Using close focusing 0.5m lenses on Leica rangefinder cameras can be annoying.
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Leica rangefinder cameras only focus to 0.7m. If you get closer to your subject than that, the rangefinder mechanism stops moving and you cannot focus the lens. With most rangefinder lenses this is not an issue because they also only focus to 0.7m (or farther). This is why Leica lenses and most other rangefinder lenses generally have 0.7m as their closest focusing mark.
There are, however, some popular Leica M-mount lenses whose focusing dial goes below 0.7m. Stated another way the lens is capable of focusing closer than 0.7m. For example the Zeiss ZM Biogon 28mm f2.8 and the Voigtlander 35mm Ultron f/2 are both capable of focusing to 0.5m.
The problem is that if you try to use one of these close focusing lenses on a Leica rangefinder camera, the rangefinder mechanism doesn’t magically grow superpowers and learn to focus at 0.5m because you decided to use a close focusing lens. Not at all.
What happens is that as you focus to the closest focusing distance the rangefinder mechanism stops moving. So far so good. The problem is that if you lean in/get closer to your subject you are still able to line up the rangefinder patch which would imply that things are in focus. Unfortunately, just because the rangefinder mechanisms is telling you something is in focus, if you are trying to focus your lens at 0.5m, the rangefinder is giving you bogus results and you will get blurry images.
Now, you might be thinking “OK LLFNP hero, how stupid can you be? The rangefinder mechanism stopped moving. Why in the heck would you lean in? You need to be smarter than the rangefinder. You are too dumb to use a rangefinder.”
Other than getting my feelings hurt at your pseudo outrage, if you so rudely confronted me with that, I would say that you are correct. In my defense, however, when I close focus a rangefinder, what I do is just put the lens in the closest position and lean in until I have focus. That is the way I do it on all my other lenses and it is an annoyance to have to remember to change my technique if I am using a close focusing lens. Remember, we are taking about an annoyance. We are not talking about a monumental issue that cannot be overcome. I understand the issue and I can make it work. As you will see, I choose not to.
The issue in images
This is all very easy to explain in practice but if you have not used a rangefinder with a close focusing lens you may be confused. Do you know how I know you are confused? I know because I was confused after I was lead to make a stupid purchase and tried to focus a 0.5m lens on a Leica rangefinder and was rewarded with blurry images
These are images from a Zeiss 28mm 2.8 Biogon ZM lens. This lens focuses down to 0.5m. Yes, this is a great lens but, in my opinion, it was a stupid purchase and you are about to learn why.
This is an image taken at f/2.8 with lens set to 0.5m and the rangefinder telling me that the letter H on the keyboard is in focus at 0.5m. What I did was set the lens at the closest focus and then moved around until the rangefinder patch was all lined up perfectly. Again, the rangefinder was telling me that this should be in focus.
Ouch pretty blurry huh? Not good. It isn’t even close. For comparison, this is the lens focused at 0.7m.
See perfectly sharp. The lens works just fine. There is nothing wrong with this lens.
Now, just in case you are still confused or wondering if you can actually come focus the lens – remember – just because the rangefinder won’t help you, this doesn’t mean that the lens wont work at 0.5m on a Leica rangefinder camera. If you close focus the lens so the rangefinder says things are in focus THEN IGNORE THE RANGEFINDER and lean in a few inches (or use an EFV/liveview), the rangefinder will tell you that things are not in focus but as you can see, the images are perfectly sharp.
The take home message here is that if you want to close focus a 0.5m lens on a Leica rangefinder you need to ignore the rangefinder and get several inches closer than what the rangefinder tells you is in focus.
In real world terms, how much of a problem is this anyway?
Perhaps not as much as you think. Rangefinders aren’t known for their close focusing prowess. If you never close focus on things using your rangefinder this whole discussion is irrelevant. This is only an issue if you want to get in close and take pictures. I would contend that because the close focus on any rangefinder is still pretty far away (at least in SLR or traditional mirrorless terms) this may not an issue for many people.
