by Johnny Martyr
If you’re cheap or just enjoy a variety of glass in your quiver, it’s worth running vintage Leica Thread Mount (LTM or M39) lenses on your newer bayonet M mount Leica bodies. The fact that this can be done so flawlessly is yet another boon to the Leica rangefinder system and justification to buy a Leica, Voigtlander or Zeiss M mount body as oppose to a cheaper M39 screw mount Russian, Canon, earlier Leica body to which M lenses cannot also be used.
Unlike many modern lens adapters, when using the proper LTM to M adapter, you lose absolutely zero functionality of the lens or body. Focus coupling and apertures work as designed and if you like, you can leave the adapter on your lens and mount and un-mount it via fast bayonet twists just like a newer M lens.
But as with everything Leica, there are things one needs to know so as not to pick up the wrong, deceptively simple item and be out a good sum of money!
Three considerations for choosing an LTM to M adapter are focal length, adapter type and brand.
Because Leica M bodies automatically bring up framelines when you mount a lens, each LTM to M adapter is machined to mechanically convey focal length to the body. If you are running a Voigtlander M body, framelines are selected manually so you can run any focal length adapter that you want, it won’t make any difference. Aside from Voigt, the idea is simply to buy an adapter for each length LTM lens you’re going to run on your M camera.
LTM to M adapters are available with 28, 35, 50, 75, 90 and 135mm designations. There is are also some that are marked 21mm. 21 does not bring up 21mm framelines as Leica only goes to 28mm so it seems they marked this as a mere formality. Older adapters are marked for just one focal length. On newer adapters, frameline numbers are paired just like later Leica M finders; 21-35/135, 28/50 and 75/90.
Earlier M bodies like the M3 and M2 only had three framelines and therefore three possible LTM to M adapters and three settings on the frameline selector lever. Cleverly, because Leica care about forwards and backward compatibility, subsequent M cameras retained this foundation of three adapters and positions on the lever but simply doubled up each adapter/position using the same milling on the adapter.
So what I’m saying is that if you buy an LTM adapter that was made in 1954, it will be be marked for only one focal length; 50, 90 or 135. But if you use this old adapter on a brand new 2019 MP, it still works perfectly and brings up the corresponding framelines, as well as those framlines’ “brother.” So the adapter marked only for 50 would also bring up 75, the adapter for 90 would also bring up 28 and the adapter for 135 would also bring up 35, despite none of these secondary framelines being available on the M3. Pretty rad.
With just three LTM to M adapters, you can rule the world! Or, as previously touched upon, if you’re using a Voigtlander with manually selectable framelines, you really can just get by with one adapter and forget about what framlines it’s machined for.
You’ve identified what focal length lens you’re going to mount to your M camera, now we need to talk about the adapter type. And this is important regardless of if you’re running a Leica or a Voigt RF. There are three types of LTM to M adapters. Unofficially, they are Types 1, 2 and 3.
Type 1 LTM to M adapters are the earliest made, Leica brand adapters. The focal lengths are marked in cm instead of mm and, critically, they feature a cutaway that allows them to be used with older lenses with an infinity lock or focus knob. As a film photographer with a number of older and newer lenses and bodies, this is my preferred adapter as it is the most versatile for film-only. However, Type 1’s cannot be used on digital M bodies, provided you want lens coding, but do physically fit. I’ll get to that in a moment!
Type 2 adapters are perhaps the most common across all brands. They are marked in modern mm focal lengths and do not feature the aforementioned cutaway for the focus knob. It makes more sense to buy Type 2 if you are not shooting a digital M and are buying in a focal length for which there was never an infinity lock lens such as 90 or 135mm. If you’re buying an adapter for a 35 or 50mm lens, even if it does not have an infinity lock/focus knob, I’d recommend getting a Type 1 adapter JUST IN CASE you ever want to use it with a lens that does have infinity lock. This will spare you from having to buy a duplicate adapter down the road.
