Month: May 2011

Barnack IIIf (almost) sorted

Back together again

A couple of days ago I posted a shot of a Leica IIIf red dial, with a bit of commentary about what it needed to get it properly sorted. The last thing needed was to fix the shutter timing. Well, I bit the bullet and tore it down. Here is a picture of it in bits on my desk:

Pretty straightforwards, following many of the excellent directions available on the net. I got into a bit of difficultly reassembling the slow speed governor, but thanks to the wonderful Rick Oleson (google him), a brilliant and helpful camera fix-it whiz, I had foolproof instructions on getting it back together. The ripped film (above the knife) was hidden inside, all ready to jam things up as soon as I loaded it if I hadn’t found it by then.

The two images following are sound recordings I made to try and assess the before and after shutter speed situation. They were recorded using a freeware program called “Audacity”, using a microphone poking into the body cavity. Both recordings are of 1/2 second:

The first image shows that the first curtain traveled OK, and the second curtain started to try and close at 0.75 secs. but took another 0.25 seconds to actually close. It was also pretty noisy.

Adjusting the first and second curtain settings has altered this poor situation – the second image reveal a few things after my tear-down, clean and lube – it is much quieter; the timing is just a bit off at 0.55 secs (only a +10% variation); and the second curtain now properly closes the shutter and caps the film. The situation seems to me to be similar across all of the speeds.

It seems to work pretty well now. I will soon get around to properly timing the shutter speeds – they have gone from abysmally slooow to just a tiny a bit fast now, I feel. To get closer, I need access to an old fashioned TV with a CRT to act as a timing device.

Hopefully I will soon have that sorted, and then in with a film. Now all I have to do is find my collection of antique Weston meters. Or should I just guess through the “Sunny 16” rule?

Whatever, I can’t wait.



Nikon FM2n

Yesterday I promised an update about another beautiful camera I have just unearthed at a local thrift shop. Yesterday I found a Nikon FM2n fitted with a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AI lens. It was five dollars. Yes – you read that right – $5.  The other camera I scored was a Canonet. Come back by in a day or two and I will show you that one too.

The body is in almost new condition, and the lens is absolutely mint. It came with a snout case made by Quantaray, a genuine Nikon strap, a skylight filter and even a Hoya circular polarising filter. At the shop, the sales lady tried it and the mirror seemed to hang closed. She declared that it was broken, hence the price. I almost hesitated to buy it – another broken camera to try and sort out – but I couldn’t help myself and bought it anyway.

I didn’t even look at the lens – I was guessing it was an f1.8, as it was definitely a Nikon product but I couldn’t see the front ring as the polariser was fitted. When I got home I thought about finding out a bit about the shutter in an FM2, tried the shutter and, lo and behold , it worked perfectly. I have put maybe 300 actuations on to it since and it seems absolutely perfect. I opened the back up, and realised it was an FM2n version. The serial number confirmed this, as it started with an N.

I looked through the finder – lovely and clean – and thought it was a bit dark, realised it had a filter – in fact two filters stacked together – removed them and nearly fell off my chair as the lens revealed itself as an f1.4 fifty, my favourite combination of focal length and aperture. Off with the battery cover – not even scratched from fumbling with a coin – and out came two absolutely flat batteries, but thankfully they had not leaked their corrosive innards into the camera as usually happens.

A bit of research revealed the FM2n was introduced in 1984 – I bought my original FM in 1977 or so when they were first released, but that’s another story – and it has a few changes from my old favourite that I made so many great shots with all those years ago. Obvious changes – speeds visible in the finder, a double exposure lever concentric with the wind lever, 1/4000 second top speed (up from 1/1000 on my old FM),  faster flash synch, as well as a different looking set of shutter curtains. It’s great. I love the shutter sound of this model of Nikon – I suppose this might be because it takes me back to my very happy and mostly misspent youth. My Nikon was manufactured in 1989 according to the serial number she proudly displays, so she’s not all that old. The FM2 line ceased in 2001. The lens dates from before September 1981.

