"Summilux" refers to the maximum lens aperture - in this case the f/1.4 lenses from Leica. "-lux" means light, and "Summi-" probably comes from Latin summum, meaning "highest."
The rare and expensive 35mm Summilux AA left (the 1990 model with hand-grinded Aspherical elements, it sells for $10,000-$15,000 second-hand), and the 35mm Summilux ASPH (2010-2022) right. The left lens has my own designed E46 ventilated hood RED (for the 35/1.4 2022 model and the older models) while the 2010 FLE version on the right has the 3514FLE ventilated shade in black which mounts with an oustide screw. Both shades comes in black, safari green, red and silver. The new 35mm Summilux (2022) has a built-in shade, a very "German way" of makeing it all work, in alignment with "The Uniform Lens Production" as you can read further down the page. Though, one of the exciting things with the 35mm Leica lenses, is how to make them look beautiful. Hence a lot of attention traditionally goes into the design and how to find the right hood. The E46 ventilated hood I designed also fits the new 2022 model for thos who want a classic look of a ventilated shade.
Leica 35mm Summilux review video
In this video Photographer and Leica expert Thorsten von Overgaard compare the models of the 35mm Summilux lenses and goes over the 80 years history of Summilux wide angle lenses that have been produced in Germany, Canada and Portugal.
The rise of the low-light lenses: Xenon, Summilux and Noctilux
The first Summilux lens was not a 35mm lens, but the 1960-model of the 50mm Summilux f/1.4 which was a screw-mount lens. Before then the most lightstrong lenses was the 1935-1950 Leica 50mm Xenon f/1.5 lense. Six years later, in 1966, the "highest light lenses" was surpassed by the even higher light lens, the first 50mm Noctilux f/1.2 "King of the Night" lens.
The first 35mm Summilux lens was the 1961 (non-ASPH) lens designed by Dr. Walter Mandler for the M mount. The protoype for this lens was named Leitz 35mm "Campolux", but when it went into production, it was named Summilux.
The 2010-version of the Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH with Floating Elements (FLE) marked a new beginning of the always popular 35mm lenses. With the introduction of the first full-frame Leica M9 in 2009, the scene was set for a splurge in Leica M photography. The previous Leica M model, Leica M8 with cropped sensor, had made many buy 28mm lenses so as to get "a 35mm frame" on the cropped sensor. Now there was no stopping, the scene was set for full-frame 35mm de luxe photography with narrow depth of field and beautiful bokeh.
Leica 35mm Summilux: What is Floating Elements (FLE)..?
The FLE (Floating Element) is that the elements inside the lens adjust as you change the aperture stop. In old film photogrpahy, nobody would notice the small misalignments of focus plan due to change of aperture. But with a digital sensor it suddenly became visible that when you focused an f/1.4 lens and changed the f-stop to for example f/5.6, the focus changed and you did not achieve perfect focus. With the introduction of FLE, the lens would adjust and perfect focus would be maintained. The FLE element is also why, if you shake a 35mm FLE, you can hear a quiet rattle inside; it's not an error, it's the floating element you hear moving.
The period of 2021-2022-2023 is "The Year of the 35mm". First we saw the perfect 35mm APO-Summicron launched in March 2021 (for which the foundation was laid in 2019 with the 35mm APO-Summicron in the L-mount for the Leica SL2), and in 2022 the updated 35mm FLE with closer focus distance (40cm) and two more aperture blades for improved bokeh (now 11 aperture blades). In late 2022, or in 2023 we will see a remake of the classic and very expensive collectors item ($20,000-$35,000), the 35mm Summilux f/1.4 "Steel Rim".
The updated 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (2022) is also a matter of uniform production. Maybe it is the most important matter; how to make lenses in a more uniform production-envireonment, not requiring 'made to measure' skills. Traditionally, Leica lenses and cameras have been handmade units, and each unit has always been individually adjusted. In older lenses you will notice a little number engraved on the side of the lens, which tell (thos who care to know) that this lens was adjusted this much to focus perfectly. As time has moved on, Leica cameras like the Leica SL and the Leica Q have been stellar examples of uniform production in that a Leica camera now is produced in a way so the tolerances and precision is the same for every unit. Less time on adjustmenst, more uniform performance, and the staff assembling are not required to be experts with 20 year experience.
