Mods & DIY

A 35mm compact camera lens conversion – Part 1 – Choosing the lens

I’ve decided to have one of my compact camera lenses converted to Leica thread mount by MS-Optical in Japan. Since Miyazaki, the name behind MS-Optical, doesn’t offer the service to anyone outside of Japan, it is only possible to have a lens converted by him with the help of a third party in Japan, in this case Japan Camera Hunter.

Rather than wait until the end of the project to document the whole process, I thoughts I’d document it in parts. This first part being about how I came to choose the lens to be converted…

I’d been thinking about getting a 35mm Leica thread mount lens to use on my Leica iiia. The main goal was to find something small. I really like my iiia as a pocket camera and so didn’t want anything that’s going to project from the body too much. I’d spent a lot of time reading around online, and really only come up with the Voigtlander 35mm f/2.5 as a possibility.

The Voigtlander seemed like quite an attractive option until I remembered having seen an MS-Optical lens conversion not all that long ago. It was of a 28mm lens of some sort, but it was tiny. I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it, but since I know Bellamy (off of JCH) has a positive working relationship with MS I thought I’d get in touch with him and get his thoughts.

A bit of too and fro with Bellamy and I worked out the lens conversion I’d seen was a Nikon 28mm lens off an AF-600. Of course 28mm isn’t any good to me, I already have a 28 I’m happy with. I asked Bellamy if MS would do the same work to an Olympus mju-ii lens, the answer was unfortunately negative, and whilst Bellamy did come back to me with some options, none were as small as I wanted. I did a bit more research online to get some more ideas and I found reference to someone having a Yashica T4 lens converted (scroll to the bottom). I asked Bellamy, and of course the answer was that I could too have this conversion done.

_DSC7570

It was nagging on my mind a bit though, these conversions aren’t cheap – they aren’t all that expensive considering that a man in Japan is going to hand make a rangefinder coupled lens from a donor compact camera – but it’s still a few quid. Because of this, I wanted to make the right choice, so before I committed to anything I had a bit of a head scratch about other lenses I might like converted instead.

Going back through my compact camera reviews there was one camera that instantly jumped out at me, the Ricoh FF90. A bit of a sleeper of a camera, perhaps because by most people’s standards it’s as ugly as sin and not what you might call pocketable, but it does have a fantastic lens. It’s also a 35mm, not to mention the fact that it’s a f/2.8 lens rather than the f/3.5 lens of the Yashica.

_DSC7572

So, I emailed Bellamy, and whilst the answer wasn’t a resounding yes, since it wasn’t mentioned on the list of lenses he has that MS won’t convert, he said if I send him the camera he would have the possibility investigated.

Of course, the next problem was where to get the lens. I actually have two Ricoh ff90s, the original and the later ‘super’, both working fine. It seemed a little reckless to have a camera killed off just for the sake of extracting its lens. So on to eBay I went looking for a donor non-working camera. I found one in the states, the owner of it even said he was happy to ship it to Japan for me. I contacted Bellamy, he said this was fine, but that I should get a detailed description of the lens. Apparently MS doesn’t clean lenses, he just strips them from the body of the camera and mounts them as they are. I thought this a bit odd to start with, but thinking about it, I suppose he is just maintaining the lenses character as it was when he was sent it…?

One way or another, it seemed only sensible to use one of my cameras as a donor. So just yesterday I got it back off a mate who’d borrowed it, and in the next day or so I’m going to get it shipped to Japan.

Before I do though…

I’m interested to hear which you would choose? Would you choose the well regarded Zeiss lens from the Yashica, or the faster lens from the Ricoh? I must admit, one of the big draws to having the Ricoh lens converted is that I will have something that as far as I know would be completely unique…

Answer the poll and/or comment below …

Cheers

Hamish

Which lens would you convert?

  • Ricoh FF90 (54%, 85 Votes)
  • Yashica T4 (46%, 72 Votes)

Total Voters: 157

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41 Comments

  • Reply
    arato
    December 22, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    very interesting! can’t wait to read how it goes… (I’m already searching for a good condition T4 haha)

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 22, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      The problem with the T4 is that it adds so much to the cost. I was lucky with the one I have here, it only cost me £60, but they can go for a lot more.

  • Reply
    Halka
    December 22, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    At a risk of sounding rude, how much does such a conversion tend to cost?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 22, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      A fair bit. For this particular conversion Bellamy has quoted ¥65000. But I’d suggest getting in touch with him if you have ideas about another lens.

  • Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    December 22, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Oh man, I’ve got a broken FF90 that’s had the batteries burst inside it that you could’ve had for nothing!

    I’m not sure which I’d go for. There are tons of broken FF90s out there, but knackered T4s aren’t exactly rare, either. I’d say the T4’s lens is that bit sharper, but the FF90 maybe has a touch more character.

