The Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 Asph FLE is to my knowledge the most expensive 35mm lens for fullframe money can buy and it is also very highly regarded among the few that can afford it. But does it make any sense to use this lens on an A7 series camera? Read the review to find out.
This lens was also featured in my fast 35mm manual focus lenses comparison you might want to have a look at.
Initially I only wanted to find out whether the “Front filter solution” for rangefinder wide angle lenses (see this article) also works on the Summilux 35mm 1.4 FLE. I knew someone who owns this lens and to my suprise he gave it to me for a full week. So at first a huge “Thank you!” to Stuttgart based wedding and portrait photographer Rocco! Still, I usually use lenses at least 3-4 weeks, often even months before writing a final conclusion, so at the end you will only get my “Impressions after one week of usage”.
Specifications / Version History
The Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 has been around since 1960 and to my knowledge there have been three different versions which have been produced in greater numbers:
- Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4
- Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 Asph
- Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 Asph “FLE” (“FLoating Elements”)
Over the years the Summilux 35mm has grown in size but each reincarnation is said to have optically surpassed it’s predecessor. The newest version reviewed here features a “floating elements” design to maintain the optical quality across all distances. The lens has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 56 mm
- Field of view: 63° (diagonally)
- Length: 46 mm
- Weight: 328g + adapter
- Filter Diameter: 46 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 9 (curved slightly inward)
- Elements/Groups: 9/5
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.7 m (~0.3 m with VM-E helicoid adapter)
- Maximum Magnification: 1:17.4 (~1:6.0 with VM-E helicoid adapter)
- Mount: Leica-M
You may also have a look at Leica’s official page.
New this lens costs as much as 4995$ on amazon.com/B&H. You can also try getting one used from ebay.com/ebay.de starting at 4000$/4000€ (affiliate links).
Handling / Build Quality
Considering the specifications this is a very small lens: it is shorter than the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7 and significantly thinner, shorter and lighter than the Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4. For 5 grand you expect perfect build quality and this is pretty much what you get: all metal casing, half stop click stops, focus ring with perfect resistance even after years of usage. What I did not really like: this lens features a focus tab but apart from it the focus ring isn’t structured but completely even instead (apart from the paintings which are engraved). This contributes to the small size of the lens so one can’t really complain here.
As the owner wasn’t happy with the results this very lens was also more than once in service and the whole optics have already been replaced.
Like the ZM 35mm 1.4 this lens features a floating elements design. But unlike the Zeiss it is not an internal focusing mechanism, the lens extends when focusing and the rear group changes its position relative to the front group. There is also a square hood included in the package.
Vignetting / Colorcast
Wide open there is strong vignetting of roughly 3.4 EV, stopped down to f/2.0 it improves to 2.4 EV, at f/2.8 it is 2.1 EV and at f/8.0 still 1.6 EV. This is not an unusual performance for a rangefinder lens with these parameters, but the small diameter certainly takes it’s toll here and compared to the bigger Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 vignetting is a little higher.
It is recommended to have a look at this article first to get an idea how this brightness graph works.
Even on the A7rII and A7s I can see a slight green color cast towards the edges. I can’t tell you if this gets worse when using the A7(II) and especially A7r, the latter being especially known for encountering theses issues.
The Leica 35mm 1.4 Asph FLE is a rangefinder lens developed for the Leica-M digital cameras. It is not optimized for the thick filter stack in front of the A7 sensors which leads to some problems, especially a significant field curvature. This means for a flat subject when focusing at the center of the frame the corners will look blurred. This can be somewhat compensated by using a specific front end filter which I did here. See this article for further reference.
As this is a lens with a floating elements design the correct distance between lens and sensor can be very important. I was using the VM-E helicoid close focus adapter (retracted) for most shots if not otherwise stated. The distance is pretty exact with this adapter and hard infinity focus stop was correct as well.
