rangefinder photography

Rangefinder photographers tend to be somewhat evangelical about the cameras they use, though only the most enthusiastic would suggest that a rangefinder camera can do everything. We would not go that far: we also use several other kinds of camera. But the vast majority of our photography, including most of what appears on this site, is done with rangefinder cameras.This module was written before the (digital) Leica M8 came out, never mind the M8.2 and M9: click on the links for reviews. Suffice it to say that while we still use film cameras for black and white, most of our colour photography is now done with digital Ms.

 

To expand upon what we say in the free introduction to this module, a reflex today is usually a big heavy camera with lots of automation and a zoom lens, while a rangefinder (hereafter RF) is a small, light, quiet, fast-handling camera, usually with little or no automation, and fitted with a prime lens which is usually of extremely high quality and very compact to boot. RF cameras are easy to focus in poor light, and better still, most people find they can hand-hold them for at least one step longer on the shutter-speed dial, as compared with an SLR. They are also good for infra-red.

And, of course, there is a tradition and mystique of RF photography that stretches back into the 1920s and beyond. All of this (and more) very much affects the way you take pictures.

 

Power cables, Daroca, Catalunya

Many photographers think of rangefinders as 'people' cameras, and it is true that they are very good for reportage and environmental portraits. But you really appreciate the small size and light weight of an RF when you are travelling, too, and somehow, it seems easier to compose classically simple pictures than it is with a reflex. This is very much in the style of 1930s 'modernism' even though Frances took it in December 2005. She used a Zeiss Ikon and 50/2 Planar, shooting on Kodak Tri-X, then made the print on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

 

small, light, quiet

Yes, there have been a few small, light reflexes; the Olympus OM system is perhaps the one that most people think of first. But because there is no mirror box, an RF camera can be quite a bit smaller than a reflex. The rangefinder mechanism itself is quite a complex piece of precision engineering, but it isn't very big. Also, the more 'professional' (heavy-duty and versatile) a reflex is, the bigger it usually gets, especially nowadays. Roger once upset a well-known manufacturer by saying of their new do-it-all 35mm SLR, "Yes, it's very nice, but I prefer smaller, lighter cameras so I use medium format." Rangefinders are different.

light weight

Actually, most people find many RF cameras surprisingly heavy for their size, but partly this is because they are so much smaller than SLRs. For comparison, quickly weighing some cameras on the kitchen scale, the smallest, lightest SLR we could find (a Nikon EM) weighed about 430g, or about the same as a Voigtländer Bessa-R2. A Leica M2 was about 100g heavier at around 530 g (other M-series would be comparable), and a Nikkormat FTn weighed about 770g. All these are body-only weights. The catalogue weight of a Nikon F5 (we don't own one) is 1210g, over twice the weight of the M2.

The weight savings come in many ways. The chamber between the film and the lens is much smaller -- it doesn't have to accommodate the flipping mirror -- and there isn't a big, heavy pentaprism on top. Nor, usually, are there electric motors for film advance or focusing, nor any built-in flash; this obviates the need for big batteries. In other words, although a good-quality RF camera may be heavy for its size, that size is usually so much smaller than a 35mm SLR that they are still a good deal lighter.

 

Bridge, Lijiang, Yunnan

First Spain, then China: you can see that we get about a bit with our RF cameras. Roger shot this in October 2005 with his MP and (by the look of it) 75/2 Summicron: the perspective is a bit too compressed for the 35/1.4 Summilux which he uses for the majority of his pictures. The film would be Ilford HP5 Plus, developed in Ilford DD-X and printed on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

quiet

This can be overstated, because SLRs are a lot quieter than they used to be, but it remains true that the 'clop' of the horizontal-run Leica shutter is still very unobtrusive. The noise of a vertical- run shutter in a Voigtländer, Rollei or Zeiss Ikon is a little greater but still not as bad as most SLRs, even modern ones.

fast handling

People who get on with RF cameras swear that they are far faster-handling than reflexes, especially auto-everything reflexes, but to a very large extent, this is a consequence of the way that rangefinder aficionados work.

If you are accustomed to auto-everything -- DX coding of film speed, auto-exposure, autofocus, an 'electric thumb' to wind on your film, even electric rewind -- then an RF camera can seem very slow indeed, with plenty of opportunity to forget things.

On the other hand, most people who are used to RF cameras find that they can raise the camera to their eye, shoot, and lower the camera, often before anyone has realized that they have taken a picture.

 

Square, Teruel, Catalunya

The first thing you notice is the man on the left, slightly blurred, moving forwards. Then you see the real point of the picture: the young man in the striped top, photographing his girlfriend in front of the Christmas tree. There is a sense of a never-to-be-repeated moment frozen in time. Frances hand-held the Zeiss Ikon with the 28/2.8 Biogon, shooting on Ilford XP2 Super and printing on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

 

 

little or no automation

Because there is little or no automation, there is no need to turn the camera on before you can take a picture, no autofocus (which often 'hunts' unsuccessfully for focus), no auto-exposure delay while the camera takes a reading.

 

 

Most RF users are aware of what shutter speed and aperture are set on their cameras, and will have them pre-set to approximately the right values for the prevailing conditions. As they raise the camera to their eye, they may adjust one or the other setting (rarely both) by touch. When the camera is at their eye, the meter will already be on (they will have touched the shutter release to turn it on as they raise it) and they can make any further small adjustments that are needed.

Saddhu, banks of the Ganges

In bright sun it is easy to carry your camera with the aperture set to f/8-and-a-half (f/9.5); the shutter speed (for ISO 100) at 1/250 and the focusing distance set to a likely range -- or even at the hyperfocal distance. At f/8, the 35/1.4 Summilux is (according to the depth of field scale) in focus from about 2.5 metres/7 feet to infinity; the odd half stop is a safety margin. M4-P, Summilux, Kodachrome 64.

As noted in the caption above, similar considerations apply to focus. Most RF users carry their cameras zone-focused to a likely distance, but if they have focusing spurs on their lenses, they can adjust focus by touch too, so that by the time the camera is at eye level, it is very close to the correct focused distance. They will check the focus in the viewfinder, almost instantaneously, making small adjustments if there is time; but they will often be ready to shoot anyway.

