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January 17, 2007

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Steve Jacobs

This is all great, but as much as I lust for a rangefinder (I used them and loved cheap rangefinders in my youth), even though I could now just barely afford even the Leica, I'm not going to buy any of these. The reason is simple: I will not go back to film. I spent several decades as a mediocre photographer. In the last few years, my talents have grown by leaps and bounds. I'll never be a great photographer, but thanks to the instant feedback of digital, I'm a pretty good photographer. I'll never go back.

I could buy the M8, but with a lens one is talking $7-8k. That's more than I'm willing to pay-- and, as I'm sure you know, the new Leica has problems.

If only Cosina would build a crop frame digital rangefinder, I'd probably have my order in. I know they made the RD-1, but that seems like too quirky a camera for me. It's a start, but a more modern sensor would be a must. It doesn't seem to be for sale anymore anyway.

So, if Cosina will produce a digital version, count me in. Otherwise, I'm sticking with dslrs.

Tom Barry

As always, Mr. Keppler, a well-written article. I used to use M2s and M3s, but ultimately found them limiting.

When Canon came out with the pellicle-mirrored SLR, I hesitated, and it turned out there were problems with the mirror. Then came the EOS 630-based EOS RT. Pop's test confirmed that the non-flipping pellicle mirror in the RT was excellent and Pop editors found no practical image quality difference between the 630 and the RT.
I bought one, and it has served me well since the early 1990s. I've never even had to have the mirror cleaned. The RT has all the advantages of the rangefinder plus the versatility of the SLR. The light loss is insignificant, as I use fast lenses anyway. The shutter bumper finally began leaking, but my dealer, also an RT fan, knew of a technician who could replace the bumper with one that would not leak. It was an expensive repair, but the RT is still in use. I wanted but could not justify an EOS 1N-RS.

I have wondered why Canon did not continue the concept into the digital age. Canon also appears to have abandoned the eye-control focus and multiple-spot metering features. Any idea why?

Annie R.

First of all, Mr Keppler, I've enjoyed your columns and articles going back to my high school days, back when you were with MP, not to show my true age. :)

I also want to say that I appreciate you and the PopPhoto staff giving deserved coverage to topics that have not been trendy lately, such as film and rangefinder cameras.

My first serious camera (a Mamiya Super Deluxe) was a rangefinder, and I have recently rediscovered the rangefinder after many years of shooting with SLRs and P&S's.

Yes, there is a revival of rangefinders, despite the focus of attention on the Latest And Greatest with yet more megapixels. Photographers both young and old are (re)discovering the capabilities of these very fine cameras. :)

Bessa Pimp

Informative article! Thanks.

The nitpick:

Re: "They wound up with a effective rangefinder base of 25.16mm...."

Should be "...an effective...."

Jim Williams

I'd like to add my plaudits for Pop Photo's continued willingness to cover "fringe" topics such as this. I admit to being something of a rangefinder-camera fanatic -- but I admit that this sort of sensible, even-handed writeup is more likely to get mainstream photographers interested in seeing what this type of camera has to offer.

For the record, my RF enthusiasm has nothing to do with nostalgia -- this type of camera simply works better for the types of subjects I like to photograph most (performing arts events.) While an SLR definitely gives a better view of the image, I feel an RF camera gives a better view of the subject -- very useful when shooting dance or music performances, where keen observation is key.

The fact that an RF camera's viewfinder (unlike an SLR's) does NOT show depth-of-field effects is actually an advantage for me, and the fact that the viewfinder doesn't black out during the moment of exposure makes it much easier to pick up the rhythm of a dancer's or musician's performance.

One suggestion: Although I understand that Mr. Keppler was covering the most comparable models of the three makers, it might have been helpful to make more clear that these are not the only choices available.

For example, in addition to the R2a model reviewed and the R4a model mentioned, Voigtlander offers equivalent "m" models that don't offer auto exposure but do work without batteries if necessary, as does Leica with its MP model.

Voigtlander also offers R3a and R3m cameras that don't cover wide-angle lenses but do offer a full-life-size (1:1) viewfinder which can be used with both eyes open, a hugely liberating experience.

Finally, although it's been covered in the magazine before, it might have been worth noting again that the rangefinder segment even offers two digital options: the impressive if somewhat star-crossed Leica M8, and the hard-to-find but competent Epson R-D 1. I use an R-D 1 for probably 90% of my photography; my Nikon D80 only comes out of the bag on the rare occasions when I need an 80-200 zoom lens or TTL autoflash. And I'd have to say that despite the R-D 1's "old-technology" 6-megapixel sensor, I find its overall image quality pretty comparable to the D80's at high ISOs under low light, which is where I do much of my shooting.

Again, thanks to "Pop" and Mr. Keppler for your ongoing recognition that there's more to the photography field than DSLRs and digital compacts!

(PS -- Greetings to Annie R. from a fellow Omahan! Got any good snow pictures yet?)

Bill Marshall

I appreciate the decision at Popular Photography to provide this spotlight on the rangefinder world, home to photography's most magnificent lens designs. Thanks to Herbert Kepppler for researching the topic.

A rangefinder is the most accurate tool for focusing wide angle lenses & for this reason alone deserves a place in the photographer's camera bag.

