R6(.2) cheap backup body
How I modified a Nikon F2A so it could
work with Leica R lenses
Looking for an inexpensive, fully manual, battery independent and yet cheap back-up for your R6(.2)?
Why not modify a Nikon F2A to have a Leica R lens-mount flange? This is what I did back in July 1999, and the resulting one-off served me excellently for two-and-a-half years as a dependable second body for close-up work.
The release of the Leitax R-F lens-mount conversion kit in late 2008 has made the following mainly of historical interest only. For € 68 Euro each, you can now reversibly convert your Leica R lenses to work on standard Nikon bodies. Mind you, (1) the kit obviously wasn't available in 1999 and (2) being able to mount any number of unmodified R lenses onto a (hacked) Nikon body is still pretty cool :?)
When I made the switch to Leica R in July 1998, I had to set aside my favourite Nikon F2A as it obviously couldn't use any Leica R lenses.
Then in May 1999 I realised I needed a second manual body to back-up the primary R6.2. I didn't want to buy another used R6.2 as the price (at the time) hovered around a rip-off $AUD 2500. For a short while I Looked at the older Leica SLRs, but hated the battery dependance of the earlier R3-5s and was wary of getting parts, mercury batteries and accessories for even older Leicaflex SL or SL2 (the latter being collectors items, thus even more hideously overpriced).
Why not just buy an R6? Because they were just as expensive on the used market as the more modern R6.2. Frankly there was no way I was going to pay more than $AUS 1000 for a non-collectors camera which was at least 10 years old!
So I thought, I have this "resting" Nikon F2A still in very good condition… why not have it converted so it could mount Leica R lenses? That way I would have a relatively cheap but at the same time robust and battery independent 2nd camera with true mirror lock-up!
The conversion was done in July 1999 (Figure 1) and what follows are some of things I learned from the experience. Unfortunately it wasn't all smooth sailing, but hopefully you will be able to bypass most of the 'gotchas' which caught me.
In case you are wondering, this wasn't a Vanity Project done for the hell of it. I used the camera extensively from 1999 to 2002 with a R 100mm APO-Macro for all my time-exposure and macro work. The waist-level finder made copy work much more convenient, while being able to permanently lock up the mirror was a god-send for exposure bracketing without having to pre-release every bloody shot.
Photos of the converted camera
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The camera modification was done in July 1999 by:
Herb Zimmerman at
Professional Camera Repair
37 W. 47th Street
New York, NY 10036 USA
Tel: 1 (212) 382 0550
Professional Camera Repair went out of business in July 2001 — see this topic elsewhere in the FAQ. So if I were to do the conversion today, then I would give Ken Ruth at Photography on Bald Mountain a try.
To find out the US Express Mail shipping rates, I consulted <supplies.usps.gov>. At the time they also had a toll-free USA number at 1-800-222-1811.
To help cope with the darkened viewfinder of the modified camera, I also had one of my F2 focus screens Hi-LUX resurfaced by Bill Maxwell at Maxwell Precision Optics in Decature GA (USA).
- The conversion had to not only replace the Nikon lens bayonet mount on the body, but also build up the mount so that the Lens To Film (LTF) distance was increased to the 47.00mm required by Leica R lenses. According to the LTF Web page, the Nikon F LTF distance is 46.50 mm, so the technician had to add 0.50 mm.
- The 47.00mm LTF is required to ensure you can focus R lenses to infinity.
- You will lose the lens auto-aperture after the conversion is done. Which means always having to view at working aperture. This is no real problem up to ƒ8, but beyond that things get a little dark.
- To help cope with the darker viewfinder, have one or more of your F2 screens Hi-Lux resurfaced by Maxwell Photo Optics. This will give you 1-1½ stops more light and also a less grainy view for focusing.
- Because Leica R lenses lack the Nikon AI cam, you will be limited to stop-down metering. I personally didn't care about this as I used the F2 either with a DE-1 non-metering pentaprism (Figure 2) or DW-1 waist-level finder (Figure 3).
- When you send your camera, don't rely on the technician to supply any old Leica SLR bayonet ring. Rather, purchase a modern R5/6 mount (as a spare part) and send this along with the camera.
I found this out the hard way. The technician installed a 1960s vintage Leicaflex ring (Figure 4, RHS) which worked fine with older 3-cam Leica R lenses, but couldn't mount the newer R optics because it lacked the groove in the three bayonet tongues (Figure 4, LHS). Finally the problem was solved by having a local engineering firm machine the missing groove into the ring. The result looks a bit rough (not shown), but works fine and only cost $AUD 30.
For future conversions, I would suggest ordering a new R ring from your local Leica Distributor and then send it along with the camera to the technician. The item to order is: Bayonet Ring R5, Part # 0428-4000-3148. (N.B. I have a spare and can sell it to you if you need it.)
- After the conversion, regardless of the ring mount you will not be able to use certain ultra-wide R lenses without locking up the mirror first (note the position of the mirror lock-up lever on the front of the camera body beneath the shutter speed dial in Figure 3). You have to do this because certain R ultra-wides protrude into the camera body far enough to impede the free movement of the mirror. The Leicaflex SL (but not SL2) suffers from this as well, but unlike the F2A you can't do anything about as it only has a mirror pre-release rather than a true MLU.
- Professional Camera Repair didn't accept credit cards. Not an issue anymore as they have gone out of business, but beware of this as it can come as a big surprise at the end of the job.
- Allow plenty of time for the conversion. For me in Australia, from start to finish it took just short of three whole months. At least 70% of this time was lost in inefficient communications with PCR, either by unanswered telephone calls or ignored e-mails. Incredibly frustrating.
- Delays and communications snafus aside, the (exterior) quality of workmanship on the new mount was pretty good. The ring was solidly attached to the camera body with six screws as opposed to the Nikon's usual four. There was also a new Leica lens lock button (Figure 4, RHS), so when you mount a lens, it stays securely in place just like any other Leica SLR. A nice touch was that the lens lock was placed at the usual 8 o'clock position (Figure 1). Thus when mounted, R lenses have their aperture and DOF information right where you expect them to be, at the top of the camera (Figure 5).
- Unfortunately the shutter failed completely eight months after the conversion was done. I took it to my local Nikon repair-bloke who — after picking himself up off the floor — opened the camera to discover that PCR had never bothered to clean out loose metal shavings in the body cavity! So my Nikon tech. cleaned out the junk, re-adjusted the shutter and wind mechanism and luckily the F2A has worked flawlessly ever since. Phew!
Alternate source for a lens-mount
ring flange + lens lock button
Alternative to point "vi" above, rather than use a Leica R mount-ring and rely on the technician to (somehow) scrounge a lens-mount lock mechanism, it may be more efficient to cannibalise an old Leitz R extension tube.
In May 2003, Jan Dvorak sent me the following details:
[…] as a cost saving measure I would recommend finding a used Leitz R extension tube, or a 14164 ( M to R mount, if memory serves me right) adapter. That way you end up with both male and female R mounts, but also with all the necessary hardware for the lens lock. Those accessories can be often found for less than US$30.00. [roughly half the price of the "R5 lens mount ring" alone]
$US 300.00 to do the conversion. $US 40.00 for postage and handling to have the camera returned. $US 47.00 to have a F2 focus screen hi-lux resurfaced. $AUS 145.00 for a R5/7 Bayonet ring.
N.B. You should be able to negotiate a discount on the $US 300 conversion price if you supply your own Leica R bayonet ring.
So in conclusion the procedure wasn't cheap, but it cost much less than buying a second R6.2 I just hope you have better luck finding a honest camera machinist to do the conversion!