Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 FLE ASPH (11663) – An Exquisite Lens for Every Occasion

Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 FLE ASPH (11663) - An Exquisite Lens for Every Occasion

Lens Review

Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 FLE ASPH (11663) – An Exquisite Lens for Every Occasion

leica-summilux-35mm-f1.4-1.4-asph-aspherical-fle-11663-floating-element-lens-review-rangefinder-m-mount-film-photograph-lenses-sharpness-performance-look
Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663) with hood
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Leica M10, Havana Cuba

Leica Summilux 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

The Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663) is a lens that has been a part of my collection for quite some time. Back in 2011, this lens was selling like hotcakes internationally, with a single copy costing anywhere between 6000-7000 USD. My photography mentor swears by it, and it’s his go-to lens with his Leica M9.

For those who don’t know much about me, I started my Leica journey with a Summicron 35mm f2 IV, also known as the “King of bokeh.” The reason why I opted for this lens was quite foolish – it was all about the hood. I was drawn to the iconic square hood, which is a hallmark of Leica lenses.

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Kodak Ektachrome E100VS, Havana Cuba

Coming from the DSLR world, where most lens hoods are vented, round, or just built-in collapsible hoods, rectangular hoods seemed less common. The construction and the sexy metal lens hood of the Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE were what initially drew me to this lens.

While the hood was the primary reason for my purchase, I was pleasantly surprised by the lens’s performance. It produces very sharp images with good separation from the background when shot wide-open. The slight glow it produces also adds character to the images. Overall, I am very satisfied with it.

Leica recently announced the successor to this lens, the Summilux 35/1.4 FLE (11726), which features an internal hood and close focus ability. While I have yet to try it out, it will be interesting to see how it compares to its predecessor.

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Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663) without hood
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Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663)

The Summilux 35mm Family

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Kodak Ektachrome E100G, Havana Cuba
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Kodak Ektachrome E100VS, Havana Cuba

Factors to Consider

I mentioned the price of this lens back in 2011, but in 2022, you can probably find it at a relatively reasonable price (although still expensive compared to other brands). This is fair when you consider the fact that the pandemic has caused many other lenses to skyrocket in price.

Surprisingly, this lens offers a good pre-owned price for those who want to enter the mysterious world of Leica. If you’re interested in learning more about the pricing and the past 10 years’ trends of Leica lenses, you can check out my ebook. I’ve covered actual price data and provided tips to help you decide which lens to go for.

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Fujifilm Superia Premium 400, Tokyo Japan

The Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663) boasts a 0.7m closest focusing distance, a 46mm filter size, and 9 blades in the aperture. When compared to other Summilux pre-asph lenses, it produces exceptional contrast. However, there is visible vignetting at f1.4.

On the plus side, it doesn’t have noticeable flare when compared with old Summilux pre-asph lenses. The focus is also extremely accurate and neat. The lens is made with black-anodized aluminum, with brass focus helicoids and mount, and a solid aluminum threaded hood.

If I had to choose just one modern Leica 35mm lens, it would be the Summilux 35/1.4. For vintage 35mm lenses, I would choose the Summicron 35/2 V1 8 elements for black and white film. However, the Summilux 35/1.4 is an overall performer and definitely worth considering. If you’re new to the world of 35mm photography and not familiar with this focal length, you may find it helpful to refer to this POST about the 35mm focal length.

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Leica M10-P, Hong Kong
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Kodak Ektar 100, Tokyo Japan
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Fuji Provia RDP III, Havana Cuba

Summilux - Extra Stop Extra Power

In the world of film photography, every aperture value counts. This means that with the same ISO setting (e.g., ISO 200 or 400), the aperture value can make a significant difference. For example, if you’re shooting with a Summicron lens with a maximum aperture of f/2 in low-light conditions, and your shutter speed is at 1/30, switching to a Summilux lens with a wider maximum aperture of f/1.4 would give you an extra stop of light, allowing you to use a more stable shutter speed of 1/60. This provides several benefits, including better bokeh (depth of field), less camera shake, and a more stable shutter speed.

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Leica M9P, Hong Kong
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Leica M9P, Hong Kong

However, when comparing vintage Leica Summilux 35mm lenses, such as the V1 Steel Rim or the Infinity Lock, which contain the signature “Leica glow” and Coma not everyone may appreciate this effect. It can also be challenging to use it well, and it may create a problem when shooting portraits, where the glow can appear around the subject’s face. With this newer Summilux, it has much better corner performance.

If you’re a film shooter, you probably understand what I mean. But if you’re a digital shooter, you can adjust your ISO without hesitation to compensate for low-light conditions.

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Leica M9P, Hong Kong

Floating Elements (FLE)

I’ve learned that this lens is notably sharp at f/1.4, which is an improvement over its predecessor, the 11874, which had focus shift problems. Focus shift occurs when shooting at f/1.4 in a distance of 1 meter, and then switching to a different aperture like f/2.8. This can cause the focus point to shift backward or forward. If you require precision in your focus and need it to be extremely accurate, then this lens is definitely worth trying. 