Here she is, just as I found her:

A few years ago I found a black FM with a motor for $8 at the same shop. It was in pretty poor condition so I sold it and regretted it immediately. This time I am keeping it. I suppose I need to make some more nice Nikkor glass appear at the shop now by willing it to happen.

Here’s me and my first FM 30 years or so ago:

This photo shows that the Nikon FM hardly changed at all over its lifetime, I have though – much less hair…

I just have one question – why do people throw out these beautiful cameras?

Barnack heaven

Leica IIIf Red Dial

Oh my God. I am lucky, lucky, lucky. In the past few days I have unearthed three beautiful finds. A Canonet QL17 GIII with its original instruction book, a Nikon FM2n with an unmarked 50mm f1.4 AI Nikkor (both for $5 each), and – a Leica IIIf RD ST fitted with a Summicron collapsible 5cm f2 lens. I will spill about the Nikon and Canon shortly in a subsequent post, but for now, I want to share the Leica with you.

Oscar Barnack designed the very first in Leica in 1914. The first World War intervened and stopped the first ones being sold until 1925, and Barnack, as head of Leitz’s construction office, continued designing improved variants until he passed away in early 1936. His legacy lived on in all of the screw-mount Leica cameras that were produced until their line was first eclipsed and ended by the bayonet mount M3, released in 1954. I say his legacy has lived on, as all of the screw mount Leicas were simple, graceful and above all small jewels of ingenuity and incredible quality.

Let me introduce my new best buddy – my beautiful Leica IIIf RD ST – meaning the red dial, self timer variant as shown here, fitted with its Summicron:

Some call it a IIf RD DA. More correctly, Erwin Puts (a Leica fanatic and generally regarded as an oracle) describes this as a “Leica IIIf Vorlauf ELC (RD)” and from its serial number it was actually made in Canada – making it rare and very, very collectable. There were only 4,000 Canadian units made out of a total of 184, 100 that were produced between 1950 and 1957. (Thanks, Leica Wiki:  )

The RD or “red dial” means the version introduced late in the production run with some red filled figures on the speed and flash synchronization dials. The ST means a factory-fitted self-timer is present. (The DA in some names refers to the presence of a delayed action – or a self timer…) Only one other version of screw mount Leicas was made after this one, and, yes, it was called the IIIg. It is very rare – I have never seen one. Mine dates from 1954, when the IIIf was marketed in parallel with the first M3s. The screw mount collapsible Summicron started life in 1953, the first year that this brilliant lens series was born, and is one of the very first batch of 6000 ever produced – I wonder if they have been mated all their lives?

My one was practically given to me by an old fellow who knowingly said it “has some issues”. I got it home, and checked it out. The list of issues: filthy, dirty chrome; scratched front element and dull glass; jammed aperture ring; missing vulcanite under the lens mount; and slow speeds issues.

Well here’s the health report after a couple of days:

  • chrome – sorted. Cleaned up nicely and shines like new with only a couple of minor rub marks, and a bit of brassing on the winder and rewind knobs;
  • scratched front element and dull glass – sorted. The lens had a very marked filter jammed on. I eventually got it off, and guess what – clean, clear, unmarked almost pristine glass elements all through the lens. This is almost unheard of as the front elements are notoriously soft, and most have been ruined by cleaning. It seems this one’s jammed filter saved it from this fate.
  • jammed aperture ring – sorted. I unscrewed the front section, and cleaned out the old hardened grease jamming it up with lighter fluid. It is now a very easy one finger adjustment.
  • missing vulcanite under the lens mount – sorted.  “Star brite” brand black liquid electrical tape mixed with talcum powder makes new rubber the same colour as the old vulcanite. This then is applied with a skewer to fill the missing area, and when nearly set is pressed with a sealing wax block that I melted and pressed onto a good area of the body to make an impression of the existing pattern. Looks pretty convincing.
  • slow speed issues – nearly sorted. Both curtains now open and close nicely. One half second times electronically as 0.55 secs so its only 10% out now. I have to check the fast speeds.