 

Leica MP with 35/1.4 Summilux and Leicavit

Spur, spar, finger grip, call it what you will, the focusing protrusion on the (pre-aspheric) 35/1.4 Summilux is clearly shown here. This, as much as the tiny size and high speed of the lens, is why Roger loves it so much: with a fingertip in the cradle, he can judge with remarkable accuracy the distance at which the lens is focused, and set the focus as he raises the camera to his eye. The spike on the bottom of the camera is the wind-on for the Leicavit accessory (the thick black baseplate). With the lower fingers of his left hand around this, Roger can wind on very quickly with a single smart pull to the left, without taking the camera away from his eye. You can see that the camera is well used...

 

 

 

 

 

can you learn to work like this?

Working in the way we describe, almost automatically, may sound exceptionally demanding. All we can say is that the vast majority of RF users learn how to do it sooner or later, usually sooner, though there are always a few people -- a tiny percentage -- who decide that on balance, they would rather use a reflex and therefore give up on RF cameras. Our own suspicion is that they fall into two groups. The larger group just doesn't use the camera enough to get used to it, while the smaller group genuinely can't get on with a rangefinder for one reason or another.

 

Bald Frances, Florida

2001: Frances has just finished her chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer, which has left her all but completely bald, and we are covering the PMA trade show. She doesn't normally smoke but Nikon is providing hand-rolled cigars made on the spot. She smokes about half of one.

We have both had a fair amount to drink -- Roger is on the brandy -- but Roger has no problem in focusing his Leica M4-P with 35/1.4 Summilux, loaded with Ilford HP5; with an f/1.4 lens, you can get away without Delta 3200. The exposure was probably about 1/30 or 1/60 wide open.

Mind you, he's been using Leicas for close to 30 years at this point...

battery (in)dependence

Some current RF cameras, most notably the Leica MP, and almost all older RF cameras (every Leica except the M7, all Voigtländers except the R2A/R3A, and just about everything else except the Hasselblad/Fuji Xpan and Contax G-series) use the battery only for metering. If the battery dies, you can still use the camera, setting aperture and shutter speed on the basis of a separate meter; or from the 'sunny 16' rule or other rules of thumb; or from experience.

a camera for addicts

It has to be said that one reason why so many RF users are so evangelical and so quick is that they are usually very dedicated photographers. They don't take the occasional picture now and then: they shoot a lot, either all the time or (as we tend to do) in intensive bursts. Obviously, the more you use any camera, the faster and easier you can use it, and as RF photographers tend to use their cameras a lot, they find them easy to use.

...and for purists

Many RF users are also purists, who want to take as much control of the whole process as possible. They are not happy relinquishing anything to the camera unless they have to. If this describes you, there is a very good chance that you will be very happy with an RF. If it doesn't, you may need to think twice.

 

Picnic beside the Seine

Purists... Hmm... Yes... Many believe that rangefinder cameras are at their best with black and white film. We do not completely agree, but it is certainly true that some pictures work better in black and white than in colour. This would probably be one of them: Roger now wishes he had shot it on Fomapan 200 or Ilford XP2 rather than Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX. Camera was the Leica MP with 35/1.4 Summilux; the M4-P had Ilford HP5 Plus in it which would have been another good choice. Oh, well.

 

 

automation

Purists notwithstanding, some RF cameras do offer exposure automation, invariably aperture-priority. It is easy to see why this is the only option. Aperture priority requires no lens linkages, because all readings are taken at the working aperture, and modern electronics mean that taking the reading and setting the shutter automatically can be done practically instantaneously.

The big advantage of automation is that in fast-changing light, you need to be pretty good in order to set accurate exposures as quickly as the camera can do it. On the other hand, there is always a degree of latitude built into the system, and many RF users are actually that good.

The big drawbacks to automation are battery dependency and laziness. The more you rely on the automation, the less you think about what you are doing. Both of these drawbacks worry some people more than others. If you are sure that you want automation, and you aren't too worried about battery dependency, don't let the purists (including us) put you off automation.

prime lenses

For fairly obvious reasons, it's hard to couple a rangefinder to a zoom. The only 'rangefinder' camera to do so was the Contax G-series. These weren't true optical rangefinder cameras anyway: they were interchangeable-lens autofocus cameras. The G2 certainly offered one zoom but we do not recall if the G1 did. There have been a couple of multi-focal lenses, where you can set one of two or three fixed lengths (35-50-90 for Leica's Tri-Elmar, for example) but they have been slow.

 

composition

Arguably the biggest single difference that prime lenses make to your photography are that they save time, and force you to get involved with the subject. With a zoom, you can change the focal length until the picture is framed the way you want -- which takes time. With a prime lens, you must either move to the right position, which takes even more time, or be in the right position before you raise the camera to your eye.

The latter, we are convinced, is one reason for the legendary unobtrusiveness of RF cameras. Although all top-flight RF cameras have interchangeable lenses, many photographers don't actually interchange them very much: the concept of a 'favourite lens', used for anything from 50 to 90 per cent of your pictures, is much more meaningful with an RF than with a reflex.

 

Bell-pull, Slovakia

Yes, it's upside-down: otherwise the heart shape wouldn't work anything like as well. Frances spotted the shapes, and photographed them with her standard 50/2.5 Color-Skopar on a Voigtländer Bessa-T using Ilford XP2 Super. The print is on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone; Roger scanned it and added the colours in Adobe Photoshop, a rare example of his 'hand-colouring' one of her pictures.

 

Having a favourite lens means that you acquire an almost instinctive appreciation of the field of view of your favourite lens(es), and you don't raise your camera to your eye until you know that the picture will be more or less right in the viewfinder.

Roger, for example, habitually carries two bodies and two lenses: 35/1.4 and 75/2. He may swap the lenses between the bodies, because one is loaded with black and white and the other with colour, but he relatively rarely uses other lenses.

If he wants to, though, he can cheat, because Frances normally carries two bodies and three lenses, 28/1.9, 50/2.5 (more rarely 50/1.5) and 90/3.5. The 50mm is probably her favourite.

This whole idea of being in the right place at the right time is central to moving unobtrusively around your subject. Again, you may feel that this all sounds a bit demanding, and once again, all we can say is that most RF users will echo what we say.

compactness

Lenses for RF cameras can be more compact than those for SLRs for three reasons.

First, because there is no need to clear the flipping mirror, as there is in a reflex, there is no need for a reverse-telephoto (Retrofocus) design. Reverse-telephoto lenses need extra glasses which make them bigger, heavier and more expensive and do nothing for their optical quality.