When shooting at maximum or minimum aperture, you won’t notice the focus shift. Some individuals have learned to adjust and tolerate the shift on the 11874 by determining how much to “lean in” within the shift zone. However, some find the shift to be too much of a hindrance. Nevertheless, with the improved sharpness at f/1.4, the Summilux lens has become a highly coveted option for those seeking exceptional image quality.

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Kodak Ektar 100, Tokyo Japan
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Kodak Ektar 100, Tokyo Japan

Sharpness

In my opinion, the Summilux 35mm f1.4 was one of the sharpest modern Leica 35mm lenses available before the release of the Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH APO. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to try the APO lens yet, I’ve heard that it’s extremely sharp and clinical.

The major advantage of the Summilux 35mm f1.4 is that it produces clean, sharp images on both film and digital formats. However, while it does bear the signature Leica look, it lacks a certain character that some may seek in their images.

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JCH Street Pan 400, Hong Kong

Bokeh

According to some, the 11874 lens has better and creamier bokeh than the 11663, and does a better job of rendering out-of-focus specular highlights. While I haven’t had the chance to test it personally, it’s worth mentioning for anyone who may be in the market for a lens with these specific characteristics. I particularly love this lens and I took some portraits with this in Cuba and street photography at night in Tokyo.

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Kodak Ektar 100, Havana Cuba
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Fujifilm Superia Premium 400, Colombo Sri Lanka
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Agfa Photo Vista 200, Havana Cuba
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Fujifilm Superia Premium 400, Colombo Sri Lanka

Filter Thread

In terms of design, I have found that the square hood in front of the filter thread on the Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663) makes it inconvenient to apply filters. This is because the metal hood needs to be removed first before changing the filter, which can be a hassle.

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Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663)
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Kodak Super Gold 400, Havana Cuba

Pros and Cons

One downside of the Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663) is that the aperture ring can be loose, which can cause the aperture value to change without notice when shooting film. This can lead to underexposed shots if the aperture is accidentally turned while shooting.

On a positive note, the lens features a focusing tab that I particularly like. However, the focusing can feel quite stiff, although this may be a problem with my specific copy of the lens.

leica-summilux-35mm-f1.4-1.4-asph-aspherical-fle-11663-floating-element-lens-review-rangefinder-m-mount-film-photograph-lenses-sharpness-performance-look-hood-front
Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663)
leica-summilux-35mm-f1.4-1.4-asph-aspherical-fle-11663-floating-element-lens-review-rangefinder-m-film-colour-negative-fuji-fujifilm-superia-premium-400-street-composition
Fujifilm Superia Premium 400, Tokyo Japan

Conclusion

The Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE (11663) is a lens that is highly sought-after for its ability to produce clean and sharp images on both film and digital formats. Despite lacking a certain character that some photographers may seek in their images, it remains a top performer in terms of image quality. Additionally, the lens’s wider aperture provides several benefits, such as better bokeh, less camera shake, and a more stable shutter speed compared to the Leica Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH.

However, vintage Leica Summilux 35mm lenses, such as the V1 Steel Rim or the Infinity Lock, may not be suitable for everyone due to their signature “Leica glow.” To reduce the clinical feel in digital photos, it’s recommended to pair the Summilux 35mm f1.4 with a Tiffen Black Pro Mist filter with a strength of 1/4 or 1/8. This has worked well with the Voigtlander 75mm Aspherical lens.

Despite some design drawbacks, such as the inconvenience of removing the metal hood to change filters, the Summilux 35mm f1.4 remains a highly coveted lens in the Leica community. Overall, it’s a lens worth considering for those seeking exceptional image quality, especially for those starting out with Leica photography. The Summilux 35/1.4 FLE or Summicron 35mm f2 IV King of Bokeh are both great beginner lenses in terms of value and cost. If close focus is important to you then get the Summilux 35mm f1.4 FLE ASPH (11726)

leica-summilux-35mm-f1.4-1.4-asph-aspherical-fle-11663-floating-element-lens-review-rangefinder-m-film-ektar-100-kodak-negative-colour-tokyo-odaiba-silhouette-street
Kodak Ektar 100, Tokyo Japan

More Samples

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Agfa Photo Vista 200, Colombo Sri Lanka
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Agfa Photo Vista 200, Colombo Sri Lanka
leica-summilux-35mm-f1.4-1.4-asph-aspherical-fle-11663-floating-element-lens-review-rangefinder-m-film-ektar-100-kodak-negative-colour-tokyo-odaiba-landscape-city
Kodak Ektar 100, Tokyo Japan
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Kodak Ektar 100, Tokyo Japan
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Kodak Ektar 100, Tokyo Japan
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Leica M9P, Hong Kong
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Fujifilm Superia Premium 400, Tokyo Japan

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