Robert Callway: 35mm Summilux ASPH (vIV)

This is a guest post by Robert Callway, who has his own production company Nilsfilmwhich produces corporate promos and documentaries. Also a cameraman and occasional photographer, Robert has shot a number of prime-time award winning C4/BBC documentaries including this year’s C4′s “Battlefront” (Digital Emmy) and BBC’s “Remembrance-A Sikh Story” (RTS Award). 

35mm is regarded by the majority of rangefinder photographers as their ideal focal length. The evidence is that the 35mm Summicron ASPH is Leica’s best selling lens. With it’s small dimensions, fast speed and aspherical element, Leica’s “jewel” is seen as the perfect optic. And you know what….I have never even tried it!

If there was one lens I regretted having to say goodbye to it was it’s predecessor, the Leica Summicron version IV, also known as the “King of Bokeh.” What it lacked in contrast at f2 and any aspherical qualities, it more than paid back with it’s out-of-focus rendering. So why get rid of it? I really can’t answer that one, apart from the fact that I wanted to go that little bit faster and was increasingly finding myself in many darkly lit situations and needed that extra stop. Summilux time!

At first glance, Leica’s Summilux range of 35mm lenses intrigued me as there seemed to be quite a few different models: the original 35mm Classic (vI-II), the Double Aspherical (vIII),  the ASPH (vIV) and then, a couple of years ago, Leica introduced the 35mm Summilux ASPH (vV) FLE.

Well, I researched and researched the internet review sites to see which one of these beauties could be my weapon of choice.

The Classic certainly has it’s signature look but, again, contrast at f1.4-2 wasn’t my thing.

The Double Aspherical is a rare beast and highly collectible….having two aspherical elements made it too expensive for Leica to produce and therefore has a real hefty secondhand price-tag.

The Summilux ASPH (vV) FLE looks amazing but what I was really enjoying and falling in love with were the images/samples from the Summilux ASPH  (vIV).

It is very difficult to describe the look coming from the Summilux ASPH (vIV)  and I thank Steve from SteveHuffPhoto.com for helping me out here that there is definitely “mojo” around this lens. It gives a perfect mix of modern sharpness and classic out-of-focus rendering as well as brilliant contrast. But the Summilux ASPH (vIV) had been getting some negative press recently.

The reason? Focus-shift when the lens was coupled with the, then new, M9. Leica, to their credit, immediately went to work to iron out any imperfections and released the Summilux ASPH (vV) FLE (all these issues are well documented by Ming Thein in the Leica blog). Having purchased an M9 a year ago I was gutted to find out that the “look” I was wanting might be more difficult for me to achieve. But, I should have looked into some of the internet articles a little more. Some photographers weren’t having focus-shift issues with the previous model at all and it was soon becoming obvious that quite a few thought the Summilux ASPH (vIV) is a better lens. These thoughts coincided with me coming across one at my local camera store. I was in there like a shot!

Andy, the owner, was brilliant and very patient in allowing me to test the lens before purchasing it. Nice, clicky aperture, smooth-focusing, slightly worn edges, but very clean glass.

So what about the  Focus-Shift? What Focus-shift?!  If there is any, it wasn’t visible enough to make a difference to prints … and this particular 35mm Summilux ASPH (vIV) hasn’t left my M9 since.

-Robert Callway

For more of Robert’s work, visit his websites www.nilsfoto.com and www.nilsfilm.com.

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12 comments

  • Robert,
    I was lucky too to get a 35mm f1.4 ASPH vIV that worked without focusing shift on my M9. I love this lens and I would probably shoot more with it if I did not have a soft spot for the 50 1.4.
    Cheers.

    Y.

  • Hi Bob
    Pleased to hear that you are enjoying your 35 summilux. Your old summicron is in good hands (mine!) and I have to say that personally the smaller size of the summicron is what makes me prefer it. It makes a neater package with the M9. Whilst the extra stop would be great to have occasionally, the extra bulk and weight of the summilux are minuses for me. Does the lens barrel intrude into the frame? Thats a killer for me… Stilll at the end of the day, all that matters are the pictures that you get with the lens…..

  • Yann,

    They are quite different lenses as well. The 50mm Summilux ASPH is amazing lens and the quality on film is outstanding. I haven’t had a chance to use it on the M9…I expect it to have even more clarity which is insane! I have the 50mm Summicron and is the sharpest lens I have ever used.

    Thanks for the comment! bob

  • Hi David,

    The lens barrel does indeed intrude and with lens shade alot more…but it has a cut-out. In a perfect world I would have the summicron for all outside work and the Summilux for all indoor work. Both have ads and dis’….is there a perfect lens?

    Glad to hear you are enjoying the ‘cron….i missed the focal length and was going to get a ‘cron again until I found this at the same price… .

    Hope you are well!

  • Robert, Delighted your pleased with the lens! Great images and remember to check our website for any more used bargains.
    Regards
    Andy

  • It’s a great lens. I bought mine soon after I got an M8 in 2006. The new ones at that point had a really poor reputation for back focus and aperture shift. After trying I think 8 different ones, I found an excellent chrome one, from the last month they were made (September 2006). Reputedly the chrome ones had less issues, maybe due to the ability to machine brass to closer tolerances than aluminium alloy. The downside is that it is quite a lot heavier than the black alloy lens. I sent it to Solms to have it coded, with the instructions not to anything else to it, as it was as near perfect as a lens can be. Works even better on the M9 than the M8 with full frame and of course, on my M4 as well.

    Wilson

  • wilson

    this one dates from the 1994…i haven’t had any issues with back focus then again i mostly set aperture first then focus. if there is any back focusing it isn’t noticeable in any prints i have done…

    would love to try out the new-ish fle one to compare…

  • I’ve owned the 1994-2010 version twice now and it is a wonderful lens. However, I would be lying if I said that the focus shift hadn’t been a problem for me. Both examples focus shifted very noticeably between F2-F5.6 on a variety of digital M bodies (both owned by me and by others). This wasn’t me just being obsessive compulsive about it – it was the difference between the subject focussed on being in focus at F1.4 and being obviously out of focus by the time you have stopped down to F4. The FLE version eliminates this problem for all practical purposes whilst retaining the look of its predecessor and is the finest lens I have ever owned. Highly recommended.

  • Ian…thanks for this. I really haven’t noticed it. I am sure the FLE eliminates any problem. I am sure I will be able to do comparison soon. Did you find that the new version has the same “magic” as the my version or does it have a more clinical/modern look? cheers bob

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