When Jim Sullivan called me up one evening and asked if I would be interested in assisting him to photograph Dominque Crenn in one of San Francisco most esteemed restaurants I was ecstatic! A few weeks earlier Jim purchased a Leica SL system, leaving his Canon 5D gear behind. A bold move for a food and cocktail photographer who's bread and butter (pun intended) is made on the staple system of most foodie oriented photogs. Nevertheless, Jim, like myself, loves to use only the best tools he can get his hands on. Simply put be - different than the pack. Being in some of the most prestigious kitchens all over the world beckons the longing to attain the highest level of artistic finesse and elevated craftsmanship, and also I believe a sense of deviance from norms. But, I deviate from the story at hand.
After hearing Jim's offer I sat at my desk thinking of how Jim and I could take this opportunity to the next level. I send an email over to Leica requesting one of the new APO Summicron-SL lenses. Since these lenses announced, I have been greatly anticipating photographing with them. Capturing Dominque Crenn and Atelier Crenn seemed too perfect of an opportunity. Leica was kind enough to offer me the 75mm APO Summicron-SL to use at Atelier Crenn.
When the Lens arrives at my office at Camera West Rancho Mirage I immediately had it on my SL and was testing it out. Of course, from all the specifications I read and learned from talking with my Leica reps, I was already impressed, but the execution was perfect. It is like reading about Crenn's Uni dish or hearing about it from Jim, and knowing it had Japanese sourced Uni, her own Russian caviar, and it looks really... really good. But, then tasting it was another story and an entirely different experience. The 75mm APO SL is a lens you have to feel, touch, and use to understand how all these lofty specifications, dual servo AF motors, 0.5m close focus, double correction elements, and compact size all make sense. Hence it would be impossible to write this article without knowing the lens this intimately, and it would be impossible for a food blogger to write a post on Atelier Crenn without first tasting.
Behind the Story | Atelier Crenn, Jim Sullivan & the 75mm APO Summicron-SL
Before I launch into talking about the 75mm APO Summicron-SL I want to touch on what we were about to capture.
Dominique Crenn is the highest decorated female chef in the culinary world. After Chef Crenn opened her restaurant she was named worlds best female Chef of 2016. Atelier Crenn has been a landmark of unique and elevated dining since it's inception. Of course, this ties in perfectly with the 75mm APO Summicron-SL. Photographing elevated cuisine with an elevated optical design.
It was a great joy to work with Dominique Crenn. As soon as Jim and I walked into the Restaurant with our Leica's she was infatuated with them. She immediately grabbed a Q and then an SL to try out. After a bit of small talk, it was interesting to see her passion for photography. Of course, this is evident in the ambiance Altier Crenn encompasses.
I met Jim Sullivan a few months back at a local Beers & Cameras meet in San Diego. As we began talking I saw his passion for food photography, but what struck me about his photography was that he wasn't a normal food photographer. Jim thrives on capturing not simply the pretty plate, but rather the entire story around a dish. Where did it come from? What kind of craft went into the dish? Who is the person behind the dish? These are all questions Jim seeks to answer in his photography. The thought of tying this together with Leica was perfect. From shooting street photography with his M6 and Leica Q to photographing exquisite plates of food and environmental portrays with the SL this kind of photography covers the full range of what many of us strive to do with our Leica Cameras.
Thanks to Jim Sullivan, and Antonio Diaz from Life and Thyme for allowing me to tag along to Atelier Crenn for this photo shoot. Most of all thanks to Chef Crenn for graciously allowing us to capture her incredible house.
Jim did a great job with the 75mm APO and SL. He was utilizing the 24-90mm Vario-Elmar-SL previously and really enjoyed the speed and size of the 75mm APO over the zoom's all-around versatility. Looking back at these images the detail and optics of this lens do something truly magical. Pair that with Jim's keen eye and it's a match made in heaven.
