I’m a watch photographer first, and a photojournalist second. My collaboration deal with Leica requires me to use their equipment where possible; since horological photography is my speciality, this would be a focal point (no pun intended) of the arrangement. Except there’s one problem: everybody know the M system isn’t suitable for macrophotography, with the highest possible magnification being 1:3 – which is about 90x60cm on the M9, and nowhere near close enough for the kind of work I do. And let’s not even mention parallax and accurate framing issues. The S2 and 120 macro were suggested – 1:2 on 45x30mm, which is again 90x60mm. What about the compacts? They get close, but only at the wide end – meaning low magnification and high distortion.
So what does one do to get a pure Leica solution but still deliver magnification in the ranges I need – 1:1 and greater?
After a long time trawling the web and pestering my handler about exactly what was available and what wasn’t, I finally decided the M system was the platform to begin with. Not as crazy as you think; in the early SLR era, Leica made a series of attachments called the Visoflex that permitted TTL/ SLR viewing on a rangefinder body. The Visoflex III fits the digital Ms; I happened to find one for sale on a recent trip to Prague. Coupled to a 50mm lens, that would act as a natural extension tube and deliver 1:1 magnification. But what about lighting? The Visoflex prism housing sits very close to the top plate and of course blocks the hot shoe, so a flash or cable was out of the option. Early experiments involved using a large array (120!) of LED lights – normally for video use. Even then, limited stopping down was possible due to light loss from the magnification factor. The resultant images were different – but more of an impression of a watch, rather than a clear depiction. And there was still the low magnification issue to contend with.
Fast forward a bit. A Bellows II was located, together with the Bellows to M adaptor; this solved the magnification issue. Some creative modification (read: cutting, filing, drilling and knots) involving a hot shoe cover, a flash stand and some speaker wire allowed primitive PC sync connection between the M9-P’s hotshoe and a Nikon SB700 slave flash, which would in turn trigger my primary SB900s. The cable is nice and slim and still leaves sufficient clearance for the Visoflex.
So what can we achieve with this combination? See for yourself. I haven’t had a chance to test it out on a full blown shoot yet, but the early results are very encouraging.
See more of my macro work with the Leica M9-P here on flickr