sábado, 24 de octubre de 2015

Fidel Castro Photographed by Lisl Steiner in Buenos Aires on May 2nd, 1959

© Lisl Steiner
May 2nd, 1959. Fidel Castro has just arrived in Buenos Aires (Argentina), where he will deliver a speech to chancellors and special ambassadors of the OEA Economical Council of the 21 at the ninth floor of the Palace of Industry and Commerce Ministry, where he will propose the creation of a Latin American Single Market.

The expectation is huge and a massive quantity of journalists, photographers and movie camera operators from all over the world are surrounding him at the moment.

Two years and three months have elapsed since the publication of the interview made by Herbet Matthews to the Cuban guerrilla leader at Sierra Maestra and published by The New York Times, and only four months since Castro has made his triumphant entry into Santiago de Cuba, declaring it provisional capital of the country, and Manuel Urrutia Lleó has been named interim president replacing the dictator Fulgencio Bastista, ousted on January 1, 1959.

Moreover, the indescribable thrill is greatly enhanced by the fact that it´s widely known that Ernesto Che Guevara, an Argentinian doctor, has become one of the most important men of the Cuban Revolution that has toppled Batista, and has been personally fighting on the front line for two years in a number of attacks on Batista´s army like the onslaught on El Uvero headquarters on May 28, 1957, Pino del Agua on September 17, 1957, the assault on Güinía de Miranda headquarters on October 26, 1957, the great offensive against the key stronghold of Santa Clara on December 28, 1957 and the capture of the military fortress of La Cabaña in La Habana on January 3, 1959

The stress and fidgets is maximum. Everybody wants to approach Fidel Castro as much as possible to interview him, getting pictures or shooting him from a near distance.

But it is virtually impossible. 

The place is utterly overcrowded and nobody can move, with the exception of Fidel Castro — clad in his olive green military fatigues and cap —  who is opened way by his personal Cuban bodyguards and some Argentinian policemen and security members, though they manage to do it in a very slow way. 

Light conditions are very bad. Everybody is pushing and doing their best to get the picture of the Cuban Revolution leader or a few words by him.

A cinema camera operator in the background handling a Bell & Howell 70-DR 16 mm movie camera is being helped by an assistant who is lifting up a very big and powerful illuminating lamp, while two photographers  with large magnesium flashes (the biggest one held high vertically just in front of the visible movie camera, and the other one seemingly belonging to a Graflex Speed Graphic 4 x 5 is being kept horizontally to prevent it from being broken by the huddled people) endeavour to make pictures while being cramped and barely being able to stretch their arms, and simultaneously, a second cameraman using an Arriflex 35 II movie camera with 400 ft film magazine is also crammed, which makes the context even more cumbersome. 

They all know that Castro is going to lodge at the Alvear Palace Hotel of La Recoleta neighbourhood, where thousands of people are already waiting for him, and then he will visit Argentinian President Arturo Frondizi at Los Olivos Residence with even greater security measures, so this will be highly probably the only chance to capture Fidel Castro with their photographic or movie cameras.

There isn´t space to do anything whatsoever, and many people interfere in the trajectory of any possible photograph.

The aforementioned man in the background is making a strenuous effort raising his spring driven 16 mm Bell & Howell 70-DR movie camera (whose weight is around 2 kg) with three lenses and holding it with one hand to shoot Fidel any way, filming over the heads. 

Everybody is sweating buckets.

Lisl Steiner inside Belvedere Museum in Vienna (Austria) in 2014, fifty-five years after getting the picture of Fidel Castro during his visit to Buenos Aires (Argentina) on May 2nd, 1959. She had arrived in Buenos Aires on Monday 26 September, 1938 as a 10 year old passenger of the ship Oceania with her parents Arnold (then 46 years old) and Katherina (then 38 years old), after having boarded at Trieste port fleeing from Vienna. The accurate timing of the decision of escaping to Argentina made by his father Arnold Steiner, who foresaw what Nazis would do to people of Jewish descent, saved her life. 

In the meantime, an Austrian woman who had to flee from Vienna in 1938 with her parents and emigrate to Argentina is trying to get at least one picture of Fidel Castro.

She is Lisl Steiner, thirty-two years old at the moment, and has become a professional photographer. This is one of her first and most difficult assignments, working as a photojournalist for the Brazilian illustrated magazine O Cruzeiro Internacional, then one of the most important in the world.

She has approached as much as possible towards the left side of Fidel Castro, with a perpendicular trajectory.

There´s a climax of nerviousness. The Cuban guerrilla fighters making up Castro´s personal guard, some members of Argentinian security and two Argentinian policemen go on bearing the brunt of the pressure. Pushes and pokes are being frequent, because there are fears of an assassination attempt of Fidel Castro by Batista´s agents.

Lisl Steiner is in the worst possible place to advance, since the two Argentinian policemen (one on the middle far left of the image and the other one on the lower far right) are working coordinated trying to prevent anybody from crossing between them towards Fidel Castro, while one of Castro´s Cuban guerrilla fighters of his personal guard located next to the policeman on the right, is grabbing the man just in front of him, striving after avoiding that he gets nearer Fidel Castro.

Kodak-Tri-X Pan 400 black and white film from 1959 featuring 20 exposures. Because of its remarkable acutance, exceedingly wide tonal range, very fast ASA 400 speed for the time and easiness to be pushed to ASA 800 with very good results, it became the common choice per excellence of many professional photojournalists throughout decades since its launching into market as a 35 mm b & w emulsion in 1954.

Lisl Steiner realizes that she must shoot as soon as possible, because chances are that she will have only one photograph of this moment, so she presses the shutter release button of her Leica M2 rangefinder camera loaded with Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white film featuring 20 exposures and coupled to a 6 elements in 4 groups Leitz Summaron-M 35 mm f/3.5 lens and gets the picture, creating a defining image from a historical viewpoint, faithfully depicting the very special atmosphere and jittery hubbub of those moments.

                                                       © Lisl Steiner

Picture made by Lisl Steiner on May 2, 1959. It is an exceedingly interesting double exposure in whose center can be seen Fidel Castro standing beside his uncle Gonzalo Castro Argil — brother of his father Angel María Bautista Castro Argil — just after having had lunch inside the house located at the Street Cabello 3589 where the 79 year old man has lived in Buenos Aires since 1913.

The day before, Fidel Castro had promised to his uncle Gonzalo Castro to go to have lunch at his home, on the condition of being offered a caldo gallego.

The Cuban revolutionary leader kept his word and went to this house located in the Palermo neighbourhood of the Argentinian capital to have lunch on Saturday May 2, 1959, after delivering his speech at the modern building of the Secretary of Commerce where he explained his planning of economical development for Latin America, focused on a financial boost of 30,000 million dollars in a ten years period.

Lisl Steiner had previously taken a picture of people standing outside of this house, and and subsequently went into it to cover the meeting of Fidel Castro with his uncle, but after taking out the Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white 35 mm film from her Leica rangefinder camera, she inadvertently put it inside it back again, so a double exposure happened and in the image there are people from the previous picture she got in front of the house and other people who had just had lunch inside Gonzalo Castro´s home.

This is a really fascinating picture, and though it was created unintentionally, exposing the same 35  mm film roll twice in this frame, I do believe that this image features kabbalistic elements, something which would also happen four years later in another extraordinary image made by Lisl Steiner the day of John Fitzgerald Kennedy´s death on November 22, 1963, and in which appear 22 persons. 

José Manuel Serrano Esparza

miércoles, 21 de octubre de 2015

Leica SL 24 x 36 mm: Momento de Inflexión en la Evolución de las Cámaras Fotográficas Profesionales y sus Objetivos en la Era Digital

La presentación de su nueva cámara mirrorless full frame profesional Leica SL (Typ 601) por parte de Leica constituye un acontecimiento de enorme trascendencia, que va a marcar en gran medida la futura evolución de las cámaras fotográficas digitales profesionales y sus ópticas, que muy probablemente se decantará mayormente por el formato 24 x 36 mm.

Y ello obedece a varios factores muy significativos:

a) Se trata de una cámara profesional mirrorless con sensor CMOS full frame 24 x 36 mm y visor electrónico, que viene a sumarse a la muy importante tendencia iniciada históricamemnte por Sony con sus excelentes Sony A7 de 24,3 MP, Sony A7 II de 24, 3 MP, Sony A7R de 36,8 MP y Sony A7R2 de 42,4 megapíxels.

Así pues, dicha tendencia de futuro hacia el diseño y producción de cámaras mirrorless full frame con visor electrónico se ve muy reforzada por el lanzamiento al mercado de la Leica SL por parte de la empresa alemana y la enorme influencia que ello puede ejercer a corto y medio plazo en la industria fotográfica.

b) Leica incrementa de manera muy importante la velocidad, precisión y prestaciones de su AF, abrazando definitivamente la tecnología de enfoque automático en cámaras de ópticas intercambiables que inició en 2014 con su Leica T formato APS-C, tras muchas décadas de fabricación de cámaras y objetivos de enfoque manual, pese a que fue Leica quien inventó el primer sistema de autofoco, denominado Correfot, en 1976.

De hecho, la Leica SL de formato completo alcanza los 11 fps en RAW con un rapidísimo AF al que la empresa de Wetzlar califica como el más rápido del mundo en el segmento de cámaras full frame, si bien en mi opinión es algo que habrá que verificar, ya que éste es un ámbito en el que existen cámaras full frame con una rapidez y precisión de AF extraordinarias, como la Nikon D750 con su módulo autofocus de última generación Multi-CAM 3500 FX II en sinergia con el dsp EXPEED 4 (y que es a efectos prácticos una versión optimizada del también extraordinario y probado sistema AF de 51 puntos de sus cuerpos profesionales de gama alta como la Nikon D4S capaz de alcanzar los 11 fps con su área AF dinámica de 9, 21 y 51 puntos complementado por su modo 3D de seguimiento de enfoque), con el beneficio añadido de una sensibilidad de -3 EV que le permite un extraordinario rendimiento en contextos de luz muy baja e incluso con teleobjetivos acoplados a convertidores 1.4, 1.7x y 2x;  o la Canon EOS-1DX con su soberbio AF de 61 puntos y que es capaz de alcanzar los 12 fps con una gran velocidad y precisión incluso en situaciones de luz muy baja.

