35mm in Fashion Photography: The Summicron M Asph v5 on M240 for Emblem
By Simon King
The 35mm focal range is popular in journalism and travel. It is seen as a mid range “all purpose” lens for those who require portability and versatility. In fact it was an ancestor of the 35mm v4 reviewed here that was used in Vietnam by Nick Ut for his famous Napalm documentary photograph, as well as Alberto Korda and Capa in their work. For a few reasons the 35mm is less renowned historically for fashion and portrait.
Fashion photographers tend to reach for lenses from the 50mm range upwards – eliminating the background, as well as flattening out features on the models. The 85 on Nikon, and 100 on Canon are contenders for most popular (in terms of the sheer quantity used by the fashion industry) – when film was still the medium of choice the Nikon 105 was considered to be the top fashion portrait lens ever produced. Longer lenses also allow for handheld shake, which (in the days before Lightroom and Photoshop) would soften the features of models, removing thin lines.
The leap downwards from 105 to 35mm in fashion use may seem vast, but in practice I’ve found its versatile function, as well as the quirks that come from things like distance from the model and bokeh, among other things, have an impact on the feel of the images, as well as the process of conducting the shoot itself. Furthermore, the advances in lens production by the pioneers at Leica leave the user with optical sharpness and quality, especially at the edges, that defeat the arguments against earlier options.
Back in June I shot for an independent fashion label, Emblem. I used the 35mm Summicron v4 on the Leica M240, but also took with the Pentax K3ii for emergencies (which I did not end up using). The shoot took place under a bridge in Shoreditch, and we were lucky to have low ISO weather. I chose the Summicron 35 because I wanted a style to reflect the quirky designs of the clothing, as well as the diverse set of models I had to work with. This was not a traditional shoot, and I did not want to meet that requirement with a traditional set-up.
The lens is much heavier than it looks for such a small piece of glass, but the balance when attached to the M240 feels perfect. It wasn’t tiring to spend a day with it over my shoulder.
Focus and aperture controls are smooth, and close enough with the rest of the system for fast adjustments (unlike longer lenses such as the 90 and 135mm which require reach); while the aperture is easy to knock out of alignment I have never had a problem with bumping the focus. On the rangefinder the frame-lines are accurate and composing is as basic as a 35mm allows.
I own the silver model of the lens, paired with the full black M, and from a fashion perspective the 35mm “looks right.” Like a graphic you would find on an Emoji – the camera becomes complete. Iconic. I also eschew the hood, which streamlines out the kit.
In use I was forced to step in close to the models in order to fill the frame and show off the clothing. I found this allowed me to be more personal with the people I was working with, than if I had been working with a longer lens.
When editing, I paid close attention to the edges and fringes of the shots, but distortion was minimal. I didn’t find any intruding elements in terms of distortion in any of my photographs at all, which is remarkable considering how close I was to my subjects.
The lens is as sharp to the Leica standard: sharp. In most of the shots here, I actually reduced clarity somewhat in order to reduce harshness in skin tones, and straight lines. The shoot utilized natural lighting, without artificial flash. I found the light intake on the lens to be fantastic, even when under the shadow of the overpass. I found I could expose correctly at f/2 and 250ths with an ISO below 400 in almost every instance.
The colour reproduction is accurate, down to small details in the folds of . I’ve added my own warmth and saturation edits to these shots, but the DNG files from the M240 were very precise, after calibrating with an on-location white balance card.
The 35mm Summicron truly lives up to its reputation as one of the most popular and best-selling Leica lenses to date. I found that in a fashion setting it handled each and every frame with the same precise draw, and friendly approach to composition, that Leica is famous for.
The 35mm Summicron v4, as well as most others in the Leica lens lineup, is available from our London store, as well as our online store where we ship worldwide.