Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Less Than A Buck A Millimeter! Way Less!

Back in the 1960's the rule of thumb was that a quality long telephoto lens by one of the better European lensmakers, such as Leitz, Kilfit, or Novoflex, would set you back about a dollar a millimeter. If you wanted a 400mm lens you'd better budget $400. Today, because of inflation, that would be over $2,000, a lot of money for a young photographer to put into as lens that wouldn't get all that much use.

A New York mail order company named Spiratone didn't sell cameras but they sold about everything you could put on a camera from close-up accessories to unique filters, and besides often being the only source they kept the prices rock bottom. When Fred Spira, founder and owner of Spiratone, started marketing a 400mm lens it was an affordable $34.50. Soon Sterling-Howard, another mail-order firm, started marketing their version. Soon I wanted one (or the other) but knew it wouldn't see much use so I kept putting it off.

One day I walked into Browne's Photo Center and there in the "used" show case was the Sterling-Howard version looking like new. I grabbed it. For a bunch of years it was used on either a Pentax or a Leicaflex, but I had good reasons for wanting to be able to use it on my Visoflex II reflex housing which converts a standard Leica body into a single lens reflex. The Visoflex II, though, is too thick. The lens won't focus to infinity. One day I was looking at the lens and realized that it screws apart in the middle and the threaded part was quite long. I had an idea. If I shortened the lens barrel a few millimeters I could still get infinity focus on the Visoflex-II. By filing off the 41mm thread rear for the rear T-mount adapter and filing out the 39mm thread of a Leica thread mount to M bayonet adapter and using a bit of epoxy glue I'd have a lens that would get infinity focus on the Visoflex II. A few hours with a few files and I was in business. It worked!

It shot a couple of record album covers and it produced a good number of shots for magazines. It more than paid for itself. I probably haven't used it now in twenty years. I dug it out intending to shoot some film with it, but so far all I've done is take some pix of me holding it.


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