I have unearthed an old finder from my collection of bits and pieces which serves well as the 50mm bright line viewfinder this camera really needs. The camera’s rangefinder works perfectly, and even has a built-in diopter-adjust mechanism. It just keeps getting better. I am definitely going to get back into film with this incredible camera. I have promised this before and never followed through for long, but this camera has sparked something special in me again. My reading has informed me that Henri Cartier Bresson used exactly this combination to make some of his most famous images. What’s good enough for him surpasses my modest needs.

Dare I say it – I like it a whole lot better than my M6. It’s much quieter, too..

Your mileage may vary

Your Mileage May Vary

Some readers may think that this blog seems to be in danger of becoming an Olympus fan-boi debacle. This is not so. I have a major investment in Canon glass and digital (and film) bodies and I use them regularly.

The micro 4/3 camera gets use as my idealised point & shoot camera. Go back a few entries and you will see how much I dislike the output from P&S digital cameras for my use. Everyone has their own opinions about what hardware suits them, and mine is pretty simple:

  • full-frame sensor cameras are ideal for me, and I won’t go back to crop bodies for my quality photographic uses;
  • the tiny sensor inside even the most sophisticated point and shoot cameras precludes them from having any useful depth-of-field properties, and so I won’t use them if I can avoid it;
  • to by-pass the use of P&S cameras when a full-frame unit is too big, try to find another way.

Pretty simple, isn’t it.

The last point is why I am using and writing about my micro 4/3 use. I find this camera format to be pretty useful – both as a hedge against the hated P&S with its tiny sensor, but it is also able to deliver image quality that although not near that of a big sensor is terrific in its own right, and just streets ahead of that from tiny sensors. And this means that I just might have a camera with me when I actually want one, rather than planning on packing a big SLR kit to suit my needs.

The chart above (Image Credit MegaPixel.Net ) shows relative sensor sizes from digital cameras to illustrate my point about hating P&S cameras because they have infinite depth of field.

I suppose I am getting lazy and so I have been not using my 5D on days when I might only get marginal use. This upsets me as it is a truism that the best camera to use is the one you have with you, and I have not been observing my own rules for a while, so my creative output has been miserable.

Enter my micro 4/3 camera. Small, light, unobtrusive, and most importantly, really portable. It has been grabbed for use on short notice, and so it naturally has been taking the best shots as it simply has been the only camera I have been using. And because it has been spontaneous use, it has been responsible for a spasm of creative output. Most refreshing.

The fact that it is made by Olympus is irrelevant. I use it because it is what I have. If I had a Panasonic M4/3 I would be using that instead. Same sensor, same opportunities for re-using old film-age lenses, same quality available out of the RAW file. The only difference that I am aware of is the electronic viewfinder – it is reviewed as being better in the Olympus, but this is an accident of fate for me.

So – observing two of my maxims, get out and shoot some pictures. Just remember:

  • the best camera to use is the one you have with you; and
  • your mileage may vary.

Cosina Voigtlander – A prime choice?

Cosina Voigtlander – A prime choice?

This represents another blog installment on my adventures in Micro 4/3 photography as defined by the Olympus E-P2.

My last post discarded the Leica M8 as a digital platform for my collection of rangefinder glass. You may not agree with my conclusions, and I am sure that I will be seen as a heretic by some Leicaphiles, but as I noted in that article, it’s just simply horses for courses. My mileage varies from theirs. A camera is only a platform (and in the E-P2’s case a superb digital one) on which to mount the image-forming lens. This brings me to the subject of today’s rant – Leica mount lenses for micro 4/3 photography. Today let’s look at Voigtlander.