At f/1.4 contrast is a bit dampened and you can see some purple fringing. At f/2.0 there is a significant boost in contrast and the purple fringing is almost completely gone. For best across frame sharpness stop down to f/8.0. As you can also see adding a 5m PCX filter will increase the resolution in the corners even at f/8.0.
close focus (70 cm)
close focus (30 cm with VM-E helicoid adapter)
At the native minimum focus distance of 70 cm there is nothing to complain about, good at f/1.4 and excellent by f/2.8. If you reduce the minimum focus distance with a helicoid adapter (like I did here with the Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter (affiliate link)) the image gets a bit soft at f/1.4 and f/2.0 but improves considerably on stopping down to f/2.8. Keep in mind the lens was never intended to be used at these focus distances by the designers.
I also had to refocus the lens stopped down because of significant focus shift, see the corresponding section farther down this review.
More of a let down. Contrast stays on a very high level, but I often found some ghosts and rainbow artifacts in my shots without really pushing the lens. I didn’t use a hood here, but with the sun almost in the center of the frame I don’t think it would have been of any help anyway.
Both – the Zeiss ZM 1.4/35 and Voigtlander 1.7/35 – perform significantly better here.
So far any rangefinder wide angle lens I have used had pretty bad coma correction wide open and unfortunately the Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 Asph FLE is no exception. You can even notice it in the embedded low res samples here. I would normally shoot scenes like this stopped down anyway, but in case you are looking for a fast wideangle to use wide open for astrophotography this is not your lens. Naturally the problem goes away on stopping down and doing so to f/2.8 helps a lot already.
Distortion without (before) and with correction (after)
Distortion is pretty high for such an expensive 35mm lens, especially when taking into account many people will also want to use this lens on analogue film cameras. There is distinct barrel distortion which I often had to correct in post with the corresponding Lightroom profile.
In the center the light discs are evenly lit, but unfortunately they show some outlining (similar to the Loxia 35mm 2.0) towards the borders. On very close close examination one can also spot a slight onion ring structure caused by the aspherical element.
The cat’s eye effect – describing light discs becoming ovals towards the borders and corners – is also very pronounced.
Comparison Leica 35mm firstname.lastname@example.org <-> Voigtlander 35mm email@example.com:
Before: Leica 35mm 1.4 @ 1.4 | After: Voigtlander 35mm 1.7 @ 1.7
Comparison Leica 35mm firstname.lastname@example.org <-> Voigtlander 35mm email@example.com | 100% crops:
Before: Leica 35mm 1.4 @ 1.4 | After: Voigtlander 35mm 1.7 @ 1.7 | 100% crops
The transition zone (the area between in-focus and out-of-focus) can also look a little rough depending on the focusing distance, but this is unfortunately true for most fast 35mm lenses.
But in the end this is a highly subjective topic and I have also taken quite a few shots where I actually quite like the bokeh (like the one below), so best judge from the sample images for yourself and your needs.
As this lens features 9 aperture blades you will get 18-pointed sunstars around point light sources. This is not my preferred rendering, but as this is a highly subjective topic you might want to have a look at this article and decide for yourself what you prefer.
Sony A7rII | Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 FLE Asph | 100% crop | before: f/1.4, after: f/2.8
Longitudinal CA (loCA) are quite pronounced wide open, much better stopped down to f/2.0 and hardly field relevant from f/2.8 onwards. Wide open the performance isn’t exactly something to write home about, to my eyes the ZM 35mm 1.4 performs noticeably better in this category.
Sony A7rII | Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 Asph FLE | 100% crop | Before: f/1.4 / After f/2.8
Unfortunately I found this lens to show significant focus shift. Focus shift describes the effect of the plane of optimal focus shifting on stopping down. This is actually less of an issue with the A7 cameras as you will most of the time stop down first and focus after that, but more of a problem with most Leica rangefinder cameras.
Sony A7rII | Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 Asph FLE | 100% crop | Before: f/1.4 / After f/2.8 (no refocus)
As you can see in this comparison wide open performance at the minimum focus distance (70 cm) is pretty decent as is to be expected from a lens featuring a floating elements design, but when stopping down to f/2.8 (without touching the focusing ring) the image looks actually worse.
