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.