Voigtlander is just about the oldest name in photography. It used to be an independent maker, then was swallowed by by the giant Zeiss Ikon, then closed down on about 1973. Rollei bought the rights, and made some special glass out in Singapore using Voigtlander designs. Things went bad again, and the name was bought eventually by RingPhoto, another German concern. Cosina licensed the name in about 1999, and started out making teh brilliant Bessa line of filem rangefinders with LTM screw and M bayonet mounts. Glass was also a part of the equation, and some absolutely brilliant designs soon followed, many at least as as good as Leica can make. I love them.

My rangefinder glass prime lens collection is presently as follows (some owned, some borrowed), featuring 3 excellent Voigtlander lenses:



Focal Length




Voigtlander(on loan to me)




screw Tiny, sharp, but slow. No coupled rangefinder on a film body

Snapshot Skopar



screw Tiny, sharp, but slow. No coupled rangefinder on a film body




M bayonet Fantastic. Sharp, excellent contrast




screw,collapsible mount Small. Low contrast, a bit soft but nice for portraits.  Be careful when collapsing the lens on the camera…




screw Not as sharp as modern glass @ f1.2 but who cares? Very sharp when stopped down, perfect bokeh.




M bayonet Perfection, but 1 ½ stops slower than the Canon can mean wobbly pictures in low light



f2 screw




screw Old, slow, soft, incredibly heavy

From this modest collection, my favourites that get used most are as follows in no particular order:

  • Cosina Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f2:

This lens approximates the field of view of a 56mm on an uncropped body. This may seem a bit long for a “standard” lens, but history provides a parallel – there were many SLRs delivered in the 1960s and 70s with 55mm focal length lenses as standard. My M42 screw mount lens collection includes a 55mm Takumar, a 55mm Chinon Tomioka, and a 58mm Russian Helios. This modern M mount lens is excellent as a walk-around lens for candids, and provides great sharpness and contrast, as well as a bit of extra speed when needed. I just wish it was faster as I am addicted to really supersonic speed glass.

The build quality is terrific, and in my opinion it is on a par with Leica or Zeiss glass in terms of sharpness, contrast and other characteristics. It is really well balanced and on my el-cheapo M-to-M43 adapter it fits as though the body and it were designed for each other. I just love this lens. 5 / 5

  • Canon 50mm f1.2:

A 100mm telephoto equivalent, with massive speed. See my earlier posts to understand what this antique but still relevant beauty can deliver in low light. Remember that it really needs a hood. I have the studidly costly original vented Canon hood which stays at home as it can easily fall off, and I use a cut-down metal tubular hood picked up at a trash sale for a dollar instead. I love this lens. 6 / 5 (Yes, six stars, it’s worth every one)

  • Olympus D. Zuiko 17mm f2.8:

I am slipping in a modern true M4/3 mount lens. For me, this is a terrific moderate wide angle lens (34mm equivalent) in a tiny pancake body, offering electronic (read automatic) options for focus and aperture. A lot of people believe that the M4/3 Panasonic 20mm f1.7 cousin is better, and it probably is – it is certainly faster by one and a half stops, but it is a longer – a 40mm equivalent –  and that is getting dangerously close to normal lens territory at double the price of the Oly pancake. A nice little snapshot gem. 4 / 5

Of the others, the 15mm and 25mm slow lenses from Cosina Voigtlander are brilliant performers, fast, sharp and everything I need in bright light. They are tiny, and offer specific accessory viewfinders if you want to put them on a camera. Their only drawbacks are the speed – f4 and slower can be a bind in dull light.

They have another issue for anyone who also has a Leica screw mount camera to use them on – they lack rangefinder coupling mechanisms, so its guess-the-distance only by scale focusing methods. They also have accessory viewfinders that you need to use to see the field coverage as they are both significantly wider lenses than a typical film rangefinder body’s viewfinder can handle. If you lose a finder they are expensive to replace.