No obstante, los indicios apuntan claramente a que el sistema AF de la Leica SL es de una velocidad y precisión impresionante, probablemente comparable al Sistema Híbrido Dual AF de la Olympus OM-D E-M1 formato Micro 4/3 — referente mundial de rapidez y precisión con sujetos estáticos y de movimiento lento, y dotado de un muy buen AF predictivo — y con un seguimiento de enfoque excelente y de gran exactitud para foto deportiva o de fauna en rápido movimiento.

Esto significaría con poco margen para la duda que la Leica SL es con diferencia la cámara mirrorless full frame con autofocus más rápido de todas las existentes hoy por hoy en el mercado fotográfico, sobre todo en condiciones de baja y muy baja luminosidad, donde la enorme rapidez y precisión de su AF son admirables. 

Pero al margen de cual sea hoy por hoy la cámara full frame profesional con AF más rápido del mundo, en mi opinión, lo verdaderamente importante es el hecho de que una cámara mirrorless formato 24 x 36 mm con visor electrónico como la Leica SL sea capaz de competir tanto en velocidad y precisión de AF como en alta tasa de disparos en RAW — en buena medida gracias a su nuevo dsp Maestro II con gran capacidad de cálculo — con cámaras profesionales reflex full frame de gama alta y visor óptico (que son hasta la fecha la referencia en fotografía profesional con temas en movimiento merced a su impresionante rapidez de respuesta global) de empresas muy consolidadas en esta faceta como Canon o Nikon, sin olvidar el hecho de que un factor decisivo a la hora de realizar fotografía de acción es utilizar tarjetas de memoria lo más rápidas posibles y que marcarán grandes diferencias a la hora de vaciar el buffer entre ráfagas en modo RAW.

c) Un extraordinario visor electrónico de 4.4 megapíxels, muy superior a todos los EVFs existentes en el segmento de cámaras mirrorless profesionales, con una rapidísima tasa de refresco de 60 fps, gran tamaño y enorme resolución, magnificación de 0.8x, una nitidez excepcional y apenas tiempo de retardo entre presión del botón liberador del obturador e imagen,

Este es uno de los aspectos más fuertes de la nueva Leica SL y con él se inicia la génesis de un sueño que comienza a ser realidad: el desarrollo en el ámbito fotográfico profesional de EVFs de cámaras digitales con una calidad de imagen y comodidad de visionado que se aproxime todo lo posible a legendarios visores ópticos de cámaras analógicas réflex de formato 35 mm como las Leicas R8 y R9, Olympus OM-1 y OM-2 o de formato medio analógicas como la Pentax 645.

Este soberbio EVF de la Leica SL, denominado EyeRes, marca un antes y un después en el campo de las cámaras digitales profesionales, supone la introducción en el ámbito civil fotográfico de una tecnología que comenzó a usarse en el ámbito militar a principios de los años noventa y a buen seguro catalizará la reacción de las grandes empresas del sector que intentarán mejorar con la mayor rapidez posible este aspecto en sus cámaras, lo que redundará en beneficio de los usuarios, que podrán disponer de una amplia gama de EVFs con unas prestaciones impensables hace solo cinco años.

d) La adopción por parte de la Leica SL de la misma montura que la Leica T, lo cual demuestra sin ningún género de dudas que además de su soberbio diseño, la Leica T ha sido, es y seguirá siendo una cámara de gran calado en el futuro de la fotografía digital y no es en absoluto un capricho, sino una cámara plenamente profesional caracterizada por un bellísimo diseño atemporal y una nueva montura T muy versátil y de gran diámetro, que constituye el mayor logro en esta faceta por parte de Leica desde la patente de la bayoneta Leica M para objetivos intercambiables desarrollada por Hugo Wehrenfennig en Wetzlar en 1950, así como los primeros prototipos de ópticas Leica M.

Al igual que el diseño de montura M de Wehrenfenning permitió a la Leica M3 y modelos posteriores tanto analógicos como digitales una notable versatilidad haciéndola capaz de albergar no sólo objetivos de serie M, sino también de rosca M39 mediante la reducción en 1 mm de la distancia de registro, utilizando adaptadores,
la montura de bayoneta de la Leica SL — que es la misma que la de la Leica T, siendo la única diferencia el sensor formato 24 x 36 mm — hará posible el acoplamiento no sólo de los nuevos objetivos AF anunciados (Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 ASPH, Apo-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280 mm f/2.8-4 ASPH y Summilux-SL 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH) sino también los Leica M — cuya codificación 6-bit preserva todas las funciones tales como medición de exposición, prioridad a la apertura y opción manual —  y los soberbios Leica R — gracias al Leica R-Adapter L — , existiendo también la opción de conectar la cámara a los objetivos cinematográficos Summicron-C y Leica Summilux-C mediante adaptador específico PL-SL.

e) El nivel cualitativo de construcción es extraordinario, ya que la Leica SL está fabricada mediante máquinas CNC estado del arte a partir de un bloque de aluminio que es fresado con gran precisión. Esto aporta al cuerpo de cámara una gran robustez y resistencia incluso en las más duras condiciones de trabajo.

f) Incorpora un muy eficaz sellado antipolvo, gotas de agua y suciedad, complementado por un avanzado sistema de autolimpieza de sensor por ultrasonidos, una tecnología cuyo pionero fue Olympus con su cámara E-1 de 2002, que todavía utilizan algunos fotógrafos profesionales como segundo cuerpo, sin haber tenido que limpiar manualmente el sensor durante más de 10 años, y que incorporaba además un excelente obturador de muy baja intensidad sonora al disparar, que aunque con un tiempo de retardo mayor, era casi tan silencioso como el de una Leica M.

g) Graba Video 4K UHD a 30 fps y mp4 a 120 fps. Si ya la Leica T graba video Full HD de gran calidad — especialmente con el Summicron-T 23 mm f/2 ASPH y los objetivos Leica M ultraluminosos acoplados mediante el adaptador T-M — , la posibilidad de grabar Video 4K UHD de la Leica SL en sinergia con los objetivos Leica T-L, los Leica R y los cinematográficos Summicron-C y Summilux-C supone un salto cualitativo muy importante en este aspecto.

h) CMOS de 24 megapíxels. Esto ha sido para muchos una de las mayores sorpresas, ante la presencia de cámaras profesionales de formato completo con sensor de 50 megapíxels como las Canon EOS 5DS y EOS 5DSR o de 42 megapíxels como la Sony A7RII.

Pero ello tiene su explicación, ya que está habiendo abundante confusión, falta de rigor y desconocimiento relacionados con el concepto calidad de imagen, que engloba una pléyade de factores a cual más importante, no sólo la resolución del sensor.

Ello ha generado la creencia por parte de algunos — dicho sea sin acritud alguna — de que cuanto mayor sea el número de megapíxels del sensor de una cámara, mayor será la calidad de imagen obtenida, lo cual no es cierto.

Existen otros factores muy importantes y determinantes en la calidad de imagen a considerar: rango dinámico obtenido, acutancia, calidad óptica de los objetivos acoplados y sinergia de su fórmula óptica con el sensor digital y el dsp de imagen, el contraste, la captación fidedigna de ambientes, la distancia de visualización, el tamaño al que serán impresas las imágenes, etc.

Hace varios años, Carl Merkin, fotógrafo profesional con muchas décadas de experiencia y que ha trabajado con cámaras de formatos muy distintos (gran formato 9 x 12 cm, 20 x 25 cm, Hasselblad 6 x 6 cm, Leica de 35 mm y otras) me comentó con mucha convicción tras hacer una foto de una mantis religiosa con una cámara de 5 megapíxels con muy buena óptica, que la cantidad de megapíxels no es en absoluto el factor decisivo a la hora de conseguir la mejor calidad de imagen posible con una cámara digital, sino que el aspecto más determinante es la calidad óptica del objetivo acoplado.

Sinceramente, creo que estaba y sigue estando en lo cierto, sin olvidar la también notable importancia de la calidad del sensor y del dsp de imagen.

Además de contar hoy por hoy con grandes expertos de talla mundial y gran experiencia en imagen digital como Dr. Volker Zimmer, Maike Harberts, Jesko von Oeynhausen, Markus Limberger, Andreas Lenhardt y otros, Leica confiere también mucha trascendencia a la fotografía en papel como entidad de naturaleza háptica y al feedback de los fotógrafos profesionales, más allá de las curvas MTF de los objetivos, los megapíxels del sensor o la imagen en la pantalla de un ordenador.

Este énfasis en el concepto háptico de la fotografía a su máximo nivel ha permanecido indemne tanto en el siglo XX como en el XXI, con ejemplos señeros como la exposición Pittsburgh de Eugene Smith o Génesis de Sebastiao Salgado.

Un sensor 24 x 36 mm de 24 megapíxels puede dar más calidad de imagen que uno de 50 megapíxels  — mucho más exigente con las ópticas para poder alcanzar resultados excelentes — .

Y 24 megapíxels son mucho más que suficientes para cualquier fotógrafo profesional o aficionado avanzado en la inmensa mayoría de trabajos fotográficos de la más variada índole que no precisen ampliaciones en papel de más de un metro.

Por otra parte, un sensor formato APS-C puede conseguir también mejor calidad de imagen que un sensor full frame. Dependerá de muchos factores. En este sentido, lo logrado por Fuji con cámaras como la Fuji XT-1 de "solo" 16 megapíxels con su sensor X Trans II y DSP EXR II es digno de encomio, ya que puede con cierta frecuencia, gracias a su especial arquitectura y a la plena integración de óptica, sensor y dsp en simbiosis con la tecnología de optimización de modulación del objetivo, batir en calidad de imagen en tamaños en papel de hasta 50 x 70 cm e incluso mayores a algunas cámaras con sensor full frame de distintas marcas.

Sea como fuere, tengo la firme convicción de que la empresa de Wetzlar ha elegido la resolución de sensor más adecuada y equilibrada posible para una máxima sinergia con sus ópticas y el dsp Maestro II, y la Leica SL produce una excepcional calidad de imagen, propia del formato medio, con impresionantes resolución y contraste a todos los diafragmas y distancias de enfoque, pero sobre todo con una gama tonal muy amplia que la convertirán en uno de los referentes de su segmento de cámaras o bien en su buque insignia, potenciada además por el hecho de que pese a que su sensor CMOS "solo" es de 24 megapíxels, ha sido diseñado y fabricado bajo especificaciones muy estrictas de Leica, sin filtro de paso bajo y sobre todo con una arquitectura de píxel muy estudiada que optimiza al máximo el que la mayor cantidad de luz posible incida sobre cada fotodiodo, con lo cual se consiguen imágenes sin ruido incluso en las más bajas condiciones lumínicas, así como un rango dinámico espectacular, un excelente contraste y excepcionales valores de nitidez y captación de detalle.

