Being an architect, I take a lot of wide angle shots. Over the last couple of years, I used mainly a Leica M10 with Voigtlander’s Helier range. I have not tried the Laowa ones, but they keep pumping out new ultra-wide lenses this year.
The WATE is only true zoom lens in the M-mount lens to date. While it is named with 16mm, 18mm and 21mm ultra wide focal lengths, it works as a continuous zoom between the focal lengths with liveview on digital Ms and other mirrorless cameras. It is not as wide as the 10mm, 12mm or the 15mm from Voigtlander, but 16-18-21mm zoom range is a practical and realistic wide photo angles. It pairs well with digital M cameras, and somehow draws out more contrast than other wide angle lenses I own. I have confidence in the image I took with it on M10.
When I jump on the L-mount system this year, I find most L-mount wide angle options are large and bulky.
The WATE balances well on the SL2. Even if the sensor stack is thicker than on the M. The weight balance is nice, and the size is much smaller than the native L-mount lenses.
Body Design and Built Quality
This is a very small and light lens for a wide angle zoom. Only 54mm x 62mm and 335g. Lens code #11642. Lens design is 10 elements in 7 groups.
The included metal hood is very small. beautifully designed. Removing the hood exposes a red ring. It is not for style, but a warning that the front glass element is projecting beyond the rim, so do not face down the lens to avoid damages.
Aperture range from F4 to F22 with half clicks. The lens is sharp from F4, and excellent at 5.6 and F8. As a wide angle lens, there is no need to stop down too much for sharpness. It hits diffraction limit around F16 on the SL2, and F11 on the M10/M240. If aperture is set at higher number, it will degrade the image.
Like the previous Tri-Elmar, it has 3 focal lengths in one lens. This range is a flexible for architectural and landscape photos. 16mm and 21mm is great. I do not use 18mm much. It is a great travel lens for walking about town.
The focus ring is super smooth with good resistance with a handy focus tab/knob. M-mount focus coupling is available from 0.7m to infinity, with extended closeup range down to 0.5m . The extended range has grey inscriptions and extra resistance to tell M users that the focusing is no longer coupled, not as useful for non-M users. Depth of field scale steps in a beautiful way, it is easy to read in operation. As it is a wide angle lens with DOF scale, I will set hyperfocal focusing and keep shooting. Autofocus is not required. With internal focusing, the lens maintains its length which is nice.
Previously I use the lens extensively on Leica M10 camera. The lens is designed for the M system, and it is best used on an M. The images are perfect for the 24mp sensor. That will be the topic of a future article.
On the SL2 however, before tuning, the images are good. The photos taken with this lens has a 3D pop with great local contrast. The SL2 recognises the 6-bit code on the lens mount and automatically optimise the settings for the photos.
However if I zoom in on lightroom, there is a softness that I do not see on my Sigma wide angle zoom. The WATE is less sharp on the SL2 when compared with native L-mount lens zoomed into pixel level. While the colour, contrast and rendering is nice, it is not holding up to the very fine details zoomed in full. I still like the images I took with it a lot. I wonder why that is the case for my lens on this combo.
The SL2 47mp high-res sensor is really demanding. I can suddenly see my lens is not as perfect, and find all the faults on the photos. High resolution sensor expose the tiniest misalignment in the optics. I ended up sending the lens to Leica for a CLA under warranty. With the WATE calibrated, it is definitely better. This lens is designed in the analog photography age and release around the time of the Leica digital M8. Back in time when the calibration tolerance was not as superfine as today.
After my lens come back from Leica calibration, the results are much sharper and finer. There is definitely more details in the photos below.
Image below on the left you can see little flare against the sun, but very well controlled with no lost of contrast.
At night, I shot directly into a bright light source to push its limit. It is very difficult to get the lens to flare. There seems to be no real lost of contrast across the frame.
At largest aperture of F4, the lens is very usable handheld a night. SL2’s in-body image stablisation helps.
Ultimately the WATE is best used on M cameras, and it has find its limit on the SL2. The images are still great, as long as you are not after the very last pixel of sharpness (still plenty sharp). I love the way it render rich colour with great definition of sharp and form under most lighting condition.
It is not recommended on the Sigma FP for the lack of Leica’s micro lens array over the sensor.
If I want a light and small combo, I will reach out for the WATE on the SL2. For the best image quality and detail, native L-mount lens will do better on the SL2, or stick to WATE on M10.
- small and light
- good zoom range
- well built
- good colour and contrast
- works better on M cameras for both lens features and image quality
- may require calibration for high-res sensor for the best sharpness
Native L-mount wide angle options:
There is a few Sigma wide angle primes based on their DSLR range. 14, 20, 24 and 28mm DG HSM are available on L-mount. They are generally bigger and heavier with good optics. I will not rush to get them, as the DG DN range will be smaller and better in the pipeline.
Panasonic has an 18mm wide angle large aperture prime and a 24mm F1.8 on the roadmap. Not yet released at the time of this article.
Wide angle SL prime range is not available yet. May be a 21mm Summicron-SL is coming.
At present I will just adapt all my M-mount wide angle primes, so there is no real native L-mount options.
The Super-Vario-Elmar-SL 16-35 f/3.5-4.5 ASPH looks to be an incredible lens. I do not have a chance to use it yet. Sigma 14-24mm F2. 8 DG DN Art is really impressive that I own and love, but it is massive and heavy. The Panasonic has S Pro 16-35 F4 and S 20-60 F3.5-5.6. They are attractive in a similar range and I do want to try them too.
Find WATE on Ebay