Walter RX Eyepiece
Last updated on July 24, 2013
Update on the new version below!
Rangefinders can focus very accurately under most conditions, but unlike auto-focus cameras, put a greater demand on your own eyesight being good. If you wear contacts it's not a big deal - but what about eyeglasses? Let's be honest, it's a pain to shoot with glasses. So what options are there? Frankly, up until a short while ago - not much!
There are custom diopter correction lenses, which work well but do not correct for astigmatism. There are also a variety of viewfinder magnifiers available - some of which offer built-in, variable diopter correction while others are compatible with the Leica diopter correction lenses. These devices don't correct for astigmatism either and are meant more for magnification than correction.
Enter the Walter RX Eyepiece - a custom designed eyepiece attachment that fully corrects for your vision specifically. In fact, it's so specific that you need to know your prescription when ordering one. A custom lens is then made and fitted. This eliminates the need for any diopter correction and may even eliminate the need for viewfinder magnifiers. More importantly, there's no longer a need to wear glasses while shooting!
Astute readers will realize that correction for astigmatism requires different orientations to accommodate landscape or portrait shooting. Your eyeglasses rotate with your head - so how does the Walter RX Eyepiece handle that? That is where its ingenious design comes in. The eyepiece itself has inner and outer sections. The inner section is what mounts to your viewfinder while the outer contains the optics and freely rotates on ball bearings - it's always right-side-up! Of course, this does assume you always shoot with your head straight up, and not at an angle. Depending on your style, this may or may not give you pause, but in practice the correction still works rather well, unless your astigmatism is particularly bad.
The eyepiece comes in a professionally packaged box, with a label on the front indicating the prescription. Inside is a custom-fit foam piece which snugly holds the eyepiece and tiny eyeglass type screwdriver. There's even a little micro fiber cloth provided to toss in the bag or coat pocket for cleaning your eyepiece. The overall presentation is clean and professional.
Installation is a straightforward process, but differs slightly from all the other solutions that screw into the viewfinder threads. The Walter RX Eyepiece was designed to have an optical path that's as large as the internal viewfinder - so as not to block the view of any framelines as well as to remain as bright as possible. Therefore, it slips over the viewfinder. Unlike viewfinder magnifiers however, it's meant to stay attached essentially full time - just like diopter correction lenses.
First things first, and that's to make sure the backside of the Walter RX Eyepiece is clean as well as your viewfinder window. Use whatever method works for you, but since these surfaces will be out of reach later on, it pays to make sure they're very clean - so consider a lens cleaning solution on a lens tissue or similar method rather than the old T-shirt standby.
With that out of the way, it's time to mount it to the camera. It requires a firm but gentle push to seat as you must get around the rubber rim of the viewfinder. Just apply light pressure around the circumference of the eyepiece until fully seated. The only thing you need to pay attention to as far as alignment is that of the little set screw. Even when tightened down, it does protrude a tiny bit - so it's best to "hide" it as much as possible while still having access to it. Right next to the LCD frame is a good location provided you don't use a half case - if you do then it's best to point the screw straight out to the side of the camera. We'll explain why a little later. Out of sight, little chance of contact with anything and out of the way.
Once in position, use the provided screwdriver to snug up the set screw. Only tighten it up until it starts to snug up and then maybe a tiny bit more. The screw is a safety to make sure your eyepiece doesn't come off and get lost. Obviously it'll affect your ability to focus, but it's not cheap to replace either!
Maybe give all the rangefinder windows a wipe as well as the back of the eyepiece and give it a go!
The moment of truth is when you first peep through your new viewfinder arrangement. What before might've been "okay" (or even unusable) is now crystal clear! As a test, you can hold the camera up to your eye and say, read the computer screen without your glasses. You have, in effect - perfectly corrected your vision for framing, focusing and of course being able to see what you're shooting in the first place.
