These are exciting times for fans of legacy film lenses. Since the advent of mirrorless technology, photographers have adapted their old rangefinder and manual focus SLR lenses, but there have remained some wonderful optics that were for the most part, off limits. During the 1990s, camera makers were producing high end film compacts for discriminating professionals and enthusiasts. Cameras like the Leica Minilux, Contax T3, Konica Hexar AF and the Ricoh GR fit in a jacket pocket but rival the quality of larger SLR or rangefinder systems. While they continue to be used today by film aficionados, it is a sad day when they suffer from an electronics failure that can no longer be repaired.
The Leica Minilux is infamous for succumbing to the inevitable E02 error that renders the camera useless. Once dead, you basically have an expensive paper weight – same for the other film compacts listed above. Some photographers have enlisted the services of MS Optical – a small Japanese company run by Miyazaki Sadayasu – to create custom conversions of these lenses to Leica M-mount. Miyazaki San has become renowned for his creations but they are completely custom, can take months to complete, and once made, the lens cannot be returned to the donor camera at a later date.
Enter another small company called MGR Production out of Honk Kong, who have released a new conversion kit, specifically for the Leica Minilux Summarit 40mm lens. MGR was kind enough to send me a sample kit so that I could try the conversion myself and share the results with my readers.
Manson Huang and his partner started MGR as admirers of Miyazaki San’s custom creations, inspired to develop a solution that photographers could assemble themselves and if desired, return to the host camera later. As fans of the Minilux and its Summarit lens, Manson wanted give a second life to cameras that suffer the dreaded E02 error.
The conversion kit consists of a lens barrel, aperture ring, focusing helicoid, focusing tab and a rangefinder coupling mechanism. Made of anodized aluminum and brass, the adapter has 10 diaphragm blades and will focus from 0.7m to infinity on an M-mount camera. All the user needs to do is remove the front and rear elements from the donor Minilux and screw them into the adapter.
Manson shared with me some of their design renderings which are illustrative of how serious this effort is. The adapter is ultimately manufactured by a third party that would be recognizable to most readers – this is not a small shop project. The result is very impressive and reminds me of a lens you might buy new from Voigtlander. Pleased with the result of their Minilux project, MGR are now looking ahead to other classic film compacts that will lend themselves to conversion kits.
I consider myself capable of taking apart electronics and lens assemblies so when the kit arrived I was anxious to get started right away. That was my first mistake. Don’t even think about taking on this project without the correct tools – specifically lens spanners. You can find spanners for purchase online and believe me, they are necessary. Once I was properly outfitted with a good electronics screwdriver and a set of spanners, it was time to dive in.
Complete assembly directions can be found here, so please refer to them for details but read on for an overview of the process.
The first step is to open up the film door and remove the screws and plate that cover the rear lens element.
After the screws and plates are removed, use a spanner to unscrew the rear element.
Next, remove the front element’s lens ring – you can adhere it later to the new adapter.
MGR’s directions for the front element look simple – use a rubber tube to unscrew the front element, but I didn’t have a rubber tube so I got brave and tried a different spanner with sharp end points to try and unscrew the element. It worked but I would have felt safer using the technique MGR recommends.
Once both elements were removed, simply screw them into the adapter and adhere the lens ring (I used a glue stick) to the front of the barrel. That’s it, the deed is done. Focus is smooth and the overall fit and finish is reminiscent of a high quality rangefinder lens. The aperture ring and dof scale labels are not engraved but look like they may be laser etched.
Satisfied with the result, the next step was to mount the converted lens to a Sony E mount to Leica M adapter and try it out on the a7RII. I’ve owned several Minilux cameras over the years so was anxious to see if the lens renders on a digital sensor as well as it does on film.
I wasn’t disappointed. The Summarit remains a terrific little lens. Sharpness is excellent but more importantly, the lens renders with classic bokeh very similar to the Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2 and Leica Summicron 40/2. Compared to those identical designs, the Summarit bokeh has a slightly softer touch with less defined outlines and low chromatic aberration. The Summarit is also less contrasty when the sun is in the frame, handling flare with some level of sophistication.
Focusing the Summarit on the a7RII was simple but I am looking forward to trying the lens on the new Techart Pro auto focus adapter. Once the Techart arrives, the Summarit will once again be the autofocus lens that it was on the original Minilux, making the conversion even more satisfying. I’ll run another post when that happens but until then, enjoy some samples with the Summarit on the a7RII.
For anyone with a dead Minilux and the inclination to tackle the project, I highly recommend the MGR Production conversion kit. You can order the kit here for roughly $425 USD.
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