Bash For Cash

 

Time to promote the achievements of Beloved Significant Other (BSO) via the wonderful medium of video. I didn’t intend to shoot a croquet video. No. I was enlisted as a logistical consultant (alright driver!) to take aforementioned personage and a friend to a croquet competition at the Cambridge Croquet Club. While the event was happening I was going bird watching at the nearby ornithological Mecca of Herdsman Lake with the hope of photographing nankeen herons. Alas the herons didn’t know that I was coming to see them and weren’t at home. Couple this with the fact that I was suffering from a deadly combination of Ebola, typhoid, bubonic plague and cholera (BSO says it was in fact a head cold) I went back to the croquet club to find a quiet corner in which I could drown in snot. Somehow news that BSO had made it to the finals penetrated my fever fuelled delirium and I leapt into action to record the event. I was not really equipped to do so as although I had the Panasonic G85 with me that shoots lovely 4K video I only had two lenses. The Panasonic Leica 100-400mm a great lens for birding but a bit long for court side croquet. The Sigma 16mm f1.4 which is another fantastic lens, but being a fixed focal length not as useful as standard zoom for the grip and grin at the presentations at the end of the tournament. All I can say is thank goodness for the magnificent stabilisation which enabled me to get good handheld footage, although it was defeated by my violent sneezing although it wasn’t as bad as that depicted below.

 

Wandering Around Woodman Point

 

My latest pootle took me to Woodman Point south of Fremantle. It’s a very pleasant walk around an area with important Aboriginal, historic and environmental significance. Well worth a visit.

Woodman Point by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Woodman Point, Western Australia. Panasonic G85 with Panasonic LEICA DG 8-18/F2.8-4.0 lens with a Cokin Harmony variable neutral density filter. Exposure:: 1/3 sec, f16 at ISO 200.

 

 

Woodman Point by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Woodman Point Jetty. Panasonic G85 with Panasonic LEICA DG 8-18/F2.8-4.0 lens with a Cokin Harmony variable neutral density filter. Exposure: 1/3 sec, f16 at ISO 200.

 

This walk was also from my book Perth’s Best Bush, Coast, and City Walks,  published by Woodslane (ISBN 9781921606793 )  in 2010. It’s available from all good bookstores.

Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super wide-Heliar

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens mounted to a Sony A7r via a Voigtlander VM Adapter II. and Voigtlander L39 to M mount adapter.

I’ve been meaning to write a review of this lens for a long time – well over a year in fact – and it has proven difficult for a number of reasons which will become apparent as we proceed. In an ideal world all lenses would be wonderful for every possible use we put them to, and to be fair with modern lens their computer aided design makes this happen for the most part. Things get sketchy when we are dealing with older designs on modern digital cameras. High resolution digital imaging has placed a great deal of strain on lenses. With film only a few people had the time, ability, resources and inclination to examine the optical performance of lenses. This was largely the province of a few magazines (remember them?) and they would accompany a review with a couple of graphs which would reference the resolving capabilities with fine grains low ISO black and white films developed in special developers designed to minimise grain and maximise acutance. Now anyone can open up an image in Photoshop and zoom into 200% and see a lenses faults. This is why Canon, Nikon and independents such as Sigma are going through their catalogue of lenses and updating them, and this need for optical improvements explains why lenses are getting bigger, heavier and more expensive. Back to the matter at hand. The video below is the short version.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar Lens.

The Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Aspherical Super wide-Heliar to give its full name is really the antithesis of modern lens design. It is small, light, affordable and not heavily optically corrected. But having said that this is the lens that really put Cosina’s re-launch of the Voigtländer brand on the radar of photographers. I can remember when this lens first came out a friend of mine borrowed one and ran around madly shooting roll after roll of film with a silly look on his face enthusing about it wildly. Up until then the widest lens in Leica M mount was the Zeiss 15mm f8 Hologon of which only 225 were made and currently change hands for around the $10,000 USD for one in mint condition.

The Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 is now discontinued but can be obtained as new old stock for approximately $600 USD, or second-hand on Ebay for around the $400 USD mark at the time of writing.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens showing the Leica L39 screw mount.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens showing the Voigtlander L39 to M mount adapter.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens showing the Voigtlander VM adapter II Sony E mount adapter.

