Slide Duplicating Rig Completed! (Converting FL Bellows to NEX Mount!)

 DIY, Photography  Comments Off on Slide Duplicating Rig Completed! (Converting FL Bellows to NEX Mount!)
Feb 022014

I finally got the parts and tools together, and got this rig together.

I have a Canon FL Bellows with a slide duplicator on the end, and a Sony NEX mirrorless camera. Fortunately, the NEX isn’t too picky about accepting other lenses, so long as you have an adapter that ends in an E mount.

I followed the advice in this post on the Fred Miranda forums (which I mentioned earlier), and I figured I would elaborate on how to attach the L39 to NEX mount on to the Bellows FL, because the OP didn’t really go into much detail.

First, get an L39 (Leica Screw Mount) to NEX mount adapter. There are tons of them out there. I got a Fotodiox adapter for about $20 on Amazon. You want one with a shiny metal liner (which the L39 lens would screw into) that’s held in place with 3 grub screws. (Grub screws are headless screws that are buried in little holes on the sides of the barrel.)

To back out the grub screws, you’re going to need the tiniest screwdriver you can get. In my case, I needed a 0.7mm hex head. It’s just the head– it can be screwed into a handle, or you can just use the bit. I found mine at Harbor Freight as part of one of those microtool interchangeable head hand tools.

It also helps if you have a really bright light, and a magnifying glass. You’re going to be dealing with a lot of tiny screws.

Ok, Got Your Stuff? Let’s Install It!

First, remove the FL mount ring. It’s the shiny metal ring on the back of the FL Bellows. Start by removing the two screws holding the handle on, remove the handle, then remove the retaining screw on the ring. Back the ring out by unscrewing it clockwise. (Righty-loosey for once.) The ring should come off pretty easily. If it gets really tight, you’re turning it the wrong way.

When the ring is removed, there should be one little flat-head screw left at the top of the remaining mount. It will poke out into the area you’ll be mounting the L39-NEX adapter, making it impossible to get the adapter to hold on, so back it out. Take all of these parts and store them in a little baggy. Or recycle them. It’s up to you. (I’m in the baggy camp.)

Back out (but don’t remove!) the grub screws in the L39-NEX mount until the threaded shiny liner pops out. You may need to use a tool with a handle to get enough torque to break the seals.

Now you need to attach the NEX mount to the end of the bellows. It’s more of a matter of positioning the mount and making sure the grub screws are tight. There are two tricky parts here.

First, the bottom right screw is hard to get at when the mount is in the correct position. I used just the head of the driver tool. The bellows hardware gets in the way otherwise.

Second, the red dot on the mount needs to be in the right position. I put it right around 9 o’clock on the ring. To get it close enough, I mounted the NEX and carefully backed out one of the grub screws a hair, then gently moved the mount until everything was parallel and square.

I suppose you could add something like Loctite or JB Weld to make sure it never comes off, but in 5 years some other mount may be the favorite of the day, so I would advise against doing that.

What’s going on here is that the grub screws from the mount are grabbing the end of the old FL mount, which is a smooth tube. It’s a friction fit, so don’t torque it too hard, and be careful when using it for shooting. (Support everything!) I have no idea how prone this setup is to falling apart– only 3 tiny screws are holding the whole thing together.

Duplicating Slides

I dropped in a 35mm f3.5 lens and checked out a test slide, and it fits in the frame just fine now. There’s just enough distance between the bellows and the sensor now that I can get the whole slide duplicator in the frame. I’ll try the 50mm f3.5 macro later and see how it works.

Career Forum Day Two, etc. etc.

 Food, Japanese Language, Photography, Travel  Comments Off on Career Forum Day Two, etc. etc.
Nov 092013

Day two of the Career Forum, and my last. I’ve seen everything I want to see, and talked to everyone I want to talk to. I talked to a few companies, had a couple of brain cramp moments, but generally feel okay about it.

If something comes through, great! If not, I’ll keep freelancing.

