The legendary Leica, Nikon and Cosina Voigtländer Meister and member of the LHSA and NHS Tom Abrahamsson died last January 6th 2017 at the age of 73 in Vancouver (Canada).
This is a huge loss to the world of photography, since this unique and great man has left an indelible imprint through his amazing technical skills in the sphere of gorgeous CNC machining of aerospace alloys with his world famous Classic Softreleases and Minisoftreleases for a number of different cameras and brands, his masterpiece rapidwinders for Leica analog RF cameras, tons of experience, insightful and practical approach on getting pictures as a first class black and white photojournalist using rangefinder cameras to share space with his subjects and beget interactions in reportages and images teeming with life, and above all by virtue of his human qualities and kindness who turned him into a reference-class benchmark whenever he was, being beloved by all the ones who had the privilege of meeting him and learning very much listening to him and his wife Tuulikki Abrahamsson.
A hand manufactured product oozing impressive quality and sturdiness, handcraftedly made by Tom Abrahamsson with a painstaking level of noble metals (high tensile strength alloy, stainless steel and brass) machining inside his famous workshop in Vancouver (Canada).
This very well built device replaces the base plate on Leica M cameras and allows the rapid advance of the film inside the camera using your left hand on the lever located in the base of the Rapidwinder to pull it outwards, so the photographer doesn´t have to take his/her eye away from the viewfinder.
The drive is a reinforced toothed belt quieter than the original chain drive of the Leicavit MP, and optimized for avoiding stretching, and the multiple pin clutch used in it allows the photographers to shoot very fast, in the 2-2,5 frames/second range, a mechanical accomplishment in the scope of 24 x 36 mm format analog rangefinder cameras.
Unlike loud and bulky motordrives, it doesn´t use any batteries, remains utterly integrated with the body of the rangefinder camera (it only adds 1,4 cm to the height of the camera along with 125 g more) and preserves its small size and weight, as well as working in a very smooth way.
He started to design, manufacture and sell these highly useful gadgets featuring a thorough attention to detail in 1987, after a very hard self teaching of machining from late seventies, until by dint of strenuous work, love for the well made products and an unswerving commitment to spread out the photographic possibilities of rangefinder cameras, he gained breathtaking proficiency in the use of lathes, milling machines and a wide range of tools of every size and shape in symbiosis with CNC milling machines which enabled him to improve the precision of cases machined from alloys progressively upgrade parts and designs.
The mythical Mr Barnack softie, which has currently become a cult object among users of 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras all over the world. The highly appreciated and very special cat passed away on August 4, 2010, after twelve years of loyalty to Tom and Tuulikki Abrahamsson.
After having begun his career as a photojournalist for a Swedish newspaper during sixties working with a repainted in gray Leica M2, he subsequently travelled worldwide during seventies and first half of eighties until he settled in Vancouver (Canada) in 1987.
His indefatigable labor was instrumental in the Renaissance of RF cameras since mid nineties, along with other keepers of the faith in that scope like Joseph K. Brown, Sal DiMarco Jr, Vahan Shahinian, Mervin Stewart, Eric Bohman, Shin Yasuhara, Hirofumi Kobayashi, Ed Schwartzreich, Seth Rosner, Carl Merkin, Roger Hicks, Hans Ploegmakers, Rick Oleson, Jason Schneider, Stephen Gandy, Michael Agel, Will Wright, Eli Kurland, Daniel Zirinsky, Ron Johnson, Raymond Piganiol, Stan Tamarkin, Igor Reznik, Terry Maltby, Stefan Daniel, Roy Moss, Joseph K. Brown, Dick Gilcreast, Albert Bruce Knapp, Richard Gladden, Bill Rosauer, John Patterson, Dick Santee, John E. Hayden, Bill Caldwell, Norm Woodward, Thomas Campbell, Alex Shishin, Shiniziro Mizuchi, Stephen Wright, Terance Dixon, David Schumaker, Richard Wasserman, Dr. Michael Schwartz, Shinichi Nakamura, Bruce Young, Edward Kowaleski and many more on the five continents, after almost twelve years in which
This ten year stage between mid nineties and 2005 was fundamental in the preservation of the very small 24 x 36 mm format mirrorless with rangefinder concept camera and top-notch tiny and quite light highly luminous lenses (whose compactness and optimization for handheld shots without trepidation even in dim light conditions at very low shutter speeds, its amazing smoothness and almost inaudible sound on pressing their shutter release button, the keeping of eye contact with the subject right through the moment of exposure thanks to the lack of a swivelling mirror, the invaluable help of the area visible outside the framelines, particularly in the Leica and Cosina Voigtländer rangefinders, to anticipate unpredicted moving subjects that may enter the frame and an exceedingly short shutter lag turn the RF cameras into the best by far choice for street photography and people photography from short distances) before the definitive consolidation of the digital Leica M concept, firstly embodied by the Leica M8 and
Tom Abrahamsson with his black Leica M2 coupled to a Voigtländer Nokton Classic S.C 35 mm f/1.4.