Behind the Lens | Specifications and Execution
The 75mm APO Summicron-SL is one impressive lens from the moment it comes out of the box. The balance of this lens is perfect. Only slightly larger than that of the 60mm Elmarit-Macro-TL lens. The 75mm Summicron-SL feels like a 75mm Summilux-M but with AF motors. The feel of this lens on the SL body works in perfect unison. I am a huge fan of both the SL zooms and using M optics on my SL. I almost always have a 50mm M optic of some variation or another on my SL with the adapter, but when I need AF I find myself grabbing a 24-90mm Vario-Elmar-SL. The SL zooms are impressive, very utilitarian, and large. But, the 75mm APO Summicron-SL sits right in the middle. It is small, but the AF on the 75mm is more than impressive. It is lightning fast.
Specifications at a Glance
- Field angle (diagonal, horizontal, vertical)
- Number of lenses/groups 11/9
- Number of aspherical lenses 1
- Entrance pupil position 35.9 mm
The Optics on the 75mm APO Summicron-SL are outstanding, to say the least. I found that this lens renders an extremely shallow depth of field when capturing at minimum focus distance. The fall off though is much different than I have seen before. It reminds me a lot of how the Summicron-C lenses render. The character that the lens is outputting is really lovely. I found that I liked it even better than the 75mm Summilux-M that I am used to shooting,. In addition, the 75mm APO Summicron-SL allows for .2m closer focus than it's M counterpart, and .5m closer than that of the 75mm Summilux-M. This kind of optical advantages made it perfect for capturing small plates, and tight tabletop shots at Atelier Crenn.
At a normal distance, the 75mm APO Summicron-SL performed with incredible beauty making stunning portraits that had almost too much detail in them, but yet the combination of sharpness, contrast, and three dimensionalities make the 75mm APO Summicron-SL a perfect portrait optic.
The images are crisper and more three dimensional than I am used to getting on any of my Summilux, or normal Summicron lenses. It is truly amazing how much detail I am getting from this lens. I had to remember that this is only a 35mm 24mp sensor doing this! The optics are performing so well it seems to me that the images could be medium format.
- Working range 0.5 m to infinity
- Smallest object field 120 x 180 mm
- Largest reproduction ratio 1:5
When I first read the specifications on the 75mm APO Summicron-SL I knew this was the perfect lens for the capturing tight shots of plated food and portraits. Jim mostly uses 50mm lenses for the majority of his work both portrait and plate, but the 75mm is so versatile with its 0.5m close focus distance it was impossible not to turn down. As expected, it performed with mind-blowing excellence.
- Setting/function Electronically controlled aperture, set using turn/push wheel on camera, including half values
- Aperture setting range 2-22
- Lowest value 22
The aperture speed of the 75mm APO is something to behold. I almost thought I was shooting a Summilux at times with the lens wide open. For many of our shots, we had to stop the lens down in order to get the depth of field we needed on the plate, but wide open this lens performs with razor-thin sharpness and gorgeous bokeh. I can not express how much I love this lens wide open! Stopped down the 75mm APO Summicron-SL gets razor sharp edge to edge with beautiful contrast.
- Bayonet/sensor format Leica L bayonet, full-frame 35mm format
- Filter mount E67
- Dimensions and weight
- Length to bayonet mount 102 mm
- Largest diameter 73 mm
- Weight 720 g
Let's talk about the size of this Lens for a bit. I love how this lens balances on the Leica SL body. Since I put the 35mm Summilux-TL on my SL I wanted a lens that was somewhere near that size on the SL but that covered the entire sensor. That is exactly what Leica has given us with the 75mm APO Summicron-SL. I encourage you to just feel the density and perfect balance of this lens. It is and feat of engineering to say the least. I find that this lens is small enough to use comfortably on the CL even, which makes for a really nice combo if you own both SL and CL bodies.
I am extremely excited to see Leica expand their Leica SL lineup with these new Summicron lenses. I think it is exactly what the system was needing. The Leica SL to me is so reminiscent of the Leica R. The lenses for the R are still some of my favorite pieces of glass and Leica is innovating new glass that is modern in technology but iconic in nature. If you own an SL I can't see owning it without some of these Summicron lenses. If you haven't tried an SL you should. Experience the benchmark for full frame performance.
Photos by Jim Sullivan. BTS Images by Ben Carpenter.