Photographing the skyscraper-studded skyline of Hong Kong

August 10, 2017 ZEISS LENSPIRE Team

When it comes to Hong Kong, the city with the most skyscrapers in the world, it’s indeed not that easy to find an answer to the last question. The decision between wide angle and telephoto lenses in landscape and cityscape photography usually depends on what you finally want to see in your photo. Of course, if you want to get a complete overview, you would chose the wide angle lens, if you want to see as much details as you can, you would chose the telephoto lens and maybe try to do a panoramic shot.


Canon 5DS R, ZEISS Milvus 2.8/18 @f/4.0, 1/1000 sec., ISO 100

Coming to Hong Kong, you will ask this question a lot to yourself. The best example is the lookout from the Victoria Peak. Do you want an overwhelming view over the whole city or do you love all those tiny details – the ant-like people, the small boats, the fine structures in all those buildings?


Macau – Canon 5DS R, ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 @f/4.0, 1/1000 sec., ISO 250

Oliver – for example – is a total enthusiast of sharpness and details – he would most likely chose a very high focal length lens (maybe 100mm or even above), take as much photos as possible, and stitch them together as huge panorama in post processing. This would require some equipment (i.e. a good tripod) and much time – both, while taking the photos and in post processing. In contrast, I’m not so much in the details (not while doing landscape or cityscape photography), I like to get some dramatic wide angle shots – the smaller the focal length, the better.

Hong_Kong_Restaurant _on_the_River_at_nigh

Canon 5DS R, ZEISS Milvus 2.8/18 @f/2.8, 1/40 sec., ISO 2000

Using Olivers Canon EOS 5DSr and the Milvus 2.8/18 lens, we were able to archive both – huge and dramatic wide angle shots with LOADs of details (thanks to the high resolution sensor and the great optical quality of the lens). You take the shot (simple as that) and later in the hotel you’re watching the result and you’re just like “Whoa”. You can zoom into the image, you can spot tiny details and everything is so unbelievable sharp – you wouldn’t expect to get an image this resolution and optical quality using a small format (35mm sensor) camera. Unfortunately (but as expected) we had to deal with moiré – repeating patterns like the structure of skyscrapers are most likely to induce this effect, especially using a camera without low pass filter (5DSr). But this is a sensor related issue.

When it comes to night photography you always have to deal with noise, induced by high ISO values (when using no tripod). But even when you’re using a tripod to keep the ISO values down, you wish for a not so long exposure time when standing on a (not really feelable but definitly noticable on long exposure photos) shaking visitor platform. A big aperture helps a lot here – we took photos at f/4, f/2.8 (with the Milvus 2.8/18) and f/1.4 (Otus 1.4/28) and were suprised about the sharpness at open aperture. We were even able to capture some smaller stars above the horizon, something you couldn’t see with bare eyes (thanks to the light of the city and the slight smog).


Canon 5DS R, ZEISS Milvus 2.8/18 @f/2.8, 8 sec., ISO 100

When talking about Hong Kong, most of the people think about a big city, many people, skyscrapers, concrete everywhere. But actually this is just a (rather small) part of Hong Kong. The city of Hong Kong is located on Hong Kong Island, a small green gem in the southern chinese sea. There are green mountains, water reservoirs, national parks, beautiful small fishing villages, holy temples, secret hidden bays, yellow and almost white sand beaches, many hiking trails and lots of recreational areas. And on the neighbouring islands (i.e. Lantau Island) there’s even more of this. Speaking from the photographers perspective, this is a perfect place to play around with wide angle lenses. You can travel around the island by bus or take one of the countless ferries to a neighbour island and everywhere you will find typcial wide angle lens scenarios (i.e. wide mountain ranges, long beaches or vast seascapes).


Canon 5D IV, ZEISS Otus 1.4/28 @f/4.0, 1/500 sec., ISO 100

All those considerations ultimately brought us to our decision to take super wide angle lenses with us on our trip to Hong Kong. The city itself with its skyscrapers and street canyons on the one and the beautiful vast landscapes on the other side is the perfect playground for experimenting with focal lengths of 28mm and 18mm (or below). We had lots of fun playing around with those lenses while exploring the city and the surrounding countryside – and we love the results.

But there’s one thing to say: if you intend to capture the people, the small details or the living flair of the city, super wide lenses aren’t always the best choice. You should definitely bring a telephoto lens too. We did so and brought the Milvus 1.4/85 – which became quickly one of our favourite lenses, too.

water_mill_details Canon 5DS R, ZEISS Milvus 1.4/85 @f/4.0, 1/1250 sec., ISO 100 grey_bird_sitting_on_branch

Learn more about Alexander Fiebig and Oliver Buettner on Instagram.

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