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Camera Chronicle is your source for news and reviews for photography, cameras, lenses, and accessories.

Gear

Learn about new gear, camera bodies, and lenses. Look here to learn about the tools of the trade. Perfect for a buyer looking to compare equipment and weigh the pros and cons. All products listed in the articles will be linked to a reasonable retailer. 

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Shooting with the Voïgtlander Ultra Wide-Heliar 12mm f/5.6 Aspherical III

William Bright

 

Introduction

During a family trip to Maine, I was fortunate to test the Voïgtlander 12mm Ultra Wide-Helliar f/5.6 III, attached to my Sony A7r.  For the entire week, the Voïgtlander 12mm was my primary lens and was incredibly fun to shoot with.

A 12mm ultrawide is a tool for a specific purpose: to capture as much in the frame as possible. What sets the Voïgtlander apart is not only how well it accomplishes this task, but also its style and grace. The manual focusing ring is fast and smooth, the aperture adjustments are solid clicks and not easily knocked out of place. 

The Voïgtlander 12mm is an incredible addition to any landscape or architectural photographer's toolkit.  Although not a fisheye, the lens offers an incredibly wide viewpoint.  There is almost no distortion; lines are straight and true.  Some may complain that f/5.6 is not fast enough, but this was a non-issue for me.  Moreover, for low-light, even if the lens were faster, you would probably use a tripod.

Shooting Indoors

On our first day in Maine we headed down to Biddeford to have breakfast at the Palace Diner. (If you haven't been, I highly recommend it.)  The diner is a converted train car and seats only a few people.  For any other lens on any other camera, its cramped location would make it impossible to take an interesting photograph.  However the Voïgtlander made quick work of capturing the entire train car and everyone in it.  Shots were sharp, contrasty, and the natural light allowed for easy handheld shooting.

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Shooting Outdoors

Later that evening we went down to the beach. I was amazed that I was able to capture my feet (sorry) and the horizon in the same vertical shot. An unlikely scenario, for sure, but it was a shocking revelation to see just how wide the Voïtlander 12mm actually is.  And here I thought 21mm was wide!

I used that crazy field-of-view to my advantage: taking drastic shots of a tiny boardwalk path to the beach, capturing all of the slats running before me while keeping the horizon at the top third line of the frame. And even though this lens isn't ideal for photographing people, I was able to photograph my mother up-close as she sifted through the sand and still capture a great deal of the surroundings as well.

Shooting at Night

At night, armed with a tripod and a long-exposure, I photographed this beached-due-to-low-tide sailboat and the jetty behind it. Slow moving clouds turned into soft trails, and I was able to fit the top of the mast, the entire hull, and its buoy lines with these drastic and fun angles. 

On another clear night, I captured the stars and constellations on the beach and in the marsh behind it. I had hoped to photograph the Milky Way, but due to surrounding light pollution, this just wasn't in the stars.  Still, constellations such as Taurus and the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters) are easily discerned.

Shooting in Portland

Due to a two-hour delay on my last day, I walked down to Portland's piers and photographed the fishing boats in their wharfs.  With the Voïtlander 12mm, I was able capture the environment and feeling of being there.  The strong angle allowed me to depict the juxtaposition between overcast skies and the brightly colored boats and buildings in the foreground.  Here is where the vignetting of the lens became more noticeable, especially with a gray sky.  This problem was easily solved with some RAW post-processing, although I kept most of the vignetting as it adds a moody touch and complements the sky.

Conclusion

This lens  is fun!  I want a Voïgtlander Ultra Wide-Helliar 12mm f/5.6 Aspherical III in my toolbox. It is not an everyday lens, nor should it be. But if you need to capture an entire building, inside or out, this is the lens for you. If you want to get crazy angles for creative use, this is the lens for you. And if you want a sharp, easy to use lens for landscape photography, both for day and night, this is definitely the lens for you.