He is pressing the Abrahamsson softie (installed on the threaded socket of the shutter release button of the camera) using the special technique recommended by him, hooking one´s finger on it so that the second joint applies the pressure.
Gorgeous Tom Abrahamsson´s softie manufactured to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the LHSA during the Annual Meeting held in Louisville (Kentucky) in 2008.
The polishing of this thoroughly engineered tiny product is simply stunning, flawless, without any hint of imperfection, paint rugosity or any minute metal cranny. A real masterpiece of miniaturization accuracy, boasting a very beautifil cosmetic look which enhances the appearance of the camera.
Likewise first class is the high resistance of its very special ultralight aerospace alloy which makes possible the engraving of all kind of inscriptions, logotypes, drawings, diagrams, letters, etc, a long lasting permanence being achieved through an avantgarde technique based on laser beam
From scratch, they were made to the highest standards of quality, solving the problems inherent to previously available softies from different companies and countries, made in cheap cast aluminum, which had too small diameter or featured a concave surface resulting in the need to use the tip of the finger, exerting pressure on the shutter release button of the camera, so on shooting with slow and very slow shutter speeds, there was frequent trepidation and blurred images.
That´s why Tom Abrahamsson took the decision of striving upon stretching the handheld capabilities of Leica rangefinder cameras when getting pictures at low and very low shutter speeds, conceiving his own softies with a bigger diameter (15mm) and a dome convex shaped upper area, in addition to using the most adequate stuff to manufactured them: an expensive top quality very tough and resistant aerospace metallic alloy assuring maximum strength and durability which avoided any snapping or getting stuck of the softies in the cable release thread and simultaneously enabled to engrave and anodize them in a wide range of colours.
Lateral view of the LHSA 2008 softie made by Tom Abrahamsson showing the painstaking accuracy in the machining of both the knurled edge, the screwed tip for inserting the softie on the thread for cable release socket of Leica rangefinder cameras and its exceedingly sturdy base.
From the beginning, manufacturing these masterpieces of machining work proved to be a conundrum, particularly if we bear in mind that it was an utterly private adventure, far from any craving for huge revenue and based on the keynote of top-notch craftsmanship, making use of the best materials in existence, and fulfilling a personal control unit by unit of each softie and the different stages until completing them.
A self-made man in many a respect, Tom Abrahamsson´s iron will and his impressive know-how and prowess on machining of metals and alloys learned the hard way since mid eighties (when he began to thoroughly study the design of the first ones of his famous rapidwinders) was pivotal in the beginning of the Abrahamsson Softrelease Classic devices production on July 23, 1998, and the turning of this great photographer, artisan and Renaissance man workshop into a very high level center using CNC machines.
These state-of-the-art little wonders enabled to extend the handheld safe slow shooting capabilities of the rangefinder cameras up to a shutter speed of 1/8 s with lenses between 50 and 90 mm without trepidation, while on using lenses between 21 and 35 mm a photographer can often reliably work hand and wrist at 1/4 s and even 1/2 s.
As a matter of fact, Tom was able to shoot indoors at a shutter speed of 1/8 s with a Cosina Voigtländer Bessa R4M rangefinder camera coupled to a prototype of the Elmar-M 24 mm f/3.8 Asph lens during the LHSA visit to the Woodword Bourbon Reserve Distillery in 2008.
Tom Abrahamsson getting a picture of Bill Rosauer, Editor of Viewfinder magazine, the reference-class illustrated international publication on Leica along with LFI and Vidom.
Tom Abrahamsson, a true gentleman, was always one of the Viewfinder flagships with his superb articles about Leica and Voigtländer cameras and lenses, whose pictures and texts (he was also a gifted writer) were a true relish for any enthusiast of photography.
He was a great lover and authority on black and white photography and the concept of latent image, with a tremendous knowledge on the specific traits of every kind of b & w chemical emulsions (which he tested once and again, often making his own developers), having a gift to choose the right subjects for each film, getting a lot of pictures on a daily basis and treating them in different "soups", specially his beloved Beutler developer, which was also used by Leica for many decades from mid fifties to get maximum image quality in its promotional prints and show the performance of its lenses.
