Lens Test: Tale of two pancakes

Pancake lenses. Not many people use it nowadays, preferring the do-all zoom lenses. Going back to the old days when photographers would carry one prime lens per camera, and still be able to take amazing photographers, there is nothing a prime cannot do in the hands of someone with the right photographic vision. In short, nothing wrong with a pancake lens. In fact I love pancakes because it keeps the camera side profile smaller, making it possible to squeeze a pro-body with built in grip into a small bag. And most of the time you can zoom with your feet anyway.
Profile Comparison. ULTRON on the right, AIS on the left.

A pancake lens is the name given to low profile lenses, normally around the 50mm focal length range. Up for this test are the two that I own. First up is a Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AIS. Now there are many versions of this lens, and the 0.60m minimum focal length version is the one I have, which is noticeably shorter than the other models. The other lens I have been using quite a bit is a Voigtlander 40mm f2 SL ULTRON. Yes a mouthful, I’ll just call it AIS and ULTRON for the short version hereforth. They’re both manual lenses. And they only meter on Nikon’s semi pro bodies like the D300/D700 and up.

This is not meant to be a full on test, so I will not bother to perform an exhaustive test on it. On the question of bokeh, I have noticed that the ULTRON has this harsh donut shaped bokeh, perhaps because of the Aspherical element in the lens. But I’m not a bokeh freak so it is not an issue for me.

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Shanghai, China: Nanjing Rd at night

Late night shoppers hanging around Nanjing Rd way after all shops have closed.
The standard tourist to Shanghai makes a pilgrimage to the perennially packed Nanjing Road. The picture of thousands of shoppers compressed through the use of telephoto lens is all over brochures of Shanghai. I could copy those, and maybe I would in the future for my project, but I was more interested in what Nanjing Rd looked like late at night, when most of the shops have already closed.

In every major city there is always that one place where you will find more out-of-towners than locals, and this is where touts, conmen, and the general unlicensed street traders hang around. So naturally, I had my iPod on with sound isolating Shure headphones so I can ignore most of them coming up to me. I’m sure I will have to spend some time waiting so I packed a book with me so I can find a bench and read it until the crowd thins down.

In my small bag, 2 cameras. A Leica M6 fitted with a Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH, my favourite lens for night time shooting, and a second Leica M2 with Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH with Tom Abrahamsson’s Rapidwinder IXMOO. Both cameras are loaded with Fujifilm’s Neopan 1600. There are no meter on the Leica M2 so I was expecting quite a number of rejected shots.

And here are the results…

The standard shot of Nanjing Road, but this one close to 11pm. There are noticeably quite a number of people still wandering around, along with touts selling underwater goods.

This is a large tidbit shop. With the shutter closed, it is still possible to see the workers cleaning up and getting ready to return home.

This private proprietor is clearly a late night worker.
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Travels: Nanxiang, Shanghai, China

Pavillion at Guyi Garden, Nanxiang
Shanghai is famous for this little dumpling with thin skin and soup inside. Bite it and if still hot off the steamer, it guarantees a scalding where it hurts.

The most famous restaurant in shanghai that sells them by the bucketloads, figuratively speaking, is Nanxiang Restaurant over by that tourist hole, Yuyuan Garden right in the middle of the city. Its not too far from where I stay and on weekends, I sometimes take the walk over, and stand in the half and hour queue (if I’m lucky). Its not the best in Shanghai though and its quite obvious it’s famous because it’s famous, no more. Nanxiang Restaurant also starts to expand with branches overseas.

Shanghai Bus, encountered on the way looking for that bus that will take me to Nanxiang

So not to dwell too much in stories, I found out during a chat with a colleague that the xiao loong bao, what this tasty dumpling is called, was first invented in a town called Nanxiang. Just tens of kilometre from downtown Shanghai so close that a public bus (actually many from all points) runs there from the Shanghai railway station, so we found out after browsing the chinese languaged internet. So quickly this became my mission for the coming weekend.

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