About the Author

By day, William Bright is a User Interface and User Experience designer.  He studied photography in college and has been shooting for more than 25 years. Find his photography on Instagram: @billfactor.

6 Months with the Leica APO Summicron-M 50mm

Stephen Cosh

By Stephen Cosh 

I’m a 50mm guy. For whatever reason, be it scientific or psychological, I just prefer shooting a 50mm over any other focal length. In my six or seven years of shooting Leica M bodies, I’ve owned pretty much all the modern Leica 50mm’s, a few of the classics and a few non-Leica brands.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/16, ISO 320

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/16, ISO 320

Until recently I thought that the Leica Summilux-M 50mm was without a doubt the best 50mm lens on the market. I’ve shot with it for four years and loved every minute of it. I’ve got to know the lens inside out and would have been happy shooting with it for the rest of my life.

However, when Leica announced the APO Summicron back in 2012 to much fanfare and exaltation, I decided to look into it. There were crazy claims flying about – some called it the best Leica lens ever made, some said it was even the best lens of all time, but it turned out I was going to have to wait a long time to find out how true these claims were.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 400

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 400

I put an order in for one with my local dealer and after waiting around six months, I started noticing articles on the internet pop up mentioning flare issues and that Leica were binning 9 out of 10 that they produced due to production complications. I really didn’t fancy forking out a fortune just to be a guinea pig, so I cancelled my order with my dealer and went back to being happy (more than happy) with my Summilux.

A few years went by and I just happened to be in the Leica Mayfair boutique in February and there were two APO’s in stock. I asked the shop manager if the flare and production issues had been sorted and he confirmed they had. The lens had actually dropped slightly in price as well and I decided to buy it there and then.

So now I’ve had the lens for a little over six months, shoot almost exclusively with it and thought it was about time I wrote up my findings.

 

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 25,000

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 25,000

I know the claims out there. I’ve heard it called “technically perfect” and “the best render of any lens ever”, but rather than be sensational about it, I’m just going to simply state that it is the best lens I’ve ever used. Not just the best 50mm lens. Not even just the best full frame lens (I shoot S lenses too), but the best lens I’ve used period.

Ok, so that is a big claim, especially when it doesn’t render nearly as good as a APO-Summicron-S 120mm, but for a blend of reasons, it is the best lens I have ever used.

Here’s why…

  1. I shoot black and white and primarily on a Monochrome Typ 246. The APO is perfectly matched to this sensor. It has resolving capabilities superior to any other Leica M lens and suits the high resolution, Bayer filter-free Monochrom sensor perfectly.
  2. It has much more contrast than any other Leica M lens and therefor tricks the eye into thinking the image is sharper.
  3. It “is” optically sharper than any other Leica M lens due to the aspherical design and modern apochromatic correction. When I say “optically sharper”, I mean it’s “way” sharper.
  4. Leica have been accused recently of producing lenses that render too clinically. The APO renders classically on the Monochrome sensor and the grain at high ISO’s is so film-like it’s actually welcome. On the M240 colour sensor, the colour rendering is so correct that very little processing is required and of course it shows very little to no chromatic aberration.
  5. The unique sharpness of this lens wide open produces a level of subject separation that I’ve never experienced on any other lens in any other format. You will have heard people talking about Leica’s 3D image quality, the APO is like 4D!
  6. The thing I loved about the 50mm Summilux was it’s creamy bokeh. The APO is not quite as creamy, but it’s every bit as charming and you don’t need the extra stop that the Summilux has to achieve it. At f/2, the APO renders a lovely, clean, swirl free bokeh.
  7. The build quality is worth mentioning too as Leica have raised the bar with this lens. It feels solid and exact. Leica’s build quality on any lens has never been in question, but the APO just feels better. The built in hood is genius!
  8. It’s highly useable. This might seem a strange thing to say about a lens, but when you are shooting moving subjects such as people in the street, short focus ring travel is essential. The APO’s focus ring travel is small and precise. The lens is also short and light. At under 50mm in length and weighing in at only 300g, it is noticeably smaller and lighter than the Summilux.
    (Qualification: The most unusable lens I have ever shot with is the Noctilux.)