    As it happens, I’ve been thinking about doing this myself recently. I’ve been trying to source a Fuji Tiara (aka DL Super Mini) and while looking noticed an APS camera called the Tiara iX which appears to have a very similar lens (though it’s a 24mm rather than a 28mm). It occurred to me there must be some nice APS cameras out there with great lenses that just aren’t going to get used anymore. They would be natural candidates for this process, although I probably need a better rangefinder than a Fed 4 before it will be worthwhile!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 22, 2015 at 8:19 pm

      Hi Ken,

      Don’t worry, I’d come to the conclusion that I wanted to use a camera that I knew the lens of. I know for a fact that the lens on the donor Ricoh is good, I’ve shot with it and seen the results with my own eyes. I think I’d worry if I were to use a lens I hadn’t shot with.

      That’s not to say that I imagine your lens isn’t good, but considering the investment, I just feel better using my camera. Thanks though, the thought is a kind one!

      As for APS cameras, I’m not sure it would work, at least not universally. The size of APS film is smaller than 24×36 of 35mm film, so I’d guess at least some lenses have a smaller imaging circle. I personally wouldn’t risk it!

      If you get around to getting a DL super mini lens done, let me know! Perhaps we could arrange a temporary swap of converted lenses… Just for the kicks 🙂

      • Reply
        Ken Hindle-May
        December 23, 2015 at 11:59 am

        Ah, I hadn’t considered the crop factor on APS. You’d end up with some interesting lenses if it could be made to work, though; that 24 might become a 15!

        Another potential camera that’s sprung to mind is the Ricoh GR1. It’s a cracking lens and more and more of them are failing irreparably, or are at least temperamental enough to be tested.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          December 23, 2015 at 12:16 pm

          It would be a lot more interesting to try were that the case. Unfortunately, the focal lengths stated are true focal lengths.
          A 24mm lens on a aps camera gave a similar field of view to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera.
          If you put a 24mm lens off an aps camera on a 35mm camera, if the image circle was big enough you would have a field of view of that you might expect from any other 24mm lens.
          Focal length is a constant, the thing that changes (as you elude to) is the size of the imaging surface.
          Your right though, if the aps lens was a 24mm equivalent, then 15mm is exactly when the lens would be to create that… But as I say, it’s not the case, which is a shame! 🙂

          As for the GR1, for some reason MS won’t mount those. Which is a real shame considering the cameras are all dying now

  • Reply
    Graham Ashton
    December 22, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Choosing which lens to convert based on which is the most unique strikes me as lining yourself up for a large dose of regret. The novelty will wear off. If you’re definitely going to do this, I’d suggest choosing the lens that will make you want to shoot it the most.

    Have you asked yourself whether this is really just a big exercise in GAS? It’s interesting, sure, but do you really need it? Why don’t you just shoot one of these Ricohs already?

    I’d spend the (not inconsiderable) amount of cash on photography books and trips.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 22, 2015 at 8:49 pm

      Let me answer this in bits …

      Firstly, I’m not choosing it just for its uniqueness, it is a factor of a few, not the single justification. I very much like how both lenses render, and would be hard pushed to pick a favourite on rendering alone. Honestly, the biggest factor is the fraction of a stop extra light gathering power. And even that doesn’t really bother me, I’m quite used to and comfortable shooting with slow lenses.

      An exercise in GAS…?
      Well, yes I think it is an exercise in GAS. I don’t need the lens. In fact lately I’ve hardly shot with anything else but my 50mm Sonnar. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if I “need” any other lenses at all. But you have to remember the context within which you ask the question. This is a blog about cameras and experiences with them. I have a hobby that is photography, I also have a hobby that is buying, playing with and tinkering with cameras and lenses. Now it is quite obvious that these two hobbies cross paths, but they still exist as separate things for me. I choose to indulge in buying cameras and lenses because I enjoy it, such is my right to do so outside of the judgement of others.

      Why don’t I shoot one of the Ricohs? Well I might do that too. I still have the FF90 super.

      And lastly, that’s your choice, just as this is mine. As it goes, I am going to be buying a trip. Next year some time when I take my wife on holiday with our two children in celebration of being together 10 years. We are thinking about the Lake District, or North Wales maybe, not sure. I shall take a book or two to read too I’m sure 😉

      • Reply
        Graham Ashton
        December 22, 2015 at 10:46 pm

        Hi Hamish. Re-reading my comment, I can see it’ll have come across as fairly, well, critical (or perhaps inflammatory). Sorry – that wasn’t my attention at all.

        So thanks for the detailed reply.

        The main thing I wanted to say was in response to your “which [lens] would you choose?” question, and that is simply that I’d pick the one I wanted to shoot the most. I thought that idea was worth sharing, but the phrasing was poor and the rest of the message tumbled out of my fingers, and I didn’t re-read it before posting. Rash.

