#910. Four Cheap Days with an Expensive Lens

By Adam Bonn | Travel Photography

Oct 02
 

It seems that holidays and exploring new destinations are this season’s must have here at DS…

 

Adrian recently wrote up his holiday experiences with Sony’s 18-135 zoom (which you can read here), Paul’s been stalking London like some modern day Jack the Clicker, Pascal’s been to the less unkempt areas of old London town and I’ve no clue where Dallas is… but I’d be surprised if he’s at home 🙂

 

Me? I never take holidays. My life is a holiday! My existence is one of tight financial constraint and colossal personal freedom.

 

Usually I can manage that occasionally frustrating oxymoron with little more than a pause in my ever-so-slightly-too-cocky stride.

 

But then it happened… I stupidly checked out the classified section of a photography forum and I saw it…

 

I tried not to buy it.

 

I ignored it, yet I kept coming back…

 

Then it happened. Someone was going to buy it… It was the classic line that most people selling things experience….. I’ll take it mate, but I just need to get paid at the end of the month ordinarily these words are worth less than the pixels they’re typed on… Sure no problem, let me know – but of course if in the meantime someone turns up with a serious offer I’ll have to sell it to them.

 

But this time I wasn’t the seller, I wasn’t the guy waiting for pay day.

 

No.

 

I was the guy that turned up with the serious offer. Galvanised like Megatron into Galvatron by the prospect of owning something I’d wanted for a long while… for a price I couldn’t quite believe.

 

So it happened. A cash gamble. A credit card purchase via PayPal, and a desperate (and successful) rush to sell off a lot of things to pay for it before the bill was due.

 

It happened and it worked. I now own a Summilux 50mm ASPH.

 

Pascal and Paul wanted a review… I’m not ready for that… perhaps not ever… it’s hardly a lens that no one’s ever written about… you could argue that the 50 ‘lux is possibly the most non-un-destination of lens reviews.

 

So instead, you’re getting my holiday snaps!

 

My wonderful girlfriend suggested we needed a holiday in a way that didn’t make it sound like a suggestion at all, and I was left sheepishly grinning that perhaps we could go somewhere cheap…. like in the (ok her) car cheap.

 

She knew just the place. (I told you she was wonderful).

 

Portugal’s Alentejo Region, is vast, hot (like 40+C / 104+F in early September) and old. As can often be the case, Wikipedia sums it up well:

 

Alentejo is the least populated region in the country, representing over one third of national territory but only 7.1% of its population

 

A mere 6+ hour (I didn’t really time it, we stopped off at places) drive in sweltering heat later and we were there. There being no where.

 

Mrs Adam and I are city/town folk, since our own personal year dots, and we found ourselves staying in a farm, converted to accommodate guests.

 

Had it rained (not likely) we wouldn’t have even got the car down the final 5 KMs of dirt track to reach our destination.

 

For photography I took one camera (the Leica M9P) and two lenses (the 35mm Summarit and the 50 Summilux).

 

It wasn’t end to end rural bliss, we stopped off at any city/town or village that looked interesting (or had a filling station, or ATM or supermarket for our self-catering rural destination).

 

I’m an urban boy really… I’m not used to huge empty spaces, nights so dark you can look up and see the milky-way, days so hot that drinking fountain water is the temperature of tea, and evenings so calm only the sound of insects drifts through the air.

 

As a photographer I was very much on holiday… I like street, I like documentary. I’m not much of a landscape person. I’d arrived with the second fastest fifty that Leica make, yet saw little point to go under F8.

 

As the holiday went on, and we got to explore the surrounding areas (if driving for an hour counts as ‘surrounding’) I started to adjust to this new (to me) paradigm, to stop being awed by the view (and floored by the heat) and too look for snaps that captured what I was seeing.

 

I even got a chance to get a bit of street in there after all!

 
Are we there yet? 35mm ‘Rit
 

Drive down here for long enough, and not only will your fillings fall out….

 
50mm ‘Lux
 

…but you’ll end up here.

 
Don’t you get lost out there, ya hear? (35mm ‘Rit)
 
Does anyone know where the pub is? Oh yeah right…. 50mm ‘Lux
 
Where we stayed had too many cats to count (ok about 8) – this was one of the more friendly ones (50mm ‘Lux)
 
35mm ‘Rit
 

The region features a colossal man made lake with artificial beaches

 

The place where we stayed had a genuine rustic charm.