So for the reasons above, I’ve fallen in love with this lens and it’s never off my mount.c

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320

The last thing to talk about is price. This is an expensive lens. At the time of writing it is £5200 / $8000 / €7150. A lot of money.

However, if you’re in the market for this lens, you’ve probably looked at or owned a 50mm Noctilux, which is dearer and trust me, nowhere near as useable, as sharp or as portable as the APO. You may also have looked at the 50mm Summilux which at the time of writing is about half the price of the APO. Is the APO twice as good as the Summilux? No, it’s not, but consider the compactness of the lens, it’s awesome sharpness and it’s ability to separate subjects like no other lens in existence and the spend becomes more convincing.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320

Image quality is subjective and open to differing opinions, but to reinforce my experience with the APO I’ve included a few unprocessed comparison shots between the APOand the Summilux below…

 

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 2500

Summilux-M 50mm, f/1.4, ISO 2500

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25,000

Summilux-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25,000

If you decide the APO Summicron-M is your next 50mm lens, let me know if you’re as delighted with it as I am.

See more from Stephen Cosh at 

www.stephencosh.co.uk and theleicameet.wordpress.com

 

Macro Photography–Leica M & Macro-Elmar-M 90mm and Leica T w 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T

Mikeual Perritt

Macro Photography has one [of several] definition by Wikipedia that states “…extreme close-up photography, usually of very small subjects, in which the size of the subject in the photograph is greater than life size….”  I do not consider it constrained to macro lenses.  Leica [and other manufacturers] have several lenses with exceptional resolution that allow photography at close ranges with resulting images of large size.  Within the Leica family the 1:2 reproduction ratio of the Macro-Elmar-M 90mm is optimum, but the 75mm APO-Summicron has a reproduction ratio of 1:7 at .7m distance and the 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T has a 1:7.5 ratio at 56mm [85mm equivalent for 35mm full frame] at .45m.  Any lens with exceptional resolution across most of the image will produce large images that are striking in detail and impressive to view. 

 The attached photographs and this article are based on my more recent use of the M (typ 240) with the Electronic View Finder EVF2 and 90 mm Macro-Elmar 90mm f/4 lens with macro-adapter.  My previous Leica and other camera/lens combinations have been a great learning experience over the years, but my current Leica equipment has provided the most rewarding results.  They have been best suited for my style of photography because the Leica equipment is significantly smaller and easier to handle and the resolution/contrast/color rendition of Leica lenses is exceptional.  The EVF and camera also allow magnification of 5x and 10x along with a focusing aid that indicates the contrast areas in focus–as my eyesight has not kept up with my aspirations in photography this is a most welcomed aid to capturing my best images. 

 My pursuit of flowers, bees, and butterflies!  Macro photography of these subjects began in San Antonio TX in 1994 when we purchased a house with an “English Garden.”  The first learning experience is that even though it had an English Garden, butterflies are not necessarily attracted to those blossoms, in spite of their convenience.  One needs to research any specific subject that you want to photograph.  In this case, what species of plants attract butterflies, which season of the year are they in bloom, and what time of the day is best [in addition to what time is the lighting optimal] come into play.  Wind is a significant factor–butterflies move with the plants and if you are seeking to photograph something different, like a Japanese cherry blossom where the very delicate petals of the blossom are constantly moving during the time of the year they blossom.  Nature does not always conform to your desired schedule–one needs patience and when the conditions are right, you must be prepared to take advantage.  Keep in mind most macro photography at close ranges means your depth of field is very shallow, even at f/4 or 5.6.  Stopping down diminishes the shutter speed or if the ISO is adjusted upward the detail will [at some point] start to diminish. 