I headed back to the hotel, changed, and had lunch. Then I got my stuff together and headed to the USS Constitution, to get a good look at it before the last tour of the day. I just made it to get on board, but I missed the last guided tour. I did get a chance to take some photos with my NEX and my Leica 21/2.8M ASPH lens, though.

I went back to the hotel, rested for a little while, then headed to the same Japanese restaurant I went to last year, Shiki in Brookline. It’s about a 45 minute trip by the green line. I had 20 minutes to kill before my table was ready. There wasn’t anywhere to wait, so I waited outside.

I had udon. It was good. The service was a bit on the slow side this year.

Tomorrow I head to New York.

Snow and NEX BIOS Update

 Photography, Technology  Comments Off on Snow and NEX BIOS Update
Feb 132013

Two exciting things happened in my world today.

First, it snowed! Okay, it didn’t stick, and it wasn’t a whole lot, but it was pretty.

Second, Sony released a proper BIOS for the Nex 5N! Now it will do auto-bracketing of up to +/- 3.0 EV! That’s huge! Now the Nex is a “proper” camera in my opinion. I’m sufficiently pleased with it to the point that I’m okay with it if Sony abandons it from here on out. (They probably will, anyway, new NEX models have been out for a while now.)

Photography Stuff

 Photography  Comments Off on Photography Stuff
Dec 032012

One of the projects I want to get off the ground is copying a bunch of old slides I have. So I got out my old Kodak RFS 3600 scanner, plugged it in, and it just flashed lights at me. I emailed PIE International, the company that made it, and still makes a variant of it 10 years later, and they regretfully informed me that the RAM was dead.

I don’t feel like dropping more money on a scanner. I’d like to find a faster solution. And I think I did. Maybe.

According to some posts I’ve been reading on the DPReview message board, it looks like the best solution is going to be in 40-year-old technology. I picked up a Canon 35mm FD 3.5 lens, a Canon Bellows FL, and a Canon slide copier from KEH, and I also got an FD-E-mount adaptor ring to get it all to fit on my Nex.

It kind of works. It kind of doesn’t, because I haven’t figured out how to make the bellows fit tight enough to the body so that I get all 100% of the slide image in the slide copier. I can get about 98% of it, and me being me, that last 2% bugs the heck out of me. The solution probably involves removing the FL mount from the bellows, and changing it to something thinner, but I need to get help on that.

I tried mounting a 28mm lens, and that was a total bust. If I go wider than 35mm, the slide copier stops working, because I can’t focus it properly. So I’ll need to spend some time figuring out how to fix the lens mounts.

I also picked up a Canon FD 50mm f3.5 macro lens with a 2x extension tube. That’s a lot of fun.

Liberated from Leica Lens Limbo (or Nex!)

 Photography  Comments Off on Liberated from Leica Lens Limbo (or Nex!)
Oct 292012

I mentioned that I’m using a Sony Nex in the blog on the trip to Boston, but I didn’t go into much detail about it.

Right before I headed off to Boston, I found a really good deal on the Nex 5N bundle, and picked one up. What impresses me about the Nex is not only the pictures it takes, but its E mount, which, with the right adapter, will take Leica M mount lenses.

This is very important to me!

A Little Backstory

Long ago, when I was in Journalism school, I bought a Leica M6 TTL, and it was (and still is) a great camera. The only problem I had with it is that by about 2006 or so I wanted to shoot digital, because it’s a much easier workflow. Is it better than film? Well, that’s another post.

Leica came out with its digital camera bodies around 2008 or so, and while I was excited by the concept, I was not excited about the price. At the time, I didn’t have $4000-$5000 lying around for what was essentially a camera body that will be worthless in 2-3 years.

The M8 was a fine camera, and while it had all of the Leica Juice going for it, as a digital platform, it was average at best.

Then Leica came out with the M9. It’s a much better camera than the M8, but it’s not worth $5-$6k. Meanwhile, companies like Canon, Nikon, and even Sony are pushing the limits of what prosumer cameras can do.