Type 3 adapters are the most current and most versatile adapter for film and digital. I don’t have a photo of one because I don’t own one. They are marked in mm and feature the infinity lock/focus cutaway. But they are also marked with 6 bit codes on the camera side of the adapter. This code conveys lens identification information to a digital camera which is embedded in the EXIF and can also be used to provide in-camera optical corrections. These adapters will work on M mount film bodies but the body has no sensor to detect the lens code. Sometimes Type 3 adapters will cost less than the Type 1 and 2 adapters and you may want to swap an LTM between film and digital bodies, so they’re a smart buy.
Okay, so we know what focal length and type adapter we need, but what brand is worth buying?
Leica stopped making LTM to M adapters eons ago. And they only made Type 1 and Type 2, not Type 3. So if you want that Leica name emblazoned on every bit of kit in your system, you’ll have to buy vintage and potentially engrave your own lens codes for use with a digital M. There is a bit of a collector premium on unused, boxed copies of course. Voigtlander made LTM to M adapters until just a few years ago, to support the LTM lenses that they also no longer make. And then of course there are those clever, often nameless Chinese companies who sell all kinds of simple photographic accessories very cheaply on eBay etc. Type 1 and 2 LTM adapters seem to be most common among Voigtlander and Chinese copies. For Type 3 adapters, Japanese newcomer Rayqual seems to produce the choice, if not only modern LTM to M adapter.
I own/use Leica, Voigt and a Chinese generic adapter and have not had any issues with any of them. I don’t believe Rayqual was making adapters when I got into all of this hence why I haven’t tried one.
That being said, I personally endorse buying genuine Leica or Voigtlander adapters. They usually sell for between $50 and $100. They both appear to be made out of a chrome plated brass, whereas the Chinese adapters are perhaps chrome plated steel or aluminum, as evidenced by their undersides pictured below. My Chinese adapter is a bit lighter weight than the Leica and Voigt adapters. The Voigt’s seem comparable in machining with the vintage Leica’s but the Leica’s feature more careful, handcrafted engraving if that matters.
CameraQuest no longer sells the discontinued Voigtlander adapters so you’ll have to rely on eBay or your favorite used camera outlet. Same with Leica. Tamarkin and KEH are personal favorites. While this may feel expensive, consider that you’re buying an item that is unlikely to ever wear out or break and so, largely should retain its value. In the 15ish years I’ve been shooting Leica/Voigtlander, the prices on adapters have been stable.
While the single Chinese adapter that I own (which came with a kit and whose origin I am unsure of) mounts just as accurately as the Leica and Voigt, and seems to sell for just $15, I would not be surprised to hear that there are variations in thread pitch/length that make mounting and un-mounting more or less tight as well as alignment less than perfect or that fit varies with particular lenses/bodies. I’ve also read bad things about the machining of the FotodioX brand adapter that B&H sells.
We can trust Leica and Voigt because they built adapters to fit their own cameras and lenses. These other brands, no so much. They exist merely as a cheap way to profit off bigger manufacturers.
That being said, if you’re a digital shooter, you’ll need a Type 3 adapter, which Leica and Voigt did not make. Japanese Rayqual adapters look to be made of brass and feature quality machine work. They are also available in black paint finish which looks quite smart and will probably brass with use. I haven’t personally used one but Stephan Gandy sells them through CameraQuest for $80. Alternatively, if you’re handy, you can add your own 6- bit coding to an adapter of your choosing!
So there you have it, this should be about all that you need to know to make a smart LTM to M adapter purchase and run fun vintage Leica or other M39 lenses on your newer rangefinder camera.
I’d love to hear what combo’s everyone’s using in the comments below. M6 TTL + 5cm 1.5 Summarit is my go-to. Thanks for reading!
Pick up a Raqual 50-75 LTM-M Adapter and help support this site with your purchase!
