There’s one thing that Leica makes sure of above any other lens manufacturer and that’s to make their high-end optics as exclusive as possible. I say this purely from a price point of view, as the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH costs just shy of $5000 on a favorable day at current prices, making it one of the most expensive 35mm lenses around.
However, for those who currently reside on either the Leica or Sony platforms and want the very best in optical performance, the price almost becomes secondary. Also, The Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH is not a new lens, having been around since the 1960s. So, is this lens just living off reputation or does it provide everything you need in the 35mm focal length?
Anybody who knows anything about the Leica brand knows that their reputation in the film days was as revered as a Jimi Hendrix Woodstock gig. This is probably why the old school design has been carried forward, rather than making everything look sleek and contemporary.
However, the utilitarian design is tried and tested and is as rock-solid as ever. The lens has a full metal barrel with full manual workings, which includes an aperture ring sectioned off in half-stop increments and a focusing ring which features a very handy focus tab.
The focus tab is a simple and effective way to change focus settings, with a simple finger indent for easy location. The lens is also quite small considering its f/1.4 aperture and weighs in at only 320g. This makes the lens balance extremely well on lightweight camera bodies.
The optics center around a floating element design, with the lens extending when focusing. The optics are arranged with nine elements in five groups, which includes an aspherical element for improved image clarity and definition. The front filter thread comes in at 46mm and the minimum focusing distance is a reasonable 70cm. The package also includes a very retro-looking square lens hood that fits securely in place.
Using the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH
First up, the lens displays visible vignetting with the aperture set at f/1.4 and is still slightly visible by f/8. This is mainly due to its rangefinder-type design and size, but at least the effect can be easily remedied in software.
As for sharpness levels, the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH displays a good deal of sharpness in the center of the frame at f/1.4 but does fall behind with corner sharpness. When the aperture is stopped down to f/2.8, there is a slight increase in center sharpness, with the edges of the frame catching up significantly. By f/8 the lens hits its zenith of sharpness with plenty of detail across the whole image.
When the lens is set to f/1.4, chromatic aberration can be seen in the form of purple fringing, with a slight dip in contrast at this setting that quickly goes away by f/8. The lens is reasonably good at handling flaring and ghosting artifacts, with some nice sun stars being displayed with the aperture fully stopped down. The rangefinder design also takes a toll at f/1.4, with some points of light being slightly distorted at times. This effect goes away by stopping down to f/2.8, but is a consideration to bear in mind if you’re taking lots of night time shots.
When it comes to bokeh or background blur, colors have a creamy quality with smooth transitions. Highlight balls look very rounded in the center of the frame and, as expected, turn into more cat’s eye shapes at the far edges. This makes the lens a good solution for environmental portraits where you want to separate the subject from the background.
There is also a slight focus shift when stopping down, which means once the aperture is changed, the lens will need to be refocused each time. Although we are nitpicking all these anomalies, the overall image rendition displayed has good levels of color and contrast, with a film-like look to the output.
Where Does ZEISS Fit In?
In the camp of rangefinder-type lenses, one popular alternative is the ZEISS Distagon T* f/1.4 35mm ZM. The ZEISS has lots of the same specifications on paper as the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH, with a floating element system, f/1.4 maximum aperture, and manual focus. Although it’s seen as a bigger and heavier lens, in reality, the ZEISS 35mm is still quite small compared to other f/1.4 lenses out there.
Our alternative from the ZEISS lens line displays lower amounts of chromatic aberration and has slightly better sharpness levels across the frame. Although it is relatively expensive, it still comes in cheaper than the Leica. Other lenses to consider in this category are the ZEISS Loxia 35mm f/2, which has a smaller aperture and smaller price point. Then there is the Voigtlander Ultron f/1.7 35mm, with a slightly slower aperture and equally fine optics, and the ZEISS Touit 32mm f/1.8, for a close but not quite 35mm view.
|Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH||ZEISS Distagon T* f/1.4 35mm ZM|
|Min. Focusing Distance||70cm||70cm|
The Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH Is Better in Size Than Performance
The Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH is going to appeal to those who want a very small, discreet, and lightweight lens for street photography. The small form factor is a good accompaniment to rangefinder-type bodies, but the smaller dimensions have also taken an impact on optical performance. With some lenses, this level of nitpicking would be acceptable. But for a premium quality lens, aspects such as chromatic aberration, vignetting, and sharpness wide open could have been slightly better.
In terms of overall performance, the ZEISS Distagon T* f/1.4 35mm ZM is probably the better lens. But it is also a slightly bigger and heavier lens, which may be a consideration to some.
However, after a little tweaking in software to remove the likes of chromatic aberration and vignetting, images from the Leica have a level of professionalism and depth you would expect from this price of lens. Color and contrast levels are very good and for subject matter like environmental portraits, Leica can render a good amount of detail.
Whether the Leica is worth its asking price is really down to your own specific needs and if you buy into how it renders images. If you go off pure technical characteristics, then the ZEISS ZM 35mm can deliver cleaner images at a cheaper price point. However, how a lens renders images is not just about technical performance, but also individual characteristics. Therefore, if you’re serious about owning the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH, it’s a good idea to take it for a test drive, along with other quality 35mm lenses, to see which characteristics you prefer.