 

Hill and moon, Wales

For years, Roger carried his 1936 Leica IIIa almost everywhere with him, always with the collapsible 50/35 uncoated pre-war Elmar that came with the camera: the whole package was tiny and tough. Although the IIIa no longer works, he is often tempted to buy a newer 50/2.8 collapsible to keep on one of his old M2 cameras. This was shot on Ferrania home-process ISO 50 film in about 1974. Collapsible lenses with SLRs tend to run into mirror problems.

 

 

Second, all but a very few modern SLR lenses have auto-diaphragms, which again makes for a bigger, heavier, more complicated, more expensive mount than is needed for an RF camera.

Third -- and this is admittedly looking on the bright side of a drawback -- most SLR lenses focus somewhat closer than RF lenses, which typically stop somewhere between 65cm and 1 metre (26 to 40 inches). This is because even with automatic parallax compensation built into the bright-lines of the viewfinder, framing at close distances remains a problem: the discrepancy between what the lens sees, and what the viewfinder sees, grows ever greater. Indeed, the parallax coupling often stops before the rangefinder coupling does. But as we say, on the bright side, a shorter-throw focusing mount can be smaller, lighter and cheaper.

Interior St. Clement's, New Romney, Kent

At the time of its introduction, the 12/5.6 Ultra-Wide-Heliar was the widest lens ever made for a 35mm full-frame camera -- and it is still probably the best 12mm, against very limited competition! We forget which of us shot this, but the lens was on a tripod-mounted Voigtländer Bessa-L which has neither rangefinder nor built-in viewfinder. Like its 15mm cousin, and indeed like the 15/2.8 Zeiss Ikon lens, the 12mm has no rangefinder coupling: depth of field takes care of any small imprecisions in focus. Film was Ilford XP2 Super and the print is on Ilford Multigrade IV, lightly selenium toned.

quality

Not only are the lenses more compact, for a given speed: they can also be of higher quality for a given price. Plain wide-angles (non-Retrofocus) are easier to design; omitting the auto diaphragm saves still more money; and besides, something that many non-engineers do not realize is that there is a very high correlation between weight and cost. Admittedly you can offset all this by the use of exotic glasses, ground (instead of moulded) aspheric surfaces, better materials and tighter tolerances, which is why you seldom see silly-cheap lenses for rangefinder cameras, but many are still bargains, quality for quality, against reflex lenses.

The net result is normally higher resolution; less distortion; and higher contrast. The last is not as marked as it used to be in the 1960s, when Leica lenses were reckoned to be worth one grade in paper contrast, but it is still pretty clear.

Schoolgirls, Levoca, Slovakia

RF lenses can be almost too contrasty when combined with modern high-saturation films such as Kodak Elite Chrome EBX ISO 100, as Roger used here (in his MP with 90/4 Macro-Elmar). As modern colour films are almost always scanned for reproduction, excess colour can be removed in Adobe Photoshop but it is probably a better idea, aesthetically, to use a lower-saturation film and add the saturation later, rather than using a high-saturation film and taking it out.

There's also an enormous amount of personal choice in this. Many older photographers, brought up in an era when colour films were frankly flat and desaturated, see modern films as much too saturated. Younger photographers, accustomed to more saturated films, see no problems. Our own view is somewhere between the two but we certainly seem to favour more saturation than most photographers of our age.

speed

Exactly the same considerations that allow smaller, higher-quality lenses, also allow more speed. Canon had a 50mm f/0.95 lens in 1963, and there is a long tradition of super-speed lenses for RF cameras, from f/1.5 in the 1920s to f/1.1 (Nikon and Zunow) in the 1950s. The 58/1.4 reflex-fit Nikkor would not appear until 1959.

On the other hand, speed isn't everything, especially now that ultra-fast films are available. There is much to be said in favour of small, relatively slow, compact lenses as well -- and here, once again, RF cameras triumph.

With a reflex, it doesn't matter whether you are focusing visually or automatically (at least with passive autofocus systems): more lens speed means easier focusing. Trying to focus a slow 'standard' lens (50/2.8) is demanding enough, and a slow wide-angle can be purgatory: it is often easier to measure or guess the distance, and scale-focus.

With an RF, on the other hand, lens speed doesn't come in to it. The rangefinder focuses just the same way, regardless of the lens aperture. This allows absolutely tiny lenses, such as our 15/4.5, 21/4, 35/2.5 and 50/2.5 Voigtländers. Although we don't use either the 15/4.5 or the 21/4 very much, they are so small and weigh so little (and are so inexpensive) that we usually carry them anyway. The 35/2.5 sometimes comes along too, either to allow Roger to have 35mm lenses on both bodies or to give Frances the option of 35mm without borrowing Roger's Summilux. Voigtländer also make a 28/3.5, but we've never bothered to get one because the main reason we ever use 28mm is that the 28/1.9 is Frances's standard fast lens, just as the 35/1.4 is Roger's.

Lamp and shadow, Pecs, Hungary

The great majority of our photography is done in good light, so we need fast lenses only in the relatively few focal lengths that we use in poor light: above all, 28mm for Frances (the 28/1.9 Ultron) and 35mm for Roger (the 35/1.4 Summilux). Most good-quality lenses have very good performance by about f/5.6, so the only real penalty for carrying fast lenses is the extra size and weight. Of course there is always the possibility of a compromise on speed, too: a 75/2 instead of an f/1.4 or f/2.5. Frances shot this on colour negative film (brand forgotten) with her Voigtländer Bessa-T and 90/3.5 Apo Lanthar.

low-light shooting

A paragraph or two back, we mentioned two major advantages of RF cameras for low-light, namely, the availability of fast and relatively affordable lenses and the greater ease of focusing wide angles. At the beginning of the module, though, we mentioned another: the fact that most people can hand-hold an RF camera steady for one stop longer on the shutter-speed dial as compared with a reflex.

In other words, they can get pictures that are as sharp at 1/30 second with the RF as they would at 1/60 with the reflex, with comparable gains at other shutter speeds. This means that an (admittedly slow) 21/4 is the equivalent of a 21/2.8 on a reflex, while the 35/1.2 Voigtländer Nokton is the equivalent of close to a 35/0.8.

We can offer no explanation for why this is possible, but we can say that the vast majority of RF users would agree with us. Some attribute it to the lack of mirror-slap -- the moving mirror must surely destabilize the camera, they say -- but we are more inclined to the view that it is easier to hold a camera steady when your view of the subject is not interrupted by mirror black-out. Indeed, we have been known to fit direct-vision finders to reflexes to test this theory, using the reflex for focusing and the direct-vision finder while shooting. We are reasonably convinced this gives us sharper pictures at longer shutter speeds, but it's very hard to prove.

