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 an 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 additional corresponding framelines, as well as each of these framlines’ “brothers.” 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. These will work on M mount film bodies but the body has no sensor to detect this 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. So if you want that Leica name emblazoned on every bit of kit in your system, you’ll have to buy vintage. 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. For Type 3 adapters, Japanese newcomer Rayqual seems to produce the choice 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, as evidenced by their undersides pictured below. Additionally, 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.
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. I’ve even read bad things about the machining of the FotodioX brand adapter that B&H sells.
We can trust Leica and Voigt because they built these 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!
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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