Because of the focus shift you need to stop down first and refocus after that to get much better image quality:
Sony A7rII | Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 Asph FLE | 100% crop | Before: f/2.8 (as focused at f/1.4) / After f/2.8 (refocused for optimal sharpness)
Voigtlander Ultron 1.7/35:
A very good performer for a decent price. By giving up half a stop of speed you gain much better flare resistance and more even across frame sharpness wide open. To my eyes bokeh is also slightly better as the light discs are evenly lit and won’t show an onion ring structure (see comparison above). This lens does not feature a floating elements design and therefore struggles a bit at the minimum focus distance and exhibits comparable focus shift.
Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 T* Distagon:
This is Zeiss’ most recent rangefinder lens and was “the answer” to the Leica reviewed here. It also features a floating elements design and I think optically it is the better lens: less loCA, better across frame sharpness, better flare resistance and no field relevant focus shift. The downsides are size and weight in comparison to the Leica, but while the Zeiss is known as a “big and heavy” lens among Leica users it is still pretty small (and also lighter) compared to the native Sony Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZA T* FE.
Zeiss Loxia 35mm 2.0:
This is Zeiss’ native manual 35mm for E-mount. It is based on a Biogon design and therefore renders quite differently compared to the other lenses here and needs stopping down to f/8.0 to really shine. I have been using the Loxia for almost a year now and wasn’t unsatisfied with it for landscape and architecture photography. If you are solely looking for a landscape lens – and prefer to have a native lens – this one is still worth a look.
Sony Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZA T* FE:
I still haven’t laid my hands on one of these yet. It is heavier than the ZM including adapter and more importantly it is huge by comparison. I have also seen some sample images showing very bad onion rings. If you want/need a 35mm with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 and Autofocus this is pretty much your only option right now (the Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art still seems to not working properly with the MC-11 adapter).
Older manual 35 mm lenses:
There are simply too much options here to cover them all but in case you can get by with a slower and bigger lens you may start taking a look at our Canon FD 35 mm comparison.
Impressions after one week of usage
What really stands out here is the small size of the Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 FLE Asph: it is smaller, lighter and shorter than the Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 and even a tad shorter than the half-a-stop slower Voigtlander 35mm 1.7.
But this minituarization seems to have taken its toll here, because I can see no other category where it stands out compared to the other two rangefinder lenses.
When it comes to sharpness I expect this lens to perform better on a Leica M camera (which is also true for the other two). But other things like flare resistance, focus shift, loCA, bokeh and distortion will be (almost) the same.
This clearly is not a bad lens on absolute terms, but if you compare it to the competition (as I did in this 35mm comparison) you start to wonder what you are paying the premium for.
So for Sony users I would rather recommend getting the VM 35mm 1.7 instead, if you can live with a half-a-stop slower lens (otherwise get the ZM 35mm 1.4).
For Leica users I would recommend getting the Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 which is almost completely free of focus shift which will make it easier get consistent results across the whole aperture range.
New this lens costs as much as 4995$ on amazon.com/B&H. You can also try getting one used from ebay.com/ebay.de starting at 4000$/4000€ (affiliate links).
Latest posts by BastianK (see all)
- Review: Laowa 28mm 1.2 FFII Argus – The world’s fastest 28mm lens - March 28, 2023
- Analogue Adventures – Part 16: Kodak Gold 200 ECN-2 processed - March 23, 2023
- Finding photo opportunities near home – Part 2 - March 19, 2023
36 thoughts on “Review: Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 Asph FLE”
These lenses will probably never be as good on sony as they are on leica. But nevertheless i am shocked, how the performance of tjis lens is compared to other alternatives, i wonder if comapring to even cheaper legacy lenses would make sense, some russian m39 lenses for etc. Totaly not worth the price. Thanks for the review !