Tom was a real maven on black and white films, to such an extent that he was even able to shoot Kodak Plus X movie stock exposed between 80 and 100 ISO and then develop it during 6.5 minutes (which he reduced 30 seconds if the pictures had been taken under scorching sun conditions) in 1:1:10 diluted Beutler to get fantastic outdoor results regarding smooth grain, midtones and highlights, since he perfectly controlled the superior grain edge of Beutler in comparison to the classical 1:100 Agfa Rodinal.
In addition, he used a slew of black and white films like the Fuji Across 100, Efke 25, Kodak Super-XX rated at iso 250, Ilford Pan F 50, Spurs DSX, Ilford SXF, Kodak TMax 100 and of course the Kodak Tri-X 400, having the knack of optimizing results with each one by means of painstakingly tested developing times, adequate agitations and a vast choice of homegrown solutions he always liked to share with his legion of worldwide admirers.
The upshot of it is that in addition to creating the best possible black and white images according to his talent, experience, intuition, remarkable quickness and exceedingly accurate timing on shooting (Tom was consistently able to get pictures of people from a very short distance going unnoticed at the defining moments), he was a great advocate of the significance of acutance and the visual perception of sharpness inherent to it in synergy with contrast over the resolving power of a lens.
Instrumental for it was his very deep discernment on the chemical properties of every b & w film in existence and particularly his long lasting know-how in the sphere of chemical emulsions and the analysis of black and white negatives and the resulting images on photographic paper, so he had an enormous interest in the transitions between edges and differences in density which vary with the subject matter, lighting, exposure, contrast and other aspects, including the relevance of Mackie lines to acutance in pictures when they´re born at gradations between areas of different densities, it all being influenced by the developers and agitation techniques used, a further realm in which Tom Abrahamsson was a full-fledged master.
A Leica M3 mirrorless with rangefinder camera with the mythical Mr B softie threaded on its shutter release button.
When he was only fourteen years old, Tom Abrahamsson started getting pictures in Sweden with a second hand unit of this breathtaking entirely metallic photographic tool and fell in love with the Leica M System of cameras and lenses, a passion which would keep on throughout his whole lifetime.
The milestone Leica M3 camera (the best ever made along with the Nikon SP) launched into market in 1954 has an extraordinary 0.92x magnification viewfinder whose crispness, contrast and clarity is far superior to the viewfinders of the cream of the crop of excellent current 24 x 36 mm digital slr full frame professional cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EOS 1DX Mark II, Canon EOS 5DS R, Canon EOS 5DS, Nikon D810, Nikon D810A, Nikon D5, Pentax K-1, Sony full frame mirrorless and rangefinderless EVF digital cameras with a very good price/performance ratio and top of the range sensors like the Sony A7, A7II, A7R, A7S, A7RII, A7SII, APS-C sensor Fujifilm cameras (though to match the amazing compactness and low weight of these cameras and avoid very large and heavy objectives in comparison with bodies, the best choice when it comes to getting top image quality is coupling to them manual focusing Leica M, Leica R or Asahi Takumar Super-Multi-Coated lenses) , and Micro 4/3 Olympus and Panasonic cameras.
Back view of the 24 x 36 mm format Leica M3 rangefinder camera with the Mr B softie made by Tom Abrahamsson installed on the thread of its shutter release button.
The digital mirrorless EVF (electronic viewfinder) cameras are not rangefinder cameras, because the different models of rangefinder cameras have had (since 1936 with the Zeiss Ikon Contax II and since 1954 with the Leica M3) and go on having superb optical viewfinders in which the VF and the rangefinder (an engineering masterpiece made up by 150 components) are combined and work integrated, so a mirrorless digital camera lacking rangefinder and featuring EVF (for example all the varieties of Sony A7, the Fuji X-Pro 1, Fuji X-Pro 2, Fuji XT-1, Fuji XT-2, etc) or any digital camera with " electronic rangefinder simulation " like the Fujifilm X-100T, Fujifilm X-100F and other models are not rangefinder cameras, but very different things, not only in terms of optomechanical quality but also in a much lower production cost.
Therefore, to go out to the street with a mirrorless without rangefinder camera or a
Leica M mirrorless with rangefinder camera (whether 24 x 36 mm format analog or digital one) is not the same thing or similar experience at all, of course always understanding that anybody is free to buy the camera or lenses from the brand he/she wishes.
