Two years ago, I ventured into Leica M3 territory and was exposed to many new experiences. From an engineer’s perspective, the M3 is beautiful and solid. I would bring it with me everywhere while traveling and it’s hard not to stare at it and wonder about the countless hours it took to meticulously fabricate and hand assemble each component into this smooth running machine.
Another new door that this Leica M3 opened is pretty special. Being a rangefinder, not having to see through the lens meant no complex aperture control linkages between the body and lens. There is also no mirror to get in the way of a deeply recessed rear element so extremely compact lens designs can be used.
What does all this mean? It means the Leica M3 (or any Leica rangefinders) is an ideal platform for adapting other lenses through the process of lens conversion. A lens conversion is a rehousing of an lens from one camera so that it work for other cameras. It is going beyond simply adapting interchangeable lenses with a mount adapter. The next level, is redesigning the housing entirely to allow a non-interchangeable lens to be used.
Pretty much every point and shoot plastic-fantastic from the 80-90s used a fixed lens between 28 to 35mm. These simple cameras typically used leaf shutters just behind the lens group so the shutter can also act as a crude aperture iris, further saving space and reduce the number of parts. Nowadays you can usually find plenty of these semi-disposable cameras at garage sales and thrift stores. Cheap too, selling for 1-10 dollars. Of course, there are much more expensive variants such as the cult favorite Contax T2 or the Olympus mju. The really cheap ones vary from absolute garbage to decent shooters that are underappreciated due to their limited functions and significant bulk/noise. It’s in this latter group that I would experiment with.
Other people were way ahead of me. MS-Optical in Japan will rehouse high-end compact lenses (for a steep 600USD) and a few others have fashioned more basic housing for their lenses. My first inspiration, if anything, came from Hamish Gill’s Canon AF-10 mod found here (link), I thought his conversion looked very sleek which really turned the M3 into a compact camera (weighty though).
Sounds like my kind of fun! And this was the start of my journey.