This was the lens I once aspired to own, but not anymore 🙁
I have the Sigma 35 Art + MC-11 which I use on my A7Rii. It focuses fine and Eye AF works, although not quite as fast as native AF glasses. However, wide open, onion ring bokeh balls are plenty! I can send you pics of the onion ring bokeh if you want.
Thanks for reviewing the 35 Summilux FLE Bastian.
I have seen enough onion rings lately, thank you 🙂
Do you guys think it’ll be possible to review the SLR Magic trinity of fast FE lenses (1.2/35, 1.1/50 and 1.4/75)? It’s really hard to find any info on those lenses although it’s been almost a year since they hit the market
As these are mainly Cine lenses I don’t see any of us reviewing them anytime soon, sorry!
I think no one is going to spend € 4000/5000 of this lens to mount on a Sony. I can assure you that this goal of Leica M is superb.
Great review. I have always considered to buy this lens, but its retail price was a limitation to me. Now with more information and details about this lens and performance in a A7, I am convinced not to buy it, and better invest in other leneses. Regards from Mexico.
Thanks for this review. I have some times thought of spending big on various Leica lenses, but never done so, but have not have enough confidence that it would be be worth it, and there is surprisingly little comparative information.
There is also at least a fourth edition of the 35 Lux that Leica made. It was made before what you refer to as the Leica 35 ASPH. It is often called the double ASPH, because it had two hand polished aspherical lenses. It is rumoured that Leica went to the single aspherical version because the double aspherical was harder to produce. The double ASPH is reputed to be the best performer and MTF charts produced by Leica appear to bear that out. It is also very expensive on the used market, no doubt partly because it is very rare. Anyway, you can read about that version in Puts’ “Leica lenses their soul and secrets.”
this lens (alongside some other prototypes floating around) is the reason if have written
There are too many limitations to this review for me. First off is the obsession with cost. Yes, it is expensive, and it is important to know that, but once stated then it would be much better to look at the qualities of the lens, without keeping coming back to that.
While it is important to go through all the objective tests and report on them, many of them are simply of little imortance to many users and need to be seen in the perspective of other more global qualities. For me, as a reportage photographer, I have never really seen the point of obsessing about corner quality at infinity at f1.4. I hardly ever shoot focused at infinity, and if I did, I would stop down. ( who ever shoots at infinity at f1.4 and then looks at the corners?). I have also never been concerned with coma, star shapes, distortion, onion rings etc., these things may be important to people who pay more attention to peripherals rather than the content of the photograph.
What would interest me is to see how the image looks overall when shooting at various apertures, especially in B&W, which I use exclusively. I want to see overall tonal qualities and, yes, how sharpness to blur relationships play out. Comparrisons to the other two lenses you included would be interesting if there was more of an emphasis on global aesthetics and not a determination to focus on tiny technical differences, which hardly impact any important images and 99.9999% of viewers couldn’t care less about. Please, put the measurebatoring in the context of some more global aesthetic considerations. Let me see how the lens ‘looks’ in more normal, daylight conditions where most people would use it. Perfection is irrelevant if the resulting image is just sterile.
Thanks for the effort though.
I think there is very little emphasize on the cost of the lens in the review.
To be honest, I would have probably bought it if it was better than the VM35mm 1.7 or the ZM35 1.4 by any means.
It just simply isn’t. Especially the sharpness to blur relationships you mentioned aren’t.
As you may or may not have noticed I compared this lens directly to other 35mm lenses here.
If you can point to me where the Leica lens looks better, especially regarding bokeh, I am happy to further discuss this.
I followed the link you gave and looked through the comparison, which was very thorough indeed. It has left me wondering how my old Leica m35/1.4 asph (pre FLE) would look on the Sony sensor, and whether it would be acceptable to me. Hmm.
I have no personal experience with that lens (unfortunately).
But with a 5m filter, as already described in the comparison or in more detail here, chances are high it might perform similar as it does on analogue cameras.
I can’t guarantee it though, as I haven’t tested it with that specific lens yet, because I don’t have access to one.