On the other hand, the Leica M lenses set the standard for quality in the 35 mm photography field (with excellent sharpness and contrast at their widest apertures, to such an extent that on stopping down, performance is very similar and you only gain more depth of field) and always stand the test of time, as well as sporting exceedingly small size, very short diameter and amazing low weight for their very large apertures (something much more difficult and expensive to design and manufacture than building lenses featuring big size, long front diameter and heavy weight), and their prior specifications defining base parameters, mechanical tolerances and optical system performance are the most exacting.
That´s why Leica M lenses deliver superb results coupled through adapters to a very comprehensive range of mirrorless professional cameras from different brands and 24 x 36 mm, APS-C and Micro 4/3 sensor formats.
Leica M2 with Summicron-M 5 cm f/2 Rigid Dual Range with shade and goggles for near focusing range.
The camera has a Tom´s Abrahamsson´s black colour softie screwed on the shutter release button thread for cable.
Detail of the same camera with the Tom Abrahamsson´s black colour softie being pressed with the special technique recommended by him to greatly expand the handheld shooting capabilities of rangefinder cameras in subdued light conditions, enabling to safely get pictures using very low shutter speeds of 1/8 s and even 1/4 s and 1/2 s to experienced photographers once they get the hang of it.
In spite of being a great admirer of the standard 50 mm lenses (he used all of them, particularly the Summicron Rigid 50 mm f/2, the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 in M mount, the Carl Zeiss Sonnar C 50 mm f/1.5 for the Zeiss Ikon camera, the Carl Zeiss Planar 50 mm f/2 for the Zeiss Ikon camera, the non aspherical Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4, the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 Asph, the Voigtländer Heliar 50 mm f/2, the Voigtländer Skopar 50 mm f/2.5, the non aspherical Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 versions 4 and 5, the Heliar 50 mm f/3.5 from the Bessa T limited edition, the Summitar 5 cm f/2 and many others) and the iconic historical pictures made with them by the foremost photojournalists in history like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Izis Bildermanas, Robert Capa, David Seymour "Chim", Inge Morath, Werner Bischof, Elliott Erwitt, René Burri, Larry Burrows, Erich Lessing and others, the main and most used lens for Tom Abrahamsson was always the Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 (so the Leica M2, optimized for this focal length, was his favourite camera), because he considered the 50 mm lenses as short teles, while the 35 mm was the par excellence photojournalistic focal length and with which he took roughly 80% of pictures throughout his lifetime, without forgetting his frequent use of under 35 mm lenses like the 1957 Zeiss Biogon 21 mm f/4.5, the Elmarit-M 21 mm f/2.8, the Zeiss C Biogon 21 mm f/4.5, the Super Angulon 21 mm f/3.4 (by far the superwideangle lens most used by him during his life), the Voigtländer Color-Skopar 21 mm f/4, the Ricoh 21 mm f/3.5 in screw mount and other 35 mm lenses like the Summaron-M 35 mm f/3.5, Summaron-M 35 mm f/2.8, Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4, Voigtländer Nokton 35 mm f/1.2 Aspherical, Voigtländer Nokton Classic 35 mm f/1.4, Voigtländer Color-Skopar 35 mm f/2.5, etc.
Voigtländer Bessa R4M analog rangefinder from 2006, one of the best and most interesting cameras manufactured by Cosina Voigtländer under the guidance of its president Hirofumi Kobayashi (who had the wisdom of ignoring the "Advanced Photo System" during the second half of nineties and devote his efforts to the making of 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras with an amazing price/quality ratio and highly luminous manual focusing first class primes strongly inspired by legacy lenses whose performance was most times improved using modern glasses and multicoatings, as well as oozing great beauty.
It features a silky-smooth focusing ring with metallic tab and a 10 blade diaphragm. The barrel is made in black anodized aluminum and the mount is built in chromed brass.
As happens with the vast assortment of lenses manufactured by Cosina Voigtländer, the Voigtländer Ultron 28 mm f/2 delivers very good image quality at a hugely competitive price considering its excellent mechanical construction entirely made in metal, its excellent optical performance on the image center it renders even at full aperture (the best values of uniformity of top optical performance between center, borders and corners will be attained stopping down from f/5.6), and its beautiful bokeh thanks to its high number of blades.
Needless to say the using this classic lens scheme wideangle lens is a treat, becoming a stellar performer when it comes to tackling the drawing of ten-point sunstars.
