Thursday, March 05, 2009

Shooting the new Leica 18mm Super Elmar-M ASPH

My friends at Leica were nice enough to loan me the brand new 18mm Super-Elmar-M ASPH to take for a spin on the strip along with the new 24 Lux (see previous post). Before taking the lenses I took a few minutes to examine the hood and filter system a little more closely. Here you can see the specially designed 58mm filter which threads on over the lens. Then, the screw-on metal hood attaches to the filter threads. If you don’t use the filter, the hood will mount to the lens also. This might sound strange at a distance, but in practice, it works very well.

There is also a filter adapter that allows use of standard 77mm screw-in filters. The rear of the adapter is cut away on the top so that you can see the effect of a circular polarizer through an external finder. Of course, the hood doesn’t mount to this configuration.

All the following shots were taken with the IR filter in place, using the latest 2.004 firmware. As you can see, there is absolutely no ghosting or green blobs in any of the shots. The 18 Elmar is staggeringly sharp. The smallest of details is crisp and well defined. I’ve also taken out a bit of sharpness insurance by using a tripod on all these shots. My Gitzo GT1541 and GH1780 head only weigh 3 lbs together, yet give me a stable platform from which to shoot, even with the camera six feet up.

0.7 sec @ f/6.3 ISO 160 on tripod

2 seconds @ f/5.6 ISO 160 on tripod

I’m sure there will be many that criticize the 18 for being “only” an f/3.8 and that it can only be used on nice sunny days. Well… you may notice that all of these shots are at night and there is no written rule that you can’t use a tripod with a Leica. Longer exposures tend to give a nice character, both to the light and to the surface of water (as long as you’re shooting water). Showing people or objects in motion and the background stationary works well to create movement and fend off a static image. So, I chose to use a ‘pod. Don’t hold it against me.

1 sec @ f/8 ISO 160 on tripod

1/2 sec @ f/8 ISO 160 on tripod

The 18’s huge DOF makes it a great "point-and-shoot" lens. Really a lot of fun to shoot. It takes just a bit trial and error to get the precise framing, even using an external viewfinder (I was using the new 24mm finder). But really, just set the lens to about 5 feet at f/8 and you’re good to go for just about anything. For more landscape shots, I’ll push that to 10-15 feet at f/8 which I found provides a bit more detail at infinity.

1/2 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 160 on tripod

1.5 sec @ f/4 ISO 160 on tridod

2 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 160 on tripod

I'm already used to this focal length as the Wide-Angle-Tri-Elmar (WATE) is in my regular kit. But, I think this new 18 has some real advantages over the WATE. The filter/hood design is far improved over the WATE, where you can't use a hood if you use an IR filter. Sharpness and distortion control seem a bit better on the new 18. Keep the camera level (I use a Manfrotto hot shoe bubble level) and you get straight lines without nasty curving into the corners. Being an 18mm, you'll still get keystoning if you angle up or down. The 18 is also smaller and half the price, which doesn't hurt. You do lose the convenience of having three focal lengths in one lens, but if you can live with that, the 18 is $2895 well spent.

3 sec @ f/8 ISO 160 on tripod

2 sec @ f/8 ISO 160 on tripod

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At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful shots!

Any idea why there's no ghosting while shooting those nightscapes? I get a lot of reflections from bright point sources with my 35 Lux ASPH w/ UV/IR filter.


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