Canon 5D Mark II Goes Under the Knife, Emerges as a Wannabe Leica

San Diego-based photographer Robert Benson had a curious problem a while back. He had a $6,500 Leica Noctilux 50mm f/1 lens, but no camera to use it on. Not being able to afford the Leica M9 at the time (and unsure if he wanted to ever buy one), he decided to make massive modifications to his Canon 5D Mark II so that it would accept any Leica M lens without needing an adapter. The frankencamera above is what emerged from the brand-change operation.

It has a number of advantages over the Leica M9: it offers live view, 4fps instead of 2fps, and a number of filmmaking advantages (e.g. viewfinder attachments, HD video recording, focus peaking with Magic Lantern).

Benson’s surgery isn’t something that you can just easily do at home; it’s actually ridiculously complicated. He explains:

[…] the camera is completely dissasembled and the mirrorbox is stripped of its components and removed. The mirrorbox is then machined by a precision machinist – 30 years experience with hyper-minute detail – to the correct flange distance for Leica, 27.8mm.

The mirrorbox is reinforced with a two-part plexiglass frame. It is further reinforced with a 3mm thick piece of steel which serves as the lens mount. As a result, the mirrorbox is more durable than when it came out of the camera, and strong enough to hold even the weirdest, heaviest rangefinder lenses out there, from which there are hundreds. Everything is put back together by a factory trained camera technician.

I make the lens mount a universal 44mm screwmount […] Included in the mod is a 44mm to 42mm step up ring and a 42mm Leica lens mount flange, which can be attached to your favorite Leica lens with five small screws

Here are some sample shots showing what the “LeiCanon” is capable of (you can also download some RAW sample files here. Password is ‘download’):

Benson says that the he did the project because “the look of a Noctilux shot wide open is unlike anything else in existence.” He has shot for Apple, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, so we’re assuming he’s speaking from plenty of experience in playing around with the most expensive Canon L lenses. He also states that the lens is “silly sharp” on his modded camera.

If you’d like one of these franken-Lei-Canons, Benson is actually offering to sell you one. For $2950, he’ll buy an ordinary 5D Mark II, have the surgery done on it, and then ship it to you. All you need to do is contact him.

Canon/Leica Mod [Robert Benson via Canon Rumors]

Image credits: Photographs by Robert Benson

  • paul reitano


  • hamachijohn

    Love the way they come out! ‘Wannabe Leica’? More like suped up Leica on steroids.

  • Ross Holmberg

    When Leica put a small sensor in the M8, and a CCD in both the M8 and M9, one of the reasons they cited was that a CMOS sensor couldn’t deal with the angles of incidence created by matching a big sensor and a short flange distance. The wide-open vignetting on these looks pretty much identical to images from an M9 (I don’t own one, just did a flickr search). So what’s the deal? Was Leica having us on?

    I’d personally love to see a “full-frame” (even better, a big 1:1 or 4:5) CMOS sensor camera with a short flange-distance, AF, and some “open-platform” lens mount, which seems to be where this guy is headed… I’m just sayin’.

  • Danie Bester

    The shallow DOF at F/1! If you look at that 5D MII’s shutter button you can see that is has worked! Now it will probably work even harder!

  • Phloiterer

    I love that he did this, but no, leica wasnt ‘having us on’ about the problems introduced by standard sensors used with their close-mounted lenses. For starters, as you can see in some of the examples, there are abrupt, solid black corners on many of the shots. For the others, it isnt clear what processing they may have seen, probably including cropping for two of them. And part of the problem is that the periphery defects can vary with lighting conditions and color.

    Leica’s goal as far as the sensor was concerned was to emulate the way the lenses performed on film insofar as possible, and they did a remarkable job, mostly. (there are some quirks.) even with the canon’s own best lenses, it doesnt quite match the leicas output. (i own both 5d2 and m9.)

    Cool project! And no doubt could pulloff some neat special effects,, but doesnt come close to replacing an m9.

    Otoh, for users primarily interested in video, it might well replace the new model m very handily.