 My most recent experience with macro–in August my wife Laura and I noted a striking black/yellow/white banded caterpillar on a milkweed she had planted the previous year.  It is supposed to attract butterflies and is a primary feeding plant for Monarchs.  We were able to identify it as a Monarch caterpillar having a feast–leaf by leaf as it munched its way across the milkweed.  Eventually we had 3 Monarch caterpillars, but nearing the end of their cycle of feasting two disappeared.  More research revealed they often crawl 20-30 feet away and find a safe place to attach before they go into the pupa (chrysalis) stage, but we were fortunate to have at least one remain on the plant.  Ever seen those nice butterfly photos that are almost perfect?  Quite often these may be taken by removing the pupae into a controlled environment for observation and control for photography.  It may be something to consider, but I preferred to let Mother Nature take its course and see what I could achieve photographing outside.  This proved to be most rewarding, especially the backgrounds in the photos.  Within the chrysalis you can see the metamorphosis take place. 

 These photos are sequential in the cycle of the Monarch, from caterpillar to pupa (chrysalis) to a butterfly. Photos were taken 20 Aug., 23 Aug., 23 Aug., 1 Sept., and the last 3 of the emerged butterfly on 2 Sept. 2015.

I was relatively lucky with the timing.  Early on the 2nd I went out to check the pupa and discovered the butterfly had just emerged.  The 4th photo taken is the one I selected, followed by quite a few more.  In the sequence only a few captured the butterfly with spread wings.  After it climbed to the top of the leaf and up the stem, again spreading its wings, I sensed it was about to depart and quickly took the last photo without benefit of accurate focusing.  By the time the shutter had operated it had flown off.  It left me a bit frustrated with the quick departure, but elated to have captured the event. 

Some other butterflies from our garden include the yellow and black Appalachian or Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the charcoal with blue and orange marked Spicebush Swallowtail.

 

 

Some examples of blossom photos and other insects were taken at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, just west of Wilmington, Delaware.  Such gardens provide greater opportunity for photographing flowers, various other plants and trees, and several of our flying friends if you do not have close access to a location that attracts them. 

The following images were taken at Longwood Gardens.  

The caterpillar, wasp, and orchid were taken with the Leica T with the 18-56mm Vario-Elmar.  The water lily was photographed with the 75mm APO-Summicron-M f/2. 

A few last photos within the macro range:  First is an image of cherry buds encased in ice.  As it is melting two drops of water are captured.  The aperture blades shape light reflections–I was shooting almost into the sun.  It shows the issue of dealing with light coming almost directly into the lens and a possibility to add a different element. 

The second image is a partial blossom from a Yashino Cherry Tree, which is the same species as the majority of the famous Japanese cherry trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington DC.  I took this photo in a mist/light rain.  It was a good lesson on dealing with wet conditions. 

The last photo is a bumblebee on the same milkweed where we discovered the Monarch caterpillar.  It bloomed earlier in the summer during mid July.  We never observed any butterflies during that time, but I did capture the bee and blossoms. 

One last thought–backgrounds in the photos.  It is important and often difficult to keep them from being a distraction or not allowing important small details to be seen.  Improving the depth of field to improve the macro photo works against the bokeh or having a blurred background to reduce distractions from the main subject, so it is important to pay attention to this aspect.  Often the adjacent subjects add the needed context to make the photo better, or make the setting appear natural.

 

If you have any comments or questions you may contact me at M@AtelierM.com.  Please use a subject with Blog Article or Macro Photography in the subject so I will not file your email in a place where they may not be retrieved. 

Mikeual Perritt [Michael] September 2015

Personal Background:  I am a retired architect now enjoying fine art and photography.  Photography was essential during school and in the profession.  It is now a significant activity in my life–an enjoyable one.  Besides architecture, with interest in [but not limited to] Jugendstil or Art Nouveau and Bauhaus influenced or the Neue Moderne, I also enjoy landscape, mechanical objects [from door knobs to steam locomotives] and certainly people.