 

Girl on an elephant, Kelvinhall Circus

Roger shot this in the early 1970s with a 1930s uncoated 90mm Leitz Elmar wide open at f/4, using ISO 50 home-process Barfen (honestly!) film.

Unsurprisingly he does not recall the shutter speed but it cannot have been shorter than 1/30 second and may well have been as long as 1/15 or even 1/8. He leaned back in his seat; braced his elbows on the arms of the seat (as far as he recalls); and breathed out slowly while shooting, a time-honoured technique for reducing camera shake, much more effective than holding your breath.

Today, he'd hesitate to attempt the same shot with a lens that is four times faster (his 90/2 Summicron) and film that is twice as fast (Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX): he'd probably go for at least ISO 400. But this does show you what we mean about hand-holding rangefinder cameras: this was probably his old IIIa, the very first Leica he ever bought.

 

 

too fast?

One other point about low-light shooting -- and this applies as much to reflexes as to RF cameras -- is that ultra-fast lenses at close focusing distances have negligible depth of field. This is hardly a decisive factor, but taken with other factors, it may be important. In particular, we have tried both the 35/1.2 Voigtländer Nokton and the 50/1 Leica Noctilux.

We wouldn't go for the former, for three reasons, quite apart from the very shallow depth of field. First, it's huge: Roger loves his tiny pre-aspheric 35/1.4 Summilux, which sacrifices only 1/2 stop of speed. Second, the Summilux has a focusing spar or finger-grip, which Roger finds much easier than a collar (this is why he also has a weakness for the 50/2.5 Color-Skopar). And third, yes, the 35/1.2 is expensive.

But price is definitely the third consideration, because we would, if we could afford it, buy the 50/1 Noctilux. It's a full stop faster than the 50/1.5 Nokton that is our standard fast lens (the difference between f/1.4 and f/1.5 is not worth worrying about), and half a stop faster than our old 50/1.2 Canon, the performance of which at full aperture is best described as 'charming'. We don't need a fast 50mm all that often, but when we do, the Noctilux is what we would have if we could afford it.

Lauren Trezise

Roger often calls her his sister, though in truth, she was his girlfriend in the 1960s. Neither can now remember why they split up, but they remain closer to each other than to their own respective brothers. Roger took this at her wedding to Greg Trezise, using an M-series Leica and the 50/1.2 Canon mentioned in the previous paragraph; it's a good wedding lens.

infra-red

 

One use of RF cameras that is perhaps unexpected is infra-red. Filters with a T50 (50 per cent transmission) of much more than about 695 nanometres (nm) are very dark indeed, and beyond about 715-720 nm they are commonly regarded as visually opaque, though with sufficient time to accommodate and with all other light shut out, the eye can see a surprising amount in this range ,which is normally regarded as the near infra-red. Obviously an RF camera, with separate viewing, makes composition easier than an SLR where you have to try to peer though the filter.

Most modern lenses give adequate resolution in the near IR without focusing correction iat f/5.6 or f/8, though we were interested to note that all the new Zeiss Ikon lenses have IR focusing marks. The technique, of course, is to focus visually, and then re-set the focused distance to the IR index on the lens.

 

 

Reservoir, near Mdina, Malta

Roger used Maco 820 IR in his Leica M2 with 35/1.4 Summilux to shoot this. The filter was the Ilford IR version with a T5o of approximately 715 nm. Although Ilford sells (or used to sell) this for use with their SFX film, It is even better suited to films with greater IR sensitivity such as the Maco material.

tradition and mystique

The first ever coupled-rangefinder camera was the Kodak Autographic 3a of 1916; the first coupled-rangefinder (CRF) 35mm cameras were the Leica II in February 1932 and the Zeiss Contax I that came out a little later in the same year. Earlier Leicas were scale-focus only, and an interesting aside is that for some years after the CRF was introduced, it was often described as 'automatic focusing'.

It was the Leica, of course, that caught most people's imagination; something which annoyed aficionados of the rival Zeiss camera from the very beginning. But the Leica was always smaller, lighter, simpler and (believe it or not) cheaper.

Many great photographers used Leicas and contributed to the Leica legend. Probably the best known is Henri Cartier-Bresson, but there have been countless others. In the 1960s, Leicas were used for everything from fashion to war photography, often in conjunction with a Nikon F when a longer focal length than about 135mm (or even 90mm) was called for.

Three volunteers, Draper's Mill, near Westgate

For us, one of the great attractions of rangefinder photography in black and white is its timelessness. This was shot in the late 20th or early 21st century, but you have to look quite hard (for example, the large wrist-watch worn by the central character) to get a clue to the nearest decade. Is this 'old-fashioned'? We think not. Rather, it shows how many things change far less than is normally implied by the frenetic, up-to-the-minute media (or Meejah). Roger shot this with the then-new 35/1.7 Voigtländer Ultron, almost certainly mounted on the original Bessa-R. The film looks like Ilford Delta 3200; the paper looks like Ilford Multigrade Warmtone. The central character also appears in a colour shot, later.

Today, probably the best known living Leica photographer is Sebastiao Salgado, but most RF users are still hooked on that grand tradition which goes back for decades. Their reasoning is simple: if Leicas can deliver pictures like that, the only limiting factor must be the photographer. Buy a Leica, and you've no-one but yourself to blame if your pictures aren't any good. Of course there are always those whose pictures aren't any good, and blame that on their Leicas, but for the most part they are not thinking clearly.

rapport with the subject

Most RF users, Leica or not, believe that their cameras enable them to get a better rapport with their subjects. To some extent, this is a matter of faith, but as we believe it too, we'll try to justify it.

Actually, we have already covered most of it. There's the quietness and unobtrusiveness of the cameras. There's the speed and ease with which most of their users find they can take pictures. There's the way that without a zoom, you choose your shooting position to match your favourite lens, even before you raise the camera to your eye. Another thing is that RF cameras don't look big and professional. Once, when we were shooting in Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, Roger was using a Voigtländer with a 15/4.5 Super-Wide-Heliar and Frances was using a Contax RX with a 35/1.4 Distagon. Security personnel soon descended on Frances and told her that she needed a permit, but they completely ignored Roger.

Perhaps the most mystical part, and the hardest to defend rationally, is the way that you are always looking at your subject, even during the moment of exposure. It's hard to say why that instant of mirror black-out should matter so much, but most RF users agree that it does.

