We always tell you about new gear here, but at the end of the day lenses are just tools needed to take nice pictures. Martin and I went through all the pictures we took in 2023 to choose our 10 favorites. You can find those pictures here with a bit of additional information, for which there is not always a place in the gear reviews.
The Cistern Basilica (aka Yerebatan Sarnıcı, aka Sunken Palace) in Istanbul is a sight I always wanted to visit. The first two times I was in Istanbul it was closed for renovation, but at the beginning of 2023 I could finally visit this amazing place. I already guessed that setting up a tripod there isn’t easily possible, so I brought the Laowa 15mm 2.0 and took this picture handheld at 1/15s, ISO 800.
While in Istanbul I also had a review sample of the Pergear 35mm 1.4, the cheapest 35mm 1.4 lens money can buy. I had this lens mounted while I was on the ferry and managed to capture this picture. It also won me a small 100€ prize in the 2023 Cewe Photo awards.
I also carried the Zeiss Hologon 16mm 8.0, but with that slow Kodak Color Plus 200 film this is not exactly a great choice for taking indoor pictures. Luckily there was a railing here to rest the camera on. I still wasn’t sure if this picture would come out good enough, but I am quite happy with it. Had to convert it to black and white though, because the colors really weren’t nice.
This picture of cherry blossoms taken with the Leica 90mm 2.0 looks simple and one might think it is very easy to take, but I actually spent an unhealthy amount of time finding the perfect tree with the perfect branch with clean petals and a nice background.
One of the reasons the Laowa 35mm 0.95 is one of my favorite lenses. Sharpness is very good at these distances and in combination with the f/0.95 maximum aperture this leads to an amazing perception of depth.
The Voigtländer VM 40mm 1.4 Nokton turned out to be a lens I liked way more than I thought I would. The Silbersalz35 500T is also the perfect film for a nightly city scene like this. This is exactly what a street in a Japanese city looks like in my mind.
Visiting the Snow Monkey park near Nagano is not an easy decision if you only have limited time to spend in Japan. Its location is not exactly convenient and there is no guarantee that the monkeys will actually spend time in the hot pool. So I was pretty lucky here. Even more so because this monkey stroke a pretty cool pose. Captured thanks to the Techart LM-EA9 adapter adding autofocus to the Leica 90mm 2.0.
This fair is in town two times a year and I often go there with lenses still to be reviewed. This was actually the first time I encountered the conditions needed for this picture. I took a similar one during sunset with the Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6, but I actually like this daylight one taken with the 7Artisans 9mm 5.6 more, as the clouds add some additional drama.
Kos is not an island I found to be overly photogenic – except for the opportunities to do some astrophotography, as I did with the Sony FE 14mm 1.8 GM. This abandoned building by the road immediately caught my eye though and I was glad I carried a tiny 39mm polarizer for the Voigtländer VM 28mm 2.8.
After I read the first reports and saw the first pictures taken with the Voigtländer VM 50mm 1.0 Nokton I wasn’t super interested in it to be honest. I did however request a review sample for my comparison of Super Fast 50mm M-mount lenses and I discovered it does have some appealing qualities after all. This picture mirrors my story with the lens: when I took it I didn’t think it will come out well. The other lenses this fast suck a bit in terms of sharpness at these distances and also generally suck in backlit scenarios, but here – to my surprise – that wasn’t the case.
When travelling to Florence, Italy we decided to take a road trip along the coast via Portofino to Como Lake. There is an area with five villages by the sea called Cinque Terre (literally five villages), where you can not drive a car, so we had to take the train from the town La Spezia through these five villages forth and back and get off in each village for a visit. Manrola was the second village and we arrived there about noon. I took some pictures with the three lenses I had on this trip; Nikon 24mm 1.8, Nikon 50mm 1.8, and Sigma 105mm f/2.8, but I knew that village had a good potential for great pictures at sunset. In the evening, when on our way back, I convinced the other half to get off at that village for the second time and wait for the sunset. While not a very popular suggestion after a day of walking in train spotting we did it and how glad I got for it. I scouted a good point, from the images I had taken earlier, I decided to set the Nikkor Z 24mm lens on the camera, and waited for the right time.
We went to visit an idyllic area and the house of a very famous painter a couple of hours away from Stockholm in the countryside. The painter’s neighbor’s house (pictured), also a museum today, was smaller but had a very beautiful garden. As I wanted to capture the environment, I already had the wide angle lens Viltrox 24mm f/1.8 on my camera. When I saw the little girl with her toy stroller I thought it looked like in the children’s story books, like in a fairy tale, and I decided to take a few pictures. But as I wanted to check with her parents if it was OK, it took some time and I just managed to take one picture before she went to her parents. That single picture made the day for me.