 

Specifications

Mount – Leica thread or L39
Angle of view – 110º
Lens construction – 8 elements in 6 groups with one aspherical element
Number of aperture blades – 10
Aperture range f4.5 – f22 in half click stops
Minimum focusing distance – 29.85cm or 11.75 inches
Weight – 113g or 4oz
Diameter 49.6mm or 1.94 inches
Length – 30.7mm or 1.2 inches
Filter thread – N/A
Lens hood – built in tulip style
Rangefinder coupling – no

The lens is very well made – up to Cosina’s very high standards and it has, despite its diminutive size a solid feel and satisfying heft. The aperture ring is at the front of the lens, as is usual with rangefinder lenses, and turns nicely with satisfying half stop click indents. The focusing action is very smooth and has an approximate 100º throw. I found that I tended to use hyper focal distances to zone focus the lens in use as the short focal length means that the DOF is immense. The lens has a very clearly marked scale to make this easy. An aperture of f8 means that everything from 0.5m to infinity is in focus. Conversely lovers of shallow depth of field should really be looking elsewhere.

 

Test Results

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens mounted to a Sony A7r via a Voigtlander VM Adapter II.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens mounted to a Sony A7r via a Voigtlander VM Adapter II.

 

Years ago Clint Eastwood made a film called “The “Good, The Bad, The Ugly” (a movie which had the coolest theme tune ever, actually that is an exaggeration as everyone knows Shaft had the coolest, but it’s a close run thing) well this lens is all three. Good, bad and ugly. The good comes when you use the lens as intended on a film rangefinder body. The bad when you mount it on a digital m4/3s body and the ugly when you put in from of the A7r’s 36Mp sensor. This lens is one of the worst I’ve ever had on a digital camera – the worst was a $20 25 mm f/8 Holga lens in m4/3s mount which I tried using on my Olympus EP2 several years ago, but that is, as they say, another story. My friend who I mentioned earlier abused Kodak Tri-X by pushing it, developing in Rodinal and then lith printed the results. He wouldn’t have noticed what I’m about to describe. So this is how it was on the Sony A7r.Right from the get go there is obvious barrel distortion. Wide open there is considerable vignetting which has a very obvious magenta cast. No matter how far you stop down this does not go away (kind of like Mormon missionaries on your doorstep). Wide open the centre sharpness is quite good and remains so until f22 when diffraction rears its ugly head. The corners are smeared and out of focus, things improve a little by f11 but they never get to the level of sharpness of the centre of the lens. Chromatic aberration is also present throughout the aperture range. Flare for such a wide lens is remarkably well controlled and lovers of sunstars should be happy as the 10 aperture blades produce nice results.

 

With film the light-sensitive silver halide crystals don’t care at which angle light hits them.

The reasons for this are that Voigtländer 15mm was designed for use with film and the silver halide crystals in the film emulsion did not care at what angle lights hits them to provide the necessary reaction to form the latent image. But with a digital sensor it is a whole different ball game because the sensor is no longer just a gelatine substrate coated with an emulsion containing silver halide crystals it is a complex sandwich of filters, lenses and electronic componentry as the schematics  show. For best performance the light needs to enter micro lenses at 90º, when the incidence of the light is severely off perpendicular then not all of it reaches the pixel at the bottom of its well this can cause vignetting, smearing with loss of detail, and severe colour fringing. This is what stopped Leica initially developing a digital range finder. Kodak developed a special sensor with offset micro lenses for Leica to help overcome this along with in camera software correction the digital M became a reality.

For light to hit the pixel in its well it needs to travel as near to perpendicular to the sensor plane as possible.

In Use

For stills photography the 15mm f4.5 could be a consideration if you don’t have the current fixation of razor sharpness corner to corner i.e. if the hero of your shot is central to the frame and you don’t mind loss of sharpness at the edges. Working in monochrome would help get rid of the magenta cast of the edges as well. Have said that the magenta cast and vignetting are removable in post, the accompanying video shows how this can be done in Lightroom. In the gallery of example pictures below I’ve left the magenta cast in some of the photos so you can see what it looks like. If you’d like to see the photos larger they can be seen here.

