#486. Fun with the 21/2.8 Loxia. The usual and the un. . .

By Leonard Norwitz | Opinion

Jun 07

The challenge of 21mm

Once we get beyond 24mm, distortion of two-dimensional reality is commonplace, but not necessarily obviously so. Much depends on the size, shape and placement of near-field objects in relation to objects in more distant planes and how we want those relationships to manifest in the image. Working without a tripod is a serious challenge to maintaining vertical and horizontal biases. What can be tolerated and/or easily corrected working with 35-85mm lenses, may not be so readily managed with lenses 21mm and wider.

Ed Levin

Ed Levin

While I have used 16-35 zooms with full frame sensors in the past, the Loxia 21 is my first prime lens beyond 24mm. The experience of working with a 21mm is quite different from working with a 16-35 zoom, where a longer length is always available to me if super-wide doesn’t work; a prime is fixed – there is no escape or convenient dodge from its liabilities. On the other hand, working with such a prime, especially when approaching an assignment where many types of subjects will present themselves, my artistic and technical focus become more acute than when I enjoy the flexibility of a zoom.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

Last month I decided to put my lens where my mouth is, so to speak, and use only the Loxia 21 whilst on a tour of the infamous Hearst Castle. The mansion is a 3-hour drive away from my home and I needed to complete my task in a single day. One can visit the castle only by tour and they run about every two hours, and I was hoping to arrive early enough to take advantage of the usual summertime early fog. The smart thing would have been to use a zoom or take along a 35 or 50mm, but chose to use only the 21mm on the tour, just to see what I could do with it. In this way I figured I would learn the most about the lens and how it and the a7Rii and I got along. It was an enlightening, if somewhat nerve-wracking experience.

Hearst Castle bedroomMy objectives were several: to squeeze my camera into small spaces to obtain big pictures, for instance capturing difficult rooms in a single shot; second, to take advantage of the landscape in a wide-angle perspective; third, to see how well the Loxia 21 delivers images that I can process in my fashion.


My usual approach to super-wide landscape shots (some of which here are local to San Francisco Bay Area) is: with a fairly deep DOF, “place” something of importance in the foreground to support or contrast with whatever’s beyond, like so:



Then there are instances where we might want to obfuscate or clutter the subject, and with the Loxia, there’s a good deal of room to do just that:


There’s nothing that says we are required to fill a landscape with stuff, though. Sometimes less is more:

Ed Levin soft sepia

Ed Levin soft sepia

Loxia 21 can present both subtle and gross spatial distortions:


Soft Sepia Mission Peak

Handheld merges are possible if you’re careful. The bedroom is a merge of 7 vertical frames. The landscape is made from 6 horizontals. I find it useful to have much more overlap than I need for normal lenses:

Hearst Castle Bedroom

Hearst Castle Bedroom


Sierra road merge

The Loxia 21 renders fog beautifully:

Heasrt Castle low-key

Heasrt Castle low-key

. . . even when processed in low-key:


Hearst Castle low-key 2

And a few for the road:

0479_san_joseSan jose 0245_hearst_castle 0292_hearst_castle_papertoner1 0190_mission+peak  0195_hearst_castle _101_gilroy 0121_cayucos_yellow2


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  • Christopher Waite says:

    Interesting observations and tips on ‘going super-wide’ along with some excellent images.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Stunning shots – thanks for sharing this. It surely opens one’s eyes to yet another field to explore, in the pursuit of original & creative photography.

  • Leonard says:

    Thanks, Chris et Jean Pierre.

    I should add that shooting with a high resolution sensor, there is plenty of room and density to crop in as desired – all the more useful when you can’t get as close to your subject as you might like or when you want to lose some horizontal stretching whilst maintaining perspective.


    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      I’ll probably be assassinated for this one, Leonard – I’m with you on having the density to crop at will – I looked at perspective control lenses (Canon’s seem better than Nik’s and my f/frame is a D810, so that was one negative), but couldn’t find much/anything on their optical quality (another negative – when I finally did, it didn’t appeal to me, much). So rather than hurling money into the unknown and trying/buying one, I took off with a 24mm w/angle and cropped ad lib, to get much the same result as a PCL might have.

      Growing up in a country where bush mechanics can keep a car going with a bit of fencing wire helps to foster “creativity” no end !!!

  • philberphoto says:

    Ah, a man after my own heart! I, too, believe in shooting with but one lens at a time. From then on, if you only have a lemon, you learn to make really fine lemonade. Super post, Leonard!

  • Svend RS says:

    After six months of a great experience with the Loxia 35mm f/2.0, mid May I received my 21mm f/2.8 (not so easy to fetch one in Europe).
    I am very fund with wide-angle lenses and have been using during years the Leica 28mm f/2.8 Summicron Asph and in the seventies the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 and the 28mm f/3.5.
    When I received the 21mm I was wondering about results with such a wide glass.
    I have been travelling recently with this 21mm, plus Loxia 35mm f/2.0 and Sony 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar, paired with a Sony A7 SII.
    At the end, I have been using this lens on 75% of occasions.
    I am amazed of results and it has become my preferred.
    When necessary I crop the shots and the quality is still there: I do not like to work too much on picture taken.
    It is a beautiful lens !
    I have posted some of my results on Flickr “Svend RS”.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Svend, thanks for the update. I’m really happy you have found the lens to your liking. It’s really great, super transparent, sharp but elegant. I’ve just looked at your great Flickr gallery and some are really nice, particularly the semi-abstract ones at the bottom with candles on tables, the one named “Flower” … Great stuff, thanks.

  • Scott Edwards says:

    Thanks for sharing! The 35 1.4 Sony Zeiss Distagon is a tremendous lens, yet when shooting landscapes, I sometimes find myself longing for greater, broader ease of use. Encouraged to see the results here…

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