The Omnar CN26-6 is a 26mm f/6, fixed aperture, rangefinder coupled, wide angle, snapshot lens for Leica M-mount cameras. On paper, it sounds absolutely brilliant to me, but then I might be slightly biased, it was my idea…
Back in the early part of lockdown I got in touch with Chris Andreyo from Skyllaney Optomechanics after he announced he was working towards bringing the ‘Bertelle‘ lens to market. With it being a 50mm f/2 Sonnar, and me being quite excited by Sonnar lenses – and reading that he was going to be designing and making the thing in the UK – I felt I needed to chat with this guy. So I rang him. I think that first call lasted around 3 hours – it was very clear from day one that we had a hell of a lot in common in terms of the way we think about lenses and photography.
At that stage, I’d already approached the Chinese about working with me to make a lens, but in all honesty, I hadn’t been entirely convinced by the direction of travel with that idea. But, through that process, I had come to some conclusions about the range of lenses I’d like to create. I happened to mention this to Chris one day on a subsequent phone call. At which point, without any prompt from me, he reeled off a list of lenses he would like to bring to market. It was a bit like he had reached into my head and described exactly what I had been thinking. It wasn’t long before we started talking about working together.
Of course, bringing lenses to market isn’t exactly cheap. This was something we knew but confirmed further through the process of working with Jason Lane to bring a lens to market using our own optics. We’ve got to the stage of having all the optical diagrams ready, and have even sorted the types of coatings we will use on the glass – we just don’t have the capital to make it work. Not yet, at least. We talked about going to Kickstarter, and we might yet do that, but before we go down that path, we felt it would be valuable to prove ourselves with some lenses made under our own steam.
Optics are definitely the expensive bit, and with Chris’s personal expertise being in making mechanical designs for optical housings, we figured the best path would be to look at rehousing optics that already exist – the obvious contenders being optics out of compact cameras and other lenses that don’t natively fit or easily adapt to Leica. But where to start…?
This was where mine and Chris’s thoughts diverged slightly. Chris wanted to make a platform for housing Contax RF lenses that didn’t involve having to dismantle and reuse Russian LTM lenses. I wanted him to make a platform for rehousing compact camera lenses. Where the ideas converged once again was in Chris’s plan to make a platform that could do both.
We soon decided to create a new brand, ‘Omnar Lenses’ a joint venture between my company ‘It’s Appened’ (the LTD behind pixl-latr) and his company ‘Skyllaney Optomechanics’. Under this brand we would work together. We would co-fund the project, Chris would design, and I would market and sell our creations.
The Omnar CN26-6 is a 26mm f/6
The Omnar CN26-6 is our first creation. As I have already said, it is a 26mm f/6, fixed aperture, rangefinder coupled, wide angle, snapshot lens for Leica M-mount cameras.
The lens body is machined mostly from brass in the UK, the parts are then painted by CameraKote, then assembled with the optic and calibrated by Chris up in Scotland. As such, all but the lens mount and rear lens cap is made in the UK. Even our packaging is hand made in the UK by a company called Midnight Awl.
The optics in the Omnar CN26-6, believe it or not, are from an entry-level point and shoot from the early 2000s, the Canon AF-10. These cameras are super-basic, and are really just one step up from a disposable camera. But the lens in them is great.
Quite a while ago now – probably 5-6 years ago – I ended up with a large pile of these very basic cameras. Some I’d bought in a job lot from ebay, others picked up from charity shops, etc. They are the types of cameras that tend to get overlooked, especially these days – mostly because the lenses are quite slow; some as slow at f/8 or even f/11. I decided to go through my pile of these cameras and work out which one had the lens with the most potential. Actually, I didn’t shoot many of them – the cameras in most cases were just a bit too basic (or broken) for me to be bothered with at the time. Instead I did a lot of reading online, and the more I read, the more the Canon AF-10 jumped out at me, and there were a few reasons for that.
The first was the fact that it is made of glass. Or at least it appeared to me to be. In fact, it is glass and polycarbonate (the stuff cheaper eyeglasses lenses are made of). It’s also coated, and to top it off – unlike a lot of lenses out of these entry cameras – it’s an f/6.
After finding all this out, I decided I wanted to be able to mount this lens to my Leica cameras. After playing around with some body caps and sugru, I eventually had a mate machine me a little housing for me that would slot into the back of a metal LTM lens cap.
This was great, as with a bit of trial and error, we managed to make a bit of metal that set the lens at something close to its hyperfocal distance. I could even unscrew the lens in its mount for closer focusing if I wanted to. I wrote about that conversion job here.
It was then that I discovered just how good this lens is. Yes it has character – it vignettes a bit can produce some interesting flare, and the sharpness falls off toward the edges of the frame. But actually, it is surprisingly sharp, contrasty and produces really nice colour. It even does pretty decent bokeh… at least as decent as you can get out of a 26mm f/6 lens.
But as cool as that was, it wasn’t quite enough. I wanted this lens in a proper housing. I thought about sending it to MS Optics via JCH, but I had been down that road before, and as happy as I was with the outcome, I always felt there was something a little lacking in the overall finish and feel. And besides, by that time, I think MS had stopped working on these conversions.
This was the reason that this little Canon came to mind first when me and Chris first started talking about what point and shoot lenses we should house. I sent my earlier modded lens to Chris to play with, and he confirmed my feelings about the optic. In fact, he went a bit further and compared it to some of his vintage LTM mount wides such as the CZJ 28mm f/8, and low and behold he found it to be a better quality lens in almost all regards. He even found it compared favourably to some of the earlier Leica 28mm lenses.