One more point is that almost all dedicated RF users eschew flash, preferring to rely on fast lenses, fast film and the already-mentioned ability of RF cameras to deliver sharp pictures with long, hand-held exposures. Taking pictures with flash is the equivalent of blowing a whistle and waving a flag for each picture, which makes it hard to remain unobtrusive and seldom does anything to ingratiate you with your subjects.

 

Pilgrim with thumb ring, Monlam prayer festival, Dharamsala

Of course it helped that we were working under the auspices of the Tibetan Government in Exile, with a letter of introduction signed by His Holiness Dalai Lama, but the Leicas still make it easier to move among people. They don't look like big, intimidating professional cameras. This was taken so long ago (early 1980s) that we have completely forgotten the technical information, but the likeliest bet is a Leica M4-P with a 90/2 Summicron, shooting on Kodachrome 64.

choosing a rangefinder camera

There are three major 35mm RF systems available today. All share a common lens mount, the 4-claw Leica M bayonet introduced in 1954. It is easiest to look at bodies first. In ascending order of price they are Voigtländer/Rollei, Zeiss Ikon and Leica. Each is about twice the price of the one before. It is no very great surprise that to a considerable extent, you get what you pay for.

Six M-mount Cameras

Front: Zeiss Ikon (this was shot for the Zeiss Ikon review in Shutterbug magazine). Second row, L to R: Leica M4-P and Bessa R3A (with rapid-wind base). Back row, L to R: Voigtländer Bessa R2, Leica MP (with Leicavit rapid wind base) and Leica M2 (with Voigtländer shoe-mount exposure meter). All six are fitted with Zeiss Ikon lenses (again, consider why it was shot): 15/2.8, 21/2.8, 25/2.8, 28/2.8, 35/2, 50/2.

The oldest camera in the shot is the M2 which was built in 1959. The newest is the Zeiss Ikon. All are cross-compatible. The MP and M4-P are Roger's main camera: Frances uses mostly the R2 and a Bessa-T (not illustrated) though she would use a Zeiss Ikon if we could afford one.

Voigtländer/rollei

The Voigtländer/Rollei range is a superb line-up of cameras, which we have no hesitation in recommending, but it has two inherent disadvantages as compared with the other two systems.

First, the rangefinder base is too short to focus fast lenses with any great degree of precision, especially at close distances where depth of field cannot cover up focusing errors. This is why Voigtländer's 75mm is an f/2.5 (Leica offers f/2 and f/1.4) and their 90mm is an f/3.5 (Leica offers an f/2.8 and an f/2). There's also a 135/3.4 for the Leica. Neither Voigtländer nor Zeiss offers this focal length, but in the latter case, this is almost certainly because it's not very popular. We'll come back to this.

Second, the viewfinder frames for the different focal lengths have to be selected manually, and it is possible to forget, especially when switching between 35mm and 50mm. We have both done this occasionally.

Newspaper reader, Slovenia

This must be the kind of setting in which we would all read our newspapers, if only we could. This was just before Roger got the MP, when he was still using the Bessa-R2 a great deal; this was shot on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX with the 35/1.7 Ultron.

The R2A/R3A are battery dependent, but offer the option of exposure automation; the Rollei, and all earlier Voigtländers, are mechanical and use the battery only for metering. We also prefer the 'traffic light' metering system of earlier Voigtländers to the R2A/R3A. The 1:1 viewfinder of the R3A is delightful, and makes it far easier to do the old Leica-user's trick of keeping both eyes open when focusing, but it precludes a 35mm frame. Instead of the 35/90-50-75 of other Voigtländers, the R3A has 40/90-50-75. The Rollei has 40/85-50. Where two numbers are shown together, both frame lines are displayed simultaneously.

There are many good reasons to buy a Voigtländer or Rollei. They are extremely good value and they take excellent pictures. Most also accept the delightful base-mounted trigger wind. Roger loves this (he also has a Leicavit on his MP) but Frances prefers to save the weight and use the thumb advance. But if you want the maximum reliability in focusing fast lenses, or automatic frame switching, Zeiss Ikon or Leica are better.

zeiss ikon

The Zeiss Ikon is reviewed on this site. It has a much better, brighter viewfinder than the Voigtländer/Rollei -- arguably, even better than the Leica's -- and an even longer rangefinder base than the Leica, though the effective base length (allowing for the viewfinder magnification) of the 0.85x Leica viewfinder is actually greater at 58.5mm. The EBL of the ZI is 55.5mm; of a 0.72x Leica, 49.5mm; and of a 0.58x Leica, 40mm. The actual base length of a Voigtländer is about 35mm, so most have an EBL of about 26mm but the R3A is 35mm and the T (where the rangefinder is magnified but you need a separate viewfinder in the shoe) is close to 40mm.

Viewfinder frames, automatically selected, are 28/85-35-50, so the finder is a lot less crowded than an MP.

Building site, Daroca, Spain

Of course, we are all aware of the need for safety at work -- but you can't help wondering if a sign like this isn't a substitute for taking more care, rather than a symbol of doing so. After all, when you have eight assorted warnings on one sign, information overload tends to set in. Frances shot this on Kodak Tri-X with the Zeiss Ikon and (as far as she recalls) the 50/2 Planar. The print is on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

The magnesium alloy frame of the ZI saves weight while allowing excellent strength, and from Frances's point of view it has only one major disadvantage: like the R2A/R3A, it's completely battery dependent, with no mechanical back-up speeds at all. To be fair, she isn't that keen on the metering, either, because it is similar to the R2A/R3A, rather than the 'traffic light' system of earlier Voigtländers (or the Leica). Roger was disconcerted by the base-mounted rewind (necessitated by the very long rangefinder base). This also precludes a Leicavit-type rapid-wind trigger base, but he is unusual in his fondness for these.

We would love a Zeiss Ikon if we could afford it but heavy hints to Zeiss were not taken and we had to give it back.

leica

What can one say? It's a legend -- and deservedly so. It's also beautifully made. We use an M2 from the late 1950s alongside our M4-P (early 80s) and MP (2004).

It's also hellish expensive, but with the exception of the M7, all Leicas work perfectly well without batteries (which power only the meter in the M5, CL, M6 and MP) and the longevity is proven.

The only real drawback (apart from the price) is the rather crowded viewfinder: 28/90-35/135-50/75, though the 28 frame is dropped in the 0.85x viewfinder and you can order others omitted in the a la carte program.