        I also think the core tenet of my message probably has more to do with how I feel about my own GAS. I frequently regret the time I’ve spent acquiring new stuff, when I know I’d get more long term enjoyment out of putting in the hard work, to make better photographs.

        I am of course quite interested to read about how this conversion turns out! 🙂

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          December 23, 2015 at 9:24 am

          Don’t worry, sorry if I sounded defensive enough for you to feel the need to apologise! That wasn’t my intention either. It’s not wonder forums are full of arguing, text based communication just doesn’t have the nuance…
          Anyway. It’s a fair question. I suppose the answer is that I am just as driven to shoot either lens.
          I think we can all get a bit touchy about our GAS, I have a good excuse in this blog, but I don’t always make good decisions (see here). Since then, I have been more consciously trying to buy things that I won’t lose money on. This little experiment is definitely outside of that, as I think it’s likely I would lose if I went on to sell it… That might be why my response drifted toward defensive 😉

          • Graham Ashton
            December 23, 2015 at 9:08 pm

            Blimey, your Ricoh GR1 story looks like a bit of an epic – I’ve saved it to read properly on a long train journey. I rather fancied trying a GR1 but repeated reports of dodgy LCD screens put me off.

            You make a good point about the blog being a great reason for experimenting. It’s a great blog, by the way. I only found it a few weeks ago when researching my Auto S3. I need to go back through the archives…

          • Hamish Gill
            December 24, 2015 at 1:08 pm

            Yeah, mine has a dodgy screen now. I’m trying to research a permanent fix for it via a local electronics company, but so far they’ve been a little disinterested in the project. A shame, though I’m going to pursue it in the new year I think; see if I can find anyone who’s more interested.
            Re.the blog, thanks. Mike’s S3 post is a good one! Have fun in the archives 🙂

          • Blinx
            December 24, 2015 at 12:23 pm

            The GR1 is the problem of super-compacts in a nutshell – a decent ship spoiled for a happ’orth o’tar. The designers tried to square the circle of weight, functionality and build quality but there was always an Achilles Heel somewhere. They were never sure if they were P&S “fun” cameras, or pocket Leicas. A man can sink a lot of money into chasing that dream.

          • Hamish Gill
            December 24, 2015 at 1:12 pm

            Don’t I know it!!

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      December 29, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      I would have to agree with you, especially for a camera like the Ricoh which has plenty of exposure control short of full manual.

  • Reply
    James Fox-Davies
    December 23, 2015 at 12:17 am

    Hamish. Very interesting. I’ve thought about this too but don’t really know where to start choosing a donor lens. I got a short list from Bellamy about a year ago but in the end decided I didn’t really want anything that had already been tried. Any idea of what criteria MS need in order to make the conversion work? Would be interesting to up with something quite unique…

    • Reply
      JFD
      December 23, 2015 at 12:21 am

      Obviously, I started off by thinking about the De Oude Delft Rayxar 50mm 0.75 but then there’s the not insignificant issue of not being able to focus it….

      • Reply
        Hamish Gill
        December 23, 2015 at 9:30 am

        That does not surprise me! Surly a focus helicoid is not out of the realm of possibility. The lens I’m having done it to be mounted in one…

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 23, 2015 at 9:27 am

      I’ve no idea James. At the moment, I don’t even know if this lens is going to be doable.

      • Reply
        JFD
        December 23, 2015 at 12:41 pm

        How about a Steinheil Cassarit 50m 2.8 off a Braun Paxette Super?

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          December 23, 2015 at 5:22 pm

          Is it a nice lens? A new one on me that

          • JFD
            December 23, 2015 at 5:26 pm

            Two words: bubble bokeh. However, the shutter is housed in the lens meaning that the distance to focal plane will be out. Not sure how much that can be adapted.

          • Hamish Gill
            December 24, 2015 at 1:11 pm

            I wouldn’t think the position of the current shutter would be a big issue, assuming it could be locked open. Have you got any photos taken with it, I’m intrigued!

  • Reply
    Francois
    December 23, 2015 at 3:59 am

    My two cents…I had a summarit 40 2.4 from a Minilux converted to M mount by Japan Camera Hunter, great job, nice shade and nice screw in cap, no regrets, only “minus” is that it does not provide click stop aperture so it’s like using a Rollei or a Minox…anyhow the funny thing is that I received more comments on website, Instagram, Twitter than when I show my pics…alas….Would I do it again, yes indeed because it was leica glass to start with, would I do it with another lens, contax yes, others…not sure since the cost of still 65 000 yens on top of the lens costs.
    Great service provided by Bellamy, delivered on time as promised, highly recommended.
    Does that make for better pictures, no of course not, but a great small and sharp lens that fits over all M bodies.
    BTW…a great Christmas gift idea!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 23, 2015 at 9:39 am

      Hi Francois,
      Have you any links to picture of it and taken with it?