The Canon Serenar screw mount lenses are both old. I believe both are from about 1949. Both are coated, and the 50mm is built on a collapsible mount, à la mode of the old Leitz Elmar of similar vintage. This lens isn’t a fantastic performer compared to a modern prime, but it does have a nice character that can deliver stunning portraits on M4/3 as long as there isn’t a flaring light source in the picture. The 135mm is probably a Zeiss Sonnar copy going on the weight, and is pretty soft, of low contrast and because of its sheer mass is hard to hold steady on the small Olympus body. On the other hand, it is a beautiful piece of engineering, and was delivered in a smart leather case complete with a tiny Canon 135mm accessory finder that amazingly hasn’t been lost. Remember, this pair is in old age already, being around and in use for about 62 years. On this basis alone they are just fantastic.

You will have your own favourites. Remember, your mileage may vary.

Heresy – The Olympus E-P2 IS better than the Leica M8

The Olympus E-P2 is better than the Leica M8 … at least for me.

A good friend of mine loaned me a Leica M8 body recently (many thanks, Zoran!) with an eye to a sale, as I had a hunger to go Leica digital as I have a few nice old rangefinder lenses hanging about.  This hunger arose and then intensified as I have been having more success with my Olympus E-P2 than I usually enjoy with my Canon 5D outfit for more candid and intimate shots, and I guess I thought that the M8 body might confer a bit more of the old Leica magick on me if I had one.

To get ready for it, I sold off a wad of kit that I owned but never used, and now it has gone I know I didn’t actually want (let alone need) either. This included a FujiFilm S3 Pro DSLR, a Canon G10, and some other digital paperweights. Don’t get me wrong – in the right hands, these are serious tools capable of great work, it’s just that my hands were not the right ones. This was a Good Thing. No-one wanted to buy my old Tamron Adaptall zooms and Pentax Takumar primes either, so I still have them. This outcome was also a Good Thing.

I used  the Leica for a couple of weeks in parallel with my E-P2 “Pen” that I also have been using as a mount for old glass. Before I confer my decision, I must confess that I own and occasionally use a beautiful chrome M6, so I know what a camera fitted with the famous red dot can do in the right circumstances. Notwithstanding my love of my film M6 (note that I have also owned and used an M5 and loved it too), I just couldn’t get the M8 to feel right and work with me as I have done with it’s film-based brethren.

The M8 is a beautiful tool – hand made and handsome in a most purposeful way – that can excel as only a rangefinder can with the right eyes and brain behind it. It seems that I am not one of those appropriately equipped to delight in the M8 experience. Here’s why:

  • It’s too heavy.
  • I hate the viewfinder – the framelines are worthless, and the 0.68 magnification factor – optimised for longer lenses, just what you don’t need on a crop sensor body –  is not nice when you have been used to a classic M6 with the standard finder magnification of 0.72.
  • I had issues with the rangefinder leading to consistently out-of-focus images with a properly calibrated modern Summicron 50mm, if you can believe it.
  • I was worried about its worth and felt as though every eye was on me – this is the opposite experience most people report about using a discrete black dumb-looking rangefinder.
  • Now I have discovered the value of family video, the M8 can’t actually shoot any.
  • The in-camera JPEGs are horrible, although the DNG RAW files are as industry-standard as you can get.
  • Because of the excessive inbuilt IR sensitivity, you really do need to invest in IR cut filters for each lens you use, and they are expensive.

There are some good M8 things as well:

  • It’s so cool.
  • You can use any of the fantastic glass made for a Leica over the past 80 years by Zeiss, Canon, Voigtlander, and yes, even by Leica. It’s all fabulous, and you can pick and choose the rendering intent you are seeking.
  • It’s low-light noise performance, although not as good as the Canon 5D, is pretty darn good, and better than the Pen’s. The sensor is nearly APS-H size (but not quite), which is more than double the area of the micro 4/3 standard sensor real estate.
  • Did I already say it’s cool?