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Video is another matter. Ideally this lens should be perfect for vlogging on a Sony A7 but the smearing, colour cast and vignetting make it quite unsuitable. Also it has no filter threads so it is impossible to use a variable neutral density filter which further adds to its unsuitability.

Conclusion

 

 

To be completely fair we are demonstrating uses for this lens that it was never designed for. With film and optical/chemical printing it is an amazing lens at very cheap price. When looking at it from a digital imaging point of view, whether stills or video, it really can’t be recommended unless you already own it and are prepared to put up with its short comings. If you are looking for an ultra wide the are better options available such as the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D Lens.

Perambulating With Penguins

Penguin Island by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Penguin Island is home to a colony of approximately 1,200 little penguins, the largest population of the birds in Western Australia. The Penguin Discovery Centre is home to a small population of rescued birds which cannot be rehabilitated to the wild.

 

This week’s episode of Paul’s Pootles takes us to Penguin Island.

 

 

This is another walk from my book which is available from all good Australian book stores.

 

Cottesloe Beach Pootle

 

This is the first video in a new series called Paul’s Pootles. Now for my non English readers my dictionary defines “Pootle” as “move or travel in a leisurely manner” and that is the name of the game.  Anyone who knows me well will probably say that I’ve pootling throughout my life.

This walk is along the coast at Cottesloe in Western Australia and has been taken from my book Perth’s Best Bush, Coast, and City Walks,  published by Woodslane (ISBN 9781921606793 )  in 2010.

Hell Or High Water

Hell or high water is the new motto for the Avon Descent and was adopted because recent years have seen decreasing amounts of rainfall falling and competitors have had to carry their craft where there was insufficient water. This year, 2017 and the 45th occasion of the race, the water levels were high which meant potentially new records could be set. The Avon Descent was first held in 1973, and there were only forty-nine competitors. This year there were 370 competitors with many coming from interstate and overseas. In more ways than one it deserves the title the “world’s greatest white water event”. The 124 km or 77 mile two day event starts at Northam and finishes at the Riverside Garden in Bayswater with an over night stop at the Boral Campsite just outside Toodyay. For the majority of entrants the aim is just to complete the course, but for the elite athletes it is a chance of competing in a unique endurance race.

The beauty of this race is that you can pick out a few vantage points from a list put out by the race organisers on their website and follow the whole event documenting the whole story rather than just getting an isolated snap shot. In previous years I’d covered the race for magazines shooting stills and then writing the story. This year I had intended to cover the entire event from start to finish and it was to be first time I’d covered it shooting video. Having planned my weekend around the race it was time to check the maps and the approximate timings for each stage. For instance there was no point heading to the first stage after the start as I would not have had time to get there by car, park, and then walk along the river to find a good location to set up. Also I had to think about the weather conditions, because at some of the viewing points you are bussed in and that would mean I’d have to carry everything with me. As the forecast for the weekend was a cold start it was thermals, and fleece. he key was light layers that could be added or taken off as conditions permitted. Camera and lens choice was hard, and I found it difficult to make a decision. For the Friday shots I could work from the back of the car and it was all to be people shots around Northam and for the sake of mobility using either a monopod or a gimbal. In the end I decided to use the Sony A7r and with Olympus OM Zuiko lenses – the 20mm, 50mm and 135mm. This and the gimbal went in a belt pack. Saturday involved shooting at three sites and I wanted to shoot some time-lapse as well as video footage. So I chose the Olympus OMD EM 1 with 40-150mm f2.8 lens for the video work and the EM10 with 12-40mm f2.8 for the time-lapse. I couldn’t set up a tripod at the start as I was going to shoot on the swing bridge so I used a monopod for the video and for the time-lapse I clamped the Syrp Genie Mini to the bridge safety barrier with a Manfrotto super clamp. All this went into my photo back pack. Sunday was the biggest problem with no car access to Bells Rapids everything had to be carried. So I took the Canon EOS6d with 24-70mm, 70-200 and a x2 converter. I’d also need plenty of batteries and memory cards as there would be no nipping back to the car. I decided to carry all this in pouches on a belt as I needed to be able to scramble up some rocks to get a good vantage point. At Bells I mounted the camera on a tripod but at the finish line I shot just using a monopod.

