Los Angeles with Anna - Part I - Pairing the Leica M10 with the Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux + APO 50mm f/2 Summicron
I don't know if jet lag contributed to our mood at the time, but Venice Beach really wasn't for us. Having said goodbye to the serenity of the Indian Ocean just a couple of days earlier, appreciating the circus-like atmosphere on this stretch of the Pacific may have been too overwhelming, so soon off the plane. Too ambitious? Or perhaps Venice just isn't our scene? Either way, we didn't stay too long, opting for a quick retreat back to the more familiar confines of corporatized comfort.
Obviously, we didn't plan the final leg of our trip. Not that we planned the first or the second leg either. That would've been too much to expect. But unlike Tokyo and Bali, we had six full days in Los Angeles. OMG! What were we going to do here? It's not as if we could just wing it on foot and lose ourselves to the city. Without planning and a car, no amount of walking around would get us far enough to even get lost, let alone lose ourselves.
Well, there is that one bucket list thing Anna wanted to do. Being a fan of the television show "Charmed", she wanted to visit the Halliwell Manor, where the three principle characters resided. Needless to say, we made a pilgrimage to the painted Victorian house now made famous on the show. But then, what do we do for the rest of our stay?
Admittedly, I'm not new to Los Angeles. I used to come here regularly until moving back to Hong Kong eight years ago. To that extent, I could always fall back on whatever tidbit I recall from memory. I mean, I know Rodeo well, being a regular patron of the Beverly Wilshire. And I know Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway. Plus, I also know Santa Monica... albeit by the pier. At the very least, I should know enough to get us started.
But then a curve. Anna wanted a nighttime viewing of the famed Hollywood sign atop Griffith Observatory. How very dreadful. So up the mountain path we inched, crawling behind a line of slow traffic, only to be turned away by park rangers at the top. The parking lot was full, owing to the overflow of visitors flocking for their nighttime "La La Land" moment - I'm assuming. Even so, had we found parking, the city no longer lit up the sign at night for safety reasons. In other words, we wouldn't have seen anything. So essentially, we did all this for nothing.
Definitely blame it on jet lag. Well, so much for the first two days of our visit. Jet lag will do that to you. The third day will be better.
For quite some time, I've been overly dependent on the Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH. Even on the first two days of our visit, the 28 Summilux was the only lens I used. So on the third day, I made a decision to ween myself off it. No, I wasn't quite ready to let it go just yet. I was still greatly impaired by jet lag. But since I brought two Leica M10s with me, it only made sense to use them both. Might as well pair a different focal length on the second one.
Besides, the sensor on my first M10 was in dire need of cleaning. It wouldn't make sense not to take advantage of a clean new sensor.
In addition to the 28 Lux, I also brought along with me the Leica APO 50mm f/2 Summicron ASPH and the 21mm f/3.4 Super Elmar ASPH. Since I was still going to use the 28 Lux for the day, the obvious choice was to pair the second M10 with the APO 50. So for those of you hoping to read about the 21 SEM on this blog post, you will have to wait for the next one. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective), I shot too many pictures on this visit, that I will need to separate what we documented into three separate blog posts in ascending chronological order.
Thus, it was on this third day our visit finally began. Invigorated with a shooting objective and a can of sunscreen, it was time to redeem myself from the night before. So down the Pacific Coast Highway we went, to the familiar surrounding of Malibu Pier. We were after all in Greater Los Angeles. It was time I introduced Anna to her Southern California moment, cruising with the top down by the coast.
It should be noted that driving with the top down gets old very quickly under the blazing Southern California sun. Still, it is something that must be experienced when in Rome. But for the most part, the natives knew better than to expose themselves needlessly unprotected with the top down. Even so, we continued along until we reached my intended destination. It has been years since I last sat al fresco at Malibu Farm.
Unlike Tokyo where there is a need to shoot closer to avoid the threat of photobombing, or Bali where I had to consider two subjects in the framing, here in Los Angeles, I didn't have to deal with the same compositional issues. With the openness of space and the simplicity of just one subject, the documentary conditions did not require extra attention. Overall, the shooting experience was significantly more liberating. So for the first time in a very long while, using the 50mm focal length wasn't tricky within city limits.