It is very, very similar, possibly a little smoother bokeh and needs a little more stepping down at close range for maximum sharpness.
Steve Huff wrote a review of the Leica Tri-Elmar 16mm, 18mm, and 24mm, which he has used on a Leica M9. This lens is astonishingly wonderful. I feel that the M9 must have a huge influence there on its quality. I don’t know if he ever made a review of this 35mm Asph FLE lens or not. I would love to see what it could do on a Leica digital body. It seems great on the Sony Alpha as well, but I suspect it would look different and probably quite a bit better on an M9, which is the camera it is designed for.
I’m not suggesting it looks better. I’m saying I’d like to see more of how it looks.
It may not wow on Sony bodies but it does wow me on my Leica M-D body I have to say. I traded in my beloved 35/2 ASPH for it and I couldn’t be happier. Sure, it’s quite a bit larger and heavier but it renders beautifully. The one thing that did take some getting used to compared to my 35/2 was the fairly steep transition zone as you mentioned but in that way it is very similar to my 50/1.4 ASPH so they match perfectly.
any one tried Leica 28mm /2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH on Sony a7rll ?
How good or bad ?
Following your advice I purchased the 35/1.4 ZM, over the other fast RF 35s. The field of focus is as you report very flat on the 7r3, unlike the Leica 35 on the Sony body. However on a Leica MP240, the Leica matches the 35 ZM with a flat field and no focus shift. It seems the Sony/Leica combo causes very noticeable focus shift and also distortion; both issues are not noticeable tho with a Leica body. The A7r3, produces more pronounced distortion and focus shift with wide(r) angle Leica lenses, I notice this especially with the Leica 28/1.4 (less than 1% distortion on a Leica body, but very noticeable distracting distortion on an A7r3).
Many people report focus shift even on Leica M bodies, furthermore to my knowledge the different filterstack has no influence on focus shift in the center of the frame (which is where I checked).
Focus shift is a known problem between f2 and f4 where d.o.f starts to compensate. It is only really a problem for critical eye focus in portraits about 1-2m away and easy to compensate on M cameras by focusing on the eye lashes or eyebrows.
The lens does not perform well on the Sony. Otherwise it is the best 35mm lens money can buy for any system.
I doubt that there are many Sony shooters that want to invest more than 4k on this lens and get a poor performance compared to what this lens is capable of on a Leica camera.
So if there is something to take away from this kind of review than it is not to buy this for your Sony 😉
> Otherwise it is the best 35mm lens money can buy for any system.
Meanwhile in reality, the 7 year old Sigma 35 1.4 Art is far better for only $700.
The only thing this lens has going for it is small size.
But unfortunately for Leica, even the $300 Samyang 35mm f/2.8 which is tiny is better and smaller. Awkward…
Thanks for this review. I think that this review has been biaised by the fact that the summilux 35 FLE has been tested on a sony camera and not on a Leica body, like the M240 or M10… where this lengs belongs? On the leica bodies the summilux 35 FLE is stellar and produce really marvellous pictures. Leica M bodies, sensors and software are the perfect match for a Leica M lens. Leica themselves acknowledge this fact, and even that the summilux is less good on a Leica SL or SL2 than on a Leica M! for which specific lenses have been developped. So this review is a bit useless to me, as it is trying to break open doors, and not honest to Leica…Best regards. Dominique
“Luckily” I now have a Leica M10.
Except for corner sharpness at wider apertures the lens will perform exactly the same on a Leica camera.
All my points of criticism stay as they are stated here.
I may not be doing Leica a favour, but every Leica user, so they don’t waste a huge amount of money on this lens.
This is a very different experience to mine with this lens on Leica M9 and M240 rangefinder body. One of my favourite lenses.
“ As the owner wasn’t happy with the results this very lens was also more than once in service and the whole optics have already been replaced.”
Sample problem with this particular lens?
From what I have heard Leica quality assurance isn’t that great in general.
Sorry, I can’t stop laughing at the idea of this $6000 Leica performing worse than the Samyang 35 f/2.8 FE. Which costs… $250?