It's a hard choice between an older, probably non-metered Leica and a Zeiss Ikon. Roger would probably go for the ZI, but only marginally, while Frances would not hesitate. On the other hand, if we could afford it, we'd go for a brace of MPs each, probably from the a la carte menu. That would be rather over ten thousand quid, or maybe $20,000...

Firework tree

Roger calls this the firework tree because that's what it looks like to him. It was one of the first shots he took with the 75/2 Summicron, an unbelievably good lens and the first new Leica lens we have bought in years: we agreed to buy it rather than sending it back! The trouble is that you need a very late Leica to get a good 75mm frame: this was the MP. The 75mm frame on the M4-P is very vestigial and not very much use. Film was the usual Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX.

 

 

Incidentally, beware of mixing the M6 ttl and M7 with any other Leicas, or with Zeiss Ikon or Voigtländer/Rollei. The shutter speed dial goes the 'wrong' way, clockwise for slower instead of clockwise for faster. The logic of the change is that this matches the way the arrows go in the meter 'traffic lights', and if you only ever use an M6 ttl or M7, it arguably makes more sense; but if you use either alongside anything else, or especially if you are well used to anything else, it is a disaster. Note that the M6 ttl is the second version of the M6, which also had ttl metering; the ttl suffix refers to ttl flash, which the original M6 (with the right-way-round shutter speed dial) did not support.

low-cost options

If you want to dabble your toes in the water and see if you would like a rangefinder camera, there are two main options. One is a second-hand Voigtländer Bessa, and the other, also screw-mount, is a Russian/Ukrainian Fed or Zorkii.

Voigtländers are metered, smoother, more modern and more reliable but the Zorkii and Fed are silly-cheap and give most of the advantages of a rangefinder provided you are happy with the 50/2 standard lens (or of course you can fit something else from the Voigtländer line-up and, if need be, an accessory viewfinder).

Voigtländer Bessa-T with 50/2 Jupiter lens and Soviet turret finder

The Bessa-T is one of the cheaper second-hand models, and the absence of a built-in viewfinder allows the rangefinder to be magnified for a longer effective base length and more accurate focusing -- but not everyone can handle the separate finder. Frances likes it well enough, though. There's a picture of a Zorkii later in the module.

other recent cameras

The Hasselblad/Fuji Xpan has just been dropped in the EU because of regulations on the use of lead in soldering, and the new-style Contax was discontinued some time ago, as was the Konica Hexar.

The Xpan is a nice camera and of course offers a panoramic format. On the other hand the lenses are slow (because of the big format) and the camera is battery dependent. Those who love Xpans, adore them. We have to say that while we have nothing against them, they do not strike us as mainstream RF cameras and they left us cold.

The Contax, as already noted, is not a true rangefinder camera, and although it gave excellent results it had a limited choice of expensive lenses; was completely battery dependent; and sometimes 'hunted' focus. The relatively low price of these cameras on the used market shows that they were not outstandingly popular.

The Hexar never seemed to get the success it deserved, possibly as a result of lingering suspicions about lens/film register and compatibility with other M-series lenses. They remain rare and quite honestly we'd rather have a (cheaper) Voigtländer or Rollei.

collector choices: interchangeable lens

The remaining choices are essentially between usable and more-or-less affordable 'collector' cameras such as older Leicas and original Contaxes (and their offspring, Kievs, and their cousins, Nikons) and a huge raft of other, older cameras which are almost certainly worth more to a collector than a user: Agi, Aka, Ambi Silette, Canon, Casca, Chiyoka, Chiyotax, Detrola, Ektra, Finetta, Foca, Hensoldt, Honor, Kardon, Konica, Kristall, Leningrad, Leotax, Lordomat, Melcon, Meopta, Mercury, Minolta, Nettax, Nicca, Paxette, Peerless, Perfex, Prominent, Red Flag, Reid, Robot, Vitessa, Werra, Witness, Yashica and Yasuhara. And others.

We'd recommend either the low-cost or 'other recent camera' options listed above against almost all of the interchangeable-lens collector cameras except Leica or Contax/Nikon/Kiev, simply because they are easier to use as well as being cheaper and delivering better results in most cases.

Leica IIIa with Voigtländer shoe-mount meter

Old, unmetered cameras can be fitted with the excellent Voigtländer shoe-mount meter which do not look out of place even on this 1936 IIIa, Roger's very first Leica which he still has today.

other choices: fixed lens

There are many surprisingly good fixed-lens, leaf-shutter rangefinder cameras, but there is no room to go into them here as they would make up a whole module in themselves. The main thing to look out for, apart from general functionality, is good, bright rangefinders: we got rid of our Yashica Lynx 14 with its very good f/1.4 lens because the rangefinder was so dim.

lenses and adapters

There are two major lens systems, Leica screw (39mm x 26 tpi, threads per inch, not 39x1mm as widely believed) and Leica M-mount as described above. The Leica screw fit, standardized in 1932, can be converted to Leica bayonet via simple, removable, screw-on adapters: bayonet-mount bodies are 1mm slimmer than screw-mount to allow this. For obvious reasons, bayonet-mount lenses cannot be adapted to screw mount without major surgery.

Because the adapters key different frame lines on Leica M-series and Zeiss Ikon cameras it is important to get the right ones. There are three: 28/90 (which may be marked 90 only), 50/75 (may be marked 50 only) and 35/135 (usually marked with both). Other markings are often misleading: 21mm and 28mm (not 28/90) refer to the days before Leicas has 28mm frame lines. With Voigtländer M-mount bodies, where frames are selected manually, you can get away with a single adapter, left in the camera body -- but multiple adapters are a lot more convenient.

All current Leica and ZM (Zeiss Ikon M-mount) lenses are M-bayonet but many Voigtländer lenses are screw-mount (SM); only a few are delivered as M-mount, usually because the back of the lens is too big to fit through the 39mm hole on an SM body.

School warning sign, Portugal

Somehow, RF cameras are better 'notebooks' than reflexes, perhaps just because they are smaller. We have quite a collection of school warning signs: brother leading sister, sister leading brother, carrying books, carrying cases, and so forth. But this one is our favourite. Who hasn't seen a little girl run across a road like this? Admittedly, she probably wouldn't be wearing such a short dress nowadays. Roger used an M-series Leica (probably M4-P) and 35/1.4 Summilux; the film stock is long forgotten.

