The following are two statements you might encounter:
- A dogs mouth is cleaner than a human mouth
- You can use a 24mm lens on a Leica rangefinder and you don’t need an external finder. Just use the whole rangefinder window.
Both of these statements should be ignored.
I have domain experience with dogs mouths and I can assure you that the mouth of any animal who eats feces, licks their anus, and doesn’t brush or floss for 10 years is not clean. Please do not let dogs lick your wounds. I don’t care what Romans did.
I now have domain experience with using a 24/25mm (1) lens on a Leica rangefinder without an external viewfinder. I can state with expertise that the advice about using a 24mm lens on a Leica rangefinder without an external viewfinder is like someone telling you that you should punch a bully in the nose so they will stop bugging you. Like the 24mm recommendation, that bully management recommendation sounds like good advice and it might work in some situations, but in the vast majority of cases if you try to punch a bully in the nose you are going to get your ass kicked. You know it. I know it. I tried it. Don’t try it. Ignore that stupid bully advice and ignore anyone who tells you to “just” use the whole rangefinder window with a 24mm lens.
Please accept my horribly Photoshopped markup of a desk, taken with the Zeiss a 25mm f/2.8 Biogon lens, on a 0.72x Leica M10 as evidence.
Yellow lines: Describing what the yellow lines represent is difficult if you don’t actually have a rangefinder camera sitting next to you. (2) Nonetheless, the yellow lines represent what you see in the entire finder window if put your eye on the rangefinder window and look straight forward like a normal human being would do if they are just taking a picture using the 28mm framelines. This is the area you would see in the periphery around the 28mm framelines without doing anything extra to look around the 28mm framelines.
Red lines: The red lines are the field of view you can see if you smash your face up into the camera and look around from side to side and up and down. The is the entirety of everything you can possibly see through the rangefinder window. You will note that these lines are asymmetric. These lines are for the right eye. If you look toward your nose you can see more than if you look to your right (e.g. away from your nose). If you also look closely, the bottom line has less room than the top line. I don’t really know why the bottom is asymmetric from the top. I am guessing it has something to do with my anatomy but I have no explanation for this.
You should be having an “a-ha” moment right about now. I did. The following are the observations I made and perhaps the ones you would make if you followed the bad advice on The Internet about using a 24mm lens without an external viewfinder on a Leica rangefinder camera.
- Holy cow! 24mm is ALOT wider than 28 mm. See. I told you.
- If you have glasses there is no possible way to make a 24mm lens work without an external viewfinder. In my experience, it can be difficult to see the 28mm framelines much less anything around them. If you have glasses you 100% need an external finder. This is not up for discussion
- The advice to use the entire rangefinder window doesn’t make any sense when you try to implement it. Do they mean the rangefinder field of view you can see if you look forward like a normal person OR the field of view you can see if you smash your face into the camera and look around the periphery like a creeper-stalker squatting on the floor looking through a peephole into someone else’s bathroom. If it is the latter, how hard are you supposed to smash your face into the camera and how much creeping and peeping are you supposed to do on the margins? If you smash and peep and creep too much you see way more than the 24mm FOV!!
The bottom line here is that I am either too dumb to decipher the recommendation “You can use a 24mm lens on a Leica rangefinder and you don’t need an external finder. Just use the whole viewfinder window” or the recommendation is bad. From my vantage point, there is no combination of peeping and creeping and smashing my face into the finder that makes the 24mm FOV line up with the viewfinder window.
My recommendation is to discard that recommendation but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a 24mm lens on a Leica rangefinder without an eternal viewfinder. We can do better.
So where do we go from here?
The 24mm recommendation you find online is a good start but it needs some qualification before it can be implemented in a useful way. This is what I recommend.
- If you have glasses, do not even try this. Epic fail. Get an external finder.
- Ideally, everyone would get an external finder. You can use a 24mm rangefinder lens without an external viewfinder but if you are doing anything that needs critical framing, using a 24mm lens on a Leica rangefinder without an external viewfinder is somewhat hit or miss. Check your expectations at the door.
- If you are going to try to use a 24mm lens on a Leica rangefinder without an external viewfinder, my rule of thumb is to aim for twice (2x) the distance between the 28mm framelines and the amount of the finder window you can see if you look straight forward without smashing your face into the viewfinder window (e.g. the yellow lines on my image above). This is also likely a starting point and your mileage may vary. For example, if you have deep, ape-like eye sockets with recessed eyes or, conversely, bulgy, hyperthyroid, Pug-like, eyes, your yellow lines might be different than my yellow lines.
Hipsters beware! (3)
No matter what formula you come up with or how hard you decide to smash your face into the finder window there is a fairly high probability you are going to have to crop your image to get it perfect (4). If you shoot film, you and I both know there is a gigantic problem here. Cropping your image means removing those little film borders. Cropping film borders means that you are also cropping out your street cred with the “film community” on Instagram. I mean how will anyone know you shot film and you used Portra 400 without the film borders? Right? You have been warned.
Your best bet is to ignore well-meaning but mostly wrong advice you get on the internet and go buy an external viewfinder. For the times you can’t use an external finder or you don’t own one, look forward, don’t peep and creep around the margins, and estimate your 24mm field of view as being 2x the distance from the 28mm framelines to the outside of the rangefinder window that you can see….without smashing your face into the rangefinder window.
- This was done with a 25mm f/2.8 Zeiss Biogon ZM lens. I am using 24mm and 25mm interchangeably in this post. That might not technically be correct but I read somewhere that the Leica Elmarit 24mm is really more like a 25mm so, assuming that is true, if Leica can do it I can do it too. Let’s call it even and don’t hate on me too much for this 1mm transgression. I didn’t have another lens at the time of writing.
- I thought about doing a video but I am too ugly to look at and you don’t want to see me smashing my face into a camera making odd gestures with my mouth and nose
- Present company included