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Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH Lens Review

The Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH lens 'cuts through all the complexities and becomes an extension of the photographer' - big words from our reviewer so let's find out why John Riley made this conclusion about this legendary lens.

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Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH Lens Review: Leica 35 On Camera | 0.3 sec | f/16.0 | 68.0 mm | ISO 100

Here we pitch a legendary name and a legendary lens design into the fray of our review process, actually the first Leica M series lens to be looked at in full detail. It will be very interesting to see if it lives up to its reputation, and in any event, whether it has that certain “something” that transcends pure figures and gives a lens the sprinkling of magic “pixie dust” that reveals a special character. A fine bouquet if you will, more of a vintage rather than table wine, as the world of rangefinder technology and digital technology meet. So let's start out on our journey to discover the qualities and perhaps even the foibles, using the new 60MP Leica M11 rangefinder body.



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Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH Handling and Features

Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH Lens Review: Leica 35 | 0.5 sec | f/16.0 | 100.0 mm | ISO 100

It is easy to forget just how small rangefinder lenses used to be, although currently there are a few mirrorless lenses on the market that would give them a run for their money. The Summilux-M comes from that other time but still weighs in at a surprisingly hefty 320g. We are also here in a world of metal and glass and, by and large, plastics are something yet to be. There are consequences of this traditional manufacturing process, not least of course being the price, which we will come to later.

First, our tour of the lens, starting with the screw-in lens hood, is made of strong metal and with an engineering quality that is sublime as well as a design that is clearly a work of genius. The hood has a definite stop point, on a second screw thread external to the body of the lens. There is no chance of over-tightening just as there is really no chance of it becoming unscrewed accidentally. Absolutely beautifully done. There is also, enclosed by the hood, a standard 46mm filter thread. Filters cannot be changed whilst the hood is in position.

If we look into the small front element, the diaphragm can be clearly seen and has an unusual scalloped shape to the 9 blades. The diaphragm remains set to whatever aperture is on the aperture ring. There is no need for an automatic diaphragm as there would be with a DSLR. The aperture ring comes up first and is click stopped quite audibly, so no consideration for videographers even if the camera body would accommodate video work. The aperture can be selected in half-stop steps.

Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH Lens Review: Lecia 35 Top | 1/6 sec | f/16.0 | 40.0 mm | ISO 100
This is of course a manual focus only lens. The focusing ring has the usual lugs to aid grip. This is expected with most rangefinder lenses and is clearly marked in both feet (yellow) and metres (white). There are enough figures provided and a long enough rotation angle to make the extensive depth of field scale useful. This could be invaluable for street photography, where a snapshot setting might be used to free the photographer from constantly having to refocus.

Focusing is down to a not particularly close 0.7m, for a maximum magnification of 1:17.4, but at least this is better than the 1m that older lenses may offer. This is not really a lens for close-up work.

For a dedicated DSLR and mirrorless photographer going back to using rangefinder focusing, matching outlines in that small central rectangle in the viewfinder can be an awkward experience and it might be that more use would be made of the Live View capability of the Leica M11. Rangefinder focusing once mastered or re-learned, is said to be more accurate than DSLR pentaprism focusing, up to focal lengths of about 135mm. After that, the DSLR wins on accuracy for longer lenses. Hence the plethora of 135mm lenses, indeed the first go-to lens for many photographers before the day of the zoom lens took hold.

The Leica M bayonet is beautifully made and seats accurately and precisely on the camera. The lens is 6-bit, providing full information for digital M models.

Optical construction is 9 elements in 5 groups, including 1 aspherical. The elements behind the diaphragm blades are a floating group, to help maintain close up performance. Interestingly, the lens was provided with a Leica 46mm UV filter. Normally filters are not used for a review and that was held to here, with the exception of the location shots in Whitby where the filter was left on to protect the front element against salt spray.

Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH Lens Review: Leica 35mm | 1/10 sec | f/16.0 | 135.0 mm | ISO 100

It is a very interesting lens to use, but not one that suggests great ergonomics. No AF, no close focusing, no weather resistance, no shake reduction, tricky focusing... but for the photographer who appreciates its other special qualities none of that will matter, just the results. The main impression is of incredible sharpness and the most superb colour reproduction. Getting the focusing right is a matter of practice and in many cases using Live View on the M11 can be much easier. But the accuracy of the rangefinder is there and offers very precise focusing even with the minuscule depth of field of the f/1.4 lens.

Let's look now at the performance and see what the lens delivers technically.


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CorradoTopi Avatar
31 Jan 2022 7:47PM
Apologies, but 4.5 to a lens that does nearly 5000 lw/ph and "no VR" among the cons of a manual lens on a manual rangefinder camera? It feels like kind of a joke.
Jacob62 Avatar
1 Feb 2022 11:14AM
Generally Leica reviews tend to fuel a debate about whether the gear is worth the high price, but as an owner of this lens I must say it's worth every penny. I was a bit puzzled though whether your comments were for real? I've never read a review that mentioned lack of VR on an M-lens. Furthermore the close focusing capabilities are a given by the nature of the optical viewfinder. All these lenses focus up to 0.7m and not closer due to the parallax of the OVF.

Perhaps good to mention that if you need an even sharper lens with less vignetting, distortion and CA, I can recommend the APO-Summicron-M 35. Summilux's are designed for the most pleasing focus transition and bokeh and are meant to be used wide open. Summicrons are designed for the highest possible optical performance across all apertures.
CorradoTopi Avatar
1 Feb 2022 12:21PM

Quote: I was a bit puzzled though whether your comments were for real? I've never read a review that mentioned lack of VR on an M-lens.

Not even on Leica lenses specifically, on any manual lens on a manual rangefinder camera it is close to a physical impossibility. It would be like saying that one of the cons is that it has not wheels and no windscreen!
johnriley1uk Avatar
3 Feb 2022 12:23AM
I did realise that it might be very easy to offend Leica enthusiasts, but the objective was to make an unbiased review pitching the lens into the overall world of modern lenses. I would think that no VR was a disadvantage compared to lenses generally as it does limit the ability to hand hold. Likewise the focusing is not particularly close. Both these points may make the Leica lens seem restrictive to, say, a DSLR user who is used to something focusing right down to almost macro distances, as well as VR offering sharp images at ridiculously slow shutter speeds. Hopefully I have also covered what I perceived the strengths to be as well as any disadvantages?

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