Esto supone alcanzar un extraordinario nivel de uniformidad lumínica con soberbio rendimiento óptico en centro, bordes y esquinas de la imagen en el segmento digital profesional mirrorless full frame sin telémetro y la cúspide evolutiva aplicada a una cámara mirrorless formato 24 x 36 mm con visor electrónico del concepto iniciado por Hugo Wehrenfennig cuando en 1949 concibió la bayoneta M de cuatro piezas de la Leica M3 mirrorless con telémetro de 1954, cuyo diseño permitió que la máxima cantidad de luz procedente del sistema óptico de cada objetivo alcanzara las esquinas de la imagen.

i) La existencia en estos momentos de dos líneas de cámaras profesionales de gama alta full frame (la dslr con visor óptico encarnada por las Nikon D4, D4S, D750, Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 6D, Canon EOS-1D X, Canon EOS 5DS, Canon EOS 5DSR a las que hay que añadir la Pentax de formato completo recién anunciada; y la mirrorless full frame con EVF representada por las Sony A7, Sony A7 II, Sony A7R y Sony A7R2, a las que hay que añadir la Leica SL recién presentada) indican claramente una más que probable decantación del segmento profesional de cámaras digitales y sus ópticas hacia el formato 24 x 36 mm, sin que ello signifique por mi parte menoscabo alguno hacia el resto de formatos (APS-C, Micro 4/3, etc), que han generado excelentes cámaras pioneras de muchas tecnologías avanzadas y continuarán aportando notables cotas de interés al sector fotográfico. De hecho, auténticos tour de force tecnológicos como la Fuji XT-1 formato APS-C, Fuji X-Pro 1 formato APS-C, Samsung NX1 formato APS-C, Olympus OM-D E-M5 II formato Micro 4/3, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 4K Micro 4/3, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7KS 4K Micro 4/3, Panasonic GX-8 Micro 4/3 y otras son sin duda excelentes productos con muy buena relación calidad/precio, y es muy interesante  e importante el que coexistan en el mercado cámaras con distintas filosofías, dimensiones, pesos y tamaños de sensor.

Pero creo sinceramente que la realidad es la que es y las ventajas que aportan los sensores grandes 24 x 36 mm son demasiado significativas en lo tocante a calidad de imagen en muy distintos aspectos (sobre todo en nivel de detalle, rango dinámico, ausencia de ruido a isos altos, así como muy superior control de la profundidad de campo y posibilidades creativas con fondos desenfocados) como para poder ser soslayadas, y si la sinergia entre los sensores full frame de las cámaras digitales profesionales — ya sean reflex con visor óptico o mirrorless con visor electrónico — con sus ópticas de muy alta calidad y sus dsp de imagen son las adecuadas, no tienen rival, además del hecho de que desde hace ya algunos años las cámaras APS-C y Micro 4/3 consiguen una calidad de imagen propia del 35 mm de la era analógica y las full frame 24 x 36 mm obtienen una calidad de imagen propia del formato medio, con las inmensas posibilidades que ello genera.

Nikon, Canon, Sony, Leica y Pentax son cinco empresas muy importantes y consolidadas en el mercado fotográfico digital, que han apostado muy fuertemente por las cámaras digitales profesionales con sensores formato 24 x 36 mm, un standard que ejerció una enorme influencia en la industria fotográfica durante el siglo XX y cuya asombrosa vigencia — que obedece a una pléyade de aspectos que trascienden el ámbito fotográfico y están relacionados con la proporción aúrea 2:3 — poco menos que inalterada durante el siglo XXI, confirma una vez más la grandeza de un genio y gran visionario llamado Oskar Barnack, creador de la Ur-Leica de 1914 y su formato 24 x 36 mm.

j) El tamaño de la Leica SL es grande, con unas dimensiones de 147 x 104 x 39 mm y un peso de 900 gramos, claramente más grande y pesada que las Sony A7, A7R y A7RII, la Leica M Typ 240 (139 x 80 x 42 mm y 680 g) y cualquier cámara Leica M de formato 24 x 36 mm.

Este es otro de los factores que ha provocado cierta sorpresa, ya que muchos esperaban una especie de Leica Q con ópticas intercambiables o una cámara de dimensiones tan sumamente reducidas como las Sony A7, A7R y A7rII , y la Leica SL es en realidad una especie de Leica S pequeña con un tamaño ligeramente inferior al de una Canon EOS DS o DRS.

Pero ello tiene su explicación, que obedece a cuatro motivos principales:

1) Leica ha querido seguir en gran medida la filosofía de sus cámaras réflex analógicas de 35 mm, que — pese a que algunas de ellas fueron realmente soberbias como la Leica R6.2, Leica R8 y Leica R9 — debido principalmente a la falta de autofocus, no pudieron competir en el mercado con las excelentes cámaras réflex de 35 mm de marcas japonesas como Nikon, Canon, Pentax y Olympus, que ofrecían además una relación calidad / precio muy difícil de batir.

2) A la hora de concebir una cámara mirrorless formato 24 x 36 mm con visor electrónico como la Leica SL, no existe una necesidad intrínseca de enorme máxima miniaturización viable de cuerpo de cámara y objetivos como sucede con la línea de cámaras Leica M, cuyas ópticas poseen no sólo una gran luminosidad, sino muy poca longitud, peso muy ligero y un diámetro de lente frontal muy reducido en aras de la máxima compacidad y facilidad de transporte posibles — además de que hay que evitar que los objetivos interfieran con el visor con telémetro acoplado —.

Aunque como consecuencia del inevitable stress mediático y rapidez desmesurada que preside muchos contextos, algunos han proclamado que la Leica SL es poco menos que una copia de la Sony A7, A7R y A7RII e incluso insinúan presuntas rencillas entre Leica y Sony, a mi modesto entender, nada más lejos de la realidad.

En primer lugar, las Sony A7 (416 g), A7R (465 g) y A7RII (625 g) y dimensiones 126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2 mm son notablemente más pequeñas y ligeras que la Leica SL (147 x 104 x 39 mm y un peso de 900 gramos).

Por otra parte, el cuerpo de las Sony A7, A7R y A7RII está fabricado en aleación de magnesio, un buen material de calidad más que suficiente para dichas tres excelentes cámaras mirroless de 35 mm con EVF, pero la Leica SL está hecha en aluminio unibody, un material de calidad muy superior a la de las aleaciones de magnesio y garantiza en gran medida una enorme resistencia al más duro trato profesional durante muchos años, pero el fresado unidad por unidad con varias fases en gran medida artesanales mediante máquinas CNC estado del arte incrementa enormemente el precio de fabricación.

3) Las Sony A7, A7R y A7RII son cámaras extraordinarias, con sensores de primerísimo nivel, capaces además de conseguir muy buenas calidades de imagen a sensibilidades estratosféricas, un campo en el que el gigante japonés, uno de los referentes mundiales en electrónica, si no el buque insignia, es virtualmente imbatible.

Son además cámaras de una enorme capacidad en contextos que no requieran alta velocidad o seguimiento de sujetos en movimiento y en situaciones lumínicas bajas y muy bajas, gracias a los altísimos ISOS operativos que pueden alcanzar y sus excepcionales sensores 24 x 36 mm, y es en mi opinión con los objetivos Leica M asféricos de última generación (sobre todo el Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH - 335 gramos. 52.3 x 53.5 mm- , Summicron-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH y Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH), el Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 (referente mundial Doble Gauss sin asféricos, fabuloso grado de miniaturización con dimensiones de 43,5 x 53 mm y 240 gramos que produce con la Sony A7R y A7II impresionantes resultados), los Asahi Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50 mm f/1.4 de 1971 y Asahi SMC Takumar 50 mm f/1.4 de 1972 (con 7 elementos en 6 grupos y 8 palas de diafragma con muy bello bokeh, ambos también de dimensiones muy reducidas y un peso muy ligero de 250  gramos) acoplados mediante adaptador, y en menor medida con otros excelentes objetivos como el Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 55 mm f/1.8 ZA con los que alcanzan no sólo los mayores niveles cualitativos en calidad de imagen sino también su máxima compacidad y auténtica simbiosis objetivos de alta luminosidad / cuerpo de cámara, mientras que con otras ópticas la sinergia es bastante menor, tanto con respecto a calidad de imagen como a equilibrio de tamaño del tándem cuerpo de cámara/objetivo.

Por tanto, en mi opinión, a Leica no le disgusta en absoluto la presencia de soberbias cámaras Sony mirrorless full frame en el mercado fotográfico, ya que ambas empresas pueden beneficiarse mutuamente de las interacciones activas y pasivas a efectos de ventas entre un gigante japonés de la electrónica y la empresa de Wetzlar que continúa siendo el referente mundial cualitativo óptico/mecánico en diseño y producción de objetivos fotográficos.

De hecho, desde que en noviembre de 2013 comenzaron a venderse unidades de las Sony A7 y A7R, son muchos los fotógrafos profesionales de diferentes paises del mundo que deseosos de obtener la máxima calidad de imagen posible. las han estado utilizando acopladas a objetivos como el Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH, Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH, Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 no asférico, Apo-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH, etc.

4) Aunque la Leica SL refuerza todavía más la tendencia de futuro de cámaras profesionales mirrorless full frame con EVF iniciada por Sony en 2013 con las Sony A7 y A7R y confirmada por su lanzamiento de la Sony AR7II en 2015, la Leica SL sigue una senda distinta a la muy meritoria miniaturización de dichas cámaras Sony, ofreciendo un cuerpo de cámara y objetivos zoom de notables dimensiones, en absoluto excesivas, pero evidentemente más grandes de lo habitual en el segmento de cámaras mirrorless con visor electrónico.

Y ello obedece a una importante razón: por increible que pueda parecer, la Leica SL no intenta competir con las Sony A7, A7R y A7R II.

