Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!!

From Old Glass

A few months ago, I got my hands on a Rollei 35 RF Rangefinder 35mm camera. It's really a rebadged Voigtlander R2 with a silver body, which makes it a variant of the Leica school of design. The original came with VERY nice Zeiss lenses in Leica Thread Mount (LTM) and an M Mount adapter because the body is Leica M mount. It is difficult to find these with the original Zeiss lenses, and when you do, they tend to cost close to $1000. You can find just the bodies, which run from $200 to $500 on eBay. The reason being that most of them have been snatched up by Leica heads for the Zeiss optics, and the the bodies thrown back into the sea of collectors at a decent price.

This particular example I found on eBay for a decent price, but without a lens or adapter. M mount lenses are not the cheapest in the world. A majority of them are (or were) made by Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss, and other high end optics company. I once heard a line about "A rich man's new car should never be a poor man's used car" seems to sum up cameras as well. I set about locating a lens to use, and fell upon a Leitz Wetlar (Leica) Summicron 50mm f/2.0.

From Old Glass
From Old Glass

Famous lens, wicked good reputation, with one flaw... The coating on the front element was very soft. So soft, in fact, that you were NOT supposed to wipe the dust off with a cloth as the fibers in the cloth, combined with the motes of dust, made the equivalent of 100 grit sandpaper to the lens!! This makes it difficult to locate a perfect, or even reasonable Summicron from before the mid 60's. The one I found was from the soft coating era. The seller was honest enough to note that there were "Slight cleaning marks on the front element". Right. What was once a beautiful and remarkably sharp example of high quality German optical design and manufacture is now on (barley) useful for "soft focus" portraits. Bummer, $200 and change for a functionally useless lens.

Interesting thing about the Leica M design, you can, for a reasonable amount of money, obtain an adapter which will allow you to use the older LTM lenses. The cool part about this is that the format has been in production since the early part of the last century! Now the Russians were pretty upset with Germany in the post WW-II era, and to help sooth their jangled nerves (that's their excuse at least) they absconded with a couple Leica factories, along with the designs. Once they had these plants and designs, they proceeded to "Soviet things up a bit". (Think Volga, Trebant, "Five Year Plans.) On the UPside, they left the lens designs alone and did a much better job producing these than they did with the bodies. (Think Stolichnaya, Kalashnikov, MiG.) The lenses are mostly either Contax/Kiev mount or LTM/Fed mount, and can be had for a SONG. The risk lies in the source, of course. While there are many reputable purveyors of these lenses in the old Soviet countries, there are also some serious scammers. Well, I now have one of the adapters for the M mount, as well as one to allow me to put LTM lenses on the Canon EOS body. Additionally, I have a pair of old Russian Leica knockoffs in LTM that I bought from (you guessed it...) eBay. One for $22 from Ohio, and the other for $15 from Canada that happens to have a Kiev 4 RF camera attached. Still a bit leery of buying something like this from the old Soviet Bloc.

So lenses are on the way, and once I have them, you can look for some test shots and results.

I am also thinking about getting a Contax/Yashica to EOS converter plate as well as one for M mount to EOS.

More to follow...


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