In the case of the fairly modern 2010-model of the 35mm Summilux, the individual adjustment was still the case. So much that when I design and make the ventilated hood for the 35mm Summilux, I had to make four different models becuase each 35mm FLE was individually built and adjusted.
The lens design have been moving towards uniform design and assembling, best examplified with the 75mm f/1.25 and the 90mm f/1.5 that share the same base design in most of the parts (also have exact same size), and only some of the lens elements are different to make one a 75mm and the other a 90mm.
This unform lens design and production has now come to the popular 35mm Summilux in that the 2022 model introduces uniform design and assembling, and even has a built-in hood (you can still get my ventilated shade E46 that will fit onto the 2022-model of the Leica 35mm Summilux).
The legend 35mm Summilux-M f/1.4 AA Version III "Double Aspherical"
from 1990 (model no 11 873) now sell at prices from $10,000 - $25,000. Not necessarily because it is bettter, but because it is rarer with only 2,000 pieces produced from 1990-1994.
I've owned and used the nomal 35mm Summilux f/1.4 FLE (2010-version) and the rare and expensive 35mm Summilux-M AA "Double Aspherical" that sells for around $12,000 - $25,000. I don't want to ruin the unique feeling of owning the AA, but I must say that in practical use, there were no noticeable difference. Maybe the FLE was a little better, but the differences were so minute you couldn't really tell if it was the light or the lens that offered a little difference in one photo compared to another.
This tell you on one side that the AA from 1990 was and is an excellent lens, beucase the 2010-version FLE with 20 years of improved technological precision didn't beat it.
What speak for the AA is of couse that it is rare, and as such it seem to grow a familiar feeling having and using it. Also, as it is hand-grinded aspherical elements, each lens differ slightly from another. I've met people who claim they have a really excellent version that beats the FLE, though it was not my own experience with the sample I owned.
I eventually sold both, realizing 35mm is not my thing. I collect and use 50mm lenses. Did I regret? Yes, I sometimes miss them in the closet. But then again, I rarely used them.
The new 2022- version has the close focus, and it's the newest version. I personally find the rond built-in shade not very exciting, but I would solve that with one of my own designed E46 ventilated shades. It has the experience of the 35mm APO melted into the design, and as such one would expect it has the most accurate colors, shadow details and overall detail level.
If the aim is to get a nice 35mm Summilux, the 2010-version FLE in second-hand is not a bad idea. They go for around $3,000 second-hand, and one can fit the 3514FLE ventilated shade to that one (which has the "flower" shape).
A rare 35mm Summilux Steel Rim: Now selling for $60 per gram
Leica 35mm Summilux f/.4 Version 1 "Steel Rim" (production no 11 869, year 1961-1966) sells for $25,000 in 2022.
The Leica 35mm Summilux f/.4 Version 1 "Steel Rim" (production no 11 869, year 1961-1966) is a collectors item that sells in the range from $20,000 to $30,000.
In 2022-2023 we will see a remake of it as part of the "Heritage collection" that Leica have made in recent years (28/5.6 and 90/2.2 Thambar), which will bring the price within reach for most of us. If it's exciting is difficult to say The Thambar in my opinion, was an exciting lens for film photography. Neither the original Thambar that I have, or the similar remake contribute a good look on a less forgiving digital seosor. I've used it on the M240, M9, M10 and SL2, and it comes across as faulty. I have higher hope for the remake of the 35mm Summilux Steel Rim, though I think it was made for, and looks the best on film.
Film photo taken with the 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Steel Rim version 1 by Tahusa in his review of the Steel Rim Version.
The 2022 remake of the 35mm Summilux "Steel Rim"
Red this article about the 2022-version of the Steel rim the Heritage remake of the original Steel Rim.
Possible errors on the 35mm Summilux "Close Focus" 2022 version
The first batch of the 35mm Summilux "Close Focus" 2022-version may have defects in the aperture blade causing them to make an uneven aperture hole. This is somethign Leica have been correcting, and if you happent o get a sample with this error, it has to go back to the factory in Wetzlar to get fixed.
