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Leica Visoflex System - adjusting in a digital world
Pictured here is a SMALL part of the Visoflex system, from left to right: 400/6.3, 400/5, 180/2.8, 280/4.5, 65/3.5, the Visoflex III, with the Visoflex M bellows in the background. Do you recognize the camera mounted on the Visoflex? Most Leica M users would not.
Rube Goldberg had nothing on the designers of the Leica Visoflex system. The lens thingy went on the front (sometimes with other thingies to attach the lens) to attach to the mirror box thingy with its interchangeable viewfinder thingies which could then attach to various camera thingies. To top all of that off, the release lever thingy varied from camera to camera, so that releasing the mirror up to allow the image from the lens to hit the image plane at the precise time the camera's shutter was opened. OK, so sometimes I'm a sucker for mechanical complexity!
Leica sought to add to the versatility of their rangefinder cameras by offering an add-on mirror housing, which converted the camera into an awkward SLR with ground glass viewing and focusing.
The Leitz Visoflex system is the largest and most comprehensive reflex housing system ever made for any 35 mm Rangefinder camera. In Versions 1, II, IIa and III, it was available from the middle 30's to the 80's for both screw mount and M mount cameras. The Visoflex (aka Viso) is a mirror housing and ground glass focusing system that converts the svelte Leica Rangefinder camera into a rather large and clumsy--but versatile, single lens reflex. To be fair about though, some people really like the Visoflex system. I frankly haven't figured them out yet. If you want to get the picture from the other side, visit Gary Elshaw's Visoflex Page.
The Viso housing inserts a mirror and ground glass focusing between the camera body and either special short Viso mount lenses, or the lens heads of various rangefinder coupled lenses. Unfortunately, from a modern perspective, the Viso system has some basic problems:
Size: The Viso w/adapters roughly double the size and weight of the camera
Non-standardization: Almost every lens requires a special helical or adapter for that PARTICULAR lens and VISO combination.
Availability: Since the VISO system is discontinued, it's often difficult to find the proper part.
Cost: When you do find them, typically it requires $150 or more of adapters and helicals to hook up your short mount or lens head to your VISO. Yes, some helicals can be used with several lenses. But it just so happens that the combination I am most interested in (the 65 Elmar, the 90/2 Summicron, and the 135 Tele-Elmar) ALL require different HELICALS and ADAPTERS! The lack of modern features. Modern is not the word.
Short Mount Lenses Requiring the Visoflex - - or equivalent aka Viso 4
Visoflex capabilities expanded with Bellows and slide copier via the large and heavy Leica Bellows 1, and the small and heavy Leica Bellows 2. They worked as a normal bellows, or allowed the short mount lenses to be mounted directly with special adapter rings. This would allow from infinity to close-up focusing.
If you want to have a confusing photo day, go through an old Leica catalog showing the Visoflex system. Take a look at the myriad assortment of gizmo's and do-dads they Goldfarbed together over the years to get all of the parts to work together. Imagine Rolls Royce quality designed by Picasso, you get the idea.
YET, the basic idea of bridging the gap between RF and SLR in one outfit remains alluring.
Instead of using the Visoflex housing to convert the M into a backward SLR, why not use Viso lens heads on a modern multi-featured SLR?
The choices are:
1) Use the Leica M Visoflex to R adapter, thereby substituting the Visoflex for the Leica SLR of your choice. Personally, however, I find many other SLRs far superior to the Leica SLR bodies...or... choice. Personally, however, I find many other SLRs far superior to the Leica SLR bodies...or...
2) Substitute the Visoflex with your Nikon F or Canon EOS mount SLR with the CameraQuest Visoflex adapter, adding an adapter between the SLR and the Viso helicals/glass to get the back focus correct...or...
3) Mount your Visoflex on a compact digital camera like the Sony NEX, M43, Fuji X-Pro1 or Ricoh GXR (shown on this page). You do that with the necessary adapters. Add the necessary Leica M adapter for your camera, then you have both live view and SLR type focusing and viewing. Or by pass the Viso completely by with a Visoflex to SLR adapter, and focus by live view.
super rare Leica Tele-Elmarit 180/2.8 lens mounted on the Visoflex III mounted on the digital Ricoh GXR body - something the Visoflex designers could never have imagined
4) Replace the Visoflex and focus live view on the new digital compact cameras! Compact and quick, it still not quite the same experience as all those Goldfarb inspired do dads and thingies! But to each their own! For this, combine a Visoflex to Nikon F adapter with a Nikon F to Leica M adapter, along with the appropriate Leica M adapter for your compact digital camera.
There are too many options to explore all of them here. A lot depends upon which SLR system you want to combine your M with. That decision alone will make a lot of your decisions for you.
WHICH LENSES do you want to use on both systems? My own choice were the 90/2 Summicron and the 135/4 Tele Elmarit.
WHICH SYSTEMS do you want to combine with Visoflex? My own choice is Nikon, Canon FD, Canon EOS, Ricoh GXR
The limit is your own imagination.
Now I can use either my Canon FD, Canon EOS, or Nikon cameras with my VISOFLEX lenses. WHY????
1) It adds TTL flash, including automatic fill in, to my M system
2) It adds spot or even multi-spot (T90) metering to my M system
3) It adds slow speeds down to 30 seconds, or top speeds to 1/4000
4) It adds motor drive speeds up to 4.5 fps
5) It adds comprehensive databack recording capabilities
6) It adds a 1/250th flash sync
7) It adds the option of carrying a Nikon or Canon focal lens I might not have in Leica M
8) Adding a Nikon or Canon 2x converter gives me a 180/4 or a 270/8 with Leica M glass--something I can't do with Leica
9) It adds Aperture Priority Automatic Exposure (at shooting aperture), something my M cameras can't do--except the CLE. See Minolta CLE
Epilogue: The Canon T90! see separate profile
If you are not familiar with the Canon T90--a manual focus FD mount camera made from 1985-91 -- let me begin by saying that the T90 is one of the best 35mm SLR designs EVER. It is truly outstanding. The only bad thing I have to say about the T90 is that it does not have a Nikon name plate, but I guess you can't have everything.
Luckily with the current crop of Nikon and Canon EOS DSLRs, many of the comments below also apply to your choice of digital cameras!
You really have a LOT of modern Visoflex camera body choices!
A choice of averaging, centerweighted or spot ambient light metering even using the Viso adapters, even with AE operation.
Multiple Spot meter readings (up to 9)
Spot or centerweighted TTL flash
AE operation WITH VISO lenses using aperture priority
LEDs for bright, easy readouts
Very Bright Viewfinder with interchangeable focusing screens
Superb Ergonomically designed body with easy and logical electronic controls
Superb 2x Tele-Converters (not a regular Viso option)
1/4000 to 30 Second Shutter range
1/250th Flash sync speed of
Interval photography as well as frame counting and date imprinting with a multi-use databack
AA batteries universally available
An inexpensive price ($400-500) for such a first-rate quality camera
Hundreds of other quality lenses available by mounting Nikon, Canon, Pentax Screw, or Exakta lenses with Canon made adapters! See adapters profile
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Revised: June 03, 2012. Copyright © 1998-2012 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.