I love shooting Leica cameras. They’re excellent machines. They’re just not worth $7000. The M9 would have to do much much more than it does to merit $7k.

And it doesn’t. Leica does a great job of fitting its great lenses to a digital body, but that digital body isn’t any better than the digital body I could get from Canon or Nikon for 1/3 the price.

So for the last 5-6 years, my Leica gear has been gathering dust because Leica has failed to reach me as a former customer.

The company has priced me out of pretty much ever wanting to buy their gear again. The lenses are incredible, but I don’t have that kind of cash lying around. In the early 2000s, when lenses were more reasonably priced, I could afford to stay in the Leica system, but until now, it’s been impossible.

Saved by Sony

Then Sony released the Nex. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the first Nex, except for its ability to take M glass. My take on it then was that it was neat, but ultimately there were too many compromises.

So I waited.

When I saw the prices coming down on the 5N, I was ready to buy. I feel like the Nex has come far enough along, and the 5N was at a price point I could stomach.

I’m happy… for the most part.

It comes with a 18-55 kit lens, which is okay, but generally forgettable. It’s something to use for making videos with, because it’s autofocus, but as a tube with glass in it for taking pictures? I’m not too impressed. It’s a kit lens after all.

I picked up a $30 adapter ring, and all of my Leica lenses fit well enough. My 21mm doesn’t fit perfectly, but it’s good enough. (The latch doesn’t completely engage, but it engages.) The crop sensor is APS sized, and that works. It crops to make the 21’s field of view like a 34mm lens (roughly), but keep in mind that it won’t get rid of the fish bowl effect you get from shooting such a wide-angle lens. Also, you lose the shallower depth of field you’d get with a real 35mm lens on a full-frame sensor.

But I can finally shoot my Leica glass again! And I didn’t have to rob anybody to do it!

Manually focusing the Nex is something that takes getting used to. It uses focus peaking to help with manual focusing, but it’s far from perfect. I still have to zoom in to make sure I’m really in focus, and that adds to the time it takes to get a shot ready. So it’s not perfect.

Manually focusing a Leica is still faster by a good deal, but the Nex is 1/10th the price. I’ll take imperfect focusing for an extra $5-$6k in my pocket.

There’s no way around this: the Nex has a terrible bracketing mode. It only goes as far as +/- 0.7 EV, which is pretty much useless if you want to take HDR photos or just bracket your shots intelligently. Honestly, I don’t know what Sony was thinking. I hope they fix the BIOS in the camera for that. My worry is that with new cameras coming out soon, they may orphan the current Nex cameras, and just leave it unfixed. I knew it going in, but it really is a bad oversight on Sony’s part.

Finally, the viewfinder; it’s a separate purchase on the 5N. If you want it integrated in the camera, you have to shell out an extra $400 for the Nex 7, or buy a $250 adapter for the other cameras that fills your “hot shoe.” It’s not a real hot shoe, but it’s the closest you get to one. So you can either have a mic, a flash, a light, or the viewfinder. That’s leaving me scratching my head and wondering what the engineers are thinking.

Take the Good with the Bad

Even with the mixed bag of good and bad stuff, I’m generally pleased with the Nex. It takes great photos, even if the controls aren’t what I’d like.

I have to spend 5-10 seconds composing each photo to make sure it’s in focus. Sometimes longer. That makes it bad for action shots. For artsy shots, or scenery shots, it’s great. But trying to photo something like a cat or small child? Not so great. But in my case, it fills a badly needed niche.

I like my Canon 60D, and the 17-55 EFS is a great lens, but it’s lacking in the kind of sharpness I got used to with Leica glass. I can’t get the kinds of photos I could get with my Leica M6 TTL and my Leica lenses. Now that I can slap those lenses on the Nex, I can just about get those photos again, and use the 60D for more action-related stuff.

The Nex is definitely not for everyone, but if you’re like me, and stuck in that Leica purgatory where you can’t afford the bodies, but you still have the lenses, it’s an affordable option.

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