Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I built a macro converter

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm an obsessive tinkerer. I can't resist taking things apart, especially if said device is not working correctly. Sometimes I make them better. Sometimes in my attempts to repair or improve them, I deliver the coup de gras. C'est la vie.

However, I did have a small success with the camera. I managed to build a macro lens. I MIGHT have been attempting to build a teleconverter, but let's not obsess over "intended outcome" versus "succesful outcome."

I love the Leica X1 camera. The size-to-image-quality ratio is absolutely phenomenal. I'd never carry my DSLR through the streets of Austin all night, but the X1 is so light and unobtrusive, it's no problem. I only have three complaints:

1. No optical viewfinder - The screen is barely visible in bright sunlight, so while I have still been able to frame the shots, it just isn't as great as it would be with a real viewfinder. I have tried it with the add-on viewfinder, but you have to rely entirely on the auto-focus and hope that it's in focus.

2. The thumb wheel manual focus - It's so awkward, and there's no "feel" to it. With a barrel focus, you know where the focus is at by feel/position.

3. Total lack of lens adapters - The f2.8 36mm prime lens is amazing. The sharpness and focus, especially in low light, is stunning. However, 36mm is a bit limiting. Who wants to spend $2000 on a camera and still have to have a second camera to shoot birds or dolphins while they're out sailing. Lack of telephoto isn't the only problem. Try taking a photo at 36mm inside a small boat. It's just not wide-angle enough. Then there's the fact that even set to macro focus, you still can't be closer than 18 inches to the subject.

I can't do anything about the manual focus and building an electronic viewfinder would require a large HDMI converter and a separate battery pack, so that would just be a Frankensteinian monstrosity. With all that in mind, I decided to focus on adapting lenses to the camera.

Ideally a .5x wide angle converter, a 3x teleconverter, and a macro converter would create the perfect kit to accompany the X1. All of that is already available for the Panasonic-based Leica D-Lux series, yet the much more expensive, German-made X1 gets none of the love.

However, to give Leica credit, they have announced a digiscoping adapter for the X1 that will allow it to mount to their spotting scopes and microscopes. That's a start, but frankly, neither of those things are very useful to the common photographer.

I had a Nikon zoom lens sitting around the house, which no longer focused quite right. Nikon wanted $200 just to look at it, so I had ended up replacing it instead of repairing it last year. My first thought was, could I remove the aperture mechanism in this lens to create a teleconverter. The answer was, no. The rear element of the lens was way too small to work as a teleconverter. The result was major vignetting. I then decided to see what would happen if I removed the front element and added that to the X1.

To enable this, I used a Nikon UR-E8 lens tube, which has the appropriate 50mm threading to fit the X1. Unfortunately, the other end of the tube is reverse threaded. To overcome this problem I epoxied a 49 - 52mm adapter onto it. The result was the ability to add 52mm filters, hoods, etc.

To attach the front element of my Nikkor lens, I epoxied a 52-49mm adapter ring onto it. The 49mm just happened to fit tightly around a raised area on the inside of the plastic lens casing, which gave the epoxy a good grip. Using other lenses, you'd have to test fit what size works best.

Here's the result. A Leica X1 that can now focus at about 6 inches from the subject, creating beautiful macro shots.

Leica X1 Macro Converter


dog eye

Green Peppers 1

Update: I did finally have success building a teleconverter.
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