The Worst DSLR in the World
table setting

It's heavy, it's absurdly expensive, it's slow-handling, the choice of lenses is miserably small, and it's great fun: an M9 with a Visoflex III reflex housing.

The Visoflex III is a mirror housing which converts an M-series Leica to an SLR. You bayonet it onto the front of the camera with a choice of viewfinder (vertical 'chimney' type or pentaprism); adjust the release arm so that the mirror goes up before the shutter fires; and there is your (very thick, rather heavy) SLR camera body.

Table setting

The sun on the table in the séjour is a constant source of fascination to Roger. This is from the same series as Still Life in Motion (coming soonand Typewriter (coming soon).

Leica M9 with Visoflex

The basic design of the Visoflex III reflex housing dates back to the 1958 Visoflex II, and all Visoflexes since then are compatible with the M9.

m9 with visio

You then need either a lens with its own focusing mount, or a focusing mount and a lens head. I use a 16464 (OTZFO) focusing mount and a 65/3.5 Elmar. Why 65mm? Because it's the shortest that can be focused to infinity, either in the 16464 mount or the bellows. It was introduced in 1960. The original 90/2 Summicron (the big silver one, in short focusing mount 16462) and the 125/2.5 Hektor (in its own focusing mount) are especially prized for portraiture.

set broken down Clockwise from the M9: Visoflex III, right angle prism finder (note chrome locking button), focusing mount, 65/3.5 Elmar.

Of course there's absolutely no automation. Diaphragms are at best pre-set, and many are straightforward manual. If you're using a metered camera, you have to flip the mirror up before you can meter. The best you can say of the set-up, really, is that it allows you to get an 18 megapixel full-frame DSLR for next to nothing, if you already own an M9, because Visoflexes and most Viso-fit lenses don't go for much nowadays. Actually, I already had the Viso III, 16464 focusing mount and Elmar, so all I had to do was to assemble it and shoot: I used it for the still movement(coming soon) pictures, the typewriter (coming soon) pictures, and the table settings pictures. It really is full-frame, too, apart from the strange old German custom of rounding the corners of the viewing screen. And the incredible thing is that the Viso III is compatible with all M-series cameras, except the big, awkward-looking M5 which looks completely different from all other M-series Leicas.

Visoflex III controls

The knurled ring on the Viso release arm is turned to set the length of the release screw so that the mirror flips up just before the shutter trips. The three coloured dots on the Viso control knob correspond to mirror up (red), slow lift (black) and instant lift (yellow). The mount on the front of the Viso is standard Leica bayonet, complete with red dot.

The basic Visoflex idea goes back as far as 1933, when the PLOOT reflex unit was introduced for screw-mount Leicas. In 1953 the smaller, lighter OZYXO or Visoflex I replaced PLOOT, and was made in both screw and bayonet versions. The Visoflex II (1958) was a complete redesign which allowed the use of much shorter-focus lenses, down to 65mm: it was 40mm thick (screw mount) or 41mm (bayonet) instead of the 62.5mm of the PLOOT and Visoflex I. In about 1961 the IIA appeared with an instant-return mirror, then the III appeared in 1963, the last of the line, in bayonet only. The main difference between the IIA and III, apparently, was an improved mirror lift mechanism.

cheap knives
beaker and watch

Knives (left) and Beaker, Watch and Tiger Balm (right)

People often say that you should be able to get great pictures in your own back yard, but we have long suspected that many who say this may be making the best of a bad job. It is, after all, a commonplace that when you have the time to travel, you don't have the money, and when you have the money, you don't have the time. Then we decided to try shooting close to home, as a sort of party piece, a demonstration that we could. The kitchen is even closer than the back yard, and the bedside cabinet is even closer than the kitchen - and the picture on the right is on a bedside cabinet. The point is, though, you have to have a camera that makes you see these 'back yard' pictures.

The caption above tells you the most important thing about the M9 and Visoflex. Even if it is the worst DSLR in the world (which actually may not be the truth), it makes you want to take pictures. Yes, it's slow, it's clumsy, and you need a (blindingly expensive) Leica M9 before you can put it together. So? It's still a camera that makes you want to take pictures.


You can take sharp pictures, like the one at the beginning of the article. Or if you want, you can take pictures that are frankly soft, like this one. The point is that making you want to take pictures is the measure of any camera, whether the best or the worst. It makes you go and look for pictures to take. You can't ask for a lot more from a camera that you use for pleasure, whether or not you use it to take pictures for a living (and I do).


Bedside lamp

This is a 1950s counterbalanced lamp beside my bed, photographed by artificial light, from the same series as above. It's not sharp, but I love the shapes. And a camera which gives you pictures that you love can't be altogether bad.


Pan and scissors (below)

Another example of 'you see it - you shoot it'. Like the bedside lamp, it's about shapes - though in this case, 18 megapixels had added quite a bit of texture as well.




lamp base
pan and scissors


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© 2010 Roger W. Hicks