a couple years ago this lens was $3000 and now its $4200! I bought mine used and it was worth every single penny. Mark my words! I will never give up my 35 Lux! 🙂

I hope you have enjoyed this review of the 35 Summilux ASPH lens. Feel free to leave a comment below!

LEICA 35 SUMMILUX IMAGES TAKEN WITH A LEICA M8 AND M8.2 – CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR A LARGER VERSION

6 Comments

  1. I have this lens and have looked in vain many times to see a focus shift only to be “disappointed.” Hey, it’s hard to be different from everyone else. After reading this review again, I checked the web for a concise definition of focus shift to see if I was doing something wrong with my lens. Turns out, not wrong but right. I could not see focus shift because as a general rule, the last thing I do before shooting is to finalize the focus! Focus last, or if you prefer “refocus.” So, there’s no such thing as focus shift when you work this way. Here’s the specifics from diglloyd’s site:

    “Focus shift is a displacement of the sharp plane of focus when the lens is focused wide open, but the image is made with the lens stopped down. Quite literally, the optimal plane of focus moves, depending on aperture! [The simplest and only perfect solution]

    “Focus at the shooting aperture — focus and shoot at f/1.4, focus and shoot at f/2, focus at f/2.8 to shoot at f/2.8, f/4, etc (by f/2.8 spherical aberration is all but eliminated). Focusing at the shooting aperture is the only option for optimal results, but not always feasible.” Why not? When hand holding the camera, this would be the natural thing to do because you would usually move a bit getting the aperture, shutter speed, and general focus correct, and then you’d manually focus or at least check the focus one more time before shooting. Ah ha, it’s when the camera is on the tripod and all focused at a given aperture that someone might decide to change the aperture say as the light changes or to get a certain effect, and boom, there goes the original focusing. If you work the way I do, then you’ll never see focus shift. I cannot imagine “street shooters” suddenly changing there aperture at the last second either. So, why spend and additional $3,000 to add a floating element just to get rid of something that never happens? Buy the original Lux version that Steve is reviewing here.

    • I believe your quote is referring to shooting with an SLR and/or DSLR, where you’re actually looking though the lens. You’re not looking through the lens when focusing with a rangefinder (unless it’s the M and you’re using liveview).

  2. Hi Steve
    Thanks for your review about Lux 35 ASPH Pre-FLE.
    I have both of Lux 35 ASPH Pre-FLE and Cron 35 ASPH.
    I use both of M6 Classic and M9 Body

    Due to fund rising for another stuff, I want to sell one of my 35’s lenses.
    but until now I confused which lens I must sell: Lux 35 ASPH Pre-FLE or Cron 35 ASPH

    I need your suggestion and recomendation.
    Thanks.

  3. You dismiss yourself if your decision is based on the lenses color.
    Get the FLE, it looks stunning on a chrome body! And the performance… well, out of this world!

  4. i’m intrigued, is this focus shift more pronounced on the digital Ms than film? I’m interested in one of these as I have a fetish for silver lenses and the FLE version is black only 🙁 it also happens i also still shoot an M7 as well as M9 so if film is less affected than digital this isnt such an issue for me.

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