There are so many new and amazing macro lenses that can do 1:1 and even 2:1 magnification, clinically clean, scalpel-sharp. Many would not even look at something old, but I have kept my old Tamron SP 90/2.5, which only manages a magnification of 1:2. Nevertheless, it is very sharp and has such a buttery smooth bokeh, that time to time I refuge to that lens for taking a moody portrait or macro shot. In this case on a rainy day, just after it has stopped raining, without any wind, I made a 22-stacked picture with that old little lens.
Another relatively old lens is the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 G. Again there are so many newer, sharper, faster 50mm lenses. This one costs about $60-$70 nowadays but can produce such nice colors, that they can be both punchy and pastel at the same time. I still use this lens frequently, whenever I need a fast 50. This time during a classic car fair that occurs once a year. Not everybody comes like the people in this car, but I was lucky to be there when this car, with people in their 30s outfit from prohibition time, drove past and I had the AF-S 50/1.8 on the camera in my hands.
I had this idea of taking a picture from an unusual dramatic angle in a bar. So, first of all I fitted my camera with a lens that can give dramatic angles, with good speed for the dim light of the bar, a fast wide angle, here a Nikkor Z 24 mm f/1.8 S. I tested a few shots but was not happy, either the foreground was not attractive enough or the background was dull or disturbing, or the light came from the wrong angle. After a while, I thought I would have to ask the barman to cooperate and also I have to order a couple of interesting drinks to accomplish my idea. All of a sudden I saw at the other side of the bar, one of the barmans lined up five glasses. While I was hurrying there, I thought and hoped that it would be a colorful drink. When I saw the Aperol Spritz I got happier, but he was fast and the bar was relatively large and crowded. He was almost done before I got there and found the angle with glasses in the foreground and him in the background. He had filled up all five glasses and put ice cubes in three of them. I caught him on the fourth.
Taking pictures by focus stacking is a very tedious and challenging endeavor, especially of bugs and at larger magnification than 2X, here with Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro. For some of my shots, I have stated how many shots I have stacked, 31 for this specific one. What I don’t state is how many tries I have done. For one of them, after the first series of stacks, when I put them together on my computer, I realized that I had miscalculated the stack intervals. The images in the stack were too far from each other. That results in out-of-focus bands, alternating in-focus bands along the whole subject. Then I had to redo everything. After the second round, when I could get a nice stack, I looked and realized that the lighting was not suitable, so I had to go back and re-arrange the lighting and make another series. In the third set, after I had set the images together, I found that for some reason I had gotten a shaking blur in a couple of images. I had to make the fourth try, and that turned out to be good (in total 4 sets of stacks, more than 120 images).
Stockholm’s metro system has a few very beautiful and tasteful stations. Not all of them are nice but there are a few with different kinds of art decoration. This station is one the newest of them and therefore it’s got a somewhat futuristic art decoration. When I got the TTArtisan 10mm f/2.0 UWA lens (APS-C), I needed some confined places to test it in. Some of the metro stations were the first place that came to my mind.
Last summer when I was calling some friends in the south of Spain, they said we could cross the Gibraltar by fast ferry and get to Tangier in Morocco in just 2 hours. Of course, I wanted to do so, so we went there for two days, and in the historic part of the town I saw the kitty that sat there and waited for her mom to open the door. On this trip I had three lenses with me; Viltrox 24/1.8, Nikon Z 35/1.8 S, and Viltrox 85/1.8. I took this picture with Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 STM ASPH ED IF.
The Helios 44 is famous for its swirly bokeh, but believe me, it is not that easy to get those swirls in the image. You have to try hard and long with the composition to get them, but when you succeed, besides the swirly bokeh you get such a satisfaction that is the reward for all the hard labor.
Last year, when I wanted to visit the Portuguese island Madeira, I wanted to travel very light, with a minimum of photographic gear. I also knew that the island had a very rich fauna and flora, therefor I wanted to have a small, but sharp lens with close-focus capabilities. The macro lenses were excluded because they are very large. I took the old tiny Carl Zeiss Jena 50/2.8, which served both as a standard lens and a semi-macro/flower lens. I have very seldom been so happy with the choice of lens for a specific trip as this one.
I was supposed to only include ten images, but during the last year, TTArtisan released a lens that like the Helios 44, has a very specific bokeh, a so-called soap bubble bokeh. The TTArtisan 100mm 2.8. Some people love it, some others don’t like it at all. I am from the former group. I was so surprised that they had succeeded in such a good job and produced a lens that was about one-tenth of the price of the one made by MOG. It was a huge success, the review of this lens has been PR’s most visited review page during 2023. So, I thought I take this image to honor that.
Latest posts by The Team (see all)
- Review: Viltrox 20mm 2.8 AF FE and Z - February 14, 2024
- 2023 in Pictures - December 20, 2023
- Guide to wide-angle lenses for Sony A7/A9/A1 series - November 15, 2023