The race happens on the first weekend of August every year. It kicked off on the Friday with the competitor registration at the Northam Swimming Pool and then their craft were taken down to the race marshalling area on the banks of the river. Late in afternoon and into the evening was the Avon River Festival with a huge fireworks display on the Avon River, stage shows featuring a variety of local talent, a family fun zone, rides for all the family, sideshow alley and roving entertainment, a community street parade, markets for avid shoppers, and food. On Saturday morning the event kicked off proper. As I arrived I could see hot air balloons drifting lazily above the river. The power craft were away quickly and smoothly and then it was the turn of the paddle craft. I was surprised to see that someone was competing for the first time on a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP). Barely had half the paddle craft left than the news came through that the first power craft had reached Toodyay. It was going to be a very fast race with little hope of getting shots of the power craft. I spent a total of an hour and half standing on the swing bridge -it is a wire suspension bridge that bounces a lot, the police constable standing next to me complained of feeling seasick from the constant motion. It didn’t effect me but it really made me glad that I had the in body stabilisation activated on the cameras. After the start I went to Williamson Weir stayed there for an hour and a half. The Weir is man-made and its concrete lip and rock wall are hazardous to boat and paddler alike so around half the competitors choose to portage around it. Thankfully the other half run it and you get the thrills and spills with plenty of encouragement from the watching crowd. Finishing up in Toodyay for the day is great. There is always a great vibe with a tremendous crowd and a party like atmosphere. When I got there the town was packed and in full on carnival mode. It took an age to find some parking and get down to the river. Here there was a team change over area, and along the riverside were lots of anxious looking paddlers all staring up river for any sign of their team mates. As the first canoes started to come round the corner and pass under the timing gate they got their first sight of their team mates and their faces would burst into a huge grin of relief. The spectators would burst into rapturous cheers as the fresh team-mate paddled away heading for the Boral Campsite that marked the halfway point and the end of day one.

I couldn’t face getting up at 4;30am in the dark and freezing cold to get to the start at Boral Camp for day two so I just headed out a bit later and went straight to Bells Rapids in Walyunga National Park. You have to leave the car at the nearby state equestrian centre and then you taken in by bus. From there it was a quick walk to what I call the media rock. It’s a nice big rock that juts out into the river which gives a good view of the competitors coming under the bridge and through the rapids. I got there just as the TV crews were claiming their spots and setting up. I squeezed onto the end closest to the bank and put my tripod up to mark my territory. When the press photographers arrived they gave us a filthy look, but as they were shooting hand-held they didn’t need as much space. A little while later a hopeful photo enthusiast asked if could join us on the rock, one of the guys I know from the papers said it was OK if he didn’t talk about equipment – his or ours – and if he did he’d get thrown in the river. He decided that he couldn’t not talk about kit and took himself off somewhere else. After a couple of hours I knew that I’d have to get my skates on if I was to get to the finish line.

The finish line is in Bayswater a suburb of Perth. A huge screen had been put up and there was a live commentary being given. I positioned myself by the finish line as I find that the images taken as the paddlers beach their boats and walk ashore tells a very powerful story. It does not seem to matter whether they are newbie’s in their first race or veterans each face has a similar look etched upon it. It is a mixture of pain from the sheer physical effort, relief from finishing, and disbelief that it is all over. Some will swear that they will never do it again, but most know that even as they hit the finish line that they will be back next year.