 

 

 

Some of the collector cameras listed above are compatible with Leica screw lenses; the Red Flag is compatible with Leica 4-claw bayonet; original Contax, Nikon and Kiev are more or less cross-compatible (and there are a few recent Voigtländer lenses to fit them); and the rest are pretty much tied into their own lens mounts, by now impossible to find and in many cases of distinctly dubious quality. There's a list of lens mounts in the back of our Rangefinder book, the only place we know of that you will find one unless someone has ripped it off for the Web. Please don't!

 

 

focal lengths and choosing lenses

As already noted above, the concept of a 'favourite lens' is much more meaningful in rangefinder photography than with reflexes. As a result we would make what may seem like a rather odd recommendation about buying your first lens. It is this.

If you buy a body without a lens, and have no very clear idea of what you want, put more or less any affordable 35mm or 50mm lens on the front, even a 50/2 Jupiter from the Zorkii line-up (see below). After a comparatively short while you should have quite a good idea of what you want to replace it with: whether your priorities are more speed, more compactness, or a different focal length. The only constant with the Jupiter is that you are likely to want more sharpness, but you might still be surprised at how many good pictures you can get.

Given the tremendous number of first-class lenses available, this may seem a strange way to go about things, but as we say, we believe that RF photography is so different from reflex that it is a defensible and indeed logical approach.

Louise dressing

Given that we only do weddings for friends, as wedding presents, it's ironic there are two wedding shots in this module. Frances shot this with the Bessa-R2 and 50/1.5 Nokton, chosen for its speed, a handy working distance and less distortion than her usual 28/1.9 Ultron fast lens. Film was Ilford XP2 Super.

older lenses

An enormous range of lenses from 1932 onwards is available, and some of these have cult status, principally a few Nikkors (which were available in Nikon S, original Contax and SM mount) and some Canon lenses. The only cult lens from the Russian/Ukrainian line-up is the 85/2 Jupiter, though the 135/4 is also a fair performer and some people like the 50/2 Jupiter too.

Canon 50/1.2 on Voigtländer Bessa R3A

The Canon 50/1.2 (introduced in 1957/58) is something of a cult lens and can be mounted on cameras taking M-fit lenses via a simple adapter. The R3a with its 1:1 viewfinder and effective 35mm base length is just about adequate to focus this lens.

With the exception of the longer Russian/Ukrainian lenses (50mm and above), these are usually more valuable to collectors than to shooters, and we would recommend modern Voigtländer lenses instead: they are usually cheaper than older lenses, and almost always offer better performance.

A few old SM lenses from smaller manufacturers, and SM-compatible bodies from the 1950s and 60s, may interchange imperfectly or not at all, because they may be 39x1mm, effectively 39mm x 25.4tpi.

The Canon 'Dream' 50mm f/0.95 lens does not have the standard Leica screw mount but fits on the external bayonet mount around the SM on late Canons. We have heard of some being converted to M-mount but have never seen one and do not know if they are rangefinder-coupled.

Dikteion Cave, Crete

This is the birthplace of Zeus. Roger took the picture on ISO 50 film (Fuji RF/RFP) using a 21/4.5 Zeiss Biogon in Contax fit with a detachable adapter to Leica M (this was probably his M4-P, though it could have been an M2; either would have been on a tripod).

It illustrates a number of points. First, Contax-to-M adapters are possible (and were indeed commercially made). Second, a disadvantage of RF cameras is that you can't see flare. Third, it's always better to try to take a picture than to decide you don't have the equipment for it. Fourth, you never know what someone else will make of your picture: two editors (Shutterbug and Focal Press) have used this as a full-page picture.

Today we'd probably use the 21/4 Voigtländer, unless we had our 21/2.8 Kobalux with us -- or unless we buy a 21/2.8 Zeiss Ikon, smaller than the Kobalux, faster than the Voigtländer.

the disadvantages of rangefinder cameras

We would be dishonest if we did not list these. Obviously we don't think they are decisive, but you may not agree. There are seven drawbacks that we can think of.

you can't see flare

The picture above illustrates this quite adequately, though it is only fair to point out that the lens that was used for that shot was 40 to 50 years old at the time; that most modern lenses flare less; and that if you use small lenses, you can also get away with small lens shades (though not in the case above, shooting straight into the light).

Zorkii 4K

The 50/2 Jupiter is essentially a coated copy of a pre-war Zeiss Sonnar. You rarely get imaged diaphragm flare but overall flare makes for a 'glow' around highlights.

no long lenses

The longest rangefinder-coupled lens normally available is 135mm. Today there is the 135/3.4 for the Leica, and in the past, there were other Leica lenses from f/2.8 to f/4.5 and a choice of 135mm lenses from other manufacturers. There have been a few still longer -- the 180/2.8 'Olympic' Sonnar was available in rangefinder-coupled Contax mount in 1936 -- but the difficulty of ensuring adequate rangefinder coupling, to say nothing of adequate viewfinders, has meant that they have never been common.

In fact, many photographers (including ourselves) prefer to switch to reflexes after 90mm; we sold our 135/2.8 some years ago. We use an old Nikon F when we want long lenses, usually with a 200/3 Vivitar Series 1 and (if we need it) a 2x teleconverter, though we also have a 135/2.3 Vivitar Series 1, a 300/4 Pentacon and a 600/8 Vivitar Series 1 Solid Cat.

 

 

Another possibility is the Visoflex mirror housing, which effectively converts a Leica into an SLR. They are not outstandingly convenient but we keep thinking of getting a 200mm Leitz Telyt to use with ours.

Visoflex and 90/2

Some Leica lenses were available in both short mounts for Visoflex and long mounts for rangefinder coupling; the RF coupled mount is on the right, and the same head can be used in both (the Viso version is great for portraiture). Later 90/2 lenses could not be split in the same way as this early version.

Buzzards, Gettysburg

We used to have the (rare) 400/5 Leica Telyt for the Visoflex and Roger used it at the battlefield memorial park to photograph these buzzards warming themselves in the early morning sun. It was huge and heavy and surprisingly valuable so we sold it, a decision we only partially regret. The camera was probably an M2; the film, as far as we recall, Agfachrome 50 or 100. Nowadays we'd use the Nikon, 200/3 and doubler.

 

imprecise framing

Viewfinders for RF cameras are notoriously imprecise, but to a considerable extent, they have to be. After all, the field of view of a lens decreases as it focuses closer, so a frame that was 'all in' at infinity would show too much at the nearest focusing distance, i.e. there would be less on the film than shows in the viewfinder. Most manufacturers therefore go for reasonable accuracy at the closest focusing distance and include rather more than you see in the viewfinder at infinity. The following table gives some idea of the accuracy (or otherwise) of various viewfinders, taking Zeiss Ikon as 100 per cent (it came from our ZI review). Note that the 85mm Zeiss Ikon frame is identical to the 90mm Leica MP frame.

