It seems somewhat fitting that the landmark that is episode 10 – while ostensibly an episode about useful accessories – becomes the most Leica-heavy episode we’ve done to date. Just wait until episode 50; Tony and Nate are currently planning an in-depth breakdown of every slight variation of body design within both the screwmount and M-mount lines. It will be beautiful.
Anyway, before we get into the meat and two veg of these show notes, kick back and enjoy the cinematic masterpiece that is the canned Brazilian commercial for the Leica Monochrom that Nate mentioned. Leica might have – in Nate’s words – “pooh-poohed” it, but it’s still stunningly beautiful.
We might as well start the body of this post with the furthest point possible from Leicas (because it’s only going to get worse) – Holgas. Holga do their own set of accessories, including Cokin-style filter sets (and yes, we are going to get to Cokin soon enough). And, just like Cokin, some of them are bloody ridiculous.
The photo above is courtesy of Mr Holga on Flickr;
it was the best use of this filter that Simon could find.
Tony is still trying to work out why on earth anyone would ever seriously use that filter, and we recorded this show weeks ago. But if that wasn’t enough, you can get Holga filters for your Instax mini camera, so if you have an Instax 7s, you don’t have to miss out on the creative and ridiculous options that are available to Holga owners. How kind!
This, of course, leads us to Cokin. The Cokin system is a simple idea (and is what the Holga system seems to be based on): you have one holder that fits to the front of the lens, and then rectangular filters slide into the holder. This has multiple benefits; firstly, you can control how much of the shot ND grads (and similar gradated filters) affect. Secondly, you can use the same filters across a wide range of lenses as the screw thread on the holder is removable, so you only need multiple holder mounts and not a huge stack of different filters. Thirdly, you can stack multiple filters for really fine control of the look you want. The downside, of course, is that this system is bulky and unwieldy for wandering around with. If you’re working with a tripod on a regular basis – especially with landscape or studio work – we highly suggest you look into the Cokin system. For everyone else, it might be a bit superfluous to requirements.
The catch is that at least some of the guys responsible for filter designs over at Cokin appear to be smoking crack. For every one useful filter is half a million completely ludicrous designs that actually make the Holga triple filter look like a genius move. Here, fresh from their website, is a perfect example:
WOW! That’s just what I’ve been looking for ALL THIS TIME!
At some point Tony will scan at least some of the Cokin filter booklet he has lying around. Until then, enjoy the massive amounts of ridiculous filter options on the Cokin website.
Of course, Cokin aren’t the only company churning out absolutely ludicrous accessories with dubious photographic benefits. Recently a company called Mount July caused a bit of a shitstorm on Petapixel with screw-in filters designed to turn a DSLR’s photos into Instagram-style shots. The debate about this was divided quite simply into “do it in post instead of spending money on something that alters the original file!” and “I’M SICK OF EVERYTHING BEING DONE IN POST!”
Really, it’s hard to get too mad at Mount July. They’re making a product that actually has a certain precedence (see: Cokin, above), and will probably do quite well. In fact, they have a Kickstarter that, at the time of writing, is $25,000 of the way to a $32,000 goal with 14 days left to go. That’s a lot of people interested in these filters. Sadly, the early bird specials have already gone (so you can’t take Nate’s advice and win at Kickstarter), but hey, if this is your thing, go knock yourself out.
Now, going back to the “do it in post”/”do it in camera” debate, we here at Pdexposures actually had that argument on the show. Nate personally never uses filters with his black and white work, while Tony is of the stance that filtering is crucial, and Tony is right. The reason for this is simple: filtering doesn’t alter contrast. It alters tonal relationships, which can lead to the creation of (or perception of more) contrast. Ilford has a good general tutorial on their website, but the simple summary is this: a colour filter will lighten the tone of colours similar to it, and darken its opposites.
- Yellow filter: Darkens blues, lightens reds slightly, separates tones in foliage. Useful for darkening blue skies a touch to see a hint of cloud, for more pleasing skin tone and hiding blemishes when photographing women, and making landscapes a bit more visually striking. A standard filter for any black and white photographer.
- Orange filter: Basically a yellow filter stepped up a bit, with an exception: it won’t separate green tones. It’s better for architecture, seascapes, rocky vistas and the like than leafy green landscapes.
- Red filter: the extreme end of this scale. Turns blues and greens almost to black. Great for dramatic effects, particularly for architecture and seascapes. It’ll also cut through atmospheric haze, allowing for more clarity in distant subjects. Furthermore, it has an interesting effect in portraiture; blemishes on the skin are reduced to almost nothing, and skin tones become alabaster white. The side effect is that lips – even with the deepest red lipstick – become pale as well. If you want to experiment with this for a more classical female portrait, try using a blue or black lipstick with it.
