Hunting: The Voigtlander Prominent and Skoparon 35mm 3.5
I wrote this months ago but never hit publish for some reason… forgot about it? Anyway! Part II coming soon!
As it usually goes, I was searching for something else when I stumbled upon a treasure.
This page. With this glorious photograph.
Act I: The call to adventure
It was in Japanese, but I could convert it using Safari's built-in translator.
And I've been doing that a lot, lately. A lot of the camera content I crave is in in Japanese. Like the tweet about using the Jupiter 12 on the Sigma fp.
Is there anything sweeter than a promising research rabbit hole?
Translate informed me that the gorgeous photos on this blog post had no color corrections. They just… came out of the lens that way.
Folks, that's the holy grail!
I was overcome by desire for it! What was it??
Act II: The long, dark night of the soul
Translate told me that the lens' name was Skopalon. No search results. So I switched back to the original Japanese and copied what I suspected would be the name.
The lens is the Voigtlander Skoparon 35mm 3.5… made exclusively for their rangefinder camera system, the Prominent. A system that dead ended.
There are no adapters.
Or rather… there are adapters for one of the system lenses. The official one sells used for $500-700. The Kipon one is $400. Yeenon — a Chinese brand with excellent adapters who sells exclusively on eBay — had a version for $110.
But let me repeat: just for the 50mm.
Why? It took me quite a lot of time to figure out because nobody talks about these camera systems. Especially not in English.
The Prominent is the deadest of dead I've come across in all my research.
Get this: The 35mm and 50mm have wildly mounts on the same camera, because of course they do! Just like the Nikon and Contax RF cameras. But more complicated. You see, the Prominent lenses don't have a focus system; you need a helicoid. The 50mm mounts inside the helicoid. And the 35mm has big ol' wings. It mounts outside the helicoid.
The 50mm Ultron f/2 was famous enough — and cheap enough, in that format — that it got its very own adapter.
But I want the 35mm.
My dreams wilted and were crushed under the bootheel of product differentiation.
Hang on. The guy who wrote the blog got it to work somehow, didn't he? And while he didn't explain, and offered no way to ask, his documented success — just like with the Jupiter 12! — gave me hope that there would be a way to do it that wouldn't require I become a 3D modeling and printing expert overnight..
🎶 Into the thick of it!
So again, I hit the stacks. Again I googled in Japanese, not English, because in English I struck out. (Japanese camera nerds are magical; they do the impossible. The English-speaking camera world gives up with an easy shrug.)
I found this blog post that speaks offhandedly, enigmatically, of it just working:
A modified lens that can be done in 5 minutes?
Please, sweet baby Jena, yes!
So when I matched the mount adapter while holding the lens, I noticed that the rear part fits perfectly.
Wait! What adapter??
There was a link to a "whimsical miscellaneous book of this camera repair shop" — I've never wanted anything more in my life — but the Yahoo! page was gone, because that service was shut down (of course it was), and the Wayback Machine didn't have it (of course it didn't)!
My dream, having lifted its petaled head from the pavement, subsided once more.
Guess it was time to think about machining… maybe 3D printing… and measuring things… and testing them… ughhhhh.
Knowing that I never finish DIY projects, I searched once more in vain to see if anyone else had discussed adapting this 35mm lens. No.
Then it hit me: Search this blog. (Duh!)
The results: another incredible image. I nearly moaned in frustration.
And then… could it be…? One more result! The charm of Ultron. Ultron is the 50mm lens. The golden child with the adapter!
Act IV: Reward, revelation
I read a fair amount of auto-translated stuff (see also: research rabbit) and the various languages have varying levels of success; less to do, I think, with the technology or corpus, than the language itself. Languages with a lot of metaphor and allusion and indirectness do not come out as clear to my English brain. Japanese is one of those languages.
It took me multiple reads — and much pinch-zooming scrutinizing of his rig photo — to figure out what was going on:
I figured these are the components:
- TechArt auto-focus adapter for Sony (ugh, jealous)
- a specific Prominent adapter for the 50mm lens
- some kinda tape and other shims to make it perfect
He found an adapter where the 35mm lens' wings would rest gently on the outside, but wouldn't lock. He somehow melded it together and it orked.
For the life of me, though, I couldn't figure out which adapter!
But my brainwave about searching the same blog led me back to the first blog, and there I found a puzzling story.
It again took me several reads to figure out what was happening: The original guy had his 35mm lens transplanted into the body of a Sonnar lens by Miyazaki himself, the legendary Japanese lens maker and (former) transplant specialist. Who doesn't do it any more. And even if he did, his rates were astronomical.
Sure glad I didn't realize that at the beginning!!
Act V: Promise of a new adventure
So here's where we stand:
- there's no way to get the lens transplanted
- there's no way for me to determine which adapter Adapter Guy used
- there's no guarantee that a different 50mm adapter will let the 35mm wings nestle around it
- but, also!! I don't really need to adapt the lens; it's not going to travel between M-mount and a Prominent film camera
- the lens is not rare and precious
And, after all this, I still want it.
Good news: the last two bullet points leave us with a strategy I can probably execute. Not learning how to transplant optics. Not learning how to 3D model and print.
We're talking minor surgery and half-assing.
I think my approach will be to…
- ✅ buy the 35mm (done! $90 shipped!)
- ️ buy the Yeenon 50mm adapter, which has a flat top
- ️ cut the wings off the 35mm, somehow (how??)
- ️ permanently marry it to said adapter (the easy part)
After all, the flange distance is the same for the 50mm and the 35mm — they go on the same camera body! I don't have to do anything complicated. It's just those damn wings.
Sure, I'll cut the wings off a beautiful lens. Why not? It's not like there's any kinda, you know, ominous symbolism or anything.
Sidebar: Have you ever tried using the Japanese internet? It's so much worse. All the software looks like it's straight out of 1998, and not in the good way. More importantly, it barely works. I know this blog has a comment function. The sidebar features comments! But I can't find it. Thinking, maybe it only shows when you're logged in, I tried to register for Excite (yes, EXCITE).
But I can't, because their form doesn't work. At all. And yes I tried setting it back to Japanese. Also… their image captchas are in English. "What's a tractor? What's a fire hydrant?" Poor users.