LFI Magazine

Goodwood Wide Open

Goodwood Wide Open – LFI Magazine

Workshop Article BYBRETT

— Leica Fotografie International —

British photographer Brett was one of the first to test out the new Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH.
Here's how Brett describes the experience.
— Leica Fotografie International —

Goodwood Wide Open

I use Leica M and no other camera system. For my professional work, the Leica M is an exceptionally loyal tool. For my travels, it is a spontaneous and perfectly discreet companion. The Leica M gives me freedom to be a photojournalist and an anonymous tourist at the same time.

Occasionally Leica Camera will commission me to create a photographic spread to help illustrate the creative potential of their camera system. This year, I was asked to do something similar for Photokina. My idea was to visit the Goodwood Revival - a famous vintage car racing event recreated most authentically to the ambience of the 1950s and 1960s.

Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival Start Grid 21Mm Summilux By Brett Leica Photographer

Nestled at the foot of the Sussex Downs, with the sea often visible just a few miles in the distance, the track is the only classic circuit in the world to remain entirely in its original form, after being lovingly restored. Home of the world-famous Goodwood Revival, the historic Goodwood Motor Circuit combines all the nostalgia of the golden era of motorsport with sleek 21st-century technology.
— Goodwood Motor Circuit —

Leica Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH

LFI Magazine - Leica Fotografie International
The Leica Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH is quite a bit larger than what we've come to expect from Leica over the past years and decades. Having said that, if someone had asked me beforehand how I might envision a lens with Summilux and wide-angle specifications, I would probably have pictured it to be quite a bit bigger. Or, more likely perhaps, I would have thought it to be impossible.

I'm not so much a wide-angle photographer. My experience with super wides is limited. In the glory days of film, I tended to use a lens kit consisting of 35, 50 and 90mm focal lengths. Today, I shoot Leica M8 with a Summicron-M 35mm f/2.0, and an Apo-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0. I like to designate one body to one lens. That way I avoid being unprepared for the decisive moment.

Wayfinder Workshop 21Mm Summilux Goodwood Revival M8 Window By Brett Leica Photographer
Wayfinder Workshop 21Mm Summilux Goodwood Revival M8 Wire Wheel By Brett Leica Photographer

Leica Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH

It was in early September that Stefan Daniel, product manager for the Leica M system, handed me a lens and said: ‘This is the first 21mm f/1.4 ever built, and you will be one of the first to try it out’. Well, I was really excited - but also a little concerned. Not to sound unappreciative, but the new Noctilux would have been the absolute prize lens in my book (this would soon come to pass).
As mentioned: I'm not really a wide-angle photographer.

But of course, welcomed the challenge only to realise very quickly that I would not be able to shoot the entire job effectively with just a single lens. So I made it my intention to discover how well the new 21mm would integrate into my existing work pattern ...

Mind's Eye

Given that it is a high-speed lens, the new Summilux is surprisingly easy to operate with a positive grip, short focus throw and non-existent lens tab - which is just the way I like it. Measuring 70 millimetres in width at its widest point, the Summilux will naturally obstruct the composition when looking through the viewfinder. I no longer notice it, though - in the same way, that I never really notice my car's windscreen pillars when I'm focused on driving.

Usually, by the time I raise the camera to my eye, I will have framed the shot in my mind's eye. I've never been a big fan of the viewfinder attachment. In the past, when I'd occasionally pull out my 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit, I would use it without the attachment as it speeds up the process of taking pictures and also allows me to conceal the camera with greater ease.

Surely, if you can master composing a photograph with a 75mm focal length you are unlikely to experience any difficulties estimating the frame with a 21mm focal length; wouldn't you agree?

Bokeh and Breadth

And so off I went to the 10th Goodwood Revival. For my photo essay, I was primarily interested in capturing the atmosphere as a whole; I wasn't really there to take pictures of cars whizzing by. The weather was ideal, there were countless photo opportunities, and I was wondering what to expect. Would the 21mm Summilux manage a similar job to my trusty 35mm f/2.0 - enhanced by the angle of my 21mm f/2.8, which rarely gets to come to the gig?

This is what makes the Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH so intriguing - not so much the prospect of being able to document this year's night racing spectacle without a tripod but, rather, to develop a never-seen-before visual style with a super wide-angle boasting the charms of selective focusing and bokeh. I was pleasantly surprised by the surreal quality which the 21mm Summilux manages to evoke when photographing with the aperture set to wide open, the subject photographed from 70 centimetres (close-focus limit) and infinity included in the composition.

Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 21Mm Summilux Scooters Suitcase By Brett Leica Photographer
Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 75Mm Summicron Motor Cyclist By Brett Leica Photographer

Summilux-M 21mm / Summicron-M 75mm

To see a Bokeh as one of the dominant features of a wide-angle lens is something truly bizarre. It's highly unusual and strangely captivating. I also discovered how easily photographs taken with a Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 can be mistaken for photographs taken with a longer focal length.

Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 21Mm Summilux Crowd Circuit By Brett Leica Photographer
Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 75Mm Summicron Crowd Circuit By Brett Leica Photographer

Summilux-M 21mm / Summicron-M 75mm

The Summilux has an inherent advantage that simplifies the act of taking pictures: While the selective focus effect obviously has a very distinct character, the depth of field at wide-open aperture is not very hard to adjust and allows for a considerable comfort level when setting the focus. In other words, achieving crisp, close-up shots of people becomes easier thanks to the Summilux's tolerance to subtle focusing slip-ups and subject movement.

In my experience of working with a 21mm focal length, getting much closer to the subject than you might feel comfortable with usually pays off. In fact, it's the only way if you want to achieve an interesting composition with distinct photographic layers.

Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 21Mm Summilux Period Dress By Brett Leica Photographer
Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 75Mm Summicron Race Programme By Brett Leica Photographer
Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 21Mm Summilux Ferrari Interior Boy By Brett Leica Photographer
Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 75Mm Summicron Ferrari Steering Wheel By Brett Leica Photographer

Summilux-M 21mm / Summicron-M 75mm

As for the Bokeh, the Summilux at wide-open aperture is characterised by a distinct fall-off from the sharpness to creamy unsharpness zone in which the highlights tend to look a little busy. In my opinion, the effect is rather different from that of the Summicron-M 28mm f/2.0 on film - a comparison I allow myself to make in the light of the M8's crop factor.

By stopping down the aperture, the reproduction becomes crisper - and yet we've all heard and read about this so many times before; it's not really worth mentioning. By stopping down a little further the picture will eventually look like ... well, like a picture taken with a 21mm focal length.

The conclusion I draw from this is that Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH is a lens which wants to be used at the extremes for which it was designed. Keep the aperture open and make good use of the close focusing limit in order to capitalise on the unprecedented wide-angle-plus-blur effect which the Summilux design brings to the table.

Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 21Mm Summilux Portrait Police Constable By Brett Leica Photographer

Leica Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH

Similarly, whenever I mount the 75mm lens to take portraits of people, I prefer to get as close as possible. In this sense, I recommend that you use the 21mm no differently. Now, instead of cropping the face and focusing on the detail, you get a lovely portrait that is both embedded in the environment and ‘hovering’ just above it with the help of the wide-open aperture.

Body Language

For obvious reasons, the Summilux has turned out considerably larger than the 75mm Summicron. In my experience, the issue of being discreet is not so much about the size of the lens. The rangefinder system in itself - the extraordinary styling of the M concept - encourages a different kind of approach to the subject.

And the most important aspect, in any case, is how your presence and the way you handle your camera affects the person standing opposite you. Your body language will speak long before you do.

All in all, my experience with the Summilux has turned out to be a rather remarkable rendezvous with wide-angle photography. I wouldn't hesitate to say that the new 21 - unlike any other 21 I have tried in the past - and my 75, complement each other quite naturally.

Wayfinder Workshop 21Mm Summilux Goodwood Revival Grandstand Boy Hat By Brett Leica Photographer
Wayfinder Workshop 21Mm Summilux Goodwood Revival Grandstand Boys By Brett Leica Photographer

Shooting from the Same Seat – Summilux-M 21mm / Summicron-M 75mm

As poles apart as the two focal lengths may seem, used side by side they promise tremendous potential to anyone wanting to tell a coherent story. This is largely due to their extreme aperture capacity. For example, you could start off by focussing in on the subject detail using a 75mm, then pull out the 21mm focal length and shoot from the same seat to illustrate the larger context - or you could do it the other way round.

The only thing I personally have to remember is to re-compose after focussing, in order to prevent the subject from ending up rather unimpressively in the centre of the composition.
But all it takes is a little practice ...

Neutral Density

Documenting a subject from the close and the far end of the spectrum was an enriching experience in my photographic learning curve. The characteristics for which I simply adore my 75mm Summicron are manifested, in a breathtaking way, in the wide-angle Summilux.

All along, I couldn't help thinking that Leica could have spared themselves a lot of headaches, because - with the Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH, my need for a neutral density filter has become far greater than my need for an aperture ring!

Wayfinder Workshop Goodwood Revival 21Mm Summilux Sunset Race Pits Circuit By Brett Leica Photographer

An abridged version of - Leica Fotografie International

Subscribe to my infrequentWAYFINDERnewsletter announcements


Wayfinder Articles