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So, you bought your first Leica camera, complete with new leatherette covering and newly-CLA’d rangefinder.  Unable to afford a Leica lens, you pick up a Voigtlander, Zeiss, or Konica, despite the threats from the Leica zealots that what you are doing is sacrilegious.  You sooth your newly-found Leica soul by reminding it that you will eventually upgrade to a Summicron.

Now you go out into the streets and find the shutter button a little hard to press.  You do what any Leica lover will do – plough into the Leica forums.  Seeking the wisdom of generations of Leicophiles, you come across this thing called an Abrahamsson Softie, or soft releases.  It looks simple enough, and people swear by it, claiming it improves the ergonomics so much, it might very well earn you an extra stop of handholdability.  Then you go looking and find that it costs $15 + shipping.  Sure, it doesn’t cost that much.  And you are, after all, using a Leica, so it’s unbecoming to be scrimping and saving (at least that’s what they tell you).  And some of them use advanced CNC methods for manufacturing.  The easy thing to do is to spend the money and be done with it, but if you are anything like me, you won’t feel right spending this kind of money for something so simple.  So here’s a DIY tip to help you achieve the same for much less.

InstaMorph – A DIYer’s Best Friend
Before we start with the details, I’d just like to put in a plug for my favorite material for DIY projects – the InstaMorph, aka Shapelock plastic.

InstaMorph moldable plastic

This material comes in pellets that you can heat up in hot water (around 80 degrees centigrade), which will then turn clear and soft.  The pellets can then be molded together (like clay) and shaped with your hands or tools.  Depending on the ambient temperature, you have about 3 minutes to work with the material.  If you need more time, just heat it up some more.  Upon cooling, it will harden into a solid that can be sanded and drilled (low speeds only. Otherwise the heat generated will melt the plastic again).

I have used this material in a number of little projects, including strengthening the foot of an external flash, as well as fittings to squeeze a 35mm cartridge into a 620-film medium format camera.  It costs around ten bucks for a 6-oz jar, but you can almost never finish it.  I got a free sampler pack a few years ago from Shapelock before the company was sold and renamed InstaMorph, loved it so much that I bought a 12-oz jar from Amazon.

How to make a Softie?
This is actually extremely simple.  First, heat up enough InstaMorph to form a button (roughly 1cm cubed).  Next, take a small flat head M3 screw (approximately 5mm long) and grind the head so that it is no longer circular.  This will prevent the screw from spinning around after you have wrapped the InstaMorph around it.

Size comparison of M3 screw with quarter

Shape 3/4 of the hot plastic into a hemispherical button, and press the screw into the plastic, taking care not to rotate the screw.  Once a depression is made in the plastic, you can press the remaining 1/4 of the hot plastic around the screw, sealing the whole screw in the process.  Continue to shape and mold while squeezing out excess water or air pockets.  Cool, and you have your soft release!

Finished button. A little misshapen, but it works.

My Leica M2 w/ 35mm Summaron f/3.5 with the DIY soft release!

That’s all for now!

P.S. I forgot to add that you can use Sculpey clay to do the same thing.  In fact, it may be superior to InstaMorph as it gives you unlimited time to work with before heating to harden.  I have found, however, that the clay does not have the same stability as InstaMorph, and has a tendency to crack internally after some time (perhaps due to the thermal expansion of the metal during heating).  This results in a free-wheeling button, which is pretty annoying.