La raison d´être de la Leica SL gira en torno a un aspecto fundamental: la velocidad, e intenta competir de tú a tú con los buques insignias dslr Canon y Nikon full frame como all-around performer en rapidez de autofocus, cadencia de disparos en RAW, precisión de enfoque, y realización de trabajos fotográficos no sólo en contextos controlados como estudio, moda, arquitectura, etc, sino también en fotografía deportiva y de fauna en rápido movimiento, algo que hasta la fecha estaba más allá de las posibilidades de las cámaras mirrorless de formato completo con EVF.

k) Leica apuesta muy fuertemente no sólo por su cámara SL mirrorless EVF formato 24 x 36 mm con una velocidad de respuesta global y de rapidez y precisión de AF así como ráfagas en RAW bastante superior a lo existente en este segmento, sino también por sus dos zooms anunciados: el Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 ASPH con la más impresionante fórmula óptica realizada hasta la fecha en un zoom profesional standard: nada menos que 18 elementos — de los cuales cuatro son asféricos y once están hechos con vidrios especiales con dispersión anómala parcial para la corrección de las aberraciones cromáticas — en 6 grupos móviles.

Las curvas MTF mostradas por Leica de este zoom ciertamente de ensueño no dejan lugar a dudas: es el objetivo de focal variable que aporta mayor calidad de imagen en cuanto a resolución y contraste fabricado hasta la fecha a nivel mundial, con una uniformidad de rendimiento extraordinaria en centro, bordes y esquinas, a todos los diafragmas y distancias de enfoque.

Por su parte, el Leica Apo-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280 mm f/2.8-4 promete ser también fabuloso con un esquema óptico igualmente muy definitorio: 23 elementos — siete de ellos realizados con vidrio de dispersión anómala parcial para minimizar las aberraciones cromáticas —  en 7 grupos móviles.

De este modo, por primera vez en una cámara digital profesional de formato 24 x 36 mm, se ha podido cubrir la gama focal entre 24 mm y 280 mm mediante el diseño y fabricación de los dos mencionados extraordinarios zooms profesionales, obteniendo una extraordinaria calidad de imagen propia de ópticas fijas de primerísimo nivel en todas y cada una de las focales que abarcan: 24 mm, 28 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm, 75 mm, 90 mm, 100 mm, 135 mm, 180 mm, 200 mm, 250 mm y 280 mm.

José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Leica SL 24 x 36 mm: A Turning Point in the Evolution of Professional Photographic Cameras and Lenses in the Digital Era

The presentation of its new 24 x 36 mm mirrorless full frame Leica SL (Typ 601) by Leica makes up a hugely significant event, which is going to greatly mark the future evolution of digital professional cameras and their lenses.

And it is due to some very important factors:

a) It´s a mirrorless professional camera featuring a full frame 24 x 36 mm CMOS sensor and EVF, which adds to the far-reaching trend historically started by Sony with its excellent Sony A7 24.3 MP, Sony A7 II 24.3 MP, Sony A7R 26.8 MP and Sony A7R2 42.4 megapixels.

Therefore, such a future bias towards the design and production of mirrorless full frame cameras with electronic viewfinders is very strengthened by the launching into market of the Leica SL by the German firm and the enormous influence it can exert in the short and medium term as to the photographic industry.

b) Leica increases in a highly meaningful way the speed, accuracy and global performance of its AF, definitely embracing the automatic focusing technology in a camera with interchangeable lenses that it began in 2014 with its Leica T after many deades of manufacturing of manual focusing cameras and lenses.

As a matter of fact, the full frame Leica SL reaches 11 fps in RAW with an exceedingly fast AF that the Wetzlar firm definesd as the quickest in the world in the scope of full frame cameras, though in my opinion it is something that will have to be verified, since this is a sphere in which there are full frame cameras boasting extraordinary quickness and accuracy of AF, as the Nikon D750 with its last generation module Multi-CAM 3500 FX II in sinergy with the dsp EXPEED 4 (which is for practical purposes an optimized version of the also extraordinary and proven 51 points AF system of its high end profesional bodies like the Nikon D4S able to reach 11 fps with its AF dynamic area of 9, 21 and 51 points complemented by its 3D Mode focusing tracking AF), with ther added benefit of a -3 EV added sensibility enabling a superb performance in dim or very low light contexts, and even with tele lenses coupled to 1.4x, 1.7x and 2x converters; or the Canon EOS-1DX with its excellent 61 point AF which is able to reach 12 fps with a great speed and accuracy of AF even in very low light environments.

Nevertheless, evidence clearly suggest that the Leica SL AF system sports impressive speed and accuracy, probably comparable to the Hybrid Dual AF System of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera — world benchmark regarding quickness and precision of AF with static and slow movement subjects, and featuring a very good predicitive AF — and sporting an exceedingly accurate tracking AF for sports or quickly moving fauna.

This would mean with little room for doubt that the Leica SL is by far the full frame mirrorless camera with fastest autofocus among all the ones currently in existence in the photographic market, particularly under conditions of low or very low luminosity, where the huge quickness and exactness of its AF are really praiseworthy.

But irrespective of which is presently the professional full frame mirrorless camera featuring the fastest AF on earth, in my opinion, what´s truly important is the fact that the Leica SL is able to compete in AF speed and accuracy as well as in a very high rate of RAW consecutive shots — greatly thanks to its new Maestro II dsp boasting a tremendous calculating capacity — with high end professional cameras of very consolidated firms in this side like Canon or Nikon, without forgetting that a key factor when it comes to making action photography is to use the fastest feasible memory cards, which will make a difference on emptying the buffer between bursts in RAW mode.

c) An extraordinary 4.4 megapixel electronic viewfinder, far superior to every EVF available in the scope of professional mirrorless cameras, with a very fast refresh rate of 60 fps, great size and huge resolution, o.8x magnification, exceptional sharpness and barely lag between pressing of the shutter release button and image.

This is one of the stronget traits of the new Leica SL, and with it is born a dream beginning to be true: the development within the professional photographic field of EVFs displaying an image quality and viewing comfort  approaching as much as possible to legendary optical viewfinders of 35 mm format analog reflex cameras like the Leicas R8 and R9, Olympus OM-1 and OM-2 or analog medium format ones like the Pentax 645.

This superb EVF of the Leica Sl, called EyeRes, is a milestone in the sphere of professional digital cameras, means the introduction in the civil photographic domain of a technology which was firstly used in the military scope in early nineties and will probably give rise to the reaction of the largest firms of the sector, who will strive after improving this aspect of their cameras as soon as possible, which will benefit the users, who will have available a wide assortment of EVFs featuring a mind-boggling performance deemed to be unimaginable only five years ago.

d) The adoption by the Leica SL of the same mount as the Leica T, which undoubtedly proves that aside from its superb design, the Leica T has been, is and will go on being an influential camera in the future of digital photography and it isn´t a mere whim at all, but an utterly professional camera featuring a very beautiful timeless design and a new and fairly versatile with big diameter T mount, which makes up the greatest achievement in this aspect by Leica since the patent of Leica M bayonet mount for interchangeable lenses developed by Hugo Wehrenfenning in Wetzlar in 1950, along with the first prottypes of Leica M lenses.

In the same way as the design of the M bayonet mount by Wehrenfenning enabled the Leica M3 and subsequent both analog and digital models a stunning versatility, making it able to hold not only M series lenses, but also M39 screw ones through a reduction in 1 mm of the flange distance, using adapters,

the bayonet mount of the Leica SL — which is the same as the Leica T, the only difference being that it features a 24 x 36 mm sensor — will make possible the coupling of not only the new AF lenses announced (Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 ASPH, Apo-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280 mm f/2.8-4 ASPH and Summilux-SL 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH) and the Leica M lenses — whose 6-bit coding preserves all functions such as exposure metering, aperture priority and manual choice — , but also the superb Leica R lenses — thanks to the Leica R-Adapter L — , with the added possibility of connecting the camera to the Leica Summicron-C and Leica Summilux-C by means of a specific PL-SL adapter.

e) The constructive qualitative level is extraordinary, because the Leica SL is manufactured with state-of-the-art CNC machines from a solid aluminium block which is milled with amazing accuracy.

This provides the camera body with a great sturdiness and resilience even under the hardest working conditions.

f) It features a very efficient sealing to prevent dust, drops of water and dirtiness entering the camera, complemented by an advanced system of sensor self cleaning through ultrasounds.

g) It records 4K UHD Video at 30 fps and mp4 at 120 fps. If the Leica T already records very high quality Full HD Video — specially with the Summicron-T 23 mm f/2 ASPH and the ultraluminous Leica M lenses coupled through the T-M adaptor — , the chance of recording 4K UHD Video of the Leica SL in sinergy with the Leica T-L objectives and the Leica R ones is a very significant qualitative leap in this regard.

h) 24 megapixel CMOS sensor. This has been for many one of the biggest surprises, before the presence in the market of professional full frame cameras sporting 50 megapixel sensors like the Canon EOS 5DS and EOS 5DSR or 42 megapixel ones like the Sony A7RII.

But it has got an explanation, since there is still abundant confusion, lack of rigour and misunderstanding related to the concept of image quality, which encompasses a number of important factors, not only the sensor resolution.

It has brought about the belief by some persons that the bigger the number of megapixels featured by a camera sensor, the better will be the image quality obtained, which is not true.

There are other very important and decisive factors as to image quality to be considered: dynamic range, acutance, optical quality of the coupled lenses and sinergy of their optical formula with the digital sensor and the image dsp, the contrast, the faithful capture of atmospheres, the viewing distance, the size images will be printed, etc.

Some year ago, Carl Merkin, a professional photographer featuring a lot of decades of experienced and who has worked with cameras of very different formats (4 x 5 large format, 8 x 10 large format, medium format Hasselblad 2 1/4 x 2 1/4, 24 x 36 mm format and others) commented me with great conviction after getting a picture of a praying mantis with a 5 megapixel camera sporting a very good lens, that the quantity of megapixels isn´t at all the decisive factor when it comes to obtaining the best possible image quality with a digital camera, because the most crucial aspect is the optical quality of the coupled lens. 

Sincerely, I do believe that he was and goes on being right, without forgetting the also apparent significance of the sensor quality and the image dsp.

Leica has got nowadays world class experts on digital image like Maike Harberts, Jesko von Oeynhausen, Markus Limberger and others, but the Wetzlar firm also confers a lot of weightiness to photography in paper as an entity of haptic nature and to the feedback of professional photographers, beyond MTF curves of the lenses, the megapixels of the sensor or the image on a computer screen.
This emphasis in the haptic concept of photography at its highest level has remained intact both in XX and XXI centuries, with noteworthy examples like Eugene Smith´s Pittsburgh exhibition or Genesis by Sebastiao Salgado.