On the other hand, my creativity with old glass has been recently unmatched by my use of the Pen. I believe that I have recently taken some of the best shots of my 47 years of having access to and using a camera (I started when I was 7 with a Box Brownie) on the Pen. Here’s why:

  • It’s so cool.
  • It’s small and relatively lightweight.
  • I have a huge choice of glass – with just 2 adapters that cost $25 each, I can use any screw or bayonet mount lens  ever designed for the Leica rangefinder family, or any of the almost limitless array of glass built on the M42 / Pentax screw mount. Oh, and don’t forget the modern M4/3 glass from Olympus, Leica, Panasonic, Voigtlander or some of the boutique glass factory products designed to fit M4/3 cameras too. And just like with the M8, you can pick and choose the rendering intent you are seeking by your choice of lens.
  • When I use old glass, because of the M4/2 two-times crop factor the sensor sees only the prime middle section of the chosen lens’s image circle – goodbye soft corners, farewell vignettes.
  • The Pen’s optional electronic viewfinder (VF-2) is amazing, in that with its 1.15 times magnification you can actually see and compose the picture even in low light with the camera pressed up against your face, just like we all used to do until optical viewfinders were cruelly snatched away from us at the dawn of the digital age, and not replaced in order just to save a few bucks in build costs. You can also examine the effects of your chosen aperture on the depth of field. A side benefit of the VF-2 finder is that at least with some lenses, keeping both eyes open results in a most unusual 3D view of the scene you are shooting.
  • This face-stabilised mode allows for sharp images as the camera wobbles about far less than when held at arm’s length like every other digital P&S wonder on the planet does without a viewfinder.
  • It has sensor-stabilisation available for every lens that you can fit, making otherwise shaky images possible in low light.
  • The JPEGs it makes automatically are far and away better than the Leica’s by a country mile. The RAW images are of course every bit as good for raw material as the DNG varieties that the M8 creates.
  • The colour performance and white balance is better than the M8.
  • The low-light performance, although not as good as the M8, is pretty darn good, and vastly better than any point-and-shoot can do, because  although not offering any more resolution, the sensor is 9 times bigger (225 mm2 vs 25 mm2) than the 1 /2.5 “ sensor in the typical 12 mpix auto-everything Canon/Nikon/Samsung/Pentax and, yes, Olympus offering.
  • It’s a fantastic video camera, especially when fitted with old glass.

It’s not all rosy, however – now for the bad Pen issues that have impacted me

  • The autofocus with a modern M4/3 lens is slow compared to a DSLR (however it kills the M8’s, which has none at all anyway).
  • The crop factor is 2 times, making your old 50mm a short telephoto, and thereby automatically making very wide angle lenses very expensive. The M8’s crop is only 1.3 times, which is far more useful (to me at least).
  • It’s so cool especially fitted with an old lens, that people stop you to ask “what camera is it”?

I find that my creativity, especially with people, portraits and candids, soars with the Pen (compared to using but primarily worrying about protecting the M8 because of its cost) especially when it is fitted with a quality old fashioned manual-everything lens. My current favourites are the 50 year old Canon 50mm f1.2 LTM light bucket, and the fabulous Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f2 M mount lens, my new “standard”.

My percentage of keepers is massively higher from the Pen than from the M8. On this basis alone, I am prepared to accept the two compromise areas I don’t really like about the Pen – the crop ratio, and the low light noise performance. Simply put, a successful keeper is infinitely better than and preferable to an out-of-focus or missed shot to me…

If I want really wide or super low light quality, well I just use the Canon 5D instead. It’s horses for courses, I guess. So, I’m staying with the Pen as my choice for a small, super-high-quality unit to use when the Canon 5D is just too big.

Oh, and I have just saved wasting $2500 on a dream that would not deliver for me, too. Just don’t hate me for being a heretic