So now a week later, I’ve edited the 50Gb of footage and made a 7 minute clip. As I write this I’m thinking about how things went and what I would change if I were to do it again. Well to start with I wouldn’t bother with the Sony. It produces very nice images, but the screen is terrible. It is winter here and the days aren’t as bright as they can be, but the Sony’s rear LCD panel is virtually unusable. The other thing that puts me off is that the user interface isn’t very intuitive and so adjusting some settings in a hurry is a pain in the nethers. The OMD EM1 mk i is constantly a surprise when shooting video. The touch screen is a pleasure to use and the phase detect auto focus does very well. It is tempting to run off and get a mk ii for the 4K and the improved focusing. The Canon EOS 6d was the surprise, the autofocus is crap, but Technicolor’s CineStyle Profile and Canon’s superb lenses produce gorgeous images. All it needs is a flippy flappy touch screen and dual pixel auto focus and it would be perfect. “The 6d mk ii has that!” I hear you say, but (and there is always a but) the mk ii’s video compression is worse than the mk i. What Canon give they take away! There is always the EOS 80d. I might try to hire one for the next project I shoot. I wish I’d used the gimbal more instead of the monopod, accepting the fact that I couldn’t use it for the long lens shots. Sound could be a lot better – it is the aspect of video I always struggle with. I’m also beginning to think that I’ve out grown iMovie – a better editor would give me some more options. I’ve downloaded DaVinci Resolve to give that a whirl on my next project. In many ways I’m no different to the competitors in the race – I’m already starting to plan for next year!

Guns and Roses

 

On the weekend of 19th-21st May 2017 I travelled with my significant other to the teeming Wheatbelt metropolis of Narrogin as she had entered the annual “Guns and Roses” croquet tournament put on by the Narrogin Croquet Club. Twelve of Western Australia’s best players (the “Guns”) would partner eighteen lesser ranked players (the “Roses”). Each “rose” would get the opportunity to play with a different “gun” at each round. The idea, which seems an excellent one I might add, is that inexperienced players can learn off of top players.  My role in this was the self-given task of producing a video documenting the proceedings.

Video is a fairly new medium for me, I’ve been playing around with it but I’ve really not got to grips with it. This was to be a complex multi day project and it wasn’t helped by the fact that it was bitterly cold and there was intermittent heavy rain (yes dear reader we do have cold wet weather in Australia). I ended up using my Olympus OMD EM1 mk i with the Olympus m.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 lens as the main camera, an Olympus Pen EP5 with the Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 for wide shots, a Leica D-Lux for time lapses, and my iPhone for social video in the evenings. For sound I used shot-gun microphones (a Rode VideoMicro on the EM1 and a Rode VideoMic Pro on the EP5) to record straight into the cameras. No external audio recorder was used as I felt I had my hands full enough. By the end of the weekend I had got through nine batteries and ten 16Gb SD cards. The EM1 was used on a tripod (a Manfrotto MDEVE 755XB with Manfrotto MV500AH Fluid Video Head), the EP5 was on a video monopod (Manfrotto 562B-1 Fluid Video Monopod), and the Leica D-Lux was on a photo tripod (a very old Manfrotto 190 tripod fitted with an equally old ball head).

What I learnt from this exercise was:

  • the weather sealing on both the EM1 and the two lenses works very well. At times I got soaked in the rain and the camera just kept going with no adverse effects.
  • I should have used an audio recorder to get better sound and record some general background noise.
  • the 40-150mm f2.8 is not parfocal  (it is not sold as such) and the autofocus kept drifting and in some cases would not lock on at all. Trying to focus on the night games using just the rear screen and no peaking was hard. Either a camera that has focus peaking in video mode or a monitor that allows it would be really good.
  • I shot most of the footage at 1080 at 25fps except for that on the EP5 which only shoots 1080 at 30fps. I used Toast Titanium’s video converter to reconfigure it as 1080 25fps. On the whole it worked out well, but on two clips that I really wanted it dropped frames and lost the sound. So next time I won’t mix clips of different frame rates.
  • With four cameras, each having its own idea of what a neutral colour setting is, made life very hard during editing. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the 8 bit 4.2.0 files didn’t like being pushed too much in post as they would quickly fall apart. It would have been nice to have had a more video orientated camera with a flatter profile and more robust codec.
  • I did the slow motion in post, it would have been nice to have shot at 60fps or higher to get nicer slo-mo.
  • I should have shot more B-roll and tried to interview on camera some of the participants.

As a learning experience this was a very good exercise and I enjoyed the whole process immensely. If money were no object I’d get a more video orientated camera and a video field monitor and recorder, but being as I am fiscally challenged I’ll have to settle for some more memory cards and batteries.