A 24 x 36 mm sensor featuring 24 megapixels can give more quality than a 50 megapixels one — much more difficult to interact with the lenses to be able to get excellent results — .
And 24 megapixels are more than enough for any professional or advanced photographer in vast majority of photographic assignments of the most varied nature that don´t need bigger than 1 meter enlargements on paper.

On the other hand, an APS-C sensor can also get better image quality than a full frame sensor. It will depend on many factors. 

In this respect, what Fuji has attained with cameras like the Fuji XT-1 featuring " only " 16 megapixels with its Xtrans II sensor and EXR II dsp is commendable, since it can often beat (thanks to its special architecture and the full integration of lens, sensor and image dsp in symbiosis with the technology of lens modulation optimization) some cameras from different brands sporting full frame sensors in image quality in paper sizes up to 50 x 70 cm and even larger.

Whatever it may be, I´ve got the firm conviction that the Wetzlar firm has chosen the most suitable and balanced sensor resolution  for the Leica SL to get a maximum sinergy with its lenses and Maestro II image dsp, so the Leica SL will render an exceptional image quality, typical of medium format, with impressive resolution and contrast at every diaphragm and focusing distance, but above all with a very wide tonal range that will turn it into one of the benchmarks of his kind of cameras or more probably into its flagship, as well as being fostered by the fact that in spite of its CMOS sensor featuring "only" 24 megapixels, it has been designed and made under very stringent Leica specifications, without low pass filter and specially with a painstakingly studied pixel architecture optimizing to the utmost that the biggest quantity of possible light incides on each photodiode, so noiseless images are obtained even under the dimmest luminic conditions, along with a spectacular dynamic range, a top-notch contrast and exceptional values of sharpness and capturing of detail.

This means to reach an extraordinary level of luminic uniformity with superb optical performance in center, borders and corners of the image in the professional mirrorless full frame without rangefinder scope and the evolutive apex applied to a mirrorless 24 x 36 mm format camera with EVF of the concept started by Hugo Wehrenfenning when in 1948 conceived the M mount bayonet of four components of the 1954 mirrorless with rangefinder Leica M3, whose design enabled that the maximum quantity of light coming from the optical system of each lens reached the image corners.

i) The present existence of two lines of high-end professional full frame cameras (the dslr one featuring optical viewfinders and embodied by the Nikon D4, D4S, D750, Canon EOS 5d Mark III, Canon EOS 6D, Canon EOS-1D X, Canon EOS 5DS, Canon EOS 5DSR, to which must be added the recently announced full frame Pentax; and the mirrorless full frame one sporting EVFs and represented by the Sony A7, Sony A7 II, Sony A7R and Sony A7R2, along with the just introduced Leica SL) clearly indicate a more than probable opting of the professional sector of professional photographic digital cameras and their lenses for the 24 x 36 mm format, without meaning any underestimation regarding the rest of formats (APS-C, Micro 4/3, etc), which have generated excellent cameras having pioneered a number of breakthrough technologies and will go on providing remarkable interest to the photographic industry.

As a matter of fact, full-fledged technological tours de force like the APS-C format Fuji XT-1, APS-C format Fuji X-pro 1, APS-C format Samsung NX1, Micro 4/3 format Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, Micro 4/3 format Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 4K, Micro 4/3 format Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7KS 4K, Micro 4/3 format Panasonic GX-8 Micro 4/3 and other ones are undoubtedly excellent products with a very good quality/price ratio, and it´s very interesting and important that cameras with different philosophies, dimensions, weights and sensor sizes coexist in the market.

But I do sincerely believe that reality is that the advantages provided by the big 24 x 36 mm sensors are too significant as to image quality in a number of sides (specially in level of detail, dynamic range, lack of noise at high isos, together with a superior control of the depth of field and creative possibilities with out of focus backgrounds) to be dodged, and if the sinergy between the full frame sensors of professional full frame digital cameras — whether they are reflex ones with optical viewfinders or mirrorless with electronic viewfinders — with their top-notch quality lenses and their image dsps are the suitable, they are unmatched, in addition to the fact that the APS-C format and Micro 4/3 format cameras heve been delivering for some years an image quality inherent to the 35 mm of the analog era, while the 24 x 36 mm full frame ones get an image quality pertaining to the medium format realm, with the immense possibilities it brings about.

Nikon, Canon, Sony, Leica and Pentax are five very important and firmly rooted brands of the digital market that have bet very strongly on the 24 x 36 mm format, a standard which exerted a huge influence within the photographic industry during XX Century and whose amazingly continuity and prominence — because of a number of factors which go far beyond the photographic scope and are related with the 2:3 golden ratio — almost unnaltered throughout XXI Century, confirms once more the greatness of a genius and visionary named Oskar Barnack, creator of the Ur-Leica from 1914 and its 24 x 36 mm format.

j) The size of the Leica SL is big, with 147 x 104 x 39 mm dimensions and a weight of 900 g, clearly larger and heavier than the Sony A7, A7R and A7RII, the Leica M Typ 240 (139 x 80 x 42 mm and 680 g) and any 24 x 36 mm Leica M camera.

This is another of the factors which has raised a certain surprise, since many had been waiting for a kind of Leica Q with interchangeable lenses or a camera featuring so exceedingly reduced dimensions like the Sony A7, A7R and A7RII, and the Leica SL is really a sort of little Leica S with a slightly smaller than a Canon EOS DS or DRS size.

But it has got an explanation, which results from four main reasons:

1) Leica has wanted to greatly follow the philosophy of its 35 mm format analog reflex cameras, which — though some of them were really superb like the Leica R6.2, the Leica R8 and Leica R9 — mainly due to the lack of autofocus, couldn´t compete in the market with the top-of-the-line 35 mm format cameras from Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Olympus, who also offered a very difficult to beat quality/price ratio.

2) When it comes to conceive a 24 x 36 mm format mirrorless camera with EVF like the Leica SL, there isn´t an intrinsec need of maximum feasible miniaturization of both camera and lenses as happens with the line of Leica M cameras, whose objectives feature not only great luminosity, but very short length, exceedingly light weight and a fairly reduced lens front diameter to get as much compacity and transport convenience as possible — apart from the fact that it is necessary to prevent the lenses from interfering with the viewfinder featuring a coupled rangefinder — .

Albeit as a consequence of the inevitable media stress and enormous speed ruling a lot of contexts, some persons have proclaimed that the Leica SL is nothing short of a copy of the Sony A7, A7R and A7RII and even some of them suggest alleged disputes between Leica and Sony, in my opinion, there´s nothing further from the truth.

To begin with, the Sony A7 (416 g), A7R (465 g) and A7RII (625 g) and 126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2 mm are much smaller and lighter than the Leica SL (147 x 104 x 39 mm and a weight of 900 g).

On the other hand, the body of the Sony A7, A7R and A7RII is made with magnesium alloy, a good material of more than enough quality for those three excellent 35 mm EVF mirrorless cameras, but the Leica SL is manufactured in aluminium unibody, a far superior quality material than magnesium alloys, and it largely ensures a huge resistance to the hardest professional use for many years, but the unit by unit milling with several mostly handcrafted stages through state-of-the-art CNC machines increases substantially the production cost. 

3) The Sony A7, A7R and A7RII are extraordinary cameras featuring first rate sensors able to deliver very good image quality at stratospheric sensibilities, a field in which the Japanese giant, one of the world benchmarks in electronics and probably the flagship within that sphere, is virtually unbeatable.

Moreover, they are highly capable cameras in contexts in which it´s not necessary high speed or tracking of moving subjects and in low and very low luminic environments, thanks to the stunningly operative isos they can rerach and their exceptional 24 x 36 mm sensors, and in my viewpoint, it is with the last generation aspherical Leica M lenses (above all the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH - 335 g, 52.3 x 53.5 mm- , Summicron-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH and Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH), the Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH), the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Versions 4 and 5 (Double Gauss benchmark without aspherics, fabulous degree of miniaturization with 43.5 x 53 mm and 240 g which renders impressive results with the Sony A/R and A7II), the Asahi Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50 mm f/1.4 from 1971 and Asahi SMC takumar 50 mm f/1.4 from 1972 (featuring 7 elements in 6 groups and 8 diaphragm blades with very nice bokeh, both of them also sporting very small dimensions and an exceedingly light weight of 250 g) coupled by means of adaptor, and to less extent with other excellent lenses like the Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 55 mm f/1.8 ZA, with which they reach not only the greatest levels in image quality but also their maximum compacity and authentic ultraluminous lenses / camera body symbiosis, while the synergy is much lesser with other lenses, both regarding image quality and balance of size of the camera body / lens tandem.

Therefore, in my viewpoint, Leica doesn´t dislike at all the presence of superb EVF mirrorless full frame Sony cameras in the photographic market, because both firms can mutually benefit from the active and passive interactions in sales between a Japanese giant of electronics and the Wetzlar firm which keeps on being the opto/mechanical qualitative yardstick in design and production of photographic lenses.

As a matter of fact, since November 2013 when units of the Sony A7 and A7R cameras began to be sold, many professional photographers from all over the world craving for obtaining the maximum image quality possible, have been using them coupled to lenses like the Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH, Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH, Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 non aspherical, Apo-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH, etc.
4) Although the Leica SL enhances even more the future trend of professional EVF full frame mirrorless cameras started by Sony in 2013 with the Sony A7 and A7R and confirmed by its launching into market of the Sony AR7II in 2015, the Leica SL follows a completely different path to the praiseworthy miniaturization of those Sony cameras, offering a camera and zoom lenses featuring bigger dimensions, not excessive whatsoever, but evidently larger than usual in the scope of EVF mirrorless cameras.

And it stems from a fundamental reason: however incredible it may seem, the Leica SL doesn´t try to compete with the Sony A7, A7R and A7R II.

The Leica SL raison d´être is based on a core aspect: the speed, and it tries to compete on equal terms with the dslr Canon and Nikon full frame flagships as an all-around performer in AF quickness, rate of bursts in RAW mode, focusing accuracy and fulfillment of photographic assignments not only in controlled contexts like studio, fashion, architecture, etc, but also in sports and fast moving fauna, something which had been hitherto out of the possibilities of the EVF mirrorless full frame cameras.

k) Leica bets very strongly not only on its 24 x 36 m format mirrorless EVF camera sporting a speed of global response, AF quickness and precision and RAW bursts far superior to everything existing in this scope, but also on its two announced zooms: the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 ASPH boasting the most awesome optical formula made until now with a professional standard zoom: nothing less than 18 elements — of which four are aspherical ones and eleven are made with special partial anomalous dispersion glasses for the correction of chromatic aberrations — in 6 moving groups.