  • Reply
    foto2021
    December 23, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    I would have chosen the Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 from the Olympus mju-II (Stylus Epic in USA).

    It is a very compact lens with superlative optics.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 23, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      He doesn’t convert them

    • Reply
      Blinx
      December 23, 2015 at 12:21 pm

      Rear focus on the MjuII would present a challenge for anyone retro-fitting the lens into a helical thread.

      • Reply
        Hamish Gill
        December 23, 2015 at 12:28 pm

        Yeah. I was just thinking that with regard to Ken’s comments about using aps camera lenses. The rear focus of some of these cameras must be very short indeed!

  • Reply
    Blinx
    December 23, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    This will be an intriguing experiment, Hamish. Some of the late period film compacts had interesting lenses, but were hamstrung by mediocre build quality bodies, or laggy AF, or a lack of parts. Lens donation may be the most practical use for them in the long term, though the price of conversion means most will end up as landfill unless someone invents a cheap converter, or a men-in-sheds friendly web guide.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 23, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      Have you seen ‘filmosaur’s’ blog – he’s tried a few – https://filmosaur.wordpress.com/?s=Hack&submit=Search

      Funnily enough I was just thinking how cool a little kit for trying this sort of thing would be. There was one around a while back for nex cameras ‘vnex’ or something it was called. But that was really just a helicoid for enlarger lenses I think.

      I have a mate who intends to get a lathe at some point, I shall hassle him when he does 😉

  • Reply
    François
    December 23, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Hi,
    Link to pics of the lens: http://photogab.blogspot.ca/2015/10/summarit-24-40mm-ou-la-recherche-de.html
    Two taken pre-conversion, for those who know of Robert Frank’s the Americans:
    http://photogab.blogspot.ca/2015/09/je-pensais-au-livre-americans-de-robert.html
    Post-conversion: waiting for my films to be processed.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 24, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks François, a neat looking conversion that! I did consider it before I bought my 40mm ‘cron.

  • Reply
    John M
    December 23, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Great stuff Hamish. I think the Ricoh is the right choice. I just like the fact you’re choosing the underdog and letting it shine. It will be unique, and a testament to your hobby and the connections across countries that allow this kind of experiment to succeed. Looking forward to the results and the images.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 24, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks John! 🙂

  • Reply
    Filmosaur
    December 28, 2015 at 3:45 am

    What sort of things are you expecting from this lens? Really, those are the only criteria that matter when it comes to choosing a donor and designing a barrel and mount. I know there are some lenses your builder won’t convert, but if you’re compromising where it counts it’s not really worth spending that kind of money. My experiments have all been very low budget, so I had little to lose, but at least with the 35/2.8 from the Nikon L35AF that I converted I had a pretty good idea of what I was after. I’ve always liked the Sonnar signature, and that was the only camera I could find with a Sonnar-formula 35mm lens. With the donor Industar-50 chopped down I figured I would get the size down close to the tiny Elmar 35/3.5, which was also very much a part of the plan.

    Hacking a lens into a different mount isn’t really difficult if you’ve got a donor of the same focal length. My 35mm Nikon hack ended up as a zone focus lens because the donor was a 50mm. This doesn’t bother me in the least with a wide that I intend to use mostly as a compact street shooter: just set at 3m and shoot. Wanting a working RF coupling does limit your choices for donor bodies, or forces you to pay someone who can build one. Me, I’m cheap.

    BTW, if you want to see a few recent results with this lens, you can have a look at this: https://filmosaur.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/fading/

    Hamish, if you have any questions about your project that you think I can help with, feel free to ask.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 28, 2015 at 9:50 am

      Hello mate, nice to hear from you. Weighing up everything, this lens was the one that seemed to make the most amount of sense. It’s a high quality 2.8 lens that can (hopefully) be made into a pancake lens with a thread mount. That’s the least possible set of compromises, if that makes sense?
      I’m definitely not adverse to trying to make something myself. In fact, I have a few ideas including one inspired by your blog using a 26mm fixed focus lens off a cheap canon I have knocking around. When the time comes, you can definitely expect to find me asking you silly questions 😉

  • Reply
    Christos Theofilogiannakos
    December 29, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    An interesting experiment! My vote to the Ricoh which has the best lens I’ve seen in a P&S film camera (an affordable one that is) plus selling a T4 instead of destroying it is much more sensible. However, without knowing how much it will cost you, are you sure it’s worth the money / trouble? You’re sort of paving the way for other people of course, and this can be very rewarding by itself! Looking forward to some results from the combo!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      December 29, 2015 at 9:53 pm

      Am I sure it’s worth the money? No, not entirely, but sometimes you have to take a punt … And as you say, if it gives others ideas, then that’s definitely a good thing!

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