GETTING A GRIP
(Note: the original article was
published in "The Viewfinder" magazine and a pdf of that
Last updated April 20, 2009
The Leitz (Leica) Telyt 400/f6.8 follow-focus telephoto lens is a marvel of photographic engineering. Even more so, when you realize it was introduced in 1968 and made through 1998! Lightweight and wickedly fast to focus, this manual focus lens is superbly sharp and flare free, with incredible contrast.
The only catch was that mine was an early version. While the optics never changed, the newer models have a nicely molded hand grip, with space for cable or electric release, the original models had only a bent aluminum arm for a grip and it’s hard on the hands! It doesn't accept any form of release, either!
So, I made one. My DIY grip (above), made of hard maple, employed a standard cable release, which worked rather nicely with the Leica R8 or Leicaflex SL. The only hitch was that the cable emerged from the back of the grip, exactly where the web between thumb and index finger sat, so it was not entirely comfortable. The connector for the electric release is now set an inch higher and on the side, and so is much more comfortable.
Like many Leica users, I’ve been recently tempted by the lure of Digital. And like many, I could neither afford, nor justify a Leica DM-R, though I have no doubt it is a magnificent piece of kit. For me, the solution was a Canon 20D. A very good, 8.2mp, digital body, with a variety (Fotodiox [left], Stephen Gandy's CameraQuest and Novoflex) of adapters available which allow use of my Leitz/Leica lenses with it!
Before we get too involved, just a quick note to say that I use the Fotodiox adapter and have found it perfectly satisfactory. Some people I know, who own both the Fotodiox and the CameraQuest adapter, say they are identical, despite an almost US$100 difference in price! Others whom I also respect, own both and say they are similar, but different. I've only experience is with the fotodiox, which I've found very good. The German made Novoflex adapter is considerably more expensive, but much better made, with some rather excellent springs rather than kerf-cut metal (see photos, above) to keep the lenses tight.
I recently purchased a new adapter, direct from China, for about $50, including shipping. This adapter features a "chip" which allows the focus confirmation to work with non-Canon, manual focus lenses! And, it works very well!
An update: I am now (April '08) using an Olympus E3 with the Telyt. I have purchased another Focus Confirmation adapter, this time for Leica-R to Four-Thirds mount. It is very similar to the Canon adapter, above, but it has some "issues". I also tried two of the Russian-made Dandelion AF-confirm chips, which should be even better, because they allow the chip to be programmed to tell the camera just what focal length is installed. However, with the E3 at least, these chips have their own problems. Rather than bore those who are not interested, I have set up a separate page, to deal with Adapter and Oly E3 issues. It can be found here.
Now, back to our main story...
Like many, modern cameras, neither the E3 nor the Canons accept a cable release, as their designers opted for an an electric release, instead. A further hitch is that both use a proprietary (but different) 3 pin connectors, which are almost impossible to obtain, on their own. Unless you wish to attempt building a connector on your own (click here for instructions for the Canon), buy Canon’s RS-80N3 or the Oly RM-CB1 wired remote release.
An Update: Later, I made another setup, this time for the 30D, and purchased a replacement remote, direct from China, for a mere $20, including shipping. It arrived in about 10 days, and works just fine. The switch, in the handle, is not as good as the genuine Canon one, but it works, and the price is just 1/4 the cost. Since we really only want the plug, it's perfectly good enough!
Still later, when I altered the setup for the Olympus E3 (a camera I much prefer to the Canon offerings... despite it's smaller sensor), I purchased another replacement electric release from China, but unlike the 3rd party offering for the Canon, the plug never fit right, nor did it work. Eventually, I purchased the "real McCoy", from Olympus which works just fine. Caveat Emptor!
Cut the wire about 10 or 11” from the camera connector (my cord is 9", and while it works, it is a wee bit tight) and solder a male/female pair of 1/8” stereo headphone connectors, with the male end on the end of the cord attached to control end. Solder the braid to the outside pin, the red wire to the inside pin and the remaining wire to the middle sleeve. (The remaining wire - the Focus wire - can vary in colour. On my Canon, it was white, on my Olympus, it was brown.) This way, you can still use the remote cord as it was intended, later.