The Leica cult are already setting their denial to 11 I see.
I own this lens for 7 years now and still use it on the Leica SL2-S even though I have a Sony A1 with the 35 G- Master. And when I do an A/B comparison, the Sony always wins. I like this article very much and think that it shows that it’s really nothing special technically other than being very small.
The strange thing is that when I look at the pictures I take, 80 percent or so are taken with this lens and the old Leica M240 which is not a very good camera technically. And when I look at the pictures you show in this blog it’s quite similar, there simply is something to the pictures you take with your Leica. (with Voigtländer lenses mostly)
I can’t explain what it is, that makes me still take the Leica with this funny, expensive, small and mediocre lens and leave the Sony in the bag quite often. I can only say it still works better for me.
Or wait, there really is something: the Sony is incredibly sharp and has the perfect bokeh, much better than the Leica but it doesn’t have the three dimensionality a Leica picture can have, if you are lucky.
And the price is ok. if you own it, not so good if you have to buy it. But if you want one, there’s no risk buying it for a lot of money, because you can always sell it for almost the same money many years later. From an artistic standpoint that´s much better than keeping your money at your bank account. (or buying a Samyang and throw it away when it stops working because it was made so cheaply)
I noticed that most of the part on your Len testing, you tend to use Sony A7 series body to test Leica Lenses or M-mount lenses designed for Leica M Bodies. You did acknowledged and put into the caveat in your lens test.
But, my point is when you want to do a transparent lens test, should not you be doing a test where a lens was designed for what and which it meant to be attached? M-Mount lenses on a M Body. E-Mount lenses on a Sony Body. That will truly present a very transparent view of each lens. Imagine having an English speaking student putting him in a Tamil written test paper. Even with a Interpreter around, there will be misconception and “fault lines” appearing which underscores the true ability and capabilities of that particular student.
What I am trying to say, I believe you know and understand prior to my posting.
I am just sharing my view points here. Having said that, I really appreciate what you have done, the hours and attention spent in all the test. Big Thanks!
Since I have a Leica body M Mount lenses are also tested on one.
Using the FLE on a Leica body still wouldn’t have made it a great lens
because there is such a high amount of various flaws coupled to a ridiculous price
and way better alternatives being available.
First off.. toss out the 1.7.. It’s not a 1.4, so cannot be a direct comparison..
Then re-issue the review from the perspective of an M user with the M10… The one major point you discount here is the impact of size… Leica cameras and lenses are, at their heart used street/reportage cameras, and as such, size and weight are paramount.
Put another way, a Howitzer does you no good if you leave it home.. but you can carry a Javelin with you pretty easy. Maybe not the best analogy, but hopefully you get the point. The Zeiss a bazooka of a lens on an M Camera… Point is, it’s much easier to design a large high resolving lens than a small high resolving lens and who cares how much resolution your ZM has if it’s home in it’s case because you didn’t want to lug it around… Don’t discount the impact of size in the M system.. else you’re ignoring a key element in the equation.
Final point, on price, I’m not rich, but I’ve worked hard and made a few bucks.. enough at least shell out used Leica prices… in every case, and I mean in every case, I’ve always made money owning Leica gear. It sounds strange, but it is absolutely true, if you buy used at a fair value, in a matter of a few years, your Leica gear will have appreciated in value. (one exception would be the digital bodies, which do hold their value well, but do depreciate as function of technology).
I would like to tell my story. Verdict is, this is lens special. (Besides the fringing (easy to correct) this is , for me, the best 35 lens out there.
What i owend, canon (2x 35mm lenses), panasonic gh5 1x 35mm lens, fuji 3x 23mm lenses. Gfx system with 45mm. What i shot with, arri masterprimes,leica summilux PL mount, kowas and cooks.
This lens is great. BUT i agreed that its not worth 5000 or whatever. I found a great used one. 3600€.
I loved the lens on my M type240 and i even love it more on my M10r.