The aperture blades in the first batch of the 2022-version of the 35mm Summilux may fold in a messy way.
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But well, f/1.4 is not bad either. Leica Camera AG now have at least two absolutely outstanding Summilux lenses in the shape of the current Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 and the brand-new 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (Version V, released May 2010). They have other outstanding lenses, such as the 21mm and 24mm Summilux-M lenses, but the 35mm and 50mm are standard lenses.
The lightstrong Summilux f/1.4 lenses to some mean that you can take pictures with less light, to others it's an invitation to play with depth of field, selective focus and bokeh. In fact you can do it all, though it should be used fully open - at f/1.4 - to utilize the unique look for a Summilux lens. You may even consider getting ND (Neutral Density) filters for daylight photography. 3X and/or 6X for sunshine and strong daylight.
My un-scientifical test of the bokeh and dep-of-field of the Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (2010). Leica M9 with Leica Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (New Version V) @ f/4.0, 80 ISO. Los Angeles, 2010.
And here a 100% crop of the above file ofLeica Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (New Version V) @ f/4.0, 80 ISO.
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Though the 35mm focal length has always been the most sold Leice lens, and therefore the standard lens for the Leica rangefinder cameras (unlike in the SLR segment where 50mm is the standard lens), I have always preferred working with 50mm on my Leica M9. I've found that 35mm was too sloppy for me, I got too much in the frame, and lines would very easily start "falling". I like the compact tunnel look of 50mm and how easy it is to create "straight" images with straight lines.
But after having played around with the new 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4, I changed my mind. It really is a versatile lens and a moneymaker in the hands of a professional. As soon as you get a grip of making extra sure the camera is kept in an upright vertical position so as to ensure that lines in the image are straight, you can do almost anything with this lens.
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It sits very comfortable on the Leica, the size is right and the balance of camera and lens is perfect.
The amount of detail the lens captures in shadows, and the overall detailed sharpness make it almost impossible to shoot an assignment and not get the shots. That's what I mean by moneymaker: You can always get the job done with this lens on the camera.
Leica M 240 with Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.FLE .
Older 35mm Summilux-M ASPH pre-FLE
or the 35mm Summilux-M ASPH with FLE ..?
One of the reasons for the new 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 (model V) in 2010 was to introduce floating elements and thus handle some focus shift issues with the previous model IV. Focus shift is when you focus at something, but then the use of a different aperture than f/1.4 shift the focus.
But if you always shoot fully open at f/1.4 you won't have a focus shift issue with the lens anyways, and you may consider saving a little money and buy one of the second-hand Version IV that floats around. And if you consider this, have a look at the slightly different bokeh of the two (meaning the out-of-focus areas; the Version IV might be softer and more even than the Version V). The Version V is a very sharp lens, and so is the bokeh that can have a tendency to make sharp edges in the out-of-focus areas.
Leica lens hood 12 466for the 1994-2010 35mm Summilux-M ASPH
One of the things that characterize the new Leica lenses is their ability to seperate light from shadow. As in the above where there's a strong flood light behind the model, and very little "overflow" of light in the overall picture. Had I shot this with my usual weapon of choice, the 1962-model 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 (II) that has very little coating, the image would have been allmost all white. I tend to clasify lenses in the Mandler era (soft sharpness with a 70ies look and light floating over the frame) and the Karbe era (very sharp lenses with high contrast and tight control of light rays). The Mandler/Karbe era, named after the two lens designers, is true for many Leica lenses, though the previous 35mm Summilux may fall in-between; after all it has been an ASPH design since 1990.
One thing that speak for the previous 35mm Summilix-M ASPH  is that the Leica lens hood 12 466 fits onto it (fits the current 28mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0  and the previous 28mm Elmarit-M f/2.8  as well). Here on a silver Leica M9.
Leitz and Leica 35mm Summilux-M models
(11870 w/specs M3)
"Steel Rim Heritage Lens"
(11871 w/specs M3)
Model Jime Butti in New York, warming up to get herself a Leica M. Leica M 240 with Leica 35mm Summilux-m ASPHERICAL f/1.4 AA.