The MTF curves of this really dreaming zoom leave no room for doubt: it is the variable focal length lens deleivering the highest image quality in resolution and contrast manufactured in the world till now, with an awesome resolution and contrast in center, borders and corners, at every diaphragm and focusing distance.

On its turn, the Leica Apo-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280 mm f/2.8-4 promises to likewise be fabulous, with an also exceedingly defining optical scheme: 23 elements — seven of them manufactured with partial anomalous dispersion glass to minimize chromatic aberrations — in seven moving groups.
This way, for the first time in a professional 24 x 36 mm digital professional camera, it has been possible to cover the focal range between 24 mm and 280 mm through the design and production of the two mentioned extraordinary professional zooms, getting an image quality comparable to the cream of the crop of primes in every single focal length they encompass: 24 mm, 28 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm, 75 mm, 90 mm, 100 mm, 135 mm, 180 mm, 200 mm, 250 mm and 280 mm.

José Manuel Serrano Esparza


Text and Photos : José Manuel Serrano Esparza

The path started by Canon with its superb rectilinear 11-24 mm f/4L extreme wideangle zoom lens featuring 16 elements ( for of them aspherical — one of them handcraftedly grounded — 1 Super ED, 1 ED, and boasting super spectra and fluorine multicoating) in 11 groups for 24 x 36 mm format has brought about from the very instant of its introduction in February 2015 huge levels of expectation and even bustle in the photographic market, due to a number of significant reasons, particularly the fact of stretching the range of short focal lengths in nothing less than 3 mm in comparison to the likewise superb Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED for full frame format (launched into market in August 2007 and being the benchmark in this type of zoom lenses hitherto).


The manufacturing of the Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L USM zoom lens requires a great investment both in highly sophisticated and accurate specific CNC machines which have to be handled by very experienced personnel and top-notch optical designers with deep knowledge on the magneto reological finishing techniques with MRF tools, specially regarding six of its 16 elements: a very large aspherical one and hand grounded with a huge diameter of 87 mm, another one also aspherical and moulded in glass, two further smaller aspherical ones likewise moulded in glass, another one made with extra low chromatic dispersion Super ED glass and one more very low chromatic dispersion  UD glass.

Cross section of the impressive optical scheme of the 16 elements in 11 groups Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L USM extreme wideangle zoom which has meant a turning point in the design and construction of this kind of variable focal length lenses, on having widened the ultrawide range up to 11 mm, even beating the barrier of 12 mm of the non retrofocus Voigtländer Heliar 12 mm f/5.6 super wideangle prime, something that can be bluntly defined as a feat, since the Canon zoom is a retrofocus design created to be used with full frame reflex professional cameras and in which the king size (nothing less than 108 mm) front bulbous lens moves when focusing, with a minimum focusing distance changing according to the used focal length: 32 cm in the 11 mm position and 28 cm in the 24 mm one.

The production cost of this extreme wideangle zoom lens is very high and it inevitably has an effect on its price tag of roughly 3,000 euros, which it certainly deserves, because it makes up in itself an important optical and mechanical chef-d´oeuvre entailing a qualitative leap and a spectacular extension of the extreme wideangle coverage with respect to the way opened by other two élite ultrawideangle zoom lenses, a rectilinear one yielding a stunning level of distortion correction, barely noticeable fall-off even in the shortest focal lengths and a remarkable uniformity of excellent image quality in center, border and corners (the Olympus Zuiko Digital 7-14 mm f/4 ED) and an exceedingly versatile further one, not so superlatively well corrected in distortion and vignetting but sporting an important f/2.8 widest aperture, delivering exceptional levels of resolution and contrast and which is until now the reference-class zoom lens for 24 x 36 mm format sensor cameras in the sphere of reportage and landscape photography (the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED):
- The Olympus Zuiko Digital 7-14 mm f/4 ED zoom lens for Four Thirds System, equivalent to a 14-28 mm f/4 in 24 x 36 mm format, introduced in September 2004, with an optical formula featuring 18 elements in 12 groups (two of them being aspherical — the second one manufactured with a topflight grinding, great diameter and a more than daring curvature along with a remarkable thouroughness in the cutting of its borders and the much smaller sixteenth one made with ED glass — , two Super ED ones — the forth and the sixth, the latter being a bit smaller — , and one ED — the fourteenth — ) and a weight of 780 g. It is still the yardstick in this domain an one of the greatest accomplishments in the whole history of photographic lenses, with an incredible level of optical correction: virtually lacking any geometric distortion, an extremely low fall-off for such a wide coverage lens and an unknown hitherto homogeneity of very high definition and contrast between center and corners in a zoom of this kind until its launching into market, even at 7 mm (thanks to the preservation of some colour fringing in the extreme short focal area), always bearing in mind that within the huge complexity and merit which takes designing a first-rate extreme wideangle zoom like this, it´s easier and with a lower production cost to do it for 4/3 format, Micro 4/3 or APS-C than for 24 x 36 mm format.
- The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED. Introduced in August 2007. A real flagship standing out forits great luminosity for such an extreme zoom featuring those traits and designed for full frame sensors and particularly because of its extraordinary resolving power and contrast in the center, in addition to excelling in its awesome evenness of optical performance at every diaphragm between f/2.8 and f/11 and in every and each of its focal lengths (even outpeforming in this sphere the superb Leica Vario-Elmar-R 21-35 mm f/3.5-4 ASPH, which is highly commendable, for the AF-S Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED reaches a 7 mm wider angular coverage, so its design was much more difficult and greater the investment on its development), also delivering splendid colours, whereas on the corners there´s a slight qualitative decrease at f/2.8 which approaches results in the image center from f/4.

Nikon threw itself into this zoom making use of its whole optic and mechanical know-how, with an optical scheme featuring 14 elements in 11 groups (three of them aspherical ones and 2 ED), 9 diaphragm blades and and extensive use of nanocrystal glass, with a very good correction of vignetting, whose values are negligible to practical effects even at full f/2.8 aperture, far superior in this respect (in the same way as the others) to the Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 VR.

Obviously, a lens encompassing this range of ultrawideangle focal lengths, constant f/2.8 widest aperture and a superb entirely metallic construction (with the exception of the plastic shade) can´t be small, so its dimensions are 9,8 cm diameter x 13,5 cm length and its weight 969 g.

It´s a true all-around performer, both in reportage and landscape photography, with the exception of architecture photography where the distortion correction of the Olympus Zuiko 7-14 mm f/4 and the Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L USM is superior.

Nevertheless, the distortion correction in the AF-S Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8 is very acceptable, since it only exhibits a slight barrel one between 14 and 19 mm, which disappears from 20 mm and an even smaller, barely perceptible pincushion distortion at 24 mm.


The very complex and exotic optical scheme of the extreme super wideangle Canon 11-24 mm f/4L zoom lens boasting 16 elements (a very large 87 mm diameter handcraftedly ground one, a further one also aspheric and very big moulded in glass, two more smaller aspherical ones likewise moulded in glass, another one made with extra low dispersion Super ED glass and a further one made with very low chromatic dispersion UD glass) defines by itself the huge designing effort, integral use of opto/mechanical know-how and the manufacturing difficulties to produce a hallmark zoom lens with these specs, delivering an excellent optical quality throughout its whole focal range, along with a praiseworthy distortion correction for such an exceptionally angular coverage.

Needless to say that during the manufacturing stage there´s a high percentage of discarded optical elements, specially the 87 mm grounded large aspherical front lens needing manual cutting of extraordinary accuracy by a highly experienced optician, in adition to the use of breakthrough engineering and different ultramodern technologies bringing about some days to make it. It all results in a very high production cost of this excellent ultra wideangle zoom lens.

To that one should add the peculiar fact that there is a key conceptual affinity between the great attention paid by Canon to the design of the shape and curvature of the second aspherical element of the 11-24 mm f/4L zoom lens, which is very important for its final optical performance and pivotal regarding the huge personality of this zoom lens, and the likewise major significance which was given in the design of the Leica Super-Elmarit-R 15 mm f/2.8 to the shape and curvature of its second element (being the only aspherical one of its optical scheme) located behind the very big front lens.

On the other hand, in the same way as happens with the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED - also designed for 24 x 36 mm sensors - , the Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L USM has been much more challenging to make than the Olympus Zuiko 7-14 mm f/4 ED for 4/3 system and that the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 7-14 mm f/2.8 Pro for Micro 4/3 (the latter featuring an excellent correction of distortion by means of software algorithms and rendering its maximum image quality at 14 mm — equivalent to 28 mm in full frame — and very good at 10 mm — equivalent to 20 mm in 24 x 36 mm format — , while at 7 mm — equivalent to 14 mm in full frame — it is very good in the center but rather inferior on the corners, even stopping down) and with a much higher production cost, because manufacturing such a pure and exceedingly wideangle design, practically without any distortionand with a high uniformity of performance betwen center and corners for the image circle inherent to the 24 x 36 mm format (with an area of 864 mm2) a 400% bigger than the Four Thirds 17.3 x 13 mm format (with an area of 225 mm2) one means tackling far more complex optical requirements and assume physical challenges often in the boundary of the scientifically feasible, above all the more they take the shortest focal length to the limit, and in this respect, the 11, 12 and 13 mm in the extreme angular range of the Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L USM are undoubtedly a compelling submission of credentials.

Neither should it be forgotten that designing and manufacturing wideangle and standard lenses for Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds and APS-C giving fewer divergent rays on the margins of the image field is easier and with a much lower production cost than designing and manufacturing lenses for 24 x 36 mm sensors doing the same, particularly with wideangles, because the more oblique are the light rays reaching the sensor, greater is the possibility of color, vignetting and background noise errors to happen, unlike the tele lenses whose emergent light rays are almost parallel.

Additionally, the Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L USM is a more laudable, advanced and difficult to achieve optical design both from an optical and mechanical viewpoint than the superb AF-S Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED, since stretching the range of wideangle focal lengths from 14 mm to 11 mm geometrically increases the intricacies of manufacturing and insertion of elements and optical groups inside the lens and tolerances must be much more stringent, in addition to the fact that its distortion correction is better, to such an extent that it can be used in outdoor and indoor architecture photography, even at 11, 12 and 13 mm, which is a real and historical deed, as well as making up a zoom lens that will open new creative and composition chances in the fields of indoor photography, architecture, industrial photography, landscape, weddings and all kind of events with attendance of many people, environments in which it copes at great level.

