Arguably, many feel that Leica’s most versatile lens is the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH. This lens has found itself in the hands of many photographers, in-studio or on assignment this lens has the ability to do it all and has earned the praise, and tendency to remain “glued” to the photographer's cameras.
The 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE lens was introduced into production in 2010 and is in Leica’s current lens lineup. A notable feature that makes this lens so special and sets it apart from its previous versions is the Floating Lens Element also known as the “FLE”. What makes Leica's use of the FLE unique is that the lens elements behind the aperture blades are constructed as a floating group that changes position relative to the front lens group during focusing. In simple terms; the FLE takes the focus shift issue from the previous version of this lens and uses it to its advantage in the close focus range.
I personally own and use this lens with both film and digital M systems. I have made use of this lens for many years and I can speak confidently when I say that it is one of the best lenses I have ever used. This lens renders color accurately, film and digital, that are as true to the eye as one would expect along with the ability to make full use of the f/1.4 maximum aperture to isolate subjects and separate them from the background. As a special note; my film was processed at Underdog Photoloab in Oakland with scanning done with my Pakon f135.
To make full use of all that the lens could do I recently took it out along with the Leica M11 to the Mission District to check out the lowrider car cruise.
As many are aware Leica introduced the new 35mm f/1.4 FLE lens with an even shorter focusing distance of 0.4m and a round lens shade that is extendable and retractable. I will be one who is very excited about the new minimum focusing distance and the possibilities that this presents.
Integrated lens shade, extends and retracts
11 aperture blades vs 9 for a more round bokeh when using the lens at f/1.4
New minimum focusing distance at 0.4m vs 0.7
Optically the lens has not changed with the exception of lens coatings, always being improved.
In all honesty, this is probably the closest to a near-perfect lens for most situations with either film and digital photography. Allowing you to have the flexibility of getting in close to the action or stepping back to view the entire scene. Mixed with an aperture of f/1.4 and you are set to make photos in any lighting condition.
In closing, I feel that many film and digital Leica users could reap the benefits of the FLE v1 while the FLE v2 seems to be geared toward digital users. Again, it is possible to use the FLE v2 on film systems but it’ll be a guessing game when wide open or you could stop it down and zone focus but have to have insane zone-focusing skills.
The 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE v1 and v2 are a perfect combination of past and present Leica characteristics, and I can guarantee that this lens will remain “glued” to many photographers' cameras.