A few years back, I made the switch to mirrorless cameras. The sole reason was that I could show clients pictures on the EVF, in full sun, without carrying around a stupid loupe around my neck. The EVF was the game-changer.
As I began to use my digital Leica M10 more and more other than for personal use. The LCD screen in the back of the camera falls short in some situations. It is about as good as useless in bright sun and because it is not a flip-out screen, it became even more of an issue when I was shooting a book project with a local brewery.
During that project, I was jammed between immovable chairs and the bar I was supposed to be photographing. With no flippy screen, it was impossible to focus using either the rangefinder or LCD screen and zone focusing or stopping down would not be possible because I needed the shadows and at least some blur in the dark bar in the background.
Enter the Leica Visoflex Electronic Viewfinder (Typ 020).
The Visoflex is MAGIC for reviewing images in full sun or showing images to clients. Full stop. It is big, bright, and phenomenal.
The Visoflex is MAGIC if your goal is to shoot looking down as if you were using a TLR camera. This is what I am doing in the screenshot below (the picture from this shoot is at the end of the post).
The Visoflex, however, is anything but MAGIC if you intend to use it to focus your digital Leica. #epicfail. This isn’t so much a fault of the Visoflex itself but, rather, a comment on the digital focusing tools in the Leica M10. I am assuming that it is the same or worse with other digital Leicas available at the time this article was written (March 2020). These are similar to the issues I have with using manual focus lenses on my Sony but the issues on the Leica M10 are worse.
The main issues are:
1. Focus peaking on the M10 is less than marginal if a subject is moving. It probably works OK for garden gnomes and parked cars and it is likely good for landscapes if you plan on using one for wide-angle lenses on the M10, but for moving subjects it is just a pixelated mess that is too laggy to use for critical applications.
2. If you are shooting stopped down, you only get a few bits of color here and there with no real indication if anything is in focus or not.
3. It is too laggy if you are shooting in a dark environment. You will also need to open the aperture to get focus and then close the aperture to whatever you want to use if you don’t intend to shoot wide open. All of this is time-consuming and unless you are shooting garden gnomes or parked cars they will be gone.
4. As with all manual focus lenses on all mirrorless cameras, if you are shooting wide open you need to first zoom the image to see what you are doing to get focus. This is fine but with moving subjects by the time you recompose after unzooming the image they are likely gone and you missed the shot.
Adapting non-LTM or m-mount lenses to a digital Leica.
One side bonus of the Visoflex EVF (Typ 020) is that it allows you to adapt non-M-Mount lenses to a digital Leica. For example, during my Lost Dogs book project, I wanted some closeup portraits of the dogs and wanted to stick with a single camera for the book to maintain the look and feel. At the time, I didn’t own any long focal length lenses for my Leica so I adapted a 135mm f2.8 Meyer-Optik Gorlitz with an M42-M adapter and a Contax Zeiss Sonnar 85mm with a CY-M adapter. I got the images but, again, focusing with them wide open shooting moving dogs was, at best, a nightmare.
The bottom line here is that the Visoflex Typ 020 is great or crummy depending in your intended use:
- If you want one because you plan to focus with the rangefinder but want to shoot like you have a Rolleiflex – get it. It is MAGIC
- If you want one because you need it to show clients or friends images after you take them, especially in full sun, get it. It is MAGIC
- If you plan to use it to focus lenses wider than 28MM because you won’t have frame lines, you should go for it. It is great as an external finder for wide angle lenses.
- If you want one because you can’t or don’t like using the rangefinder and you want another option for focusing your digital Leica, buyer beware. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. When I was using it for my book project, I would focus using the rangefinder and then shoot like I had a Rolleiflex. I didn’t even use the Visoflex EVF it to focus.
- If you want one because you want to adapt your other vintage lenses like M42 lenses, Contax mount lenses, etc., on your digital Leica, you need to make the call. This is one method that will allow you to do that but set your expectations low. Even though I can do I it, I only rarely use non-M-mount lenses on my digital Leica.
- In general, the Leica Visoflex (Typ 020) is a great EVF for framing BUT not a great focusing tool. At least not on the Leica M10
Please note the date of this post is March 2020. Hopefully, things will improve with future versions of the Leica M cameras.