How I discovered a completely new aspect of wide and fast primes

by Dirk Moeller

If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough
— Robert Cappa, Founding Member of Magnum Photos

Even if Cappa famously said the above and is often quoted: if you use Leica-M lenses, you are usually not too close to your subject. 

Most of the lenses I use have a minimum focus distance of 1m.

That is some distance, but in the case of focal lengths of 35mm and above, it helps to compress the overall image and accentuate the subject by having it sharp in the foreground and blurring the background. Something that is nowadays re-created by software in camera phones.

This, however, was not so much the case with anything below 35mm in my lens collection.

I always was a bit disappointed by Elmarit-M 2.8/28, because the separation was not as strong as I wanted it to be. That in combination with a minimum focus distance of 0.7m resulted in me using it mainly as a sharp lens for street (which it is great for, given the ability to use hyperfocal focus for anything between 1.5m and infinity at F8) and landscape (great size if you don't want to schlepp heavy shards around).

I was in the same mindset when I recently acquired the Elmarit-R 2.8/24 to use on my Sony. I thought that a Leica lens would do good in combination with the high-res sensor. That wasn't completely wrong, but I had to learn that this lens needs to be closed down to F9.5 to reach good overall sharpness. That said, I was satisfied with the results. 

The more I used it, the more I realized how nice it was that this lens was not only fast, but also quite special for me in the sense that it allowed me a minimum focus distance of 0.3m.

That is fascinating close. Basically, 15cm in front of the lens hood close.

Not really something one would use for portraits (too wide for that), but for capturing details it is a great lens. 

Völkerkundemuseum, Hamburg

At close distances, it suddendly separates the foreground perfectly from the background. This might seem trivial to a lot of you, but for me it was a revelation. 

Völkerkundemuseum, Hamburg

I was very happy with the results of these "test shots" in the garden of a local museum. The statues almost come to life, very detailed and without distraction from the not so great background.

Völkerkundmuseum, Hamburg

Then I went in to try my newfound ability to close in some flora. Here, even the Bokeh became relevant to me, soft and smooth rendering the back.

Get in, even closer...

And then I found you can play with shadows and shapes in the background.

So much discovered in only a couple of minutes shooting.

I look forward use this more extensively in my future work.