28mm

35mm

50mm

85/90mm

Magnification

Zeiss Ikon camera

100%

100%

100%

100%

0.74x

Leica M2

-

+8%

identical

+3%

0.72x

Leica MP

+3%

+6%

-5%

identical

0.72x

Voigtländer Bessa R2

-

+3%

+2%

+6%

Voigtländer Bessa R3A

-

-

+2%

-3%

1.0x

25/28 Zeiss finder

+3%

-

-

-

28/35 Voigtländer mini-finder

+3%

not tested

-

-

28mm Voigtländer finder

+6%

-

-

-

90mm Voigtländer finder

-

-

-

+12%/-6%

1.0x

Russian 'turret' finder

+12%

+10%

not tested

+9%

Tewe 35-200 finder

-

+7%/+5%

+8%/+5%

+20%/+12%

Of course, many SLRs do not show the full frame either, though most top-end Nikons from the F onwards are 100 per cent. So is the Visoflex housing.

A few accessory finders offer two frames (typically 1 metre and infinity) or a 'zoom' action to compensate for close focusing. That explains why there are two figures for the 90mm Voigtländer finder (twin frames) and the Tewe 35-200 (zoom).

 

Draper's Mill, near Westgate

For this kind of reportage or environmental portraiture, tight, precise framing is very rarely necessary, though occasionally a picture may be improved by cropping out some extraneous detail that was not noticed (or that was included by accident) at the taking stage. Here, for example, an obtrusive fluorescent light fitting at the top of the picture has been cropped out, bringing the image closer to square: the actual dimensions of this web-site image are 426 x 550 pixels, whereas of course they would be nearer 426 x 640 if the image were 'all in'.

Roger actually shot this as part of a lens test of the then-new 35/1.7 Ultron for the Voigtländer; it was probably mounted on the original Bessa-R. Film was Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX. 

extra viewfinders needed

Depending on the camera and lens in use, you may need extra viewfinders. Late Leicas with 0.72x and 0.58x viewfinders offer the widest choice, 28-35-50-75-90-135mm in three pairs (28/90, 35/135, 50/75). The Bessa-T offers the least, with no built-in viewfinder at all, though this allows a slight magnification of the rangefinder for greater focusing accuracy: an EBL of around 40mm.

Not only do these accessory finders have to be carried and kept track of: they also have to stay in the accessory shoe. They can and do come out, which can be expensive if you lose them.

We often jam finders in the shoe with a splinter of match-stick or something similar. One of the great advantages of Leicas over Voigtländer/Rollei and ZI is that the accessory shoe fitting is much tighter and more secure.

Zeiss Ikon with 15/2.8 Distagon and auxiliary finder

Zeiss finders are not normally supplied as a kit with the lens, and if you do lose them, they are terrifyingly expensive at just under $500 or a bit over £250 (the latter including VAT). They are however the best finders we have ever seen.

Another drawback is that accessory finders offer no automatic parallax compensation. Some offer nothing at all; many offer a secondary (dotted or incomplete) guide-line just below the upper frame-line to use when focusing at 2 metres or closer; and a few offer a (manually adjustable) tilting mount in the accessory shoe or a moving rear sight. These latter approaches are far and away the most accurate but also far and away the least convenient.

Leica IIIa with Tewe finder

The Tewe, introduced in Germany in the 1950s, is one of the few with a 75mm setting. You may also be able to see the two index marks beside the focal length ring, the one on the right for infinity and the shorter one on the left for close-ups; and the lever at the foot of the finder to adjust for parallax. All commendably precise -- but also very slow to use! Nikon made a very similar finder to the Tewe: it is not clear who copied from whom.

Note a delightful feature of old Leicas: an adjuster for individual eyesight, concentric with the rangefinder eyepiece (left hand window). The separate built-in 50mm viewfinder is the right-hand window.

difficulty in close focusing

Parallax, the difference in viewpoint between the lens and the finder, becomes very serious indeed at 1 metre or closer which is why so few lenses focus much closer -- and of those that do, the parallax compensation (via the moving finder frame) usually stops before the rangefinder coupling does.

If you want to focus close, you can switch to a reflex; or use a Visoflex, preferably with a 65/3.5 Elmar and OUBIO close-focusing mount (down to 1:1, and 100 per cent viewing apart from the rounded corners); or use a 90mm lens, most of which focus to about 1/10 life size or better, and one of which (the 90/4 Makro-Elmar) can be equipped with auxiliary focusing 'spectacles' to get down to 1/3 life size.

There is actually one other option, which is 'spiders'. These are focusing frames that go on the front of the lens and are used either with extension rings or close-up lenses. They make for a bulky but surprisingly effective package.

 

Venetian blind

We were staying with Frances's nephew Dane in California when Roger woke up and saw this abstract pattern in the Venetian blind. Problem: no reflex cameras for close focusing. Solution: ordinary 90mm lens (f/2 Summicron) at its closest focusing distance. Exposure was a bit interesting: Roger took a reading, made a 'best guess' and then bracketed +/1 1 stop. This is his favourite, the middle exposure. The Leica MP (loaded with Kodak Elite Chome 100 EBX) was tripod-mounted for this shot.

limited choice of third-party lenses

This wasn't always so. From the 1920s to the 1960s, there were all kinds of third-party lenses in Leica screw mount, though to be fair, many of them were pretty nasty. More recently (in the late 20th and early 21st century) there have been 21/2.8 and 28/3.5 lenses made in Japan and sold under a variety of names: Pasinon, Kobalux and more. But today, with a choice of Leica, Zeiss Ikon, Rollei and (above all) affordable Voigtländer lenses in a wide range of focal lengths, no-one else is bothering.

no zooms

Actually, we don't see this as a disadvantage at all -- more of an advantage, so you aren't even tempted to buy bulky, slow lenses -- but some people might feel differently, so we generously mention it.

the bottom line

Rangefinder cameras are different: there is no doubt about it. For some kinds of photography, especially reportage and travel, many people find them vastly superior to reflexes. For other kinds of photography, such as landscapes, RF or SLR is a matter of choice. And for yet other kinds, especially with long lenses or for close-ups, the SLR is simply better.

We run both SLR and RF cameras in