I do like a focusing tab on a rangefinder lens, I just find focusing slightly more intuitive somehow. Generally speaking I also find the lack of requirement to grip the focusing wheel to also be a slightly more effective of way focusing without introducing unnecessary movement to the camera. So when Taab was pointed out to me, I thought I’d found the perfect solution to add a focusing tab to my lenses that don’t have one. Of course, the Taab isn’t currently available to buy, it’s still in its beta testing phase, so I contacted them to find out if I could be a part of that process. The answer was yes, and this post represents my findings of my testing process; it’s half intended as a product review, and half feedback to Taab.
After a brief email chat with Nate from Taab, he agreed to send me a one for review, but luckily for me, and in fact the rest of the people in the beta testing program, we all received all three sizes of Taab – mini, standard and hefty. You can see the size of lens for which these are intended on the Taab website here.
Once I knew I was to receive all three, what I had in mind for them became three specific lenses in my box of rangefinder tricks – the 90mm elmar for the mini, the 28mm 1.9 Voigtlander for the standard, and the 50mm 1.1 Voigtlander for the hefty…
The Hefty Taab and Voigtlander 50mm f1.1
The Voigtlander 50mm f1.1 was the first lens I mounted a Taab on and actually what completely sold me on the idea of it almost straight away…
Faced with the Taab in one hand and the lens in the other, the first question that came to mind was at what angle the Taab should be mounted. Ordinarily – at least on 50mm and wider lenses – focus tabs are seemingly set so that infinity is around 225 degrees around them as you look at it from the front. Some of my lenses seem to be a bit less than this, but it seems – looking at my cross section of gear – that this is around the standard. From this point the focus wheel is turned clockwise (when you are holding the camera to your eye) toward close focus. The focus throw (the amount of rotation from infinity to close focus) varies from one lens to the next with older lenses having about 180 degrees, and newer lenses as little as 90 degrees throw. My 1970’s 35mm Summicron has maybe around 135 degrees.
The Voigtlander 50mm f1.1 is a fairly new lens and has quite a short focus throw. So, if it did have a lens tab, the throw of the tab would be orientated around the lower c.90 degrees of the lens – between 135 and 225 degrees. So when mounting the Taab on the lens, this seemed the logical position to locate it. But, perhaps because of the large size of the lens, it didn’t feel quite as natural as I’d hoped. By re-orientating the Taab to the lower left c.90 degrees – actually probably around the 100-190 degrees of rotation – all of a sudden the experience was changed to one of complete comfort.
One of the advantages of a lens with a tab is that the focusing hand is freed up to support the camera, with only one finger required for the action of focusing. With the Taab oriented this way I was able to find a comfortable way to support the camera with my thumb and focus with my forefinger at the same time. This instantly made me feel more comfortable with the lens and it felt like focusing it was a good deal easier, and surprisingly, it felt a lot more precise.
Another completely unexpected benefit of the Taab with the behemoth Voigtlander 50mm f1.1 is that it actually provides some protection to the lenses focusing wheel, which otherwise interacts with whatever surface the camera is placed on.
If I had one complaint about the Taab on the 50mm it would be that the broadness of the band meant the imperial scale was covered over on the focusing scale. My brain works in metric when it comes to shorter distances, so this wasn’t a problem for me. I have also read that the final version of the Taab won’t be quite as broad.
So, one lens and one tab down, and one unmitigated success case for the Taab! Things are looking good for these unsuspecting bits of neoprene.
The Taab and Leica 90mm Elmar
The next lens I went to test was the 90mm elmar. If you aren’t familiar with this lens let me tell you one thing about it, it’s thin! Mounting it on pretty much anything other than a Barnack Leica makes it look pretty daft. It’s so thin in fact that even the smallest mini Taab was far too big.
I initially thought of this as an issue, but the more I have experimented with the Taab on various lenses, the more I realise it isn’t actually particularly practical for it to rotate past this 235 degree point that most tabbed lenses infinity sits. The 90mm elmar – as well as being thin – also has a c.315 degree throw. Since it’s so long, the Taab’s finger grip would end up in no mans land somewhere between 235 and 360 degrees. The are occasions where having the tab around this area of the lens can be useful, but for normal use its just not practical. The problem is, as soon as you start using the Taab around that right hand side of the lens(with the camera to your eye), it becomes uncomfortable not to block lens with your left hand as you focus. Of course you could just not use the tab when focusing takes it into that area, but then it just seems a little pointless to use one at all if it’s not useful all the time. In short, I’m not convinced Taab works that well on long throw lenses.
The Taab and Voigtlander 28mm
The Voigtlander 28mm was actually the right size for the smallest Taab, but apart from me misjudging the sizes of these things, the experience was as positive as it was with the 50mm. With the 28mm I put the Taab on in the normal position with infinity being at 235 degrees. Like the Voigtlander 50mm it also has around 90 degrees of throw, but more like normal sized tabbed lenses it feels quite natural for it to rotate around the lower part of the lens in use.