 

ActionCam!

 

Regular readers will have noticed that since Christmas that I have been putting up video and stills that had been taken with a fish eye lens. For a while I was considering purchasing a suitable lens for either my Canon or Olympus systems as I had been intrigued by the effect. I was also very mindful that having bought such an item I would quickly tire of it and see it as a gimmick and so feel I had wasted my money. So when Dick Smiths (a popular chain of electronic stores here in Australia) offered the Sony HDR-AS20 ActionCam for $120 AUD just before Christmas I bought one seeing it as an affordable way of trying out extreme wide-angle photography and videography.

 

 

So what are my feelings about the camera. Well I do believe every photographer should have one of these cameras. They open up a world of creative photography. The lens is outside of the protective case pretty decent. It has a 170º field of view which is roughly equivalent to a 17mm on a full frame 35mm camera, a minimum focusing distance of 30cm (12 inches), a fixed aperture of f2.8 and is pan focus. There is obvious barrel distortion and some chromatic aberration. The distortion is all part of the look of fish eye lenses and the CA can be easily fixed in still images in apps such as Lightroom with a single click. The camera only produces jpegs, which bright and contrasty without too many artefacts. There is no control over sharpening and there are only two pictures styles, normal and underwater. You can’t control the ISO, the shutter speed nor the white balance. All being said it produces nice files and the exposures and white balance were largely spot on requiring minimal adjustments in post. For video the Steadyshot image stabilisation while being software based produces impressive results and was one of the major selection criteria for me when purchasing the camera. It’s not got the best video codec in the world nor the best bit rate and compression but it edits reasonably well as long as you don’t push it too far. A very nice feature is that the supplied software for the camera is embedded as firmware so that you don’t have to mess around with downloads or install discs. So what’s not to like – well the optical quality of the lens port on the protective case is pretty appalling, the supplied software is pretty flakey and crashes a lot on my relatively new iMac. No matter what I tried I couldn’t get the WiFi function to work using either my Sony Android phone or iPad. The Sony mount system isn’t as comprehensive nor widely as available as that of the GoPro alternatives. No problem just get an inexpensive adapter and then you can use anything made for GoPro. A real annoyance is that Sony have made it very difficult to plug in an exterior microphone. You can’t use one with the LCD case nor the standard protective housing. The one you can use it with means you loose the LCD and the protection.

 

The Endeavour
The Australian National Maritime Museum’s magnificent replica of Captain Cook’s HMB Endeavour docked at Hobart in Tasmania.

 

Overall I’m very happy with the camera and have had a load of fun using it. The only thing is that it is totally addictive and I keep coming up with ideas for shots which inevitably means I have to buy another mount for it. Luckily they are cheap, but I have quickly acquired a bag full of them.

 

Shoreline
The beach at Verona Sands. The minimum focusing distance is 30cm which allows you to get very close up to subjects.

 

Lady Franklin Museum "Ancanthe"
Sunrise at the The Lady Franklin Museum in Ancanthe Park, Lenah Valley. The auto white balance and exposure handled this scene very nicely.

Quite a few scenes in this video were shot with the Sony HDR-AS20. I was surprised that the camera proved parrot proof!

 

Simply Sublime

I know I’ve said in the past that I’m not a great fan of MONA but just lately I’ve been going up there a bit because I’ve signed up to study a unit in Art Theory at University of Tasmania (UTas).  I got up extra early to see an installation by American artist James Turrell called Amarna. There’s not a lot I can say about this work except that it is gob smackingly beautiful and very serene.

Here are a few stills.

MONA Dawn
Wim Delvoye’s Seventeenth Century Flemish Baroque style.Truck and James Turrell’s Amarna at dawn. MONA, Hobart, Tasmania.
Amarna At Dawn
Amarna At Dawn
Amarna At Dawn
James Turrell’s Amarna at dawn. MONA, Hobart, Tasmania.

Technical notes: the time-lapse sequence was made with a Sony ActionCam HDR AS20. The stills were shot using an Olympus OMD EM-10 with either an Olympus mZuiko 17mm f2.8 or an Olympus mZuiko 25mm f1.8 lens.