  • Rafa

    “He had a $6,500 Leica Noctilux 50mm f/1 lens, but no camera to use it on.” That’s what I call a “happy problem” :)

  • artissoft

    These angles become problematic on wide-engle lenses. Mount a 18mm for example on this camera and you will get purple in the edges. You get them even on a M9 with its micro lenses, uncorrected they should be really strong.

    However, a 50mm should have no problem with this.

  • Cameron

    Will this void my warranty?

  • christopherpuchta

    This may be a stupid question…but aren’t there Leica adapters for Canon mounts!?

  • robert benson

    None of the images have been cropped. The dark corners you saw in a couple images were from the lens, not sensor. Wide open the image circle on the noctikux almost doesn’t even cover the 35mm frame. That’s why your seeing vignetting. Go to the raw files, download them and you will see when stopped down a little all vignetting disappears. Ill shoot with wide lens next and post those equally decent images.

  • wtf

    how does someone manage to have a 6,500 lens yet no camera to use it on…i know il buy this massively expensive lens i cant use….


  • OSAM

    Sure, but there’s no point: You don’t get proper focusing because of the flange distance difference. A Leica is only 27.8mm (as stated above) from sensor to mount face; Canons are, iirc, almost double that. So it’d be like having an extension tube on all the time: no focus past about a couple of feet.

  • christopherpuchta

    Thanks a lot for the explanation!

  • JosephRT

    Robert, you are a mad scientist my friend. I was wondering, how sure were you that this was going to work before you started cutting on the 5DII? Or was it more of a happy surprise. I know things may sound good in theory, but it is something else to actually do it!

  • harumph

    Well, one explanation could be that cameras die eventually, but great glass endures. I know I have a couple thousand dollars of Leica lenses in my closet, but my Leica is not currently in good working condition.

    Another explanation is that there are plenty of gearheads with huge collections of glass harvested from estate sales/auctions/flea markets/etc. that they can’t actually use.

  • Michal Rosa

    “Emerges as wanna be Leica” – no Canon camera ever wanted it, it was raped.

  • Mers Pro

    hmmm so stupid.
    cant afford to buy leica and destroy a camera…
    so idiot

  • jorgen

    hahaha umm yeah

  • Paul Lundquist

    Not a stupid question. The Noctilux is a leica M lens, the M lens are used on rangefinder cameras and not on SLR’s. Rangefinder camera’s are slimmer front to back so there is no mirror mechanism to make space for, so they have a shorter focal length. The leica R lenses are more likely to be adaptable with an adapter ring since the Leica R cameras are SLR’s.

  • Terrance Lam

    Great mod Robert, but why did you keep the Pentaprism bump? I’m going to assume that most of that is pretty much rendered pointless. Were you just doing that to preserve the structure for the flash, or just easier to to just leave it? Would have been nice to see that just go away and trim down the shape of the body even further. Reminds me of the cinemods that people do for the Canon 7D that has the mirror removed and a PL mount permanently put into them.

  • sierrarobba

    No pentaprism! This is fact!

  • Hail Sagan

    Now that Canon REALLY wont focus… unless you get a split prisim. :p

  • bendeho

    Lame. Should have just kept the camera as-is and gotten a Canon 50/1.0L lens. It’s more interesting and just as sharp as the leica.

  • Dan Schwalm

    This is awesome!

  • ProudPagan

    There is a cheaper alternative. It’s called Leica M9.

  • genotypewriter

    Was that a bad joke or just plain ignorance?

  • Roger

    To mount any lens on any camera body is possible, but to properly modify a Canon 5D body with those electronic functions intact and accept Leica-M lenses is not quite possible, unless this article was written in April, the first day.

    Mounting a Canon EF-lens on Leica-M series is possible with the proper adapter, but to remove about 18mm thick of Canon 5D camera body to the correct Leica-M flange distance is just not possible, unless those 18mm thick of 5D body contains no electronic or moving parts.

    If one can spend thousands on a Leica lens, why not just go for a M8 or 9? One assignment from Wall Street Journal will probably cover everything you pay for a new camera.

    Alternatively, maybe as a weekend project, buy a used Leica M3 etc and modify the film back to digital back using parts from any used DSLR.