Now you may be wondering why I selected the APO 50 for this visit. To be frank, I've grown accustomed to the more contemporary rendering of Leica's newer lenses. Having favored the 28 Lux for the better part of a year, I've become less drawn to the rendering of both the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux ASPH and the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH when stopped down. And with this being sunny Southern California, I was surely going to stop down for most of this visit.
Still, I wouldn't want to be stuck with only a 50mm lens when on holiday. There are times when the crowds begin to thicken, or times when the situation requires one to get closer while still retaining sufficient background for environmental documentation. Getting the shot quickly outweighs all other considerations. With that said, mixing the 50mm focal length with a wide angle lens adds noticeable variety to the visual story telling.
Though not immediately clear, the sense of openness characteristic of a wide angle lens will be noticeably emphasized when interspersed in use alongside a normal lens. It's not something you may necessarily observe in isolation. But when paired together, you will begin to see how much more intimate a relatively tighter focal length can be in documentation. Where the background appears significantly further away with the 28 Lux, it is comparatively closer on the APO 50. This might not appear to be an important distinction. But there will be times when the need for better composition is better served if the environmental context can be brought closer to the subject.
Also worth noting is the documentary value of a tighter crop from a normal lens. Sometimes there is just too much happening in frame that the best compositional tool is to cut it out with a tighter angle of view. This is especially useful when the environmental context surrounding the subject may not necessarily be worth documenting, given the threat of a potential eyesore drawing attention away from the subject. In that case, better to place more compositional focus on the subject than sharing it's focus with the fuller environmental context of a wider lens.
Plus there is also the benefit of increased bokeh from the tighter 50mm focal length.
Of course, there are drawbacks to carrying two cameras for the sake of providing some variance in perspective for documentation. I mean you will have to carry two camera bodies. With that being the case, wouldn't it just make more sense to carry a larger system with a mid range zoom lens like the Leica SL paired with the Vario 24-90mm Elmarit-SL? That would seem the more sensible choice?
However, from the perspective of ergonomics, carrying two Leica M10 is surprisingly less encumbering than a single Leica SL with the Vario or a comparable professional quality DSLR. True you will lose the flexibility and benefits from a broader range of focal lengths. But with two fixed focal length M lenses, you benefit from more speed, which does come in handy when the available light begins to fade. And from the context of portability, it is actually easier to stuff two rangefinders with smaller M lenses into a camera bag than a single SL with a mid range Vario.
Another solution would be to carry the now discontinued Leica 28-35-50mm Tri-Elmar. But again, what you gain in flexibility without the additional encumbrance of a second camera body, you'll lose out on speed. The maximum aperture of the Tri-Elmar is two stops slower than the APO 50 and three stops slower than the 28 Lux. This makes the Tri-Elmar more difficult to use in low light, and less effective in documentary isolation of the subject.
Having said that, I've always felt it made good sense to carry two camera bodies in order to be prepared for all eventualities. And it has nothing to do with documentary benefit of having two different focal lengths. From the perspective of maintaining proper shooting practice, carrying a second camera body provides added insurance, should one camera body fail in the field. It's not something that one ever expects. But when it does happen - and it has - it can be devastating if one doesn't have a backup to complete the task - especially on holiday.
Needless to say, the next two posts revolving around our Los Angeles visit will extol the virtue of carrying two camera bodies on holiday - paired with two very different focal lengths - namely the Leica 21mm f/3.4 Super Elmar ASPH and the APO 50mm f/2 Summicron ASPH. Since I've already optimized all the photos from our visit, it wouldn't be long before I post the rest of our visit. I will probably post them over the next couple of days. Although, that does depend on the availability of internet access when I'm upstate for the week.
Stay tuned for future updates.
All images shot stopped down from f/5.6 to f/11 unless otherwise stated. All images in Malibu are shot at ISO 100. All images shot on Rodeo are shot at ISO 400 unless otherwise stated. All images have been optimized in Lightroom. Some images have been cropped for composition.