I own a couple of Leica LTM bodies (IIIa and IIIc) that I love dearly. Compared with the FED-3 that I used to have, the Leicas are amazingly well-engineered pieces of art. There, I said it. I know I may come across as a bit of a fanboy, but that’s probably because it is true. In any event, I love these cameras, especially when paired with the collapsible 50mm Elmar. Occasionally, I like to experiment with the wider 35mm lens (I use a Voigtlander Color Skopar because a Summaron I had was damaged during repairs. Pity!). Unfortunately, unlike the more recent M-series cameras, the LTM cameras only have a 50mm finder, making the use of external essential. So, I set about finding a suitable, multiple focal length finder for the cameras.
The first finder I bought is a Steinheil turret finder with 35/36, 85, 135mm lenses. This little guy isn’t the prettiest thing around, but it is pretty functional. The one ding on it is that the finder window is pretty small – even smaller than the IIIc window. Overall decent finder.
The second finder I got is the Leica VIDOM. The main reason I went out looking for this finder was, I am embarrassed to admit, because of a bit of idol worship. Now, I have written before that I greatly admire the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. As a result I always look out for books that have something to do with him. One such book is “Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History” (great read, by the way). In it, there is an account of the first meeting between Chim and Henri, as follows: “They were both carrying Leicas round their necks and naturally got talking. ‘I said to him “What have you got there?”‘ Cartier-Bresson recalled. ‘And he said it was a VIDOM, which was a viewfinder of that time, and we started a conversation.”
“What have you got there?”‘ Cartier-Bresson recalled. ‘And he said it was a VIDOM…’
Perhaps this was a great finder in the 30s. It may even have been state-of-the-art. However, the finder has many things working against it. For one, the image is laterally inverted. That makes it difficult to compose. Secondly, when you change from landscape to portrait, the image becomes vertically inverted, i.e. upside-down. It’s like trying to compose on a large format camera, only without a tripod and a lot more vertigo. It does permit a more abstract way of viewing the images though (incidentally, HCB used to look at contact sheets of young photographers upside-down for a more abstract perspective on framing and composition). Another thing it has going for it is the size of the finder window. At 35mm, it is almost 3 times the size of the Steinheil (though it is a cropping finder and by the time you get to 90mm, the finder size is essentially equivalent to that of the Steinheil).
I think the VIDOM looks much classier than the Steinheil, though that does nothing for its functionality. In addition, both of these finders show cropped views, so there is no way to compose beyond the edges of the frame, as one can with the Leica M framelines. I am currently looking for a cheap Leica VIOOH Imarect finder. Let me know if you have one lying around!
P.S. I had wanted to put some red leather on the Leica, but instead chose to reskin it in black so that it will match the black leather on the Steinheil. If that’s not dedication to a finder, I don’t know what is.