Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Night at the Lick

M9, 21 Summilux, ~f/2.8, 1/3000s, ISO 160

Its summer, and that means time for the Lick Observatory's Summer Visitor Program. This year, I decided to organize an outing for a larger group, inviting several others in my lab as well as a bunch of our summer interns. In total, our group had 18 people and this was the first time to the Lick for most of them.

I also received a new lens yesterday to help round out my Leica kit, the 21mm f/1.4 Summilux and that was the only lens I used last night.  I will intersperse my observations of the 21 Summilux throughout this post.
M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/30s, ISO 250

Before heading up to the observatory, we all had a very tasty dinner at my favorite Thai place in the bay area, Thai Lover's located in East San Jose. The dinner was enjoyed by all with many saying it was one of the best Thai places they'd been to in a while.  The 21mm focal length gives a nice wide view to capture groups. 

M9, 21 Summilux, f/2.8, 1/30s, ISO 2000
We managed to get up to the observatory about 15 minutes before the doors opened securing us an early spot in the line.  Right beside the line, a volunteer had set up a scope with a solar filter allowing people to view the surface of the sun.

M9, 21 Summilux, ~f/2.8, 1/750s, ISO 160.
One of the benefits of getting there early is that you get to watch the beautiful sunset.  The sunset is usually very colorful as it sets since the sun light scatters through all the hazy and particulates in the atmosphere that hangs over silicon valley.

M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/1500s, ISO 160
The f/1.4 large aperture can give nice separation between subject and background but it isn't as pronounced because of the short focal length.  I'm finding the bokeh of this lens to be quite pleasing.  This is what Radomir is photographing:
M9, 21 Summilux, f/8, (varying shutter speeds), ISO 160.  Fusion of 5 exposures.
Once stopped down to about f/8 all vignetting disappears and the lens delivers very sharp images across the frame.  Though flare is present in this shot, I don't find too offensive.

Just before the start of the excellent "history" lecture, we had a chance to check out both telescopes in daylight (another good reason to get there early).
M9, 21 Summilux, ~f/2.8, 1/12s, ISO 2500

The 40" reflector (pictured above) was pointed at the star Altair which could be observed even in daylight.

M9, 21 Summilux, ~f/2, 1/30s, ISO 1600
We then made our way over to the large dome with the 36" refractor for the "history" talk and followed that up with the "science" talk on the "Galactic Planetary Census".

M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/25s, ISO 2500
We then observed the Swan Nebula (M17) through the 40" reflector and M92 through the 36" refractor before returning home.

High ISO is definitely not the M9 sensor's forte but the 21 Summilux is reasonably sharp (though not as sharp as the 50 Summilux ASPH) has excellent contrast and very balanced color.  Though the files when zoomed up do have a lot of noise the overall image is still very pleasing.

M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/30s, ISO 200
The 21 Summilux does have fairly pronounced field curvature.  In this image, there is stuff that is sharp that really shouldn't be.  This type of field curvature would probably drive a landscape photographer batty but would likely be welcomed by the street photographer.  I'm pretty sure that a DSLR with the Zeiss 21mm Distagon will produce better images for landscape photography but the 21 Summilux with its f/1.4 large aperture will be very interesting street photography tool.

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