As a bonus, if you ever want to extend the cord, you can buy a 50' stereo headphone extension cord at Radio Shack, or somewhere similar, with an 1/8" stereo plug & jack, for around $12 rather than Canon's ET-1000N3 - 10 meter (33 ft) extension cord for nearly $100!
The remote circuitry is very simple in either camera, with just two wires for focus and shutter-release. Short the focus wire (the colour can vary) to the common (copper braid) and the camera will attempt to focus. Short the red wire to the braid and the camera will fire. As long as you do not apply any external voltages, you should have no problems. NOTE: with the OLY E3, you must press short both wires (press both buttons) simultaneously, to get the camera to fire.
Other than the remote (RS-89N3 or RM-CB-1, eiher about $80) I got all the electrical parts at Radio Shack, (In Canada, they're now called "The Source", but they sell the same stuff.) for under $10, so while this is a time consumer, it is not an expensive project.
Both the Canons and the Olympus E3 have a tendency to “go to sleep” after a minute or so. The common wisdom is to wire the focus lead permanently to the common braid. This keeps the camera “awake”, but it also reduces battery life. (That's why the engineers decided to put the cameras to sleep in the first place!)
My solution was to use two push buttons… one for releasing the shutter, the other, on the side, for forcing the camera awake. It quickly becomes automatic to press the white button with the side of your thumb as you bring the camera w/400 Telyt to your eye.
And with the time-out set, via the menu, to 2 minutes, you’ll never have a problem!
The first trick was to bore two holes, one for the 1/8" stereo jack… the other for the shaft of a small push-button switch from which I’d removed the button. This turned a large-ish, garish switch into a neat, tidy, elegant one. I trimmed the hole for the switch with the trim piece for a round, panel-mount LED. No mention of drill sizes here... each person's choice of switches and plugs will be slightly different. Choose your hole sizes with care, based on what you've bought.
Caution! You MUST put the jack on the side (above the white switch has proved very satisfactory). My first version had the jack on the back, but after building it, I discovered, to my chagrin, that plugging the cord into the stereo jack prevented the camera from being rotated to the vertical shooting position!
In the next photo, you can see how the inside of the grip was hollowed out to hold the switch and jack, using a combination of Forstner bits (if you can, use a drill press, rather than a hand drill) and a small sanding tube on a Dremel tool. In fact, I hollowed out much of the insides of both pieces of wood, simply to save weight.
The 1/8” stereo jack, the white switch and its trim piece are held in place with small amounts of 5-Minute epoxy glue.
The wiring is pretty simple, but use care. Life becomes easier if you can use a small, 20 Watt soldering iron… rather than the more common, larger, soldering gun. You don’t want to have any shorts circuits! The camera could "stay awake" or, fire continuously! (In the photo, you can see that black wire is soldered both to the shell of the stereo socket and one side of the white pushbutton. The other end of the black wire will go to one side of the shutter button, & the other end of the red wire will go to the other side of the shutter button.)
I also epoxied the pushbutton into the hole on the front piece. I chose the deluxe $4 button. The smaller ones were half the price (one of these became the 'white' button) , but didn’t have the same “feel”. Finally, the black and red wires were threaded through a hole (make one!) in the aluminum mount and soldered to the two terminals of the pushbutton. Here, polarity doesn't matter.
An update: I later changed the "white" (focus) button for a larger, smoother black one. This is because experience showed that the tiny button was a wee bit hard on the side of the thumb, after several hours of use. There is, otherwise, no difference in operation.
Finally, I drilled the bottom of the front piece, and used epoxy glue to hold a 1/4"-20 'T' nut into the base. This makes a fine monopod socket. The extra stability is welcomed when using an 2x converter to create an 800mm lens!
found that this method of installing the bottom T-nut (with glue) was
not good enough. The nut would frequently come loose. So,
with my Dremel tool, I hollowed out a space in the wood, and mounted
the T nut from the inside, as was meant to be used. I pushed it
into place, after roughening the outside of the shaft with coarse
sandlpaper, and held it in place with more Epoxy. It
has been mounted this way for nearly three years now, and has not
given a moments trouble.
CONCLUSION: When done, the release is very smooth, allowing shots with the 400 Telyt/f6.8,
Close-up photos on this page all taken
with an ELPRO VI and Leica
Text, diagram and photos (c) 2005 & 2007 by David S. Young. World Rights Reserved.