My opinion on the 35mm focal length hasn’t shifted much since my recent attempts to adopt it into my workflow. Despite being happy with a lot of the snapshots I’ve produced on my Olympus XA, my constant 35mm companion, I still feel that the focal length has one clear strength, and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to put it into practice in a way where I simply can’t make excuses in the way that I often find myself doing when I fail with it in my snapshots.
I’ve been through a few 35mm lenses, starting with the RX1R I essentially learned photography on – then when I moved to the Leica system one of my first lenses was a 35mm f/2 Summicron, which was sold to me as a real classic. This was soon replaced with the cheaper but equally excellent Zeiss Biogon, but that saw very little actual use, and I found myself wondering why I was hanging onto it – I suppose a sense of obligation to own such a staple focal length.
It was only recently that I decided to be done with the Zeiss and move onto the much cheaper 7artisans 35mm f/2, having been very impressed with the 50mm, and after hearing some excellent things about the 35mm from photographers whose opinions I trust. It cost me £189 brand new from ebay, and required no calibration on my M6 or M10. I forced myself to use it for a while for street photography on my M6, but at the time of writing this I have yet to develop anything. The first time I mounted it on my M10 for anything other than to test that it worked alright was on February 5th, when I decided the time had come for it to be put to real use.
Unlike the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1, which I feel is a great lens for quite a few applications the only purpose I feel makes sense for a 35mm f/2 lens is Street and Documentary photography – and for me personally I see more applications on the documentary side, as I prefer to be almost always a longer focal length shooter for street. Documentary however can require very close quarters environments like crowded meeting rooms, offices, and elevators, and the job I was working on the 5th demanded for all of these.
The story I had access to document was a very unique affair all around, and I wanted to make as much of it as I possibly could. Indigenous Brazilian leader and Environmentalist Raoni Metuktire along with a delegation was visiting Westminster Parliament to meet with MPs and other members of the Government in order to appeal for assistance to his cause. My involvement was thanks to FiveFiftyFive Productions, who worked on coordination, and who will be rolling out a larger project around these issues as things move forward.
I packed my 90mm just in case, but ended up using the 35mm for almost everything – changing between that and the 50mm which was on my M6. I shot a few frames on film, but the bulk was digital. Almost from the moment Raoni stepped out of his cab and into the foyer of Portcullis House I was snapping away – through the hall and into the first pre-meeting of the day, in one of the ministers offices. Shooting in Parliament was fascinating, and a really unique opportunity; I can honestly say I don’t know if it’s something I’ll ever have access to in the same way again, so I was doing my best to make the absolute most of the situation.
The ministers office was cramped, so the 35mm served me well as a normal, but the first image of the day I was truly happy with I made just as Raoni was stepping out of the office door on the way to the main meeting room. The sunlight fell through the feathers he wore around his head beautifully, and the touch of red from his coat was enough to keep the interest in the centre of the frame.
A few moments later and I made another keeper – the minister and Raoni linked arms as they walked through the hall, and I dodged in front of the translator who was following closely behind them in order to snap this.
The larger meeting room was a little tricker to move around in, so I stayed mostly to the side of the room which allowed me best coverage of the people around the table. This worked to my benefit when we were joined by the Rt Honourable Valerie Vaz, current Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, and I was able to make this candid portrait of her as she listened to the delegates speak.
I still struggle with framing using the 35mm frame-lines, due to my glasses only allowing me to clearly view 50mm and longer. This was annoying for this moment which I didn’t have much time to react to before she brought her phone down – I liked the way the patch of light on the wall made almost a speech bubble from it, but it’s definitely a failure overall.
Towards the end of the day I found myself travelling to the home of one of the delegates where everyone took a break before heading back to Parliament for more meetings. It turned out that this was also the home of Pingu, the Climate Watchdog, and I was able to snap this photograph of him while the others chatted above him.
Overall I think this lens performed wonderfully, and I wasn’t disappointed in the image quality at all. A few images have some flaring, but this only showed when the light was coming in very strongly from off-camera. I use this lens with a small hood – it’s possible a larger hood would mitigate this flare more, as friends who use this lens use a larger one and don’t seem to encounter it as much. Sharpness was decent, and vignetting was very manageable. Most importantly for me it performed exactly how I needed it to for the purpose I applied it to without getting in my way, or making me frustrated, as some pieces of gear have done in the past.
I may do another write up on this lens in the future, when I have more images to show for it – more failures, and hopefully successes too. In the meantime I’m happy to say that as a photojournalistic tool I am very pleased with the results I was able to produce.