UPDATE: 8.4.2021 – I’ve gotten a few questions about the alignment of LTM lenses on M bodies when using an adapter. When mounted to an M body, LTM lenses will be a few degrees to the left (when holding the camera normally and looking down over the top) of where they would be on an LTM body. For example, if you’re using a lens with the hyperfocal distance scale on the top of the barrel (such as the 5cm 1.5 Summarit above), the center of the focus scale (as marked by a small triangle) will be at about 1 o’clock on an M camera. Whereas this mark would be at 12 o’clock on an LTM camera. This difference in alignment is according to design and nothing to worry about!
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One other possible consideration is that the type 1 adapters (or at least the 35mm one I own) don’t allow newer LTM lenses to couple under 1 meter as the RF cam cutout is not deep enough.
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Thanks for the tip Halka. I have never noticed this or heard about it. Will have to do some checking on my gear and reading to verify. I appreciate your bringing it to my attention!
I remember a few years ago when I first got my f/1.5 Summarit, the resident Leica classmate with an M3 traded his collapsible 2.8/50 for the same lens. So basically from a technical standpoint our images were going to be the same except he spent 10 times more for his camera body than I did. I suppose that’s what I love most about the old screw mount lenses more than anything is that there were so many (more affordable) options back then compared to M-mount for both bodies and lenses.
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Best economics to image quality ratio is definitely buying a good Leitz lens and putting it on a cheaper Leica mount body. You need a long EBL to properly focus a 50/1.5 at full aperture, minimum distances though. A Barnack or any Barnack copy with 1.5x magnification will do the trick or of course you could just buy something like a Canon P that can’t consistently hit focus with that lens but it can be used stopped down where it’s sharper anyway. But yeah M39 and M42 mounts made for some smart combination rigs. As with all manufacturers, bayonet mount rights were more tightly controlled in patents than the screw mounts.
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Canon 7, only had problems focusing after it took a few knocks and the rangefinder fell out of alignment. If one is shooting LTM, the Canon 7 has some helpful features that Leica STILL hasn’t incorporated.
I think I read a while ago that the M-mount’s copyright is expired now, right? It’s a shame that more camera companies haven’t taken advantage of that yet. Imagine what the Canon 8 could be…
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Yeah, that’s right, the M mount patent has run out which of course Cosina were the first to exploit. Then Zeiss and 7Artisans, now Zenit. There may be others but no other “name brands”
Generally I like to get Leica when I can though. I’ve wasted a good deal of money on Voigtlander learning the limitations of their build quality but performance has always been excellent. Vintage LTM lenses by Nikon and Canon were much more competitive with Leica for build quality but nobody else builds anything quite like Leica anymore.
Yeah, the 1950’s/60’s Canon RF’s incorporated some great features. I really like the VI-L for it’s effective baselength. Leica will never incorporate significant updates to the M bodies because the M5 was such a commercial failure. Leica shooters don’t want significant change, we want consistency, simplicity and quality. Canon and Cosina Voigtlander, as well as Nikon all improved the basic Barnack and M platforms but they just weren’t successful because of they generally lack the gestalt which Leica has had either skill or luck at capturing.
Hello Johnny, nice text. I’m just trying to adapt a 50mm summarit 1.5 into a M6 but the lens barrel does not align to the body. Should it or is it something common with LTM adapters?
There are a couple variations on the 50/1.5 Summarit. Mine has the “reverse” aperture ring and mounts nearly perfectly using either my Leica or Voigtlander Type 1 or Type 2 adapters. By nearly perfectly I mean that the top of the lens is slightly off center. The aperture indicator mark, for example is not at Top Dead Center but slightly to the right I think. Which specific lens and adapter are you using? Please let me know details. Thanks!
Yes, mine is too the reverse Aperture version. The adapter is a simpler one I’m afraid. But looking at the pictures of this lens mounted on M bodies I found at least two other “misaligned” to the left (looking from the top) exactly like mine is.
In the end I’ll just try taking some pictures to check.
I have looked at my Summarit and I believe what you are calling misaligned is normal. I said aperture indicator earlier but meant distance indicator. My distance indicator is not at Top Dead Center but slightly left of it when looking down from holding the camera normally. Such is the case when the lens is mounted to LTM bodies or M using either type of adapter, I or 2, Leica and Voigtlander.