Notwithstanding, as it happens with every lens whether it is a prime or a zoom, none of them is perfect, and it isn´t less true that the AF-S Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8 is also a fantastic ultra wideangle professional zoom lens, superior to the Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L USM at full maximum aperture (f/2.8) and slightly better in resolution and contrast — both of them are excellent in these two parameters — , sides providing it with some substantial advantages and turn it into a better choice in photojournalism, landscape (though in this photographic genre things equal very much, because the 11, 12 and 13 mm available in the Canon zoom can make a difference when it comes to photograph landscapes in which you need maximum possible coverage), astrophotography and fashion.

From an optical standpoint, it´s presently impossible to get a 100% uniformity of performance in center, borders and corners in all the range of focal lengths covered by such an extreme ultra wideangle zoom lens like this including the rectilinear focal lengths of 11, 12 and 13 mm in its shortest stretch and the 24 mm in its longest one.

Therefore, Canon has made a tremendous designing effort in which priority is mostly given to the 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 mm middle focal lengths of its range from the viewpoint of the obtention of a greater homogeneity of excellent performance in center, border and corners ( the qualitative peak of this flagship being 16 mm at f/8 and f/11), but with a fundamental goal: attaining as much resolution and contrast as possible in the center in the shortest mort extreme 15, 14, 13, 12 and even 11 mm focal lengths, greatly equalling (and this is an exceptional optical accomplishment) the values of definition and contrast on the image center in the aforementioned middle focal lengths, though with an inevitable drop in resolution and contrast in borders and corners (albeit quality of image keeps on very good in those areas for a zoom with this impressive rectlinear angular coverage) at all diaphargms and focusing distances.

Canon has apllied the practical guideline of mostly enhancing the maximum possible reduction of distortion, leaving it in commendable values, almost imperceptible, in pincushion for the long and middle focal lengths (between roughly 24 mm and 19 mm ) and in barrel (for the focal lengths between around 16 mm and 11 mm, the latter being inevitably the one in which it is more visible — with approximately a 3.8 % — ), with excellent and above all surprising values for such a hugely angular lens, something exceedingly difficult to attain, at the expense of intentionally preserving the visible chromatic aberrations inherent to 12 mm and specially 11 mm on the corners, in addition to an apparent fall-off in the 11 mm position at full f/4 aperture (tolerable, since it enables a very good resolution, great contrast and a more than acceptable distortion correction at that so extremely short focal length — to name only an example, the Super-Elmarit-R 15 mm f/2.8 ASPH has a 2% barrel distortion — ), always considering that there´s visible darkening on corners at maximum f/4 aperture in every focal length (including 1.5 EV in 24 mm position at f/4), but it disappears from f/5.6 between 12 and 24 mm.

And this sensational correction of distortion in a zoom lens with such a giant angular coverage as the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L making possible to do architecrure photography with it even at 11 mm, does constitute by itself a relevant milestone in the history of photographic lenses, being currently the most angular rectilinear professional zoom in the market, with the added bonus that it yields excellent resolution and contrast in the center at every focal length and diaphragm, including f/4, keeping very good values (only slightly inferior) on the corners, coma has been almost utterly eliminated and flare control is more than remarkable thanks to the Wavelength Structure Coating (SWC) and Air Sphere Coating (ASC).

All of its is exceedingly admirable in a lens starting at 11 mm and having marked a turning point in the History of Photography in this kind of ultra wideangle zoom lenses.

On the other hand, to properly grasp the meaningful achievement attained by Canon with the increase of the ultra angular coverage from 14 mm to 11 mm in its true dimension, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that until very recently it was believed little short of unfeasable within the ultra wideangle scope the construction of high end rectilinear extremely angular lenses boasting excellent correction of the distortion for reflex cameras under the barrier of 13 mm embodied by the mythical 16 elements in 12 groups Nikkor F 13 mm f/5.6 featuring optical correction for very short focusing distances through rear floating elements, integrated multicoatings and 7 diaphragm blades, designed by Ikuo Mori in 1971 and whose first prototype was built by Nikon in 1972, which is beaten by the new Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L USM zoom lens nothing less than in 2 mm in its shortest focal length.


The Canon 11-24 mm f/4L is practically free of coma aberration at widest f/4 aperture in all its focal lengths and diaphragms, something hugely revealing, in the same was as the fact the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8 lacks almost any coma even at full f/2.8 aperture, where its values in this regard are negligible and wholly disappear from f/4.

People buying a professional lens (with the exception of the photographers specialized in night photography and astrophotography), whether it is a prime or a zoom lens, don´t usually have coma correction among their top priorities, and above all lust for a very wide diaphragm aperture, maximum feasible resolution and contrast, an excellent correction of distortion, a good reduction of the fall-off at the most luminous f stops, a first-rate antirreflective coating, etc.

That´s why on designing and manufacturing excellent highly luminous wideangle lenses with maximum apertures between f/1.4 and f/2.8 which excel in those parameters mostly longed by both professional and advanced connoisseurs, the whole design is often optimized holding on to an intentional lack of integral attention to coma correction during the development of the optical formula, the tests with MTF curves, etc, because coma won´t be a decisive aspect in photographic genres like architecture, landscape, indoor photography, creative fashion with widest diaphargms, etc, and the preserving of a certain degree of coma at maximum aperture which dispappears on stopping down two diaphragms is the usual resource, because it enables to focus the inherent compromises to any optical design — however good it may be — in favour of the aforementioned parameters.

That´s for instance what happens with the Canon 24 mm f/1.4L II and the Sigma Art 24 mm f/1.4 DG HSM, both with visible coma at f/1.4 and f/2, which in the Sigma lens greatly disappears at f/2.8 and in the Canon lens at f/4.

On its turn, the Samyang 24 mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC Aspherical is already virtually free of coma aberration at f/2 and very reduced at f/1.4, but its distortion correction and its values of resolution and contrast — though being good — are clearly inferior to the Canon 24 mm f/1.4L and the Sigma Art 24 mm f/1.4 DG (the latter being the one featuring more global quality among the three), because equalling the resolution and contrast of both the Canon and Sigma wideangle lenses simultaneously keeping their excellent correction of the coma at full aperture would have significantly increased the design and production cost, along with their quality level, and their price would have inevitably been much higher.

Besides, it´s also very meaningful the fact that the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L beats clearly the Canon EF 14 mm f/2,8 L II and the Canon 16-35 mm f/2.8 L II in all of its focal lengths and diaphragms regarding coma correction and definition in borders, and delivers some less distortion in 14 mm position than the Canon EF 14 mm f/2.8 L II and less distortion at 16, 17 and 18 mm than the Canon 16-35 mm f/2.8 L II.

As to flare control, from the very beginning of the design of its 11-24 mm f/4 L, Canon was perfectly aware that this was going to be one of the key and most difficult to deal with, because the widening from 14 mm to 11 mm in the shortest angular range results in a huge increase in both the possibilitiy that reflections can appear and the difficulties to control them in comparison to 14, 15 and 16 mm primes or zooms starting from 14 mm.

Consequently, an independent research department was created aiming at looking for the best feasible solution to this subject, and after a lot of tests, they opted for a symbiosis between the large two first aspherical front lenses and the fourth element located between the third aspherical lens and the Super ED element, adhering Subwavelength Structure Coating (SWC) on the inner face of the complete curvature of the very big aspherical elements 1 and 2 and Air Sphere Coating (ASC) on the whole straight surface of the outer face of the Super ED element.

It all brings about an outstanding enhancement of contrast, which remarkably fosters the visual perception of sharpness and capturing of details already excellent in this zoom.
But if all that were not enough, fully grasping that it´s not possible to attach the typical UV or protective filter (something also happening with the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8), Canon has likewise paid great heed to avoid by all means that dust, dirtiness or water drops can adhere both to the large part of the very big area of the lens (108 mm diameter) and to the back one, something extremely difficult, particularly with regard to the great surface of its front area.

Anyway, Canon has managed to do it by means of a very advanced Fluorine Coating boasting impressive antiadherent properties and covering the whole surface of the external curvature of the huge 87 mm aspherical front lens handcraftedly ground and also all the straight rear surface of the aspherical lens (much smaller and glass moulded) of the back area, and which is the nearest to the sensor when the lens is coupled to the camera.

To get an idea of what the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L has meant in the history of photography, the Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC fixed lens exhibits an extraordinary correction of coma, to such an extent that at 12 and 13 mm it has better distortion correction than the Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 Aspherical, also outperforming it in resolution and contrast, while its optical design has preserved a virtually total reduction of coma aberration at maximum f/4 aperture thanks above all to the interaction between the four aspherical elements (three of them placed in the front area and the other one at the end of the rear area), the Super UD element of the front area and the UD element of the back area of the zoom lens.

This way, the fact that much more attention than usual has been paid to the correction of coma at the widest f/4 aperture in the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L bearing in mind the excellent values of resolving power, contrast, incredibly good correction of distortion and the huge super angular coverage up to 11 mm it offers and commendably reduced vignetting, distinctly indicate that it is a cream of the crop zoom lens in which each and every one of the myriad of optical and mechanical sides coming into play have been painstakingly analyzed and large amounts of money have been invested on R + D in synergy with a strenuous effort of design and manufacturing, something likewise happening as to this aspect with the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8 ( a more praiseworthy design in this side than the Canon, always considering that it would be impossible to create a Canon 11-24 mm f/2.8 with the optical and mechanical quality of the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L without an increase in more than double of both weight and size), whose barely perceptible values of coma at f/2.8 and its elimination at f/4 make it even more adequate for night photography and astrophotography, in which the maximum possible capturing of light is necessary, so it is better to have a f/2.8 or even a wider aperture available.

To get with such an extremely angular zoom lens as the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L or the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8 to integrate a practical elimination of coma at maximum diaphragm aperture with the rest of qualities mostly sought after by professionals on acquiring an élite zoom is something exceedingly complex which increases geometrically if you want to reduce Seidel aberrations as much as possible, since to achieve that reference-class qualitative level it is unfeasable to efficiently control every parameter through optical systems whose tracing of luminic rays is only set up by computers and designing softwares, however leading-edge they can be, and at least one optician with tremendous knowledge and experience and knowing the decisions to make will be necessary.