- Green or yellow/green filters: a great choice for the landscape photographer. Any leafy green scene in the summer (i.e. anywhere in Britain or New Zealand) will benefit from this; skies darken, clouds become more prominent, and tones in the foliage are well separated to provide more interesting textures. Also has another use – male portraits become more “rugged”, as the green filter highlights marks in the skin.
- Blue filters: Normally associated with colour film, but has a secondary use within black and white photography of increasing fog or haze. It’s not a great choice normally as it tends to flatten out an image, but might come in useful occasionally. To give you some idea as to how rare it is you need it, Tony has one and he’s used it three times in three years.
If you were to buy a set of filters, the general consensus is to buy the biggest size you need for your lenses and use step-up rings to allow the rest of your lenses to take the filter too. However, this doesn’t work very well with rangefinders for obvious reasons. Instead, Tony suggests you buy a set of filters for the most common size – i.e. 39mm for a Leica kit, 40.5 for a Soviet kit, or 49mm for many SLR kits. Alternatively, if there’s one lens you have that doesn’t match the standard size but is your favourite lens, buy a set for that. Yellow should be mandatory, and choose the rest based on what (and where) you shoot most often; coupling the yellow with a red and green or yellow/green will cover pretty much every use. Also, don’t use them unnecessarily; although a yellow will improve many outdoor shots, it will be usually wasted (and cause an effective loss of one step of light) indoors or undercover.
The other common situation where you might need filters is for colour correction. On digital, colour balance can be adjusted in camera. On film, it has to either be handled with filters or in post. If you’re shooting slides, you want to try and get it as close as possible with filters. Sadly, this is a hard thing to do. There are many different levels of cooling and warming filters, and you need a colour meter to work out what to use. However, one easy adjustment is colour balancing flash. Electronic flash is colder than daylight, which is why it makes people look somewhat pale (particularly on slides). According to a Hoya booklet, a 81A is the correct filter for warming up electronic flash, but note that old-style flash bulbs actually need COOLING for correct colour balance – an 80C.
This handy booklet explains all the colour balancing you could need; click on it to see it full-size.
Note that colour film used to come in different colour balances; daylight-balanced colour film is “type D”.
Before we leave the subject of filters behind, Nate mentioned in the podcast one of the oldest processes for producing color images… Trichromes. By using three different colored filters – red, green and blue – plus a little bit of Photoshop magic you are able to use black and white film to produce a colour photograph. While the process has evolved since the turn of the century by using computers instead of projectors, you’re still able to get much of the same feel. To see exactly how it’s done watch the video below!
Okay, that’s filters out the way. Time to dive down the rabbit hole, and we begin with the Visoflex. This was Leica’s way of turning their rangefinder cameras into an SLR, and it consisted of special lenses and a mirror box that mounted on the front of the camera, allowing for reflex through-the-lens viewing. It’s considerably more clunky than modern SLRs, but it’s a very, very comprehensive system that was designed for 65mm lenses and up. One of the most interesting things about it was that you could remove the lens heads from the longer rangefinder lenses – the 90mm and 135mm Elmars, for example – and attach them to the Visoflex via shorter focusing mounts or bellows, preventing you from needing to duplicate your lens collection. It’s probably not the best purchase now, but if you only occasionally had a need for studio work or still life photography, with a Visoflex you could still use your Leica (and that great Leica glass) for the same job.
If you want a more detailed rundown of the Visoflex, we heartily recommend you read this brilliant page by Gary Elshaw, who covers it in more detail than we ever could.
Of course, associated with the Visoflex was the superb Rifle mount. The one that everyone knows is the Soviet Fotosniper, which has somewhat of a legendary status on the Internet. Our old friends at Fedka claim that the Soviet government “didn’t want people shooting animals”, and an often repeated myth is that it was used for spying (which is ludicrous! You’d be spotted instantly), but Alfred Klomp has a good explanation of its creation here. What he misses out is that Leica and Zeiss were both there first; the Leica RIFLE combined a Visoflex with a special long viewfinder and a 200mm Telyt lens, with the rifle stock allowing it to be used on the move. They’re not cheap nowadays though, which is a crying shame, because they’re beautiful.
(It’s worth noting that this failed Kickstarter was an attempt to make something that took this idea and twisted it the other way round; rather than just being a stabilized long lens for normal photography, it was an attempt to make a harmless version of hunting or sniping via a digital camera built into a rifle, so that rather than shooting bullets, you shot photos.)
Our next Leica accessory is simply known as the RAPIDO, a very rudimentary motor drive consisting of a simple rip cord, allowing you to advance the film much faster than with the standard knob by simply pulling on the cord. However this system was still rather clumsy in comparison to the later LEICAVIT/Rapidwinder. The LEICAVIT would replace your bottom plate with a heavily modified one, and by pulling on an arm protruding from the base – which was attached to your film advance – you could shoot frame-after-frame in rapid succession. Tony claims up to 3 frames per second if you are good enough! This method proved to be so popular that Leica and Voigtlander still both make this style of advance for their M-mount cameras, and Tom Abrahamsson makes his own for various older Leicas at Rapidwinder.com.