Moreover, if you are taking pictures of garden gnomes and parked cars (or coffee cups, food, flowers, pastries, beer bottles, shoes, fences, broken windows, etc.) all the time, it probably also doesn’t make any real world difference at all. You have all the time in the world to take blurry images and then forget that you are using a close focusing lens and fix the issue. You can also use one of the hacks listed below to compensate.
On the other hand, if you are taking pictures of people who might happen to not be dead and/or who are also not sleeping, sedated, or under general anesthesia, and/or you can’t ask them for a redo this may be an annoyance to you as it is for me. This is also guaranteed to be an annoyance if you (like me) close focus by setting the focusing tab to your near focus and lean in until you get focus.
Overall, this whole close focusing lens things is an annoyance that I personally don’t need given that there are so many other good lens options to choose from. Maybe you feel the same way.
It is for this reason that with the exception of the Zeiss ZM Biogon 28mm f/2.8 lens (which I purchased before I knew any better) you won’t see many close focusing (<0.7m) lenses on this site. Even though they seem to be recommended by everyone else all the time, I don’t understand anyone would want another thing to think about when they are taking pictures. I sure dont.
Hacks to deal with close focusing (0.5m) lenses on Leica rangefinder cameras
Remember, this whole close focusing things is an annoyance. It is not an insurmountable issue. Please don’t make a bigger deal of it than it is or think I am on some sort of close focusing crusade. Here are a few hacks you can use to overcome the issue should you find yourself in need of purchasing or using a close focusing lens.
- Put a piece of tape on your camera strap so you know exactly how long 0.5m is. When you take a picture, you just measure with your camera strap and you know where to focus. Again, this is good for garden gnomes and parked cars but you will need to do some explaining if you try this when photographing people with pulses.
- Set your close focus distance on the lens. Lean in until the rangefinder says things are in focus. Keep getting closer and while you are getting closer take 3-4 images while you are slowly moving closer. One of them will likely be in focus. This is a passable hack for digital where you can check if you got focus but I can’t see any film user doing this. If you are photographing people they will also be confused.
- Use an EVF or live view: this is the best option provided that you have an EVF or live view on your camera. This, however, obviates any benefit of using a rangefinder. In my experience, this doesnt work great in low light situations.
- Shoot everything at f8 or f11? The smaller aperture will give you a deeper depth of field which essentially makes this discussion a moot point. For reference, f/5.6 is the breakpoint on my 28mm lens where this discussion becomes moot.
This whole business about close focusing lenses isn’t discussed all that commonly on the inter webs. I know because I made a stupid purchase and it either never came up or I missed it in my research. I will accept the argument that, at the time, I was inexperienced and didn’t fully understand what “it focuses to 0.5m” actually meant. I accept responsibility for this mistake.
Either way, the fact remains that close focusing lenses are recommended all the time and nobody even comments on the issue, however minor, which I find interesting. Truth be told, I started to second guess this whole post and ask myself “Come on guy? What is with you and the close focusing lenses? You are the only one complaining about this. Maybe it is you? How can it be this important to you and nobody else?”
So, I did some research. I am not the only one. There are a few defiant rebels like me out there. Here are two references that I am, knowingly, using as confirmation bias to make myself feel good and help convince you that I am not a spoiled snowflake prone to outrage over inconsequential nonsense.
- There is a discussion on the rangefinder forum where Freakscene summarizes my thinking where he states. “buy a different lens. It drives me completely nuts too.” Go Freakscene. Me too.
- Matt Day mentions this issue at 2:35 in his review of the Voigtlander Ultron 35mm F2 lens (1). Go Matt. I knew I could not possibly be the only one.
In a past life, I used to tell people looking to buy a lame horse or a sick sheep (2) don’t buy your problems. You have enough things to worry about. Nobody ever listened to my advice when it came to farm animals but I am going to listen to my own advice and take a pass on close focusing rangefinder lenses. Even if the close focusing problem is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, I don’t need to buy my problems and that is why you don’t see many close focusing lenses on this website.
2. People never seemed to want to buy sick goats (or at least didnt ask me for advice) even though they are way cuter than sick sheep or lame horses.