We had our first donor optic!
The next step was to design a housing that could be used for this optic and, and more importantly others in the future. As mentioned, me and Chris have very similar ideas when it comes to lenses. When it comes to the mechanics of a lens, both of us like lenses that feel absolutely the part; nice and heavy, smooth focusing, high apparent build quality – this sort of thing means a lot to both of us.
Chris’s background actually required him to make very high precision equipment, so he is no stranger to working with very fine tolerances. And the Omnar CN26-6 is made to very fine tolerances! When we were specifying it in terms of the focusing, we got to the point of making 5 micron adjustments in terms of the space within the thread – the result of this is incredibly smooth focusing without any wobble or give. I’m extremely pleased with how nice the lens feels to use in practice.
We have even made it so it can focus down to 0.3m as an option. Of course, it is only RF coupled down to 0.67m, and we will do a version that only focuses down to this distance for those who are happy with that as a close focus distance. But for those who want the 0.3m close focusing and are happy to guess focusing (or use live view on digitals) the option is there.
And that’s not the only option we are going to offer to customers interested in one of these lenses. Because we are going to be making these lenses to order, the customer can choose the paint finish too. We have 3 standard finishes – Matte Black Chrome Cerakote, Silver Chrome Cerakote and High Gloss Black Lacquer – all hand painted by Camerakote. And then, for a small premium, the customer can even choose their own paint finish. All the paint options will then have the distance scale engraved into them on the focus ring and a small depth of field scale on the mount.
We are also allowing customers to remove the ‘Omnar Lenses’ branding from the front of the lens and have up to 12 characters of their own engraved on the front. We will even be offering heavy and light focusing weight options.
In short, it is our plan to make lenses to our customers’ specification with as high a build quality as we can muster – basically, it’s exactly the service we would want from a company making lenses. So that’s the service we are offering.
I love the photos this lens takes – personally, I think it makes for great snaps. It’s really quick and easy to focus, and with the f/6 aperture, hyperfocal shooting is a no-brainer in a lot of circumstances.
I personally think the images work really nicely for black and white conversion – this is one of the images I took with the original prototype.
For those looking for a little more detail with regard to how the Omnar CN26-6 performs, we have been taking some sample shots on film and digital. Digital first. This first one shows off just how capable this lens is centre frame.
Here’s a 100% crop – it’s been killed a little by the internet, but hopefully you can see there is a good amount of resolving power there. If you want to zoom in more, you can find a high resolution version on my flickr here
I took this shot with the lens at it’s 0.3m close focus setting – the fixed round aperture makes for interesting bokeh I think:
You can also see out of focus rendering in this image:
Of course, as with many wide angle lenses, when mounted on digital cameras, colour shifts can happen toward the edges, but this is easily fixed with Cornerfix, and actually is all but entirely remedied by choosing one or another of Leica’s built-in lens profiles. This was taken on a Leica M240, the colour shift is less on the M10.
Black & White Converted Digital
I would never dream of prescribing how a lens should be used, but for me, shooting this lens mounted on one of my film Leicas was the dream. I rarely carry more than one lens, choosing most often a 50mm for my Leica. But I love the idea of having a little wide I can carry everywhere and swap out when the mood takes me. I especially like a wide with a bit of a vignette that I can shoot with black and white film. These shots were taken with an earlier prototype with Kosmo Foto Mono 100 on holiday in Wales in the summer and they came out exactly as I had hoped they might!
And a couple of colour shots I took on the same holiday
The Omnar Lenses Ethos
Hopefully, all that gives some strong clues about the Omnar Lenses ethos. For us, this is about making lenses that feel a little bit special. Also, for me, choosing an optic like this one hopefully says something about our approach too. Yes – as you will see if you explore our website – we do have much more obvious plans in terms of optics we are rehousing. But this isn’t just about housing optics that seem like the obvious choice, this is about housing optics that are interesting to us, and/or our customers – sometimes for reasons that might not make sense to the masses!
The value of an optic to me is in the images it lets me make – this is a long held belief of mine, and something I talked about in this article about defining the perfect lens. This isn’t about specifications, it’s not about objective quality, it’s about an optics that is capable of producing an image that I like and that I think others will like too.
Me and Chris know that not every lens we make will appeal to every customer – we only have a maximum of about 20-30 (depending on the condition when we inspect them closely) that we are going to make of this lens, so I am actually hoping that only a few people want one. But that’s the point of what we are doing here. Almost every other manufacturer on the market is in the business of making kit that’s designed to appeal to as many people as possible. It’s much easier to do that – and it certainly guarantees more sales. And that’s great for them, and it’s great for the majority of customers. But what about the minority who want something a little different but still want a high build quality lens…?
I like to think we are taking a leaf out of the books of the cinema industry, and specifically companies like Zero Optik. In the world of cinema, the creatives look for unusual optics that allow them to create images to their exact desires. But alongside this, they look for extremely high mechanical quality. That’s what companies like Zero Optik provide the cinema world, and that’s what we want to provide to the photography world. Something special to those who want it. Our lenses might not make sense to those who don’t want them, but that’s fine… if they’re lucky, one day, we might make a lens that does appeal to them! In the meanwhile, me and Chris will take a great deal of satisfaction making lenses that appeal to our niche customers. We will also enjoy shooting the lenses we make for ourselves too!
The Omnar CN26-6 is now available to preorder off our website