The WATE (Wide Angle Tri-Elmar): the Ideal Travel Lens

Jun 6, 2019  By Bill Rosauer
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The Leica system has always had a wide angle lens option available, going all the way back to the 3.5cm Elmar and the 2.8cm Hektor lenses in the early days of the interchangeable Barnack Leica cameras. Within a few years of the introduction of the M3, a “Super Wide” lens was introduced, the Schneider produced 21/4 Super Angulon. The Super Angulon was quite radical for its day, with the rear lens elements protruding deeply into the camera, precluding metering with the later metered M cameras. Introduced at Photokina in 1958, four years after the M3 itself, the lens was a sensation for the Leica photographer. My dad purchased a 21/4 Super Angulon at this time, and I have many early memories of this “special lens” with its separate optical viewfinder. The 21 was a tough lens to use properly, and it was several years after I started using the M3 before I achieved the skill level required to use it. In the late 60’s, we acquired a 21/4 Super Angulon-R to use with our Leicaflex SLs. I used this lens for years, as I was hooked on the SLR experience, and the Leicaflex made this lens easier to use as far as framing and composition.

In my late teens, I returned to my Leica roots with the purchase of a Black Chrome M4 camera with my earnings from my part-time job at the camera store. My usual kit for that camera was a 50 Summilux and 35 Summilux, and occasionally a 90mm Collapsible Elmar. I was still somewhat intimidated by the Super Angulon M, preferring to use the R version for wide angle. Some years went by and I purchased the first version of the Mandler designed 21/2.8 Elmarit to use with my M6, about the same time as I began travelling to Germany every other year to attend Photokina. The improved optical performance over the Super Angulon was much appreciated as well as the ability to meter with the M6, as by this time the M6 kit was my go-to travel setup. The R was used for more specialized work; Macro, Sports and Event Photography with its better flash setup than the M. It was about this time that our dear departed friend Tom A. became my regular travel companion to Photokina and LHSA meetings all across the country. Those who knew Tom, knew he was a wide angle junkie. Tom had shot every wide angle made, and even had a custom version of the Super Angulon 21/3.4 made with goggles so he didn’t have to use a separate finder in the shoe! Tom’s ultimate and last 21 was the then new 21/3.4 Super Elmar-M ASPH, which he claimed was the best 21 ever made. Being in Tom’s company only reinforced my own use of wide and super wide angle lenses with the Leica.

Along the way, I had also acquired a Zeiss 18/4 Distagon and the 21/2.8 Elmarit ASPH which replaced my older 21/2.8 Elmarit, and a Voigtlander 15/4.5 Super-Wide Heliar. Last year, I had the chance to acquire the fabled 16-18-21/4 Wide Angle Tri-Elmar (WATE) outfit in virtually unused condition for a very reasonable price. Some major overseas trips were coming up, and I thought the WATE would be the ideal travel com- panion and could take the place of the 21 and 18, and provide a better solution than the 15 Heliar which had too many issues to use on the M9 or M10 on a regular basis. It also gave me a better solution than having to carry multiple specialized optical finders for the 18 and 21. My WATE came with the Frankenfinder (officially known as the Universal Wide Angle Viewfinder), which if you are using an M camera previous to the M10 or M240, is a necessity. Given that the WATE was introduced back in 2006 with the M8, you need a solution like the Frankenfinder to accurately frame and compose with the WATE. It is a beautiful and versatile piece of kit with frame lines for focal lengths 16-28 and a built- in bubble level, but with the M10 and the option of Live View with the rear screen or the Visoflex 020, it is a bit redundant and takes up space in your bag which is better used for other purposes.

Colosseum, Rome

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