My ZEISS Otus Travel Companions by Stuart Franklin
Stuart Franklin is an acclaimed British news and feature photographer and former president of the Magnum Photography agency. Perhaps best known for taking one of the now infamous “Tank Man” photographs of the uprising in Tiananmen Square, first published in Time Magazine, Stuart was subsequently awarded a World Press Photo Award.
In 2003 Stuart was also awarded an honorary fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society and has published a number of books such as Sea Fever, Narcissus and The Documentary Impulse. Stuart frequently travels around the world for a wide variety of projects yet still finds time to pass on his knowledge through workshops and online mentoring. In this article he shares his experiences of his recent trips to Kenya, Norway and Malta…
by Stuart Franklin
Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to be using a range of ZEISS lenses to assist me in a number of projects that I’ve been working on, which has involved me travelling to beautiful countries across the world. There are two main projects that I’ve been working on recently; an assignment to Kenya last year and a landscape project I’m currently working on in Malta and Norway.
With the trip to Iten in Kenya, I was actually working on two projects almost at the same time: a fashion shoot for Wallpaper* magazine coupled with personal pictures of the region as part of a larger project. The needs of these two projects were quite different from each other, so it was essential that I had a variety of different lenses at my disposal for when the need arose.
Let’s begin with the Wallpaper* assignment to Kenya. For what is arguably the world’s most important design and style magazine, I had the pleasure of using the ZEISS Otus 1.4/28, partnered with the ZEISS Milvus 2/135. Although primarily focusing on exteriors in the field, the lenses performed just as I had expected. I found that when I tested the Otus 28mm lens before the shoot it worked well indoors. The dynamic range and quality of the lens allowed pictures of interiors to appear natural and undistorted.
I primarily used the 135mm for portraiture whilst out in Kenya and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the lens’ bokeh. Wide open, the out-of-focus areas of the picture fade out without distraction which was extremely important for my work, allowing me to better emphasise the point of focus in the image and drawing the viewers’ attention towards it. Coupled with the Otus’ handling of colour and edge-to-edge sharpness when fully open, these two lenses alone allowed me to accomplish everything that I set out to do.
In Kenya I was working in the rainy season and often shooting in very wet weather, which may have been a cause for concern if it were not for weather sealing on each lens. However, this was in slight contrast to the weather conditions surrounding the project in Norway where the temperature was a few degrees lower, to say the least.
The projects in both Norway and Malta have been much more landscape-focused. I have been primarily based on the island of Midsund in Norway and I’ve always enjoyed the scenic views that Norway has to offer. So much so that I actually bought a cabin here, which is where I produced the book Narcissus in 2013 and I especially like working in the late winter when the days are longer.
In Malta I have been mainly based in Valetta and Gozo, where I am continuing a landscape project on the layered landscape. This is in cooperation with Spazju Kreattiv, Malta’s national centre for creativity at St James Cavalier in Valetta, with the work mostly shot along the coast as a series of diptychs.
In Malta and Norway I am working very different conditions than those in Kenya and, as such, used different lenses to suit these conditions. I decided to use the ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 and Milvus 2/100M lens to photograph landscape, rather than a standard wide-angle lens. That choice reaped dividends, as the 55mm is, without doubt, the best standard lens I have ever used. It’s heavy, yes, but in its raw state without a filter on the lens, it delivers quite exceptional sharpness and colour rendition which is unmatched. It’s a totally honest lens and does quite a remarkable job when attempting to capture the scene you’re aiming for with the naked eye.
Currently, I am fundraising for a new project – an environmental one – in Borneo. Working in the forest, where it’s habitually very humid, is a test for any camera system or lens. Several cameras (I won’t mention the brands) have just packed up and stopped working on past trips to Sarawak and Sabah, so this will be a good test…