The Walter RX Eyepiece because of its design makes it a bit larger in diameter than most viewfinder accessories you may be used to and other than an eyecup, is the largest. Not so much in depth (such as the Leica 1.4x viewfinder magnifier) but in diameter. It does have a relatively comparable depth - more akin to the Leica 1.25x or Japan Exposures 1.15x viewfinder magnifiers. It's the diameter however that presents an issue for half case users, as alluded to above.
Because of the larger diameter, use with a half case is a mixed bag. The eyepiece needs to rotate freely and in order to maintain a right-side-up orientation is slightly egg-shaped and heavier at the bottom. In our test with a Leicatime case, the interference was enough to prevent the free rotation of the eyepiece. When shooting portrait, the eyepiece has to be turned by hand. The solution to this is to either forego the use of a half case - or modify your case. There's not much that would need to be trimmed actually, mostly just increasing the radius of the existing viewfinder cutout. The back flap requires a little more trimming if yours is so equipped. Other cases may be different. Ideally, the eyepiece is meant to be used without a half case but it can be done - they're not mutually exclusive.
The rear optical element is flush with the housing of the eyepiece. This is both good and bad. Good because it gets your eye closer in to the existing viewfinder, preserving the view of the framelines as much as possible. Bad because it smudges more easily from pressing your eye up against it. On the bright side, being flush - it's much easier to wipe clean than the normal viewfinder!
Between being larger in diameter than diopter correction lenses and viewfinder magnifiers - and how close it sits to the internal viewfinder - you can see all framelines, including 28mm on the M9 (or 24mm on the M8). The view is just as good (out to the extremities) as without the eyepiece. If you've been wearing glasses to shoot, this solves a very common and annoying problem! And unlike viewfinder magnifiers, there's no sense of tunnel vision. Also worth noting is that there's no loss of brightness in the viewfinder as you might see with some viewfinder magnifiers (despite their claims otherwise).
So how does it actually work in use? Eyeglasses are no longer necessary. If you shoot without them normally (but should) then be prepared for a much sharper, more defined view. Focusing is easier not only in daylight but especially in darker conditions, where contrast and subject detail is harder to discern. The eyepiece has changed focusing with the camera completely in this regard. It's now much easier and as a result, more accurate... Accurate enough to focus a Summimlux-M 50mm f/1,4 ASPH (wide open) on the screen just shy of one meter (where the depth of field is 2mm) to see the actual pixels on the LCD as seen in this 100% crop:
If the Walter RX Eyepiece would work in your situation, you'll have to decide for yourself. It might not seem like everyone's cup of tea - such as if you wear your glasses all the time. You'd have to take your glasses off to shoot. But as mentioned above, the fact that you can now see the entire viewfinder (e.g. 28mm framelines) makes it a compelling option. It also removes worries about smudging your eyeglasses or scratching them (on older bodies) .
If you've suffered along with the M either with your glasses or without or even found the M system unusable because of your vision, the Walter RX Eyepiece is a godsend. It's like attaching your eyeglass lens or contact to the camera for perfect clarity. There's no trial and error with diopter correction lenses (which don't help astigmatism anyway) and may even eliminate the need for viewfinder magnifiers.
The design innovation of the swiveling optics is what makes the Walter RX Eyepiece really stand out as a usable solution. For without this feature it wouldn't be possible. The quality of the design in maintaining both brightness and visibility of all framelines is also a very welcome feature. There's no feeling of tunnel vision. The materials and finish of the eyepiece are clean and solid.
As your prescription changes (which it will) you can have the eyepiece retrofitted by your own optician. So it will continue to work for you well into the future. When you order, be sure to specify your prescription for your shooting eye.
The Walter RX Eyepiece is only available in black and at the moment only for the Leica M8 and M9 bodies. However, eyepieces for older/other bodies are forthcoming. It's made of solid brass and should "brass" with use.
To get your own eyepiece, visit their website. The cost is $385.00 USD each, which includes shipping (with insurance) and they accept PayPal. It will be coming from South Africa, so do allow a week or two for delivery in the U.S.A. depending mostly on customs.
