..and why you might want to find one too.
Most of you probably know I love rangefinder camera’s. There’s a lot to be said for SLR’s, but that’s for another article. But, why a rangefinder? Doesn’t that work ‘awkward’? Doesn’t that mean you don’t really see what you get? Aren’t they limited in controls? Well, no, maybe a bit, and no. I personally love rangefinder camera’s because they are compact and can be operated (once you’ve familiarized yourself with the camera) in a second, and are much less intrusive than a regular SLR. Depending on the brand and model, you have all the controls you want at your disposal. Sure, some camera’s are somewhat limited, but I believe this works for the camera, not against. Speed and stealth are in my opinion the great advantage of rangefinders. Unless you pick them for their fantastic looks, and have an all-silver collection for example. And with many models, you do see what you get, if they have parallax-correction. If not, just practice looking!
Another reason for choosing a rangefinder camera could be that they are usually much cheaper than any SLR-set you could own. Also because you don’t have to worry about buying lenses anymore (if it’s a fixed-lens model). Sure, some camera’s can become reasonably to very expensive, depending on their quality, availability and, well, honestly these days, their looks. Retro is so popular that even the not-so fabulous camera’s can fly up in price. But don’t let that stop you, it is still very possible to find affordable camera’s in very good working condition, with excellent glass in front, if you know where to look and if you’re patient. And as with all ‘classic’ camera’s, it helps if you’re not afraid of a little DYI (camera/lens cleaning, seal replacement etc.). Currently, I now own two rangefinders, but there are a few more on my list to get. So, here’s my top 7, in no particular order:
Yashica Electro 35 GSN & GX
This might be one of the most well-known and affordable fixed-lens rangefinders currently on the market. It is also one of the earliest, so be careful for battery corrosion. The GSN is equipped with a relatively fast lens and accurate autoexposure metering. Probably by far your cheapest and most enjoyable entry into the rangefinder market. The entire Electro-line is quite desirable, especially the black editions (like my GX).
Produced from 1973 by Yashica Camera Co.
Lens: Color-Yashinon DX 45mm f/1.7
Current price range at time of this article: between $50 and $100
Canon Canonet QL 17 (GIII)
This is a no-brainer. It looks stunning, feels great, is very easy to operate (except maybe for loading film), and has an amazingly good lens. My GIII QL 17 needs replacement of the light seals, but once that’s done, I’m not letting this camera out of my bag, anywhere I go.
Produced from 1970’s by Canon Inc.
Lens: Canon 40mm f/1.7
Current price range at time of this article: between $70 and $120
This camera was designed to compete with Leica, and in many ways might even surpass it (even a Leica M9). There is some debate whether this is a true range finder as it uses both AF and electronic mechanisms, but still. It features electronic auto focus, motorized film advance and rewind, This camera supports interchangeable lenses using the G-mount system. You’ll be limited to the lenses Contax provides, but the Zeiss-built glass is said to be equal or better than it’s Leica counterparts, and the camera itself is a joy to use. This is one of the (if not best) rangefinders your money could buy.
Produced from 1996 by Kyocera Contax
Lens: dedicated Contax G-mount
Current price range at time of this article: (without lens) between $400 and $600.
Since the lenses are dedicated Contax G-mount, there is not a lot of choice. But since they are so good, who cares? Here’s a few ideas..I haven’t looked up any recent prices but I can imagine they’re not for the faint-hearted. I suppose you’d be cheaper off buying a body+lens set.
Contax G Zeiss 45mm f/2 Planar
Contax G Zeiss 35mm f/2 Planar
Contax G Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Biogon
Konica Hexar RF
Looking a lot like the Leica M-range, Konica aimed this camera on the budget side of forenamed market. But don’t let that fool you, this camera is now in high demand and will set you back a pretty penny. With the KM bayonet mount you can also use Leica lenses on this beauty, as well as the three dedicated-built lenses from Konica. Probably best of all, it has a ‘silent’ function..making you as a photographer as stealthy as possible (if you have stealth clothing), because you can barely hear this camera.
Produced from 1999 by Konica
Lens: Konica Bayonet KM-mount (Leica M-mount)
Current price range at time of this article: (without lens) between $600 and $900
Note: there is also a fixed-lens version of this camera, the Hexar AF, with a 35mm f/2 lens (rumored to be an exact copy of the Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron). Prices of the AF range from $400 to $600. Basically an RF on a budget!
Voigtländer Bessa R2A
Any Bessa will do, but this one would be the most affordable. Easy to handle and with a truckload of lenses to choose from, this camera is now on top of my list, fighting for it’s place with the Contax G2.
Produced from 2004 by Cosina Japan
Lens: Leica M-mount
Current price range at time of this article: (without lens) between $500 and $700.
A Voigtländer 40mm f/1.4 Nokton MC will set you back around $450, and to view things properly you should add a 40mm viewvinder to that (mount on top of the camera), which cost around $180. The lens seems quite expensive, but this particular one is considered to be the fastest lens made for any rangefinder system!
There’s no rangefinder list without a Leica. Considered to be the ‘training-Leica’, this ergonomic camera is built like a tank. Extremely simple to use and with a bright viewfinder, it’s a joy to work with. This Leica however needs you to train your eye or bring a light meter, since it lacks a built-in version. Quite desirable camera!
Produced from 1957 by Ernst Leitz GmbH of Wetzlar, Germany
Lens: Leica M-mount
Current price range at time of this article: (without lens) between $500 and $800
Minolta Hi-Matic 7SII
This is a little legend. Quite similar to the Yashica Electro 35 and Konica Auto S2 (which should be on this list!), this solid built camera has a fantastic sharp lens which allows you to use an aperture of f/22. This is a great entry-level camera, but advanced photographers can just use it fully manual and have a blast. Wonderful piece of kit.
Produced from 1977 by Minolta
Lens: Minolta Rokkor 40mm f/1.7
Current price range at time of this article: between $70 and $200
Honorable mention: Rollei 35
How could I forget! I used to own one of these gems, but unfortunately it got stolen. Nevertheless, it deserves it’s right spot in this list. I don’t know of any smaller and more solid built camera than this one. It’s all metal, tiny, and weighs a ton comparatively. The most desirable ones are the early models made in Germany. Production was moved to Singapore at some point, which sprouted all kinds of versions of this camera, with a myriad of lenses and some replacing the beautiful metal with more and more plastic. Film loading and unloading can be a bit of a fiddle, it IS a tiny camera. But if you can get your hands on a good specimen, you will never want to let it go.
Produced from 1966 by Rollei
Lens: the original Rollei 35 sports a fantastic Tessar 40mm f/3.5
Current price range (for the original German 35 model) at time of this article: between $100 and $200
Indicated prices are in US$ based on decent looking specimen found on eBay, price ranges monitored during September & October 2013.