More came from the test on my 28mm than this though, and that was a discovery I made though testing it whilst I was walking the dogs. I have a couple of sight hounds, Whippets to be precise, well sort of, one of them is crossed with Lab, but that’s by the by. Whippets are fast dogs, and being sight hounds they like to chase things. This means that for a large part of a walk, they stay on a lead. This in turn means that when walking them I only have one hand spare as the other is attached to a pair of mutts. I mention this as it means that to shoot with my rangefinder all my focusing has to be pre-set zone focusing as ordinarily it’s nigh on impossible to focus a rangefinder with one hand with the camera to the eye.
This is unless of course you have a Taab mounted on your lens with the tab located in what I previously called no mans land; the right hand side of the lens. I’m not going to tell you that this was a pleasurable way to focus, but with my grip mounted on the M-A I was able to use a spare little finger to make adjustments to the focusing with my right hand whilst holding the camera to my eye; I was able to hold and focus my rangefinder with one hand!
Possibly useful for people with a disability?
This might be a limited usage case for me, but it did make me wonder if it would be an advantage to those who’s left arm is a little more permanently less functional, or maybe even those who don’t have have a left arm at all. When I worked in camera retail, there were at least three people with various disabilities who we worked out various camera operating rigs for, each and everyone of them expressed dismay at there not being more slightly less heath robinson solutions on the market to help them. Perhaps just a passing thought for me since my most disabling affliction is a pair of excitable mutts once in a while, but since it came to mind, it seemed worth a mention…?
Some other experiments
The experiment with the 28mm made me wonder if I could add the Taab to the lens I use the most – my 50mm Summicron. Unfortunately – at least for the sake of this post – the 50mm Summicron v4 already has a tab. Like most the other tabbed lenses in my box, the throw is around the lower 90 degrees which is very comfortable to use with both hands, but of course not practical with one hand at all. So I tried adding the Taab. It didn’t work, it completely covers the focusing scale and looks and feels largely ridiculous!
Next job was to try a lens that focuses the other way, i.e. clockwise toward infinity. Nikon seem to do things this way round. It’s funny it used to seem so logical to me, these days it pickles my head, especially with a Taab mounted. I suppose though, if that is the way your lenses work, it won’t confuse you like it did me. I have to say though I didn’t find a focus Taab on an SLR lens to make as much sense to me either. Maybe it is just because it isn’t the norm, or really even ever a thing, or maybe it is because I am so far out of my comfort zone with an SLR that it didn’t feel right. On my Nikon F2, I just kept on grabbing the lenses focusing wheel as if it wasn’t on there. It also covered the focusing scale on my old 50mm entirely. ]
To be honest though, if you are thinking of trying a Taab on an SLR lens, I probably wouldn’t take to much heed of my comments here – despite still owning a couple of SLR’s, I am in deep with rangefinders now; other cameras generally feel a little alien.
Fly-by-wire focusing digital lens
The last test – as much as anything else – was to try out the standard sized Taab. The first camera that came to mind for this was my works camera, the Sony A7s and 35mm f2.8. It fits a treat, looks and feels ok to use… that is until I remembered how annoying I find fly-by-wire focusing lenses. Since there is no fixed start and end point to the focusing wheel it’s a right faff to set the Taab to a sensible point. And since fly-by-wire is speed sensitive, it also drifts in use. But again, this is more a whine about the tech rather than the Taab. If you are used to fly-by-wire focusing, you might find it less annoying, for me personally, it was entirely incompatibile!
My Conclusions on the Taab
I have some minor reservations about its physical breadth covering focusing scales on some lenses, but as I say this seems to be a problem they are in the process of solving. I am also looking forward to seeing the final product as the finish – as warned – on the beta version isn’t perfect. I also don’t think it is very suitable for lenses with a long focusing throw, it doesn’t feel quite right to me on and SLR and focusing with a fly-by-wire lens with one just doesn’t make any sense at all – for my tastes at least.
But, overall I think it is a great idea! I actually also think – though I might be wrong here; I haven’t asked – that the idea originated as an addition for rangefinder lenses above and beyond anything else. On rangefinder lenses it just makes sense to have a focusing tab.
After trying the Taab I think I am actually more sold on lenses with a tab – using a Taab has just made me realise how much I do appreciate a lens tabbed lens… Saying that though, trying the Taab on my 50mm v4 Summicron made me almost wish it didn’t have a focusing tab, just so I could put a Taab on it. Being able to adjust the position of the Taab around circumference of the lens somehow just seems to make sense to me – Being able to adjust to taste and circumstance on a whim was surprisingly useful. Maybe it’s time I upgraded to a v5 Summicron… …
In short, if you have got a rangefinder lens that doesn’t have a tab, I’d very much recommend pre-ordering yourself a Tabb
Thanks for reading