In the Know: What Are Rangefinders and Why You Should Try Them


A photographer's life is full of choices. From what gear to use to which film to pick, there's always something out there that can satisfy and fill your needs. If you're a photographer who likes to try new things once in a while, then you're just in the right place. Many photographers start using point-and-shoot cameras or SLRs because more likely than not, those are the types of cameras that were easily recommended to them by friends and colleagues. Those are fine pieces of equipment but for the photographer who is keen on mastering a new camera, the rangefinder might be the logical choice.

Credits: ohlordy

Before we start on counting down the reasons why every photographer should try using a rangefinder, let's talk about what a rangefinder is and what it's capable of doing. A rangefinder is basically a smaller, more compact camera that has a unique way of focusing shots — you line up two superimposed images by turning a ring. This is different from that of SLRs where you just focus your shots as you see the frame through the mirror. Older rangefinder cameras have a separate viewfinder (where you look into) and a rangefinder window that helps you with focusing. Whereas "modern" iterations have the rangefinder integrated within the viewfinder of the camera.

Rangefinder cameras are also smaller and more compact than SLRs. This is due to the fact that it doesn't require a prism and a mirror mechanism to take shots. This design helps in keeping the camera's profile sleek and slim compared to the bulkier body of SLRs.

Now that we've got those few things out of the way, let's count down the reasons why you should try using rangefinders:

Credits: falsedigital, edmundrt, vicuna & rdetoyato

1. Rangefinders can help change the way you shoot.

SLR cameras provide you with a precise "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" approach thanks to its mirror and pentaprism configuration. This, however, causes a momentary obstruction of your view when the mirror moves away to allow the shutter curtains to open when you take the photo.
Rangefinder cameras, on the other hand, have their viewfinders positioned in such a way that nothing obstructs your view even when the photo is taken. This lets you visualize what you photographed the moment it was taken. Renowned photographers like Cartier-Bresson, Capa, and Adams were experts in taking advantage of this in order to capture the "decisive moment".

“I really appreciate being able to photograph the scene as it unfolds before me without worrying about the mirror blocking my view when I press the shutter button.” — Rob Detoyato

Rangefinder cameras could also teach you to physically move closer to your subject in order to get a better shot. Robert Capa was known for stating If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough. By limiting yourself to using a camera system which rarely offers the convenience of a zoom lens, you are forced to step closer or further from your subject when composing your photograph. You'll be surprised at how limiting yourself like this could help improve your skills in capturing the moment.

Credits: tamsoam

2. Rangefinders are lighter and are easier to bring with you on the daily.

The best camera is the one you have with you. Remember our number one Golden Rule? Take your camera wherever you go. Since rangefinders are relatively lighter and more compact than SLRs, they're easier to keep in your bag or around your neck as you walk around town while looking for your next shot.

“I love how sleek and compact rangefinders can get. No mirrors that get in the way. Not to mention the silent shutter and the smooth click that comes along with every photo you take. They're perfect for discreet shooting.” — Edgar Alberto
Credits: theblues, coca, frauspatzi, robertofiuza & sleyatx

3. Rangefinders are quieter.

Are you concerned with your SLR's "loud" mirror while doing street photography? With a rangefinder camera, you'll manage to get away with taking photos discreetly. It uses just a shutter to capture an image, no noisy mirrors that can give you away and ruin the moment.

Credits: lomovan, sthomas68 & ohlordy

4. Rangefinder lenses have great image quality.

Since there are no mirrors in rangefinder cameras, there's a smaller chance that you'll mess up your shot with camera or mirror shake. Additionally, the absence of a mirror box also leads to better image quality since lenses could be designed closer to the film plane.

Credits: krowak & clickiemcpete

5. Rangefinders have a classic, timeless look.

Lastly, let's be honest, looks play a big part when it comes to choosing which camera to buy. Rangefinder cameras are downright a joy to look at and if you're happy with your gear and how it looks, chances are you'd want to shoot with it more and that is always a good thing. Remember, practice makes perfect and shooting with a camera that just brings a smile to your face makes it even better!

How about you? What do you think makes rangefinders cool? Let us know in the comments section below!

written by cheeo on 2019-08-16 #gear #120 #rangefinder #camera #35-mm #in-depth


  1. wilco
    wilco ·

    Rangefinders look fabulous, true vintage classic good looks! We can all dream of a Leica, I certainly do, but at the moment have a Konica Hexar and Yashica Electro35 that was 40 years old when I bought it, but brand new as I bought it from a camera store that was liquidating! Its a very. Different technique that forces you to take time and care.

  2. wahiba
    wahiba ·

    I tend to use the 'guessfinder' on my Rollie 35. Really useful on my 120 folder though, Baldax.

  3. snakecharmer
    snakecharmer ·

    Fujifilm XPro-2 Best of all worlds. Several rangefinders Inc a Zeiss Ikonta but film is so expensive these days! Must start developing my own B&W?

  4. flamingoid
    flamingoid ·

    Nice article. Just a correction though: this Leica Standard is not a rangefinder.

  5. rhindle_the_red
    rhindle_the_red ·

    My current go-to film camera is my Kodak 35 (Rangefinder) and I love it. I get asked about it every time I take it out to shoot and the photos are beautiful!

  6. denkbeeldig
    denkbeeldig ·

    It took me some time to get used to the single lens/single camera. But my Canon Canonet QL17 GIII is one reliable rangefinder! It definitely pushes me to move closer to a subject.

  7. stereograph
    stereograph ·

    I'm a rangefinder guy! :-)
    (sometimes a No-Finder Guy)
    "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" sucks for me
    i want a surprise! and if i did everything right,
    i get a big surprise! :-)

  8. stereograph
    stereograph ·

    I'm a rangefinder guy! :-)
    (sometimes a No-Finder Guy)
    "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" sucks for me
    i want a surprise! and if i did everything right,
    i get a big surprise! :-)

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