Monday, July 22, 2013

Using the Leica M (240) for close-up and macro photography

The advent of live view in the new Leica M camera opens up shooting possibilities that were not previously available on a rangefinder camera. Because the lens and viewfinder were in two different places close focus was limited due to the problem of parallax. Most M-lenses to not focus very close on purpose to avoid the parallax problem. All that has changed. Now the photographer can see directly through the taking lens allowing for absolute accuracy in composing the shot, just like on an SLR camera.

I use my Leica M camera primarily for travel photography where it is often handy to have an option of getting in close on a subject to show local details. So naturally I wanted to explore some of the close-up options available to me.

The first, most obvious solution was to mount a true SLR macro lens, like the Leica 60mm Macro-R, on the M. Leica has an adapter (unavailable as of this writing) specifically for this purpose. There are also plenty of third party adapters available on eBay. If you prefer,  you could mount a Nikon or Canon macro lens on your M Leica. Due to their ability to continuously focus from infinity to 1:1, they may even be preferable to using the Leica 60mm macro, which needs a macro adapter to get really close.

This photo was taken using a 90mm Elmarit-M combined with a +2 close-up filter.
Of course one of the main reasons I use a Leica M for travel is because it is a light weight, compact system, and I do not want to necessarily bog it down by adding a large macro lens to my camera bag. A second close-up solution, that of using close-up filters, is a much more compact solution. The two lenses I use for close-up photography are the Leica 50mm Summilux f/1.4, and the Leica 90mm Elmarit-M f/2.8. Fortunately, both have the same 46mm filter size. So all I needed was one set of close-up filters.

This is my preferred carry along close-up system for the Leica M: a set of three close-up filters, +1, +2, and +4 in a 46mm size. Stacking them together and using a pair of filter caps for protection makes for a very tiny package.
While close-up filters will not focus as close as a true macro lens, I rarely need to get that close in travel photography. And in situations where I would need a real macro 1:1 option, I probably would not be using a Leica M camera anyway. So for me, the close-up filters work fine.  I find the +2 filter to be the most versatile range for covering most subjects, and could probably get by carrying just it in my camera bag. I try to stay away from the +4 because it does add noticeable softening to the image, although stopping the lens down to f/5.6 or f/8 helps.

You can usually purchase close-up filters in a set of three, a +1, +2, and +4. They can also be stacked together to increase magnification, but doing so usually results in lowering the quality considerably, particularly when used in conjunction with a high quality Leica lens.
Below is a table that shows how each of the close-up options compares. The distances given in the table reflect the closest widths possible with each lens/filter combo.

The distances given in the table are the shortest widths available with each lens/filter combination.  Note that a 90mm lens with +4 filter is equal in width to the Leica 60mm macro lens when used without its adapter. From this you can see you can pretty much cover the gamut with just three filters added to the two Leica lenses I usually have with me anyway.

This is the Leica 60mm Macro Elmarit-R mounted on the M body. It is a much larger and heavier option than using an M lens with close-up filter, however the quality of its macro results are much better. Close-up filters tend to diminish the optical quality of a lens.
Using close-up filters will always take something away from the optical quality of a lens. Limiting yourself to the lower powers of +1 and +2 and purchasing the filters from a reputable company will help, but some quality will always be lost. Where quality is an issue a true macro lens or extension rings are better options. For the type of occasion travel shot I will do, filters work just fine. They have an added benefit of being able to be used with a very wide open aperture for better soft focus bokeh effects.

For this shot I used the pinpoint focus and narrow depth of field of an f/1.4 aperture that was available to me with the 50mm Summilux lens. True macro lenses cannot do this.
Using an extension ring with a lens is a third option that does not add anything detrimental in the optical path. I usually prefer it to using close-up filters, but finding an extension ring for a Leica M lens is very difficult. There was one made by Leica from 1959-83 called OUFRO by Leica, but it is 10cm long and provide a close up focusing range roughly equivalent to what can be obtained with a +4 closeup filter. Mounted on my 50mm Summilux-M lens, for instance, it focused from 4 5/8"-6 3/4" wide. This ring is a very difficult item to find used, although they do occasionally turn up on eBay, which is where I picked up mine. Since the +4 close-up filter is the poorest optically, using an OUFRO instead is a better option for achieving a quality image.

Here are three options currently available for close-up and macro photography with a Leica M. On the left is a 60mm Macro-Elmarit-R lens. In the middle is a 90mm Elmarit-M, 50mm Summilux, plus a set of three close-up filters. On the right is a hard to find Leica OUFRO extension ring for M mount.
This shot was taken was the minimum focusing range of the Leica 50mm Summilux lens. Sometimes I prefer to get in closer than this to show more specific detail in my travel subjects. The photos below was taken with a +2 close-up filter mounted on the 50mm lens.

This comparison shows the 90mm lens with +2 close-up filter used on the left, and same lens with +4 filter used on the right.
Here a 50mm lens with +4 was used for the left images and 90mm with +4 filter on the right image. Using a combination of three close-up filters in conjunction with a 50mm and 90mm lens offers more that enough options for the majority of my close-up work.
For this image I used the +2 filter on a 90mm lens wide open at f/2.8 for shallow focus.

For this view I switched to a +1 filter on the 50mm lens with aperture stopped down to f/8 in order to pick up detail in the foreground and background.
Adding a simple set of three 46mm close-up filters to my Leica M travel kit adds considerable versatility to the system with very little extra to carry. Live view aided by an EVF finder on the new Leica M has extended the versatility of this excellent rangefinder system..


  1. Great article!!!
    Thanks for posting it.

  2. Thank you for the most helpful tip
    Just got my OUFRO and will try it out with the 2 lenses you mentioned

  3. Thank you for this very interesting article!
    Can these be used with the M9?

  4. The reason this now works with the M 240 is that you can plug in the electronic viewfinder, which allows you to see and focus with them. Non of the other standard M model cameras have this option so you will not be able to see the results with this accessories.