Canon has also paid great attention to the design of the diaphragm of its 11-24 mm f/4L zoom, providing it with nine blades with a thoroughly studied shape to synergize to the utmost with the Subwavelength Structure Coating (SWC), Air Sphere Coating (ASC) and Fluorine Coating it includes in its optical formula, which strengthens even more the excellent flare reduction characteristic of this zoom lens, and in addition, it renders the sun appearing in landscape photographs as a beautiful 18 point star.


A further reason for the high production cost of very sophisticated lenses boasting top-notch optical and mechanical performance is the massive percentage of discarded out of tolerances elements, because the more their performance is, more will have to be the accuracy with which they are cut, ground and covered with antirreflection coatings, so above all the four aspherical elements of its optical formula (particularly the first one — with a huge 87 mm diameter and manually cut — and the second one — also featuring a large diameter, glass moulded and even more interesting from an optical viewpoint — ) of the new Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L zoom lens need amazing accuracy and it can take some days to configurate them, so an unavoidable quantity of time must be devoted to it and to production capacity.

Besides, if there´s the slightest deviation of tolerance or decentering, it´s not possible to use the resource (of which designers can sometimes get advantage with intermediate and high level lenses) of counteract the effect generated by that deviation using another optical element featuring opposed traits to neutralize it.


The exceptional qualities of the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L regading its stunning extreme great angular coverage, its hugely praiseworthy correction of geometric distortion, its excellent values of resolution and contrast specially at the shortest and middle focal lengths at maximum aperture f/4, the full professional effectiveness of its 11, 12 and 13 mm, its remarkably well corrected fall-off (particularly if we bear in mind that it is the most angular rectilinear lens in the market), its very advanced and exotic optical formula with profusion of high-end aspherical elements both ground and glas moulded (specially the exceedingly difficult to build and very high production cost elements 1 and 2 sporting a large front diameter), etc, are fruit of two key factors:

a) The very strong presence and prestige of the AF-S Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED in the photographic market.

b) The introduction by Canon of its new professional reflex cameras Canon 5DS and 5DSR with 50 megapixel full frame sensors, much more exacting with lenses attached to them than the 24 or 18 megapixels of also professiona reflex cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III or the Canon EOS-1D X.

It seems apparent that the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L was designed from scratch with the fundamental need in mind of obtaining its best possible interaction with the new 50 megapixel 24 x 36 mm format sensors of its new professional reflex cameras and other new ones that can appear in future.

It will be interesting to see the market evolution and if this surge in megapixels becomes a future trend market in the full frame professional scope, because it is evident that 36 megapixel cameras like the Nikon D800, D800E and Sony A7r, the APS-C format 16 megapixel  Fujifilm X-T1, the Micro 4/3 format 16 megapixel Olympus E-M5 MK II, the Micro 4/3 format 16 megapixel Panasonic Lumix GH4 Micro 4/3 and others are highly advanced utterly professional cameras rendering excellent image quality, as well as enabling to get very big enlargements on photographic paper in sizes which were unthinkable only a few years ago (above all the APS-C and Micro 4/3 ones) and fulfill most assignments of the photographers using them, so deeming as an absolute necessity to have a camera featuring a 50 megapixel sensor (something that undoubtedly has got its advantages) would be a fallacy, since cameras are first and foremost photographic tools whose aptness would greatly depend on the kind of work to do.

On the other hand, the increase in sensor resolving power up to 50 megapixels with reflex cameras featuring pentaprism, reflex mirror and abundant moving parts entails more drawbacks than the hypothetical design of breed of mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm sensor cameras featuring electronic VF like the Sony A7r but with 50 megapixels with respect to vibrations, wearing away and very specially the creation of specific lenses for such powerful sensor, because the lack of swivelling mirror and a smaller flange distance than in full frame dslr cameras allows to conceive more pure optical designs without compromises and manufacture even better lenses.


The Canon 11-24 mm has inaugurated a new era in the design and manufacture of ultrawide zoom lenses, with staggering levels of resolution, contrast and correction of distortion if we consider that it begins at nothing less than 11 mm in its shortest extreme stretch, excellent control of flare by means of two state-of-the-art multicoatings in symbiosis with a further very advanced multicoating avoiding the adherence of water drops, dirtiness and dust both on the huge bulbous front lens and the back area of the aspherical element 4 — the nearest to the sensor — and the most exotic and complete optical formula made incepted hitherto with this kind of lenses and boasting 4 aspherical elements, one extra low chromatic dispersion Super UD and one of very low chromatic dispersion UD, along with a top-tier mechanical construction.

It means in practice a major milestone: to have been able to overcome with a zoom lens (featuring a extreme superangular coverage up to 11 mm) the greatly forefather of all the retrofocus ultra wideangle 15 mm and 14 mm primes throughout more than 40 years: the rectilinear 13 elements in 12 groups Carl Zeiss Distagon 15 mm f/3.5 (designed and optimized for f/5.6 by the genius Erhard Glatzel, pioneer in the use of big size aspherical elements in this kind of extreme wideangle lenses boasting excellent correction of distortion and great values of resolving power and contrast) and introduced during the Photokina 1972 as prototypes HFT Distagon 15 mm f/3.5 with Rollei bayonet mount for Rolleiflex SL35 camera and as SMC Takumar 15 mm f/3.5 with M42 screwmount for Pentax cameras and manufactured for Asahi Optical Co by Carl Zeiss through an agreement between both firms.

As a matter of fact, the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 15 mm f/3.5 C/Y in Contax / Yashica mount introduced during eighties (featuring Erhardt Glatzel ADN and identical optical formula as the 13 elements in 12 groups Carl Zeiss Distagon 15 mm f/3.5 from 1972, though with better anti-reflective multicoatings) goes on being one of the best retilinear extreme wideangle fixed lenses, and in spite of having been designed for 24 x 36 mm format film reflex cameras, it gets a spendid image quality and lack of distortion connected through an adaptor to 24 x 36 mm full frame 24 megapixel digital reflex cameras like the EOS 5D Mark III, although with professional digital 50 megapizel reflex cameras like the Canon 5DS and 5DS R its performance is not at the same level.

The Canon 11-24 mm f/4L — created right from the start for 50 megapixel 24 x 36 mm sensor — exhibits a better control of flare thanks to logically much more evolutioned and efficient multicoatings (though the anti-reflective T* coating of Erhardt Glatzel´s original Carl Zeiss Distagon 15 mm f/3.5 interacting with the large non aspherical front lens of this objective and the much smaller and thicker antepenultimate (11) aspherical element of its optical formula, but with the difference that the degree of external curvature of the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L aspherical element 2 is much larger than the non aspherical lens 2 of the Carl Zeiss Distagon 15 mm f/3.5 and much smaller (roughly half) the distance between that aspherical element 2 and the more forward huge aspherical element.
Evidently, the two reference-class lenses in the ultra angular scope designed for 24 x 36 mm format keep on nowadays being two manual focusing ones and also created for full frame:

a) The Super-Elmarit-R 15 mm f/2.8 ASPH featuring 13 elements (one of them — the second one after the large front lens — aspherical, four of anomalous partial dispersion and six made with highly refractive optical glass — ) in 10 groups, designed by Schneider-Kreuznach following Leica specifications and introduced in 2001, virtually without any flare and delivering extraordinary levels of resolution and contrast at full aperture in center, border and corners, as well as an impressive correction of distortion, practically integral elimination of the color fringing and astigmatism and a minimum focusing distance of only 18 cm, with exceedingly reduced dimensions of 85,3 mm length and 83,5 mm diameter in its widest area, along with a weight of 710 g.

b) The Carl Zeiss Distagon 15 mm f/2.8 T* launched into market in 2012, featuring 15 elements of them aspherical ) in 12 groups, a minimum focusing distance of 25 cm, dimensions of 132 mm length x 103 mm diameter, weight of 748 g, and in the same way as the Super-Elmarit-R 15 mm f/2.8 ASPH boasting extraordinary values in every relevant optical aspect, even at widest f/2.8 aperture, even slightly beating the Super-Elmarit-R 15 mm f/2.8, in addition to likewise boasting a first-class mechanical construction.

These two primes play in another league (particularly the Zeiss Distagon 15 mm f/2.8 T*, albeit the Super-Elmarit-R 15 mm f/2.8 ASPH approaches it very much in performance, which is very commendable, because it is an eleven years older lens but much smaller and light, with almost 5 cm less in length and 38 g less in weight, so it was more difficult to design and manufacture, and both of them are the flagships in the field of extreme superwideangle lenses for 24 x 36 mm format, but with an inevitably steep price: between 6,000 and 7,000 euros the Super-Elmarit-R 15 mm f/2.8 ASPH (which is also a coveted collector´s item, because only 420 units were made) in the second hand market and around 2,700 euros the Carl Zeiss Distagon 15 mm f/2.8 T* new, since the entirely metallic construction of both of them, their sturdiness and duration in time, the top quality of the noble metals used in their making, the exquisite brass focusing helicals, the precision of the mechanical engineering they include, their lineal resolution and contrast, their correction of distortion and absence of chromatic aberrations makeing possible to get indoor pictures in environments with great contrasts of high and low lights or bright reflections, and many other qualities, are currently unsurpassed.

But the arrival of digital photography and the need to adapt optical designs to digital sensors which have replaced the chemical emulsions, has brought about between 2007 with the introduction of the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED and the 2015 with the launching into market of the Canon 11-24 mm f/4L

a milepost in the history of photographic lenses broadly speaking and of the variable focal length ones in particular: the creation of zoom lenses designed for 24 x 36 m format with first-string optical and mechanical performance regarding resolution, contrast, correction of distortion, lack of aberrations and stretching of the most angular coverage up to the 14 mm in a first stage and uncommonly up to the 11 mm with the recent Canon 11-24 mm f/2.8L which position both zooms in an image quality location between the original Carl Zeiss Distagon 15 mm f/3.5 created by Erhard Glatzel in 1972 — and which was the yardstick until the end of XX Century — and the unbeatable duo Super-Elmarit-R 15 mm f/3.5 ASPH / Carl Zeiss Distagon 15 mm f/2.8 T*.

And to do this with zoom lenses is an unprecedented opto-mechanical feat, whose main characters have been firstly the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED and now this amazing Canon 11-24 mm f/4L.