The star gazer
What does a professional photographer want for Christmas? Probably a camera. And after that, of course, a lens with that one focal length that was always missing in the lens case until now. Christian Dandyk, a photographer from Berlin, asked himself the same question. “I’ve always wanted a Loxia from ZEISS, with a wide-angle focal length of around 20 mm to use for architectural and landscape photography.” A place under his Christmas tree has been reserved this year for exactly that. The Loxia 2.8/21 is a newly-constructed lens from ZEISS that fulfills Dandyk’s wishes and will fill that gap in his lens bag, without using up too much space.
Dandyk’s first impression after testing the new lens? “It’s remarkably compact, just a bit longer than the other Loxia lenses with larger focal lengths.” When used with the compact Sony α7R II, he feels it is a perfect fit in every way — with his bag, his wallet and his quality standards.
And the imaging quality? “Excellent,” says Dandyk. And given all the equipment he has used in the past, he has a lot to compare it with. He believes the Loxia is better than an older, very good wide-angle lens that he previously used in combination with his decommissioned reflex camera. It has a buttery-soft bokeh and is distortion-free, with excellent sharpness all the way into the corners, even with an open aperture. The chromatic aberrations (i.e. the color fringing that sometimes shows up) are minimal.
Every lens has its own particular characteristics that an ambitious photographer should know about and take advantage of, and the Loxia 2.8/21 is no exception. One special feature, especially apparent with shots taken with artificial or back light, is the razor-sharp stars. These are caused by the sophisticated construction of the diaphragm blades, which can be seen nicely in the backlit image of a man sitting on a bench. That the highlights render stars, and not just a white mass, is due to the excellent lens. If simpler lenses were used, the highlights of the stars would lose their outer contours, become dull, and become diffuse instead of bright and sharp.
In the black-and-white photo of the historic downtown market square in Braunschweig, Germany, Dandyk went even further in testing stars with the Loxia. Such beautifully defined beams do not happen by themselves. “With every lens you need to find out when it delivers the most pronounced stars,” argues Dandyk. With the Loxia 2.8/21, that’s at f-stop 4.5 and 5.6, but at the adjacent f-stops the effect is also impressive. For Dandyk, this makes the new Loxia, with its wide-angle focal length, the ideal lens for capturing night scenes in cities and placing interesting anchor points in a photo. As in the photo of Braunschweig’s market square, where the light beams from the street lights create an almost ghostlike atmosphere.
In this photo with the stone head, the photographer probes the abilities of the lens even further. Here there are several stars in the street lanterns. What appears at first glance to be an optical error of the lens elements is, in fact, the result of very good imaging quality. In each of the lanterns are four bulbs mounted one after another, creating slightly shifted stars in the picture.
Christian Dandyk has a strong following among online fans for his high-quality art photography. Ambitious photographers with technical know-how search for inspiration and ideas on his Flickr account. Every now and then he posts pictures in full resolution – like this one of the Castle Courtyard in Braunschweig, which can be found in two varieties on his Flickr album devoted to the new Loxia 2.8/21. Each photo was taken from a slightly different perspective. Visitors can zoom into the shot to get an impression of the sharpness of the image, which was lit only by the shimmer of the dusk and the streetlamps. In these images, very little has been edited. Only the bottom half was cut, a trick to make the building look taller and the walls vertical when you press the shutter release button.
The photo of the street with half-timbered houses brings back memories for Christian Dandyk. This is the path he took to school each day as a child growing up in Hornburg near Wolfenbüttel. Back then, beer was still brewed behind the walls and the barley was spread out to dry on the upper floor. This alley is in reality rather dark; an HDR picture increased the range of contrast. The short focal length of the lens helped bring the entire row of houses into the image, without having to use any tricks. The lower half of the picture has been cropped out to straighten the vertical straight lines. In combination with the Sony α7R II and its 42-megapixel sensor, the lens offers so much width, so that camera can be set up horizontally and converging lines have no chance to form.
In addition to the lens’s good imaging performance, there were practical considerations behind Christian Dandyk’s decision to give the Loxia 2.8/21 a permanent place in his lens bag. One is the fact that the new lens has almost identical measurements to the other models in its family. So, for example, when screwing it onto a panorama head, nothing needs to be adapted. The focus and aperture ring are in the same place, making it simple to operate blindly. And the filter diameter is a uniform 52 millimeters, so every filter is there only once, saving space and weight. And there is one more critical factor that stands out most, in Dandyk’s view: “For me, the beautiful stars are the absolute highlight of this lens.”