Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Find Ultra Wide Angle Lenses Difficult to Shoot With

Image Source:
I have one of these lenses - an ultra wide 12mm f5.6 in Leica Thread Mount (LTM). This lens has an unbelievably wide field of view, especially for a non-fisheye.
I have written many times about how wide angle shooting in general challenges me. This lens takes it to another level. The challenge is in composition, mainly. Focus is easy. In fact, the depth of field is so large on this lens (due to the short focal length and small aperture) that you don't need to focus. Everything from 2 feet to infinity is in focus, even at the widest aperture of f5.6.
I recently used the 12mm on my Leica M9 while shooting a recording session for my friends in the band "Jake and the Burtones."
(Click Here) to see all of the pics from the recording session.
Why did I choose this lens? Well, I will admit that I rarely shoot this lens at all. However, I had a hunch that there would be some tight quarters in the studio. The wide angle perspective allowed me to shoot much of what was in the room at very close quarters. In the shot below, I'm literally about two feet from the tables in the foreground, and maybe six feet from the band members. Looks a little further away, doesn't it?
Ultra wide angle lenses are great for shooting interiors. However, the relatively slow f5.6 aperture means high iso and relatively slow shutter speeds. In the case below, I shot at f5.6 handheld. It was a stretch.
Recording Session, by Reed A. George
Leica M9, Cosina Voigtlander 12mm f5.6 LTM Lens
As I said, composition is a real challenge with this lens. In the shot above, the white paper on the right was not my subject. But, it was close enough to become a major portion of the image. The rafters above are pretty distorted by the optics, but I think they look interesting. So, they're an important part of the composition for me. I love seeing Sam, the mandolin player, up in the extreme top left corner. Isn't that cool? And how about Dolly Parton on the back wall? Some features remain big even with ultra wide angle...
As you can see, in order to get any light on the band members, I had to completely overexpose the light coming through the windows behind them. Again, I think this adds to the composition, rather than taking away. I love how the shadows are cast across the floor - thank you winter sunlight.
I have considered selling this lens many times, as I don't use it much at all. I think the maximum aperture of f5.6 limits how and where it can be used. And, it's just plain difficult to use well. The hood that came with it vignettes terribly if you don't have it perfectly aligned. If I wasn't lazy, it already would have been sold.
This past weekend was the most I've ever used this lens. Now that I'm shooting more musical performances, and especially backstage, I think I'll keep it and use it more. It's not something you want to use all the time, but it does add a unique perspective to shots at close quarters. And it works pretty well on the M9.
Because the camera rangefinder is not meant for such wide imaging, you have to use an accessory finder to frame with this lens. Again, however, it's almost true that anything you see in front of the camera will be in the image.
There's also a newer version of this lens, with the Leica M mount (see the Amazon link below). Mine requires an LTM to M adapter, but that works just fine.