I use Rayqual adapters for two reasons. Firstly they are dimensionally very accurate being exactly 1.00mm thick and have perfectly parallel faces. Second being black, they do not cause the dreaded “no lens detected” message on live view digital M cameras. Sadly due to the lunacy of Brexit, all UK dealers have no stock. Buying anything from overseas has now become a nightmare of paperwork and additional charges, in addition to import duty and tax.
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Thanks for sharing a brand that I hadn’t known about or covered. Sorry to hear about the stocking issue but hopefully it will pop back again soon.
Nice post! Very informative. Among the 5 adapters you have, do you notice any difference in lens position alignment? I have a cheap Fotodiox one and find its alignment is different from a Leica II body. When my Elmar is mounted on Leica II, the infinity lock is at 8 o’clock position. With the Fotodiox adapter on M body, the infinity lock is at 6 o’clock. I wonder if different adapters will do differently in this aspect.
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Hey TC, thanks for reading and good question. I only have a Leica III with me right now but as memory serves, that sounds correct. The old LTM lenses align differently on M bodies as I believe that the flange distance differs slightly. I will verify soon and let you know.
There are two different qualities of Fotodiox LTM to M adapter, the regular and the deluxe model. I have tried both. The regular one was not very well made and varied in thickness from 0.94mm to 0.97mm i.e. it was not parallel and this would have affected image quality. The deluxe one was better and was a consistent 0.99mm thick. Still not quite the right 1.00mm thickness but 0.01mm is probably not going to noticeably affect image quality. The LTM cameras/lenses with an M39mm x 26 tpi mount have a 28.80mm flange focal distance and the M cameras/lenses have 27.80mm. You can mount a lens with a longer FFD on a camera that has a shorter FFD with the addition of an adapter and still achieve infinity focus but not the other way round.
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Thanks for providing this!
Hey, I was gifted a Leica M4 with a Summaron 1:28/35 lens. It has an MR meter attached. Very nice, but also was this Industar 1:2.8/52 thread mount lens. Which adapter do I need to attach this lens to my camera? I’m not opposed to using third-party parts. Any help would be greatly appreciated. FYI: I’m not even sure if the camera works. I was told it was sitting in storage for years, but I stuck film in it.
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Sounds like a phenomenal gift! A couple thoughts – the M4 has 50, not 52mm framelines so the best you can do is get a 50mm LTM to M adapter to bring up the 50mm lines. I am not well-versed in Soviet lenses but it as long as it does not have a focus knob/infinity lock, it should be compatible with any of the types of adapters identified above. Brand is up to you but you can’t go wrong with Leica or Voigtlander though they are pricey. Some Soviet lenses don’t accurately adapt to M bodies, having issues with screwing in all the way or focusing to infinity. Again, I am not well-versed enough to comment further than this but it’s something to look out for. Personally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy a $100ish adapter to mount a, what $50ish lens on a body that hasn’t been serviced. Routine and necessary service for your M4 and Summaron could cost in excess of $300 or $400 so I’d personally focus on getting this done first! Finally, I find it strange that an LTM lens would come with an M camera without an adapter. There might be some strange reason for this involving a previously known issue with the lens. Most shooters just leave the adapter on the lens. To take it off and not leave it with the rest of the kit seems unusual. I hope this helps! Good luck with your M4, I’d love to hear an update when you get it moving!
I also like the Rayqual adapters but sadly nobody now keeps them in the UK. I have tried to encourage Robert White who sell other Rayqual adapters to keep them again but so far, no luck. The lenses I like using on my M10-R are the 85mm/f1.5 Summarex and like you the 50/1.5 Summarit, which I think has just as good bokeh as the far more expensive f1.2 Noctilux. I also have two of the 1999 special edition LTM lenses the 50 Summilux III-SE and the 50 Summicron V-SE. The 50 Summilux normally lives on my M7 and the Summicron on my M4-P. As my right thumb does not work well, both of the film cameras have a winder on them, a Motor-M and a Motor Winder M4-2.