Thumbprints & Signatures: Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE

Thumbprints & Signatures: Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE

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.

Key differences between V1 and V2:

  • 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.



  • - As stated previously, I own and have used this lens for years and have always enjoyed using it. The ability to open up to an aperture of f/1.4 has its benefits, and it allows me to photograph across various lighting situations. I was able to show depth within the wide shots while at f/1.4 causing my subject to pop in the frame and it was perfect for various wide and close-up portraits.

  • - With a close focus distance of 0.7 meters or about 2 feet, The 35mm focal length was perfect for photographing the cruise as it let me step in close for more tight compositions or step back to fill the frame with more of the environment. the FLE really shines in these close-focus photos. And it especially shines with the FLE v2. At 0.4m, being able to push in much closer and emphasize focus on smaller details, is exceptional.

  • - Both lenses produce accurate results, as one would expect, to what you see with your own eyes. However, in editing, I did make minor adjustments to contrast and exposure, and white balance but left the colors relatively untouched.

  • One of the big signatures of this lens is its vignetting. Wide open at f/1.4 there is strong vignetting in the corners but as I’ve mentioned in past episodes, I think this adds to the character of the lens. And if you’re not a fan, you can simply correct it in the post.


  • - My one observation with this lens is that at times, it doesn’t feel wide enough or close enough for certain situations but I suspect that's more of a complaint of the 35mm focal length as a whole and not necessarily this lens. In the case of this lowrider cruise, it was perfect and it allowed variation in my images.

  • - As for the FLE V2, I did find myself wishing I had the Visoflex 2 for focusing at 0.4m. At times it felt hard to see if I was hitting critical focus by viewing the rear LCD.


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.

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