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Going wide-angle on the street with a Voigtlander Ultron 21mm lens & VSCO Film 06.


All Hallow’s Eve (or Halloween if you prefer) conjures up darkness, the night, the unknown and usually the first vestiges of Winter’s chill.
 
Not in London in 2014.
 
As the temperature gauges hit an unseasonably 21 degrees I decided there was synchronicity in taking to the streets with a new 21mm lens for one of my regular London photo-walks.
 
It was also an opportunity to edit the results through the new Visual Supply Company Film 06 presets pack which I’ve just added to my Lightroom workflow. If you’re not familiar with VSCO check them out here.
 
I’ve been meaning to use a 21mm lens for my documentary and street work for a while. I’m a devoted 35mm lens user for this kind of shooting. A 21mm is not a ‘natural’ choice when shooting with a rangefinder (as I do) due to needing an external viewfinder for composition. But, you know, I’m of the mind that experimentation and play are fundamental to image-making so I don’t really consider technicalities like that to be a reason not to try something new.

What I loved about using this focal length for this kind of work is the amount of context possible within the frame. For example, I’ve been doing a lot of work this year shooting Oxford Street and the surrounding area. Inevitably in a location like this, there’s so much going on in just a few square feet that the 21mm opens up the potential for loads of information and juxtapostions.
 
For the gear aficionados, I used a Voigtlander Ultron 21mm f1.8 lens on both Leica M (Type 240) and Fuji X-T1 (via a handy Fotodiox adapter ring). The Voigtlander is of solid metal build, heavier than a Summicron 35mm, and it is large. It easily blocks the bottom right hand corner of the Leica viewfinder which is why you have to use an external finder. The results with this lens are worth these changes. It’s sharp across the aperture range (about 90% performance wide-open compared to a Leica equivalent, but virtually indistinguishable stopped down). Focusing is very smooth and quick. Though once stopped down from f8 onwards there’s little need to fine focus as resulting depth of field is sharp through the image. Point and shoot becomes an easy proposition.
 
I’m going to keep experimenting with this lens and build it into my documentary kit. For further info on the Voigtlander 21mm lens and this focal length in street/documentary work try Steve Huff’s site or Joeri van der Kloet.
 
On to the VSCO Film presets.
 
I grew up with analogue cameras (my first camera was a Canon AE1 that I would ‘borrow’ from my Dad when he wasn’t looking) and, although I love digital photography’s ease-of-use, I still pine for the days of experimenting with film stock and developing it in my darkroom. Happily, the ability to recreate some of that experimentation keeps getting stronger with the likes of VSCO (and Alien Skin).
 

 


 
 
The new VSCO Film 06 pack takes some classic film stocks such as E100VS, Precisa, Sensia, Provia and Tri-X and focusses on a range of cross-processed and pushed/pulled variants of them. For all the images you see here I used a mix of those presets alongside tweaks in Lightroom and the extensive Film Toolkits that come as part of the VSCO packages. These offer custom grain, tonality, vignetting settings etc. I also layer some of my presets across the other film packs VSCO have produced in the past. For example the black and whites here use some of the Tri-X setting from this pack with additional layering from the Scala settings in film pack 04.
 
These presets are so thorough and extensive that you could spend hours tinkering with looks and image variations. What I have found over the time I’ve been using them all is that there are some looks that ‘settle’ into my work and style. Consequently my workflow tends to utilise those regularly with some customisation here and there. Patience, coffee, and a few hours to kill provides dividends with these presets. Often they’ve led me to reconsider the worth of some images that I wasn’t too sure about in their ‘raw’ state. Which turns these presets into valuable tools in anyone’s photographic kit, if you’re so inclined.

Voigtlander 21mm Ultron lens

 
All images shot on Leica M with 21mm Voigtlander Ultron lens and Fuji X-T1 with Voigtlander 40mm Nokton lens and developed in VSCO Film 06 (with additional work in the 04 pack for black and whites).

All images © James Bellorini 2015