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Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Soft Touch

Several months ago I received a 'Softie' as a gift from Luigi when ordering one of his excellent leather camera cases. I had never used - heck even seen - one of these little accessories before and truth be told I had always questioned the value in using one.
But seeing as it was a gift and that I was also pretty sure that I would lose it if I didn't do something with it I promptly attached it to my Leica M3's shutter release button and thought little or at least close to nothing about it.
I did have a few lost shots as the Softie makes the shutter easier to trigger by accident due to it being a bit more elevated and more sensitive but I still kept it on the camera for months as I didn't feel that it was too much of an intrusion.

Then, earlier today, when walking around with my Leica in hand snapping random street scenes I suddenly realized that I had lost the Softie. This in itself was not that unexpected as one of the challenges with at least my Softie was that it had a tendency to come loose and I had more than once found it rolling around in my camera bag. What surprised me, right there on the street, more than the actual loss - was the realization that I really missed it.
Especially when shooting street scenes with the camera at waist level (which granted is more 'fun' and any good results are of the gratuitous kind) I found that having the Softie in place made it so much easier to take the photos as I tend to press the shutter with the mid-part of the finger instead of the finger-tip in those situations.

So backing up a bit and to answer something that some people may be asking themselves - what is a Softie?

A Softie is the commonly used term for Camera Soft Release Button. It can be flat, concave or convex and screws into the camera's regular shutter release button providing a elevated shutter button with, often, an increased surface area. Some people claim that by using one they are able to handhold their cameras up to an additional full stop but the most commonly perceived benefit is to be able to squeeze of the shot using the mid-section of your finger instead of the tip of it (that and 'comfort' which obviously is a matter of taste).

There are a number of soft release buttons currently manufactured and sold and if your camera's shutter release button accepts the attachment of a cable release then odds are you would be able to use one of the many available soft release buttons out there.

One of the more popular sources is for instance Luigi's concave and convex softies available on his Leicatime site.

Concave soft release button. Photo courtesy

Convex soft release button. Photo courtesy

Tom Abrahamsson of Rapidwinder also offers the dome shaped soft release button - and in a number of different colours. Tom also manufactures and sells the 'Minisoft release' that fits a number of additional cameras such as the Rolleiflex and the Olympus OM series.

So who 'invented' the soft release button - and when?
I have honestly no idea and would be interested in hearing from anyone out there that may know the answer. One of the oldest soft release buttons that I know of is Leica's OZTNO (part number 14088) that was manufactured around 1955:

OZTNO soft release button mounted on a Leica M. Photo courtesy camera-kotobuki.

But even before that one Leitz produced a soft release 'dome' for their Barnack cameras back in the 1930's which could be the first commercially available soft release button:

(I'd be interested in learning more about the Leica part code for this contraption as well if there is anyone out there with information about it).

Bottom Line: If you haven't used a 'Softie' before you may want to spend the ten dollars or so that it will cost you just in order to see if it something that works for you.
I didn't think I would ever find the need for one but after today's loss I must admit I am planning to replace mine as soon as possible as my Leica now feels 'incomplete' without one.


Blogger jmi25 said...

Interesting to read your take on soft releases - and I absolutely agree with your recommendation to try one - I got one free with a camera at some point so tried it out on several bodies. I find it most useful on my Canonet - the release on there needs quite a lot of pressure and has a long travel, the softie makes a huge difference. I'm guessing the same is true of a lot of that generation of fixed-lens RFs given the amount of mechanics attached to the shutter release.

June 10, 2007 8:15 AM  

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