Leica Summilux 35mm “Pre-FLE”
Back in summer of 2018, it was not that long ago when I had acquired my Summicron-M 35mm ASPH I from the good people at Leica Store Miami and took some photos with it in Ocean City over Labor Day weekend. I knew after that weekend that the Summicron 35mm had a place in my humble collection of Leica lenses and I planned to keep it for a long time.
Oh how things changed on a fateful visit to Ace Photo.
The Diamond in the Lux
One of my favorite local camera shops in the Northern Virginia region had a pre-owned Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH (11874) (locally known among Leica users as the “Pre-FLE”) for sale for an exorbitant price for a used lens, which they quickly corrected to match the used market value once I had corrected them. What I did not realize was that the lens was now significantly cheaper and a few hundred more than what I had bought the pre-owned Summicron 35mm for a few weeks back.
My poor and terrible GAS logic got the best of me and I picked up the Summilux for an excellent deal and the good folks at Leica Store Miami accepted the Summicron back for a refund, albeit I was hit with a minor restocking fee. This was completely fair considering I had the lens longer than the approved return window.
A short review for the beautiful yet flawed Leica Summilux 35mm
The images that I was able to capture with the M9 at the time was nothing short of stunning and at the same time, as expected from Leica. The images were sharp across the frame, albeit a bit soft on the corners. The color saturation was neutral, yet beautiful with the M9’s sensor. The bokeh, was just stunning without any weird shapes or “nervousness”. I personally believe that the Pre-FLE has the best bokeh out of all of the Leica Summilux 35mm line of lenses.
The lens turned out to be one of my favorite 35mm lenses of all time, even more so than my old previous favorite: the Sony-Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 ZA.
While the body of this lens is what you would expect from Leica, with its brass inner construction with aluminum outer body, but the lens hood was something to be desired as it was made from hard ABS plastic (albeit very tough). Not something I expected from a lens that costs over $4,000 new, built between 1994-2010.
Optically, the lens was close to perfect, yet it does suffer from minor focus shift between the median apertures. I personally don’t think this is a big deal because people buy this lens to shoot wide open at f/1.4, which is fantastic, and street photographers tend to shoot above f/8 anyways to open up their depth of field.
The rendering that you get out of this lens with the M9 get it a beautiful classical rendering without the crazy looking bokeh balls you would get from pre-aspherical lenses back in the day, but like the old classical lenses of the day, the Pre-FLE does exhibit a little bit of focus shift that you wouldn’t get in the newer FLE model or the Summicron ASPH.
What do I think?
If I could sum up this lens, it’s that it’s a great middle ground between the old and modern Leica Summilux FLE. You get the beautiful classical rendering that people love, but the sharpness you get with a modern aspherical lens. I’m not sure there are other lenses like this, but I can think of the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 MC II (which fixes most of the focus shift issues from the earlier model), but the busy bokeh balls, soft corners, and vignetting wouldn’t be up to everyone’s standards unless you’re a classical lens junkie. That being said, I’ve ended up selling this lens as a deal on the newer FLE (11663) came up and I’ll write up a follow up to that later as I’ll compare my experiences with both of them.
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