“Be like water, my friend.”– Bruce Lee
35mm Summilux-M is a lens with multiple personalities. It behaves differently under different lighting conditions, and at different apertures. It can be soft; it can be sharp; it can be detail, it can be dreamy. The lens has attitudes, so it takes time to get to know it well.
In my experience over the past years, it works well with digital M cameras, the ones designed with the microlens array in front of sensors to prevent colour casting. This review is focus on my recent experience on the L-mount pocket camera, the Sigma fp to see how well it performs.
Body Design and Built Quality
The light weight nature of the lens (<200g) works well with the tiny fp. Leitz Midland, Canada designed 35mm Summilux is the world’s first 35mm f1.4 lens. 7 elements in 5 groups, a long standing compact lens in the Leica lineup for 30+ years.
Physically my Summilux is very small in size, half of later Aspherical and FLE versions. Anodised aluminium body with brass focus cam. The plastic focus tap took some time to get used to, overtime it become second nature to use. The aperture ring is controlled via this 2 tabs that also require some muscle memory, f1.4-f16 with half clicks. It has 10 aperture blades. Uses serie VII filter via snap-on 12504 hood, mine is banged up and clearly served the previous owner well. No filter thread. Old styled small red dot on the silver mount, not like the modern lenses. Single coated.
When used in in the shade or in low light situation without harsh specular highlights, this lens is outstanding. Distortion is corrected well with straight lines. Vignetting is apparent but gentle. The lens colour fingerprint is rich with a small warm bias.
The out of focus bokeh is smooth but not too smooth. The focus fall off is subtle and soft.
On the Sigma FP sensor, stopping down the lens capture so much details. The highlight recovery is amazing in the raw file, but there is a hint of chromatic aberrations. Stopping down to F2.8 it is an unbelievable landscape lens, for me at least.
The lens seems to be working better on the Leica M10, like the photo below.
This lens is soft at full aperture. Low contrast over strong light source, with flare, veiling light, coma, spherical aberration and the works. Leica believers call it the Leica glow. This fast lens is born to work in the dark, and required experience to work the magic.
Veiling light lower image contrast significantly. This happens also in day time under harsh sun. Lens hood is highly recommended to reduce the negative effects of flare and glow. If you like this look, keep the lens in full aperture and point it toward high contrast light source. If you prefer cleaner image, stop down to f2.8 to get better results. Some people really like this, so this is subjective and not scientific. It is an emotional thing, love it or hate it. Beware also the Sigma fp is electronic shutter only, so banding can be seen over image above.
If you like the size and vintage look, but want to avoid some of the pitfalls of this lens, you can try Voigtlander 35mm/40mm F1.4 for a more modern look paying homage to this classic lens.
If you want the best performance of the latest and the greatest, you can paid 2-3 times for the newer Aspherical/ASPH/FLE versions.
I am in love with this lens, and prefer it over the Voigtlanders or the modern Leica Asphericals. That is just my opinion. It can do low light, detail rendering stopped down, soft glow portraits, and it is a good street lens. It can be what you want it to be, once you get to know when and how to use it.
- Fast aperture
- No distortion
- High performance when stop down
- Can be moody and unpredictable
- Soft and low contrast at full aperture
- Series VII filter is uncommon nowadays
- Need to avoid bright contrast lights.
35mm Summilux-M on ebay (Affiliate link)