A very Leica 35mm lens ... the ASPHERICAL "AA"
Leica users generally prefer the most exotic and hard-to-achieve perfection available. It's in the DNA of Leica and the Leica user. Why settle for less than the top?
In 1990 Leica introduced a new groundbreaking design of the Leica 35mm Summilux, a lens with invard courving front glass and two aspherical surfaces.
For a period of four years (and 1,000 - 2,000 lenses) this was a model where the two aspherical surfaces were hand-grinded and thus of varying quality of performance.
In 1994 Leica came with the ASPH version with one aspherical element, and no longer hand-grinded but made by a machine.
The ASPHERICAL, or "35mm (Double) AA" as it is also known, fetches second-hand prices on ebay in the range of $11,000 to $19,000 whereas the ASPH version from 1994 and onward cost $3,500.
If you read what is written with small in the review by Erwin Puts, he says, "The performance of this first (ASPHERICAL) version is almost identical to the second (ASPH) version. The MTF graphs show small differences that should not be studied too closely. In the center the first version shows slightly higher contrast, but in the field the second version has an advantage. I doubt these theoretical differences are perceptible".
Nevertheless, the percieved difference is that the ASPHERICAL is hand-made and rare, and there is a firm belief in the Leica community that it is sharper than even the current and latest version. Hence the price difference.
The majority - almost all I would claim - who own the ASPHERICAL, uses it. So it is not a collectors item that only stay in a closet and get admiration. Most of them are being used daily.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/250 second. Kenzo backstage, London.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/90 second. Kenzo backstage, London.
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Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/125 second. Kenzo backstage, London 2010.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/180 second. Kenzo backstage, London 2010.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/750 second. Kenzo backstage, London 2010.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/60 second. Evening photo outside the Leica Store Paris 2010.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/60 second. Birgit Krippner giving interview in Paris, 2010.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/45 second.Shooting atmosphere for Christmas in Denmark, 2010.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/45 second, closest focusing distance 70 centimeter.Shooting atmosphere for Christmas in Denmark, 2010.
Workhorse;; there's nothing you can't do with this lens. Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/125 second.Shooting atmosphere for Christmas in Denmark, 2010.
Workhorse;; there's nothing you can't do with this lens. Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/45 second.Shooting atmosphere for Christmas in Denmark, 2010.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/12 second.Shooting atmosphere for Christmas in Denmark, 2010.
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Bokeh to die for. The focus here is crisp, and the background with a nice crisp and sparkling bokeh. There's a perfect balance of putting focus and attention to the foreground (or anything you want to focus on), and let the background be slightly gone - yet there is enough to tell the story. It's the perfect reportage lens for all-round work. Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/45 second.Shooting atmosphere for Christmas in Denmark, 2010.
Handling highlight and shadows - and reflections too: Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/45 second.
Handling highlight and shadow details - and reflections too: Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH FLE f/1.4 Version V 800 ISO 1/25 second. Amsterdam, 2010.
Crisp and clear colors. Leica M9 with 35mm Summilix-M ASPH f/1.4 Version V 200 ISO 1/1500 second. Demonstration for Human Rights in Münich, 2010. Here is a detail look:
Erwin Puts have written two articles about the Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4. Amongst ohter intersting things, Erwin Puts write, "The new SX35FLE is a definite improvement over its predecessor. But the main advantages are to be found in the focusing range from 1 meter to 3 or even 4 meters. There the performance gain is visible and to be appreciated. If you already own an SX35 ASPH and work mainly at larger distances, you might not see much improvement. For closer range subjects it is a matter of critical distinction. If you did not find faults with the SX35ASPH image quality or do not need the ultimate in quality, the urge for an upgrade is less pronounced. If you own a non-asph 1.4/35 or even an 2/35ASPH and want more punch wide open and up to f/4, the new SX35FLE is a very tempting proposition."
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish-American multiple award-winning photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras. He travels to more than 25 countries a year, photographing and teaching workshops to photographers. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via email.
You can follow Thorsten Overgaard at his television channel magicoflight.tv.
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