I think I may have mentioned once or twenty times that I shoot a huge proportion of my work on two focal lengths, the 50mm and 28mm. Now, the thing is that over the years my kit has slowly been set up around these focal lengths — the M3 being rather obviously for the 50mm, and the choice of the M4-P based around the fact it was the only affordable M-mount body to house the 28mm framelines. But things have since changed after the purchase of the Zeiss 21mm.
I do like to think that I can guess the correct exposure for most scenes to within a stop, a skill of sorts that I forced myself to pick up ever since getting these meterless bodies, but most days I languish in the luxury of having the Voigtlander VC clip-on meters do the heavy lifting for my brain. It certainly helps in a pinch knowing roughly what the right exposure is, as things do go awry from time to time, with the meter dials being bumped out of position and the such. But to get to the point, I greatly prefer a VC meter permanently occupying the hot shoe of both cameras.
Now, this complicates things when shooting with any lens requiring an external viewfinder, as in the case of the 21mm. On both cameras — or almost any camera, really — there is only one of those precious shoes of which all kinds of accessories can be slotted right into.
This is where the handy dandy double shoe accessory comes into play.
The Original Voigtlander
But first, a story of a mythical product from long, long ago, when the film dinosaurs roamed the earth as apex predators. Cosina Voigtlander, helmed by the innovative Kobayashi-san, made 3 slightly different variants of a double cold shoe for the pairing up of any accessory you’d like to slap on the top of your camera. These variants differed in their clearance height off the top plate of the camera, and this dictated what models they would fit on, which was all well and good for the many species of rangefinder both in and out of production.
The double shoe was a beautiful thing to behold, hewn from solid metal and sturdy enough to last a lifetime. In chrome, they were also aesthetically pleasing, and paired nicely with the classic rangefinders on which they were supposed to go onto. It was short enough that it never interfered with any of the controls on say, your good old M3 or M6, and could even allow you to operate the rewinding cranks while the shoe and reasonably-sized accessories remained attached.
Alas, these too, went the way in the great extinction event of the 00s, and prices of this already rare bird shot up to well over a hundred American dollaroos on the open market. As much as I thought I would benefit from owning one, I couldn’t bring myself to splurge that sort of cash on something I would most likely not end up using too much given my choice of lenses. And so I waited it out.
The New Kid on the Block
So, it came very much as an incredibly pleasant surprise when Alex Hakimi (who has incidentally been on this site as a guest author himself) dropped me a message asking if I’d like to have one of his brand new 3D printed double cold shoe accessories. As with all fair reviews, I should mention at this point that it was sent to me gratis in exchange for my honest opinion on it as I put it through its paces in my daily use.
Much like the original Voigtlander design that it takes a lot after, his m_v foto double shoe similarly has the basic design of an offset shoe mount at the bottom, and two cold shoes spaced apart at the top. The way the cold shoes themselves have been designed also draw rather heavily from its forerunner, with two nubs to stop the accessory from falling out the front once it’s in place, and a springy pad on the bottom to hold it firmly in place.
Now that the similarities are out of the way, let’s get down to the more interesting changes (and arguably improvements) that Alex has made to the design offered up a whole two decades ago. I definitely don’t claim to know much about 3D printing and the materials that are available for makers, but from what Alex patiently explained to this slightly more chemistry-literate harebrain here, he settled on the type of nylon used here, nylon 12, whilst testing materials for a bigger project. Nylon 12 is the sort of polymer you usually find in insulating cables and other applications that require really high resistance to cracking under stress, making it very suitable for, well, holding your precious and expensive photographic accessories in place while you swing and bash them about.
Admittedly, it doesn’t confer the same sense of durability that one made out of brass or steel would, but that is probably down to our preconceptions as opposed to what nylon can really offer as a material. There is also the unforeseen benefit of the thing being lighter than the Voigtlander, though the difference is negligible on such a small scale!
Unlike the Voigtlander as well, which had 3 versions which were pretty much identical in all aspects other than the clearance between the bottom of the cold shoe and the top plate of the camera to accommodate a multitude of rangefinders across the board, the m_v foto double shoe has its own variants that in its case are tailored for specific camera models. For example, one of the variants made for the M2/3-style rewind knob has a length that just about allows the use of the knob with the accessory still attached to the top plate, though in use you may have to dismount the, say, overhanging finder attached to the double shoe to comfortably and quickly operate the knob. At the time of writing, there are variants out for the M-bodies, some of the Barnack bodies, and even the Nikon S rangefinders have one that is in the works — so users of those cameras can rejoice!
