I’m having all sorts of short-telephoto lens decision woes at the moment. I want to have a 90mm lens (or there about) within my selection of Leica mount lenses – primarily for use on my M9. The problem is, I increasingly find myself incapable of focusing properly, especially at wider apertures. I’ve recently found myself tempted into shooting autofocus cameras as an alternative, but find myself annoyed at the idea of having a whole other system just to solve a desire to once in a while take photos with a slightly longer lens.
The answer has for a long time seemed obvious. I need to try a good viewfinder magnifier. The problem is, I’ve tried a couple cheaper ones that I don’t seem to be able to get on with well enough to persist with. When temptation has piqued to try a good(/expensive) one in the past, this inability to use a cheaper one has put me off forking out the extra cash, especially of one of the Leica ones which are £200(!!). It would be mad to shell out that sort of cash only to find that like the others it’s fairly useless to me. What I needed was a mate/friendly 35mmc reader to loan me one… thanks Des! 😉
Fortunately, myself and Des have met; we’ve bought/sold/exchanged gear in the past so he knows he can trust me with his eye-wateringly expensive Leica 1.4x viewfinder magnifier. In some ways, I’d actually hoped the damned thing wouldn’t work for me. They are so bloody expensive to buy new, I could do without the temptation to buy one.
If you aren’t familiar with the Leica viewfinder magnifiers they are available in 1.4x and 1.25x and come in little leather pouches that are designed to attach to your camera strap. Inside the pouch contain the viewfinder magnifier and a little metal chain that attaches it to the strap lug on your camera. After all, you wouldn’t want to lose one of these things!
When attached, the chain reminds me of one of those things some people use to hang their specs around their necks – you know when they put the glasses on, usually half way down their nose, and the chain/cord hangs down the side of their face…? Just me maybe…? Anyway, the chain on the Leica 1.4x viewfinder magnifier just sort of flaps around in a annoying flimsy looking way that only really gives a mild reassurance that you won’t lose the thing.
Attached to the camera the 1.4x is a fairly big chunk of a thing too! It pokes out of the back of the camera more than any other of these things that I’ve tried to date.
These gripes aside, when push comes to shove it’s hard to deny the quality. In terms of build, its top notch and optically, it’s nigh on perfect! It provides perfect clarity to the view, and doesn’t seem to darken in at all, with my only complaint being a subtle pincushioning, but even this is hardly noticeable.
Admittedly, it does take a small amount of getting used to. When I first used this one, I felt like I was losing a sense of the edge of the viewfinder. It’s also a little harder to easily see the shutter speed readout in the M9, but it’s far from impossible – you just have to look down into the finder.
Once you get used to, it just works. My hit rate with the 90mm at f/2.8 went from the odd shot here and there being in focus, to almost every shot every time.
The 1.4x I have here takes the M9s 0.68x viewfinder to around 0.95x. It takes the standard 0.72x finder to pretty much exactly 1x. In practice, this takes the 50mm frame lines quite close to the edge of the viewfinder, but they’re still very usable.
The main advantage for me comes when shooting the 90mm. Not only in the rangefinder patch magnified and therefore so much more accurate, but with frame lines becoming quite a bit bigger too, I have found framing to be easier too!
So what about the cheap alternatives?
The main difference between this and the cheaper ones I’ve tried previously is primarily that this one doesn’t have diopter adjustment. This might sound like a negative, but in practice the lack of ability to change it means that it doesn’t get changed. On both the cheaper ones I have used, the diopter would get adjusted against my clothes between shots meaning I’d have to set it each time. Not only this, but both my cheaper ones seem to make the image darker, and somehow more hazy, even when the diopter is set right.
As much as it pains me to say it, this Leica 1.4x viewfinder magnifier is bloody good! It does exactly what it’s supposed to, and does it without fuss. It’s a bit big, and the security chain – though probably more effective than I’m giving it credit for – just looks stupid.
£200! Wow! You’ll have to make your own mind up about that one. I’m going to get my arse on eBay and keep an eye out for a second hand one – unless anyone has any other recommendations?
Cheers for reading (and cheers for the loan Des!)