Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2001/10/20

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Subject: [Leica] The Visoflex System: An Overview
From: Marc James Small <>
Date: Sat, 20 Oct 2001 17:16:35 -0400
References: <>

In the beginning was the PLOOT.  In anticipation of the upcoming 1936
Olympics, the Reichsministerium fr Propaganda -- Goebbel's boys, BD! --
called on Zeiss to produce some cutting-edge long-focus gear to properly
document the anticipated German victories.  Zeiss responded with the 2.8/18
CZJ "Olympia" Sonnar, then a direct-mount, RF-coupled lens.  Leitz, without
government backing and without Zeiss' vast financial resources, cobbled
together as an answer a modified epidiascope and two prototype long-focus
lenses perhaps intended for large-format use to produce the PLOOT reflex
housing and the 4.5/20cm or 5/40cm Telyt.  While the shorter Telyt was not
on par with the Zeiss Olympia Sonnar, the PLOOT reflex housing made the
outfit quite easy in use, and it was deemed a keeper by the Gnomes of Wetzlar.

From 1936 to 1939, the combination was offered in the riflestock fitment
first used at Garmisch-Partenkirchen;  this was available with the Telyts
or 4.5/13.5cm Hektor in a shortened mount to allow infinity focus.  After
the Second World War, the PLOOT was upgraded with a removeable VF which
allowed the use of the LOOGI or PAMOO right-angle finders.  Obviously, the
PLOOT only appeared in LTM:  there are variations in finish and fitment but
these are now quite rare, so this is not a field for budding collectors hot
on quickly developing a finished collection!

In 1951, the PLOOT was superseded by the somewhat more thoughtfully
developed Visoflex I;  this had the same depth of 62.5mm as did the PLOOT
so the two shared lenses and attachments.  The original Visoflex I was in
LTM;  an M version appeared in 1954 and, with the LTM version, remained
available to 1962.  The standard arrangement for either was to use either a
vertical VF or a 45-degree model.  The Bellows I -- originally introduced
for the PLOOT in 1950 -- was continued.  There were variations, again, in
the fine-print;  the accessory shoe is higher on some units than on others,
and the like.  Both the PLOOT and Visoflex I, incidentally, bore serial
numbers, though the Visoflex II and later units did not.

Both the PLOOT and the Visoflex I normally required a double cable release,
with one cable releasing the shutter and the other raising the reflex
housing's mirror.  A consolidated unit with one button, the so-called
"Sports Release" or "Release Coupler" was introduced in 1951 for the LTM
Visoflex I;  a similar unit for the M cameras was developed but never
marketed due to the development of the Visoflex II.

The Visoflex II was a much slimmer and more sophisticated model with a
depth of only 40mm;  it was introduced in both LTM and M in 1959 and
remained available until 1962.  The Visoflex II no longer required the use
of a double cable but used a swinging arm to both raise the mirror and fire
the camera's shutter release;  it also had a delightfully bright 90-degree
VF.  In 1962, the Visoflex IIa unit appeared in both LTM and M BM;  it was
identical to the Visoflex II in every regard save for having the choice of
a soft or rapid mirror return.  (For a brief span in late 1962 and early
1963, a lustful Leica lover could choose between the Visoflex I, II, or
IIa, in either LTM or M mount.)  A slightly smaller and more efficient
bellows, the Bellows II, was introduced in 1961 and remained available
through the life of the II, IIa, and III.

Finally, in 1963, the pick of the litter came out, the Visoflex III, with
its choice of mirror lock-up, slow and soft mirror return, or rapid and
positive mirror return.  The Visoflex III required a slightly different
90-degree VF and had a locking ring mount to the camera body but, in all
other regards, was identical to the II and IIa, so all adapters and
accessories for these units were interchangeable, just one more example of
the system approach which has always made the Leica RF such a capable tool.
 The Visoflex III was only avaiable in M mount;  this unit -- and all of
its adapters, Telyts, and the Bellows II -- left production in 1984 due to
their popularity being perceived as cutting into the R camera's sales,
though some pieces remained available into the 1990's.

There are hundreds of adapters to fit almost any combination of lens to the
Visoflex units.  I have been cataloguing these for five years and still
haven't come anywhere close to a definitive listing, in part because many
of these items only appeared in Leitz medical or scientific catalogues.
There are also technical versions of all of the reflex housings, for uses
including microscopy and endoscopy.  These are now rather rare and
collectors wail at the small chance of scoring even one of these units.

There were a long series of lenses made especially for use on the various
Visoflex models, ranging from the 3.5/65 Elmar to the 6.3/800 Telyt-V
produced in minuscule quantities for the 1972 Munich Olympics.  The last of
these lenses ceased to be marketed in 1984.

Finally, the raw genius of the PLOOT was such to inspire imitation, that
sincerest form of flattery.  While some of these units were uninspired,
such as the FED reflex housing, the Kilfitt  Kilarscope or the Astro
Identoscope, and one line, the Zeiss Ikon Flektoskop/Flektometer, was
positively primitive, the Accura and Mller Novoflex housings, are
extremely well made and are proper competitors to the Wetzlar housings.

For the historical purist, the PLOOT is the only way to go but, for users,
the Visoflex III and Bellows II were made in goodly quantities and are
generally available at reasonable prices.  (For the nosey, I have both of
the major PLOOT versions, both of the Visoflex I, II, and IIa types, and a
III, which is by far the most-used of the lot.  I have most of the various
permutations of VF's for these housings, along with a Bellows II.  And I
have the 3.5/65 Elmar (first version), the 4.5/20cm Telyt, the 4/200 Telyt
(first version), the 4.8/280 Telyt (first version), and the 5/400 Telyt
(second version).)

Peter Dechert, that noted scholar of things optical and long-time Leica
user, has been conducting a 'Bring Back Viso!' campaign for the last decade.

Research continues!  There are adapters out there whose numbers and
codewords I've not yet run to earth!

Marc  FAX:  +540/343-7315
Cha robh bs fir gun ghrs fir!

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