 
50mm ‘Lux
 

You went to the supermarket picked up what you fancied to eat, and you helped yourself to whatever utensils you needed from the kitchen to prepare your food.

 
50mm ‘Lux (you guessed that right?)
 

On the way down to the farm we spent a night at a place called Elvas

 
50mm ‘Lux timed release and low brick wall “tripod”
 
50mm ‘Lux and not my finest ever rangefinder focusing, I figured the pillory was close enough for adequate DOF at the subject distance. I was wrong.
 
50mm ‘Lux and Elvas at night
 
I might have just been starting to get the hang of the 50mm wide open!
 
35mm ‘Rit
 

We found a charming old ruined castle, before being ordered out as it was technically closed, unsafe and I shouldn’t be up there… I was proud of myself for managing those stone steps in flip-flops..

 

For the final day, we visited Monsaraz, which was a truly charming place – I shot it all with the 50mm and it was there I started to feel that I was getting the new fifty in my life.

 
I’m not sure what this a monument too…. 50mm ‘Lux
 
A town with a view 50mm ‘Lux
 
Buy a place seen here on the right, wake up each day to the view on the left! 50mm ‘Lux
 
We eat at this restaurant, sadly not at this table… 50mm ‘Lux
 
50mm ‘Lux
 

I was able to try a bit of street with my new 50!

 
50mm ‘Lux
 

Night fell and 1.4 became a valuable tool on a camera that I don’t take past ISO640.

 
50mm ‘Lux
 

It was great to try out the Summilux wide open with bright light sources, it’s not flare free (however it seems to be more flare resilient than the 50mm cron), but the transition to OOF areas are noticeably smoother than on my 7Artisans.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, I strongly suspect my personal joy at being here with a new lens and new sights will far out weigh the job I’ve done explaining the feeling of the location and my documentary of that feeling with the pictures.

 

But this is as un-destination as I’ve ever been, the very fact that there’s nothing there makes the nothing the destination. Sure we took the time to explore, to stop when and where we could to see and feel as much of the region as possible (well to be fair and with less artistic licence, Mrs Adam has been there before) but I don’t feel that any of the places justify travelling great distances to see singularly (unless you’re already in the area), so the whole region becomes a case of joining the dots, a case of making the effort to get there, then drawing your own experiences from the places you encounter.

 

I’m not trying to be provocative, it’s a wonderful area of the world, and I dare say they get plenty of tourist trade (the English language signage in Monsaraz suggests this to be the case) but as individual locations many of these could be satisfactorily explored in less than a day, or even a few hours for the smaller villages.

 

But this becomes the appeal. These aren’t cookie-cutter locations, each one has its own charms and sights, like ingredients in a salad they work together as a whole providing far more flavour than they would as standalone components.

 

Gear wise, well frankly I could’ve taken a decent modern mobile phone for most of these shots (not that I own one), I should’ve have taken my Panasonic LX100, which is a m43 fixed zoom lens compact that has a footprint smaller than most decent modern phones.

 

But I didn’t. I went on holiday with a technically ancient digital camera, with no EVF, no AF, no dual card slots, no wi-fi, no weather sealing, terrible ISO and once again I was pleased that I was able to make it work for me in so many situations.

 

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  • Paul Perton says:

    Good on you Adam. My 50 ‘lux is much like yours; an SoB to focus, but a fountain of joy when I get it right (not very often).

  • Dallas Thomas says:

    Adam, wrong we are currently at home in Sydney, but head to the land of the long white cloud in 2 weeks. Great article and pictures makes me want to visit your chosen place of residence, we will soon. The Lux looks like an excellent piece of kit enjoy it. Dallas

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thanks Dallas, for a small country Portugal has a bit of everything! Enjoy your upcoming trip. The lux is highly regarded, so when I don’t get the results I’d hoped I know where to point the finger!

  • pascaljappy says:

    Everything magical is difficult, I guess. But wow, the pictures !! I’m amazed by the one of the two electric poles with the village in the background. What a shot. Enjoy that lens for the rest of your life, Adam.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thank you very much Pascal, don’t ‘they’ say that the lux is one of the best fifties ever made? (Ming is certainly a fan) I’ve been back from that trip just over 3 weeks and still my head is filled with the sights.