There's a point which could have received more emphasis & where there is some difference among the 3 cameras. Rangefinder cameras offer almost instantaneous response once the shutter release button is depressed. When you need to capture the decisive moment, these cameras are as good as it gets in photography. No delay for the SLR mirror to clear or for autofocus to hunt This lack of shutter lag is especially true for the Leica M7 & for the Zeiss Ikon; the Bessa R2A lags a little behind the other two. The Zeiss Ikon has the added benefit of the shortest travel distance for the shutter release button itself.

Alberto de Leon

I'm glad someone wrote this article.

I really love to use my Leica M7 and Hasselblad XPAN II cameras. Even though I own and frequently use my Canon 5D and my Nikon DSLR, I also enjoy using my Nikon FM3A as well. I just like to free myself from the computer sometimes.

I try to convey the film look on my digital photos sometimes, using Alien Skin's Exposure, and it does a terrific job, but IMHO it's just not the same.

The technique recommended by experienced users for pre-focusing before bringing the camera to your eye (by using your finger's position in the focusing tab of the lens) is very useful to shoot faster than many AF cameras out there. Even though you need to practice a little, it's fun to do so.

As they say, you need to use one to understand what's all the fuzz about.

Don Farra

Thank you for the article.

It was nice read and find that mechanical rangefinders are still with us.

Personally I own a few ranging from my father's old 35mm Minolta & Leica M6 to the medium format cousins the Fujica GSW 690 & Mamiya 7. The reason that I still like this type of camera is they capture a different image of my favorite subjects.

How can I describe it?

Maybe as up "close and personal". By comparison, SLRs (seem to me) tend to isolate the subject from the photographer, but that is just me. Not to mention I never have taken a out of focus shot with a film based rangefinder.

Today, we find most of the rangefinders in the digtial domain still retains an advantage over it's SLR cousin, that is taking movies and "what you see is what you get" on the LCD display. True they are not mechanical rangefinders in the true sense but the heart and character are still present.


One of the amazing things I found reading the article and searching the web, was the great value that Cosina now offers us rangefinder shooters. Low cost lenses and bodies, (well low cost relative to Leica).

(Actually given the number of years Cosina has been building rnagfinders, I would not be surprised to find out that Cosina was building the Ziess Icon.)

In some cases Cosina does Leica one better. For example, Cosina offers a a 35mm 1.2 and 40mm 1.4 that for the asking cost represents a great value, in my opinion. Not to mention the 1:1 viewfinder and 21mm and 25mm in camera framelines and parallex correction mentioned in the article.

In the future, I guess the only thing I wish rangefinders would have is a constant viewfinder framelines and change the rangefinder baseline and viewer magnification with the focal lenght. I am not sure it is possible to do or if there are valid reasons why it cannot or should not be done. But it remains on my wish list.

The reason for this is when a telephoto lens is used the framelines cover a smaller area of the viewfinder and the focusing area remains fixed, making it harder to focus accurately on the eyes of the subject. I guess one can assume that the depth of field would cover any focusing errors.

Until it is resolved I think the manual focus rangefinder cameras will find themmselves limited to wide angle (21mm-28mm) to mild telephoto focal lenghts (75mm-90mm). This forces film based photographers to use SLRs for anything outside this range. This is something their digital rangefinder cousin has over come with the live view LCD.

Canon overcame this problem with their film bsed EOS RT and EOS-1 RS cameras. I found that the fixed mirror cameras offer me the best of both worlds, and I love to use them when rangefinders cannot keep up with the moving subject and zoom lenses are employed. Not to mention the RS 10 fps, which combined with the fixed mirror allows me to focus manually while shooting.

Sorry to say the digital rangefinder cousin suffers from one serious problem, in my opinion, the ability to accurately focus on the part of the subject the photographer deems important.

Most of the digital cousins rely on automation (auto-focus & exposure), while 90% of the time they can hit the mark it is that 10% they lose that concern me the most. It seems the important shots happens to fall into that 10%. They also cannot control the depth of field to the extend I require, which forces me back to the old fashion mechanical rangefinder loaded with TRI-X.

But of course for the other 90% they are great. I own a Canon S3 for those quick action family shots; where I want to travel lightweight; have a wide focal lenght range, and where I do not want to worry about having expensive camera gear that says steal me in seven languages.

The bottom line for me is to have fun creating the images and sharing them with others. I do not want to lose sight of that in the mist of all the boundless technology.

Regards,

Don

Erich

I found yr article very interesting and instructive. To me these cameras seem to lack finder precision (you do not get 100% of what you see) and basically more suited to normal and wide angle lenses which provide a fairly large image in the finder. The Canon solution with the fixed mirror seems to me the way to go, however.
I might be tempted one to buy RF but more as a "nostalgic toy/tool" of the past. For this a Vöigtländer might do even though I heard that the focus calibration of their lenses is causing prolbems sometimes. Any comment/experience on that point ?

Looking forward to seeing more of yr excellent work.
Best rgds
Erich

dazedgonebye

Nice! Thanks for remembering rangefinder photographers and their gear.
I own a R3A and Voigtlander lenses at 21mm, 35mm, 50mm and 75mm. I've been very pleased with the quality of my kit and my results.
Where Leica offers near perfection in build and operation, Voigtlander/Bessa (Cosina) has managed an 85% solution to the same problems at 15% of the price. Lecia owes a debt to Cosina for broadening the Rangefinder camera market so that mere mortals can hope to participate. A Bessa may very well serve as a “gateway drug” for future Leica addicts.
For my part a R3A and, perhaps R4A, will do just fine.

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