The Double Shoe in Use
With my beloved M4-P away for a well-deserved overhaul, the only camera I could really test this product on was the chrome M3, so this review will pretty much be based entirely on this experience. Mounting the double shoe onto the camera is about as fuss-free as you can get, aided greatly by the addition of a little cork buffer on the bottom of the free hanging end. This little buffer helps to prevent the already unlikely instance of the accessory marring the top plate of my M3 — though this has already been done decades ago by some rather careless mounting of a Leicameter, bugger that. It also fills up the empty space under the double shoe, which does give the confidence that there won’t be undue stress from mechanical moment about the offset mounting shoe when heavier accessories are put on it, unlike the older Voigtlander which just left it floating above a gap.
The mounting shoe seems to be well modelled, produced, and buffed out, as I can’t detect any grittiness as it slides on and off, and yet manages to hang on tight when fully slotted in. The end of the accessory sits flush with the back of the cold shoe on the M3, and there aren’t any bits hanging off that to hook onto shirts and straps and the like. All good.
In the short 3 months I have had the accessory so far, as mentioned above my main use case was to mount both my large 21mm plastic Voigtlander finder and the Voigtlander VC II meter at the same time for the ultimate lazy shooting experience. While talking with Alex, he did mention that while designing the double shoe, he made sure that it would fit the VC meter in the right slot and a mini viewfinder in the left, with the idea being that the right thumb would still be within easy reach of the button on the back of the meter, and the viewfinder would also just be right above the camera’s viewfinder, allowing for very rapid focusing and then composing. Also, it would be ergonomically better for left-eye-dominant shooters, of which Alex is.
Being a right-eyed shooter, this wasn’t as much of a concern to me, so I’ve run mine with the viewfinder in the traditional position, right above the lens, and the VC meter left to overhang. This is partially because I would rather have that slight bit more accuracy when it comes to parallax error, though it is very negligible in the way I shoot the 21mm, and partially because, well, the fatter plastic finder that came with my Biogon just happens to be too large to metaphorically share the couch with the VC meter in Alex’s intended configuration. While I haven’t made the effort to do actual testing myself, I’d expect this to be a problem with most of the larger viewfinders from Zeiss and the like. No matter, it really does feel sturdy enough that I just shove the whole setup right into my bag with absolute fearlessness, though as a disclaimer it really might be better for people wishing to emulate my arrangement to dismount the meter before doing so.
I also have treated the mounting and dismounting of accessories from the double shoe with equal carelessness. Though the small instruction manual that came in the package warns to, and I quote, “ *always* insert and remove shoe accessories while the double shoe is off of the camera”, I have embarrassingly just done so while the double shoe was decidedly on the camera. No harm has been done so far, though I would hasten to caution against such recklessness.
The (Possible) Ruining of Aesthetics
Well, after all of that rambling on and on about the arguable improvements over the Voigtlander product, it only seems fair that I addressed the elephant in the room. A couple of my friends have pointed out that the black, plasticky (well, nylon-y) blob can look rather out of place on a finely crafted and polished chrome-finished camera, which the Voigtlander double shoe does very well at matching. How something looks on a camera is a quality that ranks very low on the list of things to worry about in my mind, so this wasn’t something that struck me all the while I was using the double shoe. But in spite of this, I do recognise that some owners have gone to painstaking lengths to customize their prized camera, adorning it with well-crafted soft shutter releases and brass hot shoe covers, and something like this might not be what they are looking for.
Perhaps another colour than plain matte black might elevate the aesthetic qualities for the portion of the market that does care about this sort of thing? Personally I rather like the robust, utilitarian look that my particular unit brings to my setup. Horses for courses, I suppose.
For a long while I was quite surprised that no one had really stepped up to fill the gap left behind by Voigtlander’s inexplicable departure from making these quirky accessories. Perhaps it was just too small to be economically viable for such a large company. Yes, there are a bunch of other 3D printed alternatives floating about, but I don’t think they have yet to match both the finishing and the thought behind their designs as the m_v foto.
And the price, the price!
I thought I might leave the best tidbit for last. All of this comes at a whopping… 34 US Dollars.
That’s all you need to pony up for something that will enhance shooting with multiple accessories at once, if that’s your schtick. Sure, there might not be the same exquisite feel of a metal double shoe, but I think it’s high time to leave the comparisons with the Voigtlander behind, and to look at it as its own thing: a well thought out piece of kit. This has my stamp of approval for sure!
For more on the double shoe and availability, you can head over here.