  • Sean says:

    Hi Adam,
    What a warmly personal overview of your experiences in this Alentejo Region of Portugal, that was also recorded with a new lens purchase. Yes, you’ve proved again, in practice, one should include a nice nifty fifty, in their lens arsenal. My minds eye is framed that way too, and so, these images of yours resonate with me. Myself, I’ll often begin with a nifty fifty and then make a callas to if it’s the best lens for particular area I’m photographing in – if not, I’ll only go as wide as needed, but stay as close to 50mm as possible. I see you’ve somehow done this too, simply by using a 35mm lens. Well done, your images are inviting, and the do speak fondly of your stay in this area of Portugal.

  • Chris Stump says:

    Adam,
    Lucious imagery, and a downright entertaining narrative! We’ve all been there with you, as both buyers and sellers of expensive stuff, I imagine. I could feel your emotions as you pulled the trigger on the ‘lux. Good for you.
    I drove the length of Portugal in the late ’80’s. What a fantastic place. It was wonderful to revisit it through your eyes.
    Thank you.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thank you very much Chris,

      I haven’t thought once about how much the lux cost since getting it, which is always the sign of a good purchase in my opinion!

      I’ve lived in Portugal for five years now, and it still continues to charm me

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    The explanation for the English signage could be the way the English keep bobbing up, all over the place – it’s just as likely that it’s part of Portugal’s history, since they are extremely grateful to England for helping to protect them from the Spanish over the past thousand or so years – which, BTW, is also quoted as the reason why so many portuguese are bilingual and speak english like the natives do.
    I’ve never owned any Leica gear – I had (still have, technically – he hasn’t died year!) a brother who acquired a Leica while I was a teenager drooling over other gear, and his gloating over his Leica, and his disparaging remarks about my choices, put me off Leica for a whole lifetime. I imagine they must be good cameras, since so many people swear by them, but I have to take their/your word for it, Adrian.
    Sorry to learn you spin the wheels when you relocate, and leave “the big smoke” behind. I was a hybrid – half city, half rural – and I could live happily anywhere that appreciates “good food” and at least passably reasonably good wine. “Anywhere” certainly extends to rural Portugal – Portugal must be one of the finest places on Earth, to live – and the rural parts of it that I’ve seen are every bit as fascinating as Lisbon.
    As always, your photos are excellent, and despite your remarks about the shortcomings of the Leica, they are absorbing to look at. Particularly the night shots – I love available light night shots like these.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thank you very much Pete,

      I’m not sure that I can do your expansive and measured comment justice.

      Portugal and England do indeed go way back, royals from each country wed into one another, there’s a long trade history and reciprocal military support.

      English is taught here in schools and they don’t dub English language on either small or silver screen

      It was only a 4 day break, I’m back in a small yet sprawling city now.

      I grew up in a town, but have lived in a city since 2011.

      I’m sure much of the attraction to Leica is the allure of the brand, the history of rangefinding and one I think tends to try that bit little harder when one is enamoured

      Oh and I’m Adam – Adrian is the other guy, who also doesn’t really like Leica! 🙂

      Thanks again Pete.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Bummer! Sorry, Adam – I always seem to get you two guys muddled up. It’s not just old age – I’ve never been good at names – I even managed to forget my own, once, and that’s kind of embarrassing – especially since the guy who was asking me for my name was the one trying to serve me, when I was trying to renew my driver’s licence! 🙂

        • Adam Bonn says:

          I was nearly too British to point it out, but then I remembered that I live in Portugal now 😀

          It’s fine Pete, I’ve been called worse (although that might have been more accurate!!)

  • Michael Fleischer says:

    Great vivid humorous post…especially drawn to your last 3 “night in the town with lightbulbs & folks”.
    Yes, if only I ever had 1 lens…it would be a fifty/fifty = No 1 :-). Never got along the F.O.V. of 35mm.

    Clearly, it shines in your M-hands and gives you a boost of pleasure!

    Curiously, really like 28mm + 50mm myself (old-school, I know), and recently I bought a newcomer;
    Tammy-licious 35mm f/1.4…and now am “nearly a convert”!!
    A pearl of a lens (if a good sample as always) – changes look by each aperture.

    Funny how a purchase can open up ones way of seeing the world anew…;-)

    Best wishes for your journey ahead…
    Michael.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thank you very much Michael,

      I must admit I have thought about getting a 28..

      I’m very used to seeing the world in ’50mm’ but never in the quality that the lux can produce (in more capable hands than mine)

      Thanks again

  • Patrick says:

    Unmistakably Leica glasses…..undoubtedly demonstrated professionally.

    Good work , Adam, and thanks.

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