This is just a bit of fun with my Leica M6 and the new Leica M-mount Lomography Atoll 17mm f/2.8 wide angle lens. This isn’t really a review, it’s certainly not too technical, and I’m not going to talk about edge sharpness at f/4 or the lens’ micro-contrast: It’s one user’s experiences with & opinions of the lens.
I’ve probably shot 150+ frames by now – all on my Leica M6 TTL – so I feel I’ve got an idea, for me, of what it’s good and not good for.
If you read EMULSIVE, or 35mmc, or any of several other film photography blogs you probably have the occasional bout of GAS. I certainly do. And you’ve probably had similar experiences to me on Kickstarter. I reckon I’m running at about a 60/40 failure/success rate: a few that never happened, one that I’m expecting won’t happen, some that ended up disappointing, and of course some that have been great.
When I saw Lomography’s campaign for a 17mm WIDE angle lens in early 2021 I had two thoughts: “that looks like fun” and “they’re an established brand, I suppose they’re using Kickstarter to gauge potential sales and they’re not likely to run away with my money”.
So I selected a pledge and committed. Lots of regular updates. The lens arrived, on schedule, in late August. The way Kickstarter is supposed to work.
It’s solid and feels well made. It certainly gives the impression that it’ll last longer than a 7artisans / TTartisans type of lens. It has a bit of weight — 500g with both caps on — but isn’t stupidly heavy. I’ve been using it on my Leica M6 and while it certainly makes the camera front heavy, it’s still very useable.
But, for my workflow, it’s a little bit of a process:
Step one: Meter using the camera’s viewfinder and select your aperture & shutter speed. I’m useless when it comes to Sunny 16. I understand the theory, but I struggle to make it work. That’s why I prefer a camera with a built-in meter.
Minor issue #1: It’s a click-less aperture ring — I suppose for cine use? — and I keep moving it by mistake when I’m focusing.
Step two: Focus using the camera’s viewfinder. OK, maybe this isn’t necessary. A 17mm lens at f/5.6 — according to the display on the lens — has a hyperfocal range of 0.9m to infinity. So, you could just leave it on f/5.6 or smaller and not bother too much with the focusing ring. I guess if I’ve got my eye up to the viewfinder, I like to see the rangefinder patches lined up.
Step three: Compose with the hot shoe mount viewfinder that came with the lens and press the shutter.
Minor issue #2: The viewfinder is a cheap bit of plastic nonsense. It almost shows the correct field of view. Almost. Things that I’m SURE I’ve had in the viewfinder didn’t end up on the negative. I don’t know how much more a ‘nice’ external viewfinder would have cost, but it probably would have been worth it.
How wide is a 17mm lens on 35mm film?
I used to think 35mm was a wide-angle lens. Then I went really wide: 28mm. Then I borrowed a 24mm Canon tilt/shift lens for a few months for an architectural project.
OMG 17mm is W I D E.
The subject in nearly every image on the first roll I shot is a little thing somewhere off in the middle distance.
The lens needs instructions like: “Get closer. Now get really close. Can you get any closer? Good, do that. Fill the frame!” I could have sworn the ball in this image was almost bumping against the lens:
Get indoors and it’ll capture the room without having to take two or more images and stitch them together in Lightroom
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Perhaps the best way to show the field of view is with a couple of comparisons. I live near the Royal Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne and if you’re a fan of Victorian architecture or the international exhibition movement of the mid 19th century it’s worth a look.
Camera, tripod, $4 bubble level, and lenses at the ready, this is what 50mm and 17mm look like from the same position:
…and for those of you who prefer a traditional side-by-side (click/tap to zoom).
So, what’s it good for, and what wouldn’t I use it for?
It’s probably not a great lens for ‘traditional’ candid street photography as it’s a little hard to be candid when you’ve got to almost shove the lens in someone’s face to fill the frame, although I can imagine a Bruce Gilden wannabe giving it a try.
And, no, it’s not a portrait lens. Certainly not if you want the subject to talk to you again, although it’s fun for taking a photo across the table at a dim sum lunch, catching my lunch buddy’s smile, the remains of our meal and getting most of the restaurant in the frame.
For me, I think it’s going to find the most use for sweeping scenery, crazy interiors, and architecture. It’s not a high-quality lens like a Canon 17mm T/S, but it’s not pretending to be. If you’re careful about keeping the film plane parallel with the subject, the distortion and keystoning is acceptable, and easily fixed.
And sometimes the distortion adds to the image:
I had a great time on a recent visit to Sydney — my first trip out of Melbourne this year, thank you Mr. COVID-19 — hunting down brutalist architecture, snapping some art and the inside of a few Sydney pubs, which are famous for cold beer and horseshoe bars.
Is the M-mount Lomography Atoll 17mm f/2.8 a keeper? Will it get a lot of use? Ask me again in 12 months. At the moment the answers are tending towards “no” on both, but I still haven’t thrown it on my Sony A7 to see how it performs there. But it’s a lot of fun – as long as you get CLOSE!
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