The next set of accessories we discussed on the podcast proves to be a bit more useful; Accessory finders are not only still regularly used with older cameras and various focal lengths, but they have found new life on smaller EVIL (electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens) cameras for those who prefer optical viewfinders with their digital cameras. One of the more bizarre ones – the Kontur – is made by the original Voigtlander, and it is actually completely opaque. Instead of looking through it, keeping both eyes open as you bring it to your eye projects framelines into your field of view, creating the most unobstructed way possible to compose your shot.
But for the more discreet shooter – and fan of bizarre viewfinders – there is always the Leica right angle finder. This actually came in a few different models, such as the WINKO (1929), WINTU (1933), WOOLD (1938), and the WOOSU (1938). While each of these served roughly the same purpose, each one did receive a slight upgrade between models, including the ability to use them with rangefinders so you could still focus while the camera is held perpendicular to your face.
But for every practical Leica accessory, there are 3 that are just simply ridiculous; Enter the TOWIN, a device used to couple two Leica screw mount cameras together top to bottom for stereo work – or alternatively shooting multiple focal lengths at the same time. This is certainly a piece that walks a fine line between ridiculously cool and/or ridiculously useless. We’re still undecided as to which it is, but we definitely want one. Or four.
On a similar vein is the similarly ridiculous TRICOPLAT, which was a rotating mount for three screwmount Leicas using the same lens. It was designed for copying purposes as opposed to normal photography, and was one of the more bizarre (and inadvertently expensive) pieces of copying paraphernalia designed during their screwmount days.
Who could afford this many Leicas?
Next we have the Holy Trinity that is NOOKY, SOOKY and the NOOKY-HESUM. These things are Tony’s personal favourite gadgets just because they’re so useful. In short, they’re extension rings for 50mm screwmount lenses; the NOOKY is for the Elmar, the SOOKY for the Summicron, and the NOOKY-HESUM for the Hektor, Summar and Summitar. The catch – and sheer genius – is that they contain focusing helicals, a parallax-adjusting cropping frame for the viewfinder and an additional prism to go in front of the rangefinder window. What this means is that you clip the internal bayonet (the one relating to the lens’ collapsing/locking mechanism) into the NOOKY/SOOKY/NOOKY-HESUM, use the focusing helical on the gadget, and can focus and frame accurately with the rangefinder between 50cm and 1m away! They work amazingly well, and were the forerunner for the “goggled” dual range Summicron for the M mount cameras. If you want a close-range photograph but don’t want/like SLRs, this is the tool for you.
One of Tony’s closet GAS fuellers is the FARUX panoramic head. Like most of the early Leitz accessories, this serves a very specific purpose: it was simply a disc that fitted between camera and tripod with two marked rings, allowing the camera to be spun a precise amount between shots to ensure a perfect panoramic photograph every time. Roger Hicks – one of our favourite photographic writers – reviews it in depth over at Shutterbug. It’s worth noting that there are variants and accessory rings to enable almost the creation of panoramas with any combination of Leica and lens – providing you can find them nowadays, of course.
Going from screwmount over to the M-mount we come to the OORLF, a gadget that is so unusual and rare (estimated that less than 200 were made) that there isn’t even any information or photos of them online! This piece was similar to the modern Leica 14404 in that it held various lenses for you. However the unique part was this positioned 3 lenses onto a turret allowing you to switch from a 35, to a 50 and ultimately a 90 in rapid succession.
Finally, Tony brings to the table an odd accessory that he actually owns! The OSBLO is a unique piece that screws onto the back of a Leica 50m or 90mm screw mount lens turning it into a miniature telescope or spotting scope. While not the most practical of pieces, it was interesting enough that in the 1970s Nikon produced a version of their own for F-mount lenses. While the Leica piece came first, the Nikon is arguably much more useful thanks to their large lineup of long telephoto lenses and a larger inner objective.
Of course, although this has been a Leica-heavy episode and post (due mostly to Tony and Nate’s preference for that particular system), any camera system – particularly those that go back a long way – has its own set of bizarre, wonderful or overly specific accessories. For example, Pdexposures friend and listener Shelly Valdez sent us a link to a Hasselblad back (coded A2035) which allows the use of 35mm in a Hassie to create panoramic shots, and with the modular nature of the Hasselblad system, there’s probably an eccentric accessory for every purpose in that system too.
Finally, here’s a date for your diaries: September 25th is Simon’s birthday! If you have any cool ideas for how to celebrate his birthday, either let us know below or send us a message on Twitter. @nmatosPDX will get you Nate, @coldkennels will get you Tony, and we’re not giving you Simon’s details because it’s a secret. SSSSSSH.