The Micro Four Thirds (MFT, Micro 4/3, M43, or µ43) system may not have been designed to revive interest in old lenses, but that’s exactly what it’s done. Because of the short flange-to-sensor distance, adapters can be made to allow an amazing variety of lenses to be mounted. Everything from C-mount movie lenses to modern DSLR system lenses can be, and have been, screwed, glued, taped, or jammed onto Panasonic and Olympus MFT cameras, sometimes just to prove it could be done. And some of those lenses offer performance not available in the native MFT system. It is for this reason that I recently purchased a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2K camera and a handful of adapters. I have a closet full of assorted lenses, and each one of them will get a chance to come out of retirement, at least briefly, and make some pictures.
One of my favorite lenses is the Leitz Hektor 135mm f/4.5. Out of fashion in Leica circles these days, the Hektor can usually be found for between $30 and $200 USD, depending on condition. Compare this with the price of Leica’s current M-series telephoto, the 135mm f/3.4 APO-TELYT-M, at $3,295. Designed in 1933, and discontinued in 1960, the Hektor is admittedly an old-fashioned lens. By nearly every scientific measure it is inferior to modern lenses, yet it has a long history of producing gorgeous photographs. And it is capable of both creamy smooth bokeh and the legendary (some would say mythical) “Leica glow”. Having had gratifying results with it on a Leica M8, the Hektor was at the top of my MFT candidate list.
The 135mm Hektor was produced in Leica screw mount, Leica M bayonet mount, and short Visoflex mount versions. In addition, adapters were made to attach the lens head to a bellows or universal focusing helix. With the appropriate adapters, any of these can be attached to a Micro Four Thirds camera.
On a Leica rangefinder 35mm camera, 135mm is a long lens. The viewfinder frames, if they exist at all, are tiny and inconvenient to use. But the Leica system of accessories provided for nearly every photographic need, and one answer for close-up and telephoto use was a reflex housing that allowed viewing and focusing through the lens. There were several of these reflex housings, the most popular of which were the Visoflex series (I, II, IIa, and III). The length of the Visoflex I, pictured here, is 62.5mm, and it set the standard for Leica short-mount telephoto lenses. So a short mount 135mm Hektor is 62.5mm shorter than a regular screw-mount 135mm Hektor. (This will be important to us a little later.) When the Visoflex II was introduced, the length was reduced to 40mm (screw-mount version), and the lens mount was changed from 39mm threads to the M-style bayonet. To allow the screw-mount Visoflex lenses to be used on the Visoflex II, a 12.5mm long bayonet to screw-mount adapter called OUBIO was offered. Pictured here is a short mount 135mm Hektor attached to a Visoflex III with OUBIO adapter.
So why do we care about Visoflexes? Our MFT cameras have electronic through-the-lens viewing. Of course, the answer is that we don’t, really. While it is certainly possible to attach a Visoflex to a Micro Four Thirds Camera, I’ll leave that exercise to someone else. All of my curiosity about Visoflexes was satisfied while using them on an M8. But we do need to take that 62.5mm length into account whenever we use lenses made for Visoflex on our Micro Four Thirds cameras. Now if you have a typical screw-mount or M mount Hektor, and only want to use it as a telephoto, focusing no closer than about five feet, just use the appropriate M43 adapter to mount it to your camera and go take pictures. The 35mm equivalent angle of view on an MFT camera is 270mm, a considerably long telephoto. But the Hektor is capable of so much more than that! My favorite use is as a close-up lens, and the most versatile and convenient way to do that is with the Focusing Bellows II. This compact bellows is designed to attach to a Visoflex II, IIa, or III via M-style bayonet mount, and to mount various lenses by means of adapters screwed onto the front. The 135mm Hektor is particularly suitable for bellows use because it is capable of focusing anywhere from infinity to 1:1 macro. And while I mentioned the Bellows II was “designed” to mount on a Visoflex, I didn’t mean we were actually going to do so. We aren’t going to use a Visoflex, so we will be straying from the what the designers had in mind. It’s lucky for us that Leitz chose to use the regular M-series bayonet mount on the (later) Visoflexes and Bellows II. It allows us to omit the Visoflex entirely, and attach the bellows to our MFT camera using only a Leica M to M43 adapter. We can compensate for the missing 40mm length of the Visoflex by extending the bellows an additional 40mm, or we can add one or more extension tubes to regain some of the “lost” bellows movement.
- Leitz Focusing Bellows II
- Leitz 16558 Adapter Ring (the large diameter black ring – normally comes with the bellows)
- Leitz 16472 Adapter Tube for 135mm Hektor Lens Head
- (optional) Leitz 16471 Extension Tube(s) One is shown here between the 16558 and 16472
- Hektor 135mm f/4.5 Lens Head only
- (optional) Leitz IUFOO Lens Hood
- Leica M to M43 Micro Four Thirds adapter. I used a Chinese one from eBay.
That’s all it takes. Now we’re ready to try it. This first shot is of the G2, Bellows II, and Hektor aimed at our subject, a Lenten Rose, the first flower to bloom at my house in late winter. Notice the generous working distance between the lens and the flower. This allows me to stay out of the natural light falling on the subject. The next photo is the one taken using the G2 and Hektor, followed by a 100% crop of the flower.
The next set is of some variety of Veronica ground cover that just sort of showed up along our walk. Notice how tiny the flowers are. Still, the working distance is comfortable. I haven’t tried this setup on insects or “dangerous” prey, but I’m sure that if my skills are up to the task, the Hektor will be, too. Again, the next photo is the shot of the flower, followed by a 100% crop.
Without considering the cost of the lens, I am quite pleased with its performance. The fact that such performance can be bought so cheaply (mine was less than $50) makes it a remarkable bargain.