Macrophotography and the Leica M: seriously?

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.

_M9P1_L1008927 copy

_M9P1_L1008912 copy
Impressions of a watch; Girard-Perregaux F1-047. M9-P and Noctilux 0.95

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.

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Der Frankenkamera

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.

_M9P1_L1010192 copy Ignore the watch, it’s nothing exciting. What IS exciting is that the right hand side gear is 5mm across; this is the full, uncropped frame.
M9-P and 35/1.4 FLE

See more of my macro work with the Leica M9-P here on flickr

Comments

  1. Daniel Stevenson says:

    You say a mouthful when you say that we can be a strange lot. I read your article with great interest but was thinking the entire time that my Minolta SRT101, bellows and 100mm macro lens was able to do this better, complete with two separate Honeywell Stobinars, back in the late 60s. But, where there is a will there is a way. :)

    • No choice for this job, it was sponsored by Leica and they required I use their equipment – except this was the only working solution they had at the time. I agree, there are much better and easier ways of doing the same thing.

  2. Interesting. Does it mean that without the bellow, you mount the noctilux 0.95 direct to the visoflex3 or do you have an ‘adapter’ in between?

    btw, luv your picz…beautiful

  3. Came across this while I’m still waiting for my M240. I wonder if I might want to revisit macro shooting with the M – especially now with the liveview.

    • I personally wouldn’t bother as there are much better options for macro work (plus the benefits of a proper wireless flash system, which Leica doesn’t have).

  4. Hi, liking your Leica articles. Planning to get the new leica m 240, looking at macro options. A few i am thinking of:
    1) nikon 200mm micro via adapter (also doubles as a long tele), or
    2). The setup you have above
    3). Given the new leica m has live view is it possible that the above setup can work without the visoflex? I.e just the bellows and leica m lens attached?

    Thanks, from Australia.
    H

  5. garygraphy says:

    I suppose it is a matter of time before someone comes out with a helicoid adapter M-to-M for close-ups.

    • If not, there’s always the bellows. There were some noises about a proper M mount macro that gave decent magnification on its own, but I haven’t heard anything about that for over a year now.

  6. Rafael Macia says:

    Seeing your work has re opened my Visoflex interest.
    I am most interested in knowing how the speaker wire flash cord rig you fashioned to go from hotshot to flash, and under the eye-level finder, was done. I would not have ever done that.
    I would first use a Wein Safe-Sync so that any flash voltage does not fry the M9. (ie. A Vivitar 283, puts out 20x the voltage an M9 uses. The Safe Sync allows all flashes to be reduced in voltage, so it is “digestible” to a modern low voltage camera like the M9)
    Using the Wein would not allow me, when it is slipped onto the shoe, to use the eye level finder
    The only way I could think to use a Wein would be if I made a small extension cord to run from Wein to shoe. That would allow the eye level finder to be used safely.
    In your shooting setup, when it is tripod mounted,I would use the OTVXO 5x vertical magnifier, which on a tripod might be actually more comfortable to use, than the eye level finder. Then the shoe can be easily accessed.

    Sorry to go on and on … Visoflex is to blame !

    • Let’s just say it required some hacking, filing and soldering and some sacrificial plastic. The OTVXO doesn’t let me see the full frame, so it’s not so useful either – but if I’d known about it, you can bet that I wouldn’t have made the little cable. By the way, I was using the cable with a Nikon SB700, which has a low voltage trigger.

      • Rafael Macia says:

        Ok.I did not know the full frame was not visible. I have yet to use the OTVXO, I picked one up, thinking to use one day.
        Thank you for the info.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The new viewfinder resurrects the old ‘Visoflex’ designation (to see one in use, see this article). It has a 2.4m-dot panel, and reminds me largely of the A7′s finder – though dynamic […]

  2. […] We photographers are a strange lot: sometimes we make our lives difficult when there’s absolutely no need to. I recently shot a watch photography assignment using a Leica M9-P, of all things. (This setup has been the subject of another post, here) […]

  3. […] If you want to get really crazy, you could always try shooting watches with a Leica M system. […]

  4. […] The last thing I use the M9-P for is watch photography – this only of late, and it hasn’t fully replaced the D700 because I still haven’t got a complete setup. What it does excel at so far is extremely high magnification macros; we’re talking minimum 3:1 and usually up to 5:1 or even 6:1. This is where the Visoflex III and Bellows II (both vintage, probably 40-50 years old) come into their own in a surprisingly but very ungainly way. (For more info on macro with the M system, see this earlier post. […]

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