Voigtländer Bessa R4M rangefinder, sagely defined by Tom Abrahamsson (who loved it) as a milestone camera, because of its highly versatile 0.52 x viewfinder optimized to be used with a very comprehensive range of wide angle focal lengths through built-in framelines for 21, 25, 28 and 35 mm, as well as enabling the accurate use of standard 50 mm lenses stopping down between f/2 and f/22 (the short rangefinder base length of this great camera doesn´t enable exact focusing accuracy with standard 50 mm lenses when shooting at diaphragms f/1.1, f/1.2, f/1.5 and f/1.9) through a further frameline for this specific focal length.
This way, the Voigtländer Bessa R4A and R4M are certainly unique rangefinder cameras excelling with wide and very wide lenses, and the framelines for 21 mm lenses are a hallmark trait which hadn´t existed before.
Only the great Nikon SP rangefinder (also highly appreciated by Tom, who had a black one) manufactured between 1957 and 1962 beats the Bessa R4M and its electronic version Bessa R4A in terms of VF capabilities on coupling lenses of different focal lengths, thanks to its state of the art two finder windows (the main one on the right, with 1x magnification for 50, 85, 105 and 135 mm lenses, and the left one with 0.4x magnification for 28 and 35 mm lenses), it all with the added benefit of a very large rangefinder base length of 60.5 mm.
10 elements (three of them aspherical ones) in 7 groups Voigtländer 35 mm f/1.2 chromed version 1 from 2007 (the black version was manufactured from 2003), an extraordinary lens made by Cosina Voigtländer.
Only 300 units of this chromed lens were produced and its appearance is really fabulous with the scalloped focusing ring inspired by the ones featured by the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Rigid (1956-1958), the Asahi Takumars and Super Takumars 50 mm f/1.4 and 55 mm f/1.8, in addition to delivering superb image quality with an excellent bokeh between f/1.2 and f/2.8 thanks to its twelve blade diaphragm.
It´s a great performer in all kind of low light environments where has proved its mettle both with analog and digital professional Leica rangefinder cameras like the M9, M9-P, M Typ 240, etc, along with the Bessas R2A, R2M, R3A, R3M, R4A and R4M.
Hirofumi Kobayashi helped by the advice and experience of professional photographers like Tom Abrahamsson (who was also a great friend of his and had frequent meetings with him in Japan) created a number of very high quality Voigtländer lenses like the Heliar-Hyper Wide 10 mm f/5.6 Aspherical, Skopar 21 mm f/3.5, Ultron 28 mm f/1.9, Skopar 35 mm f/4, Nokton 35 mm f/1.2, Nokton 40 mm f/1.4, Nokton 50 mm f/1.5, Ultron 50 mm f/1.7, Skopar 50 mm f/2.5, Heliar 50 mm f/3.5Heliar 75 mm f/2.5, Apo-Lanthar 90 mm f/3.5 and others, in different mounts including Leica M mount, Nikon S mount and Zeiss Contax mount, wholly made in metal with sturdy mechanical construction able to endure a lot of decades of intensive use and delivering high scoring optical performance.
And all of these manual focusing Voigtländer Leica mount lenses boasting a full-metal construction and built to very high standards can be coupled to all Leica M rangefinder (both analog and digital ones) and with the correspondent adapters to all digital APS-C format Fuji-X series, Sony NEX, and Micro 4/3 Olympus and Panasonic cameras, with the added bonus of excelling in Full HD and 4K videography.
Front view of the Voigtländer Nokton 35 mm f/1.2 Version 1 Chromed lens.
Tom Abrahamsson tested intensively with black and white films one of the first version 1 prototype black units of this lens (the most luminous 35 mm wideangle made hitherto for 24 x 36 mm format) in 2003, verifying its remarkable sharpness even at full aperture (typycal in much more expensive f/1.4 lenses of the same focal length), on a par with the Leica Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4, in addition to a great bokeh.
Lateral view of the Voigtländer Nokton 35 mm f/1.2 chromed lens 1st Version with its shade on. The machining of the metallic brass surfaces covered by chrome, including the gorgeous scalloped focusing ring, is truly breathtaking, together with the anodizing of the lens hood.
This scalloped focusing ring is also present in some of the best Cosina Voigtländer M mount lenses like the Heliar-Hyper Wide 10 mm f/5.6 Aspherical, Super Wide Heliar 15 mm f/4.5 Aspherical Version III (introduced in Maerch 2015 and correcting colour fringing on digital bodies of any format size), Ultron 21 mm f/1.8 Aspherical, Ultron 28 mm f/1.9 Aspherical, Ultron 35 mm f/1.7 Aspherical, Nokton 50 mm f/1.5 Asph and Nokton 50 mm f/1.1 Aspherical.