If you wear glasses normally - but hate to wear them when shooting, then we can definitely give the Walter RX Eyepiece a thumbs up. It's the only solution out there that takes into account, corrects for and indeed - is specifically designed for astigmatic shooters. It's a custom solution that works and is executed well with a thoughtful design. We're totally smitten with it and will likely update other bodies with one as well. We highly recommended the Walter RX Eyepiece.
Here's a quick video created by Walter RX that illustrates the swiveling action and gives you a good overview of the eyepiece:
Update on the New Version
Earlier this year (2013) Walter has redesigned his excellent eyepiece, partly in response to feedback from his users. While the premise remains the same, the new design is all about refining and improving the original. We've been quietly testing the new version quite extensively these last couple of months, and the first version (upon which the above review is based) even longer. So the pictures below will reflect that - with the new version on the left, the old on the right. Worth noting, the name is now simply "Walter Eyepiece" dropping the "RX" part. It's still implicitly a prescription-based optic.
The basic function of the eyepiece remains as it was. It's still attached to the viewfinder eyepiece of the camera, still rotates as needed and still performs the same critical function (for some of us) as it always has. However, several improvements were made - and two are fairly major.
The first big change is the way the parts are nested. Rather than the entire exterior of the Eyepiece rotating, the optical assembly has been moved to the inside, with an outer sleeve that remains fixed. Now, rather than relying on a sort of "egg shaped" outer piece, it has been made round with a hidden internal weight. This is a profound improvement in two ways. First, it makes the whole Eyepiece more resilient against bumps. The outer sleeve serves to protect the inner workings. Secondly, if you're a half case user - the Eyepiece can now freely rotate without the case binding the Eyepiece into a particular position! Brilliant.
The second big change is the way the Eyepiece attaches to the camera, and similar to the previous changes to the design in the same vain. The original design attached to the rubber surround of the camera's viewfinder with a small screw. This was troublesome as it could damage the rubber, required a tiny (yet provided) screwdriver and meant moving from one camera body to another wasn't a simple task; especially in the field. The second revision utilized the viewfinder threads (for optional diopter correction lenses) to attach. However, this placed the Eyepiece farther out than desired (affecting frameline visibility). Finally, in this latest version, the Eyepiece simply slides over the viewfinder for very quick on/off action. For safety, you simple rotate the Eyepiece to place the slot opening opposite the LCD surround so it can't slip off unintentionally. There are no instructions provided, but it's quite intuitive once you have it in-hand.
The finish now uses a different type of paint that's much more durable than the previous finish - which tended to brass somewhat quickly. We haven't seen this behavior with the new paint. Nor do we expect to... It's a product called Gunkote, which is used for the slides in semiautomatic pistols, and is baked on for several hours! While it still brasses on the thinnest edges, it's much, much more durable now - as the images demonstrate.
Another point worth noting is that because of the new design, the optical surface is a bit more recessed from exposure to your eyelashes and fingers and stays clean a bit longer than the old. All of the various versions are easily cleaned (unlike the bare viewfinder) with either the supplied microfiber cloth or a T-shirt however.
We've been quietly testing the new Eyepiece for a while now, starting out with a raw test piece. It is literally the first one ever made, complete with a slightly rough paint job and spots from where it was glued onto the bumper of an off-road vehicle for durability testing! It's also the one you see in the video below. Once it was ready, we were sent a regular production version which is much cleaner and ready for mass consumption - and the version that you see in the images.
It works well on the M7, M8 and M9 we tried it on. It slips on and off without needing tools, which makes sharing one among several bodies quite easy and practical. The optics rotate freely both with and without a leather half case (we used Luigi's Leicatime cases in testing). Finally, and the biggest reason for owning the Eyepiece - the optical correction - works flawlessly for us, as it always has. It makes using a diopter correction lens or magnifier unecessary, and ensures perfect focus every time (assuming we do our part correctly).
Definitely a worthy set of updates to an already excellent and very unique Leica accessory. If you were a fan in the past - you now have several more reasons to love it as we do. Again, it's not everyone's cup of tea... But for us it's an absolute must-have. Our hat's off to Walter!
Product Video (New Version)