Another Project Idea – Combining many things

Soooo… I’ve been absent from the blog for a while. Been busy with work and toned down the hobbies to just taking photographs (mostly film) and travelling. Time for an update.

Recently, I ventured into Leica M3 territory and it has exposed me to some new experiences. Nothing I say here is new, but it is very refreshing to see such a bright view from the M3’s viewfinder. But! At the same time,  not being able to see what is in focus is also a bit challenging. From an engineer’s perspective, the M3 is beautiful and solid. On my recent trip to Italy, I brought it out with me everywhere and it’s hard not to stare at it and wonder about the countless hours it took to meticulously fabricate and hand assemble each component into this smooth running machine.

Another new door that this Leica M3 opens is pretty special. Being a rangefinder, it has no mirror to get in the way of a deep rear lens element and therefore allows it to use very compact wide angle lens designs. How compact? Well! Pretty much every point and shoot plastic fantastic from the 80-90s used 28 to 35mm fixed lenses. These simple cameras typically uses a leaf shutter just behind the lens group so the shutter can also act as a crude aperture iris, further saving space and reduce the number of parts. Nowadays you can usually find plenty of these semi-disposable cameras at garage sales and thrift stores – selling for 1-10 dollars. Of course, some are much more expensive than others (such as the cult favorite Contax T2 or the Olympus mju). The really cheap ones vary from absolute garbage to decent shooters that are underappreciated due to their limited functions and significant bulk/noise. It’s in this latter group that I found gold.

The M3 is not designed to shoot wider than 50mm without the special goggled lenses, which are very, very expensive. Alternatives will all require fitting of an accessory finder which can be pretty pricey as well. I started this rabbit hole journey from a post on 35mmc (link) about 3D printing an enclosure to reuse the viewfinder from a Canon Sure Shot Owl. The Owl (and its cousins from Canon) is well suited for this task as it has one of the biggest viewfinders ever made for a compact and it is reasonably priced (climbing though!). I wasted no time and tracked down two variants – a cheaper fixed focus Sure Shot BF (Big Finder) and a proper Owl. Taking apart the BF really gave me an appreciation of the compact and efficient design of these plastick bricks. A lot of thought has gone into these and I want to ensure that I salvage as much of the cameras as possible. This is when all the stars aligned for me.

On the M3, not having to see through the lens means no complex aperture linkages between the body and lens. I can adapt these point and shoot lenses for the M3! Other people were way ahead of me. MS-Optical in japan will rehouse high-end compact lenses (for a steep 600USD) and a few others have fashions more basic housing for their lenses. My main inspiration if anything came from Hamish Gill’s Canon AF-10 mod found here (link), I think his conversion looks very simple and sleek which really turns the M3 into a compact camera (weighty though). Sounds like my kind of fun.

The first step is to get the lens out. On the Canon, this involves removing all the screws from the outer shell and one hidden screw inside beside the take-up spool. Once the shell is removed, the lens assembly can be removed from the auto-focus mechanism with three screws. I practiced on the BF before doing the same on the Owl and learned a bit more about their design. The BF is focus-free, with no auto focus mechanism. The lens is plastic and not coated and a bit smaller than the OWL. I would guess it has a max aperture of 5.6 but it’s fixed at around F8 with a aperture plate. The Owl’s lens is much heavier and I would think glass. There’s also a purplish coating on the front element – very nice. The triplet lens assembly has a stepped focus mechanism with 3 steps (head shot vs full body vs scenery at infinity).

See the clear, smaller BF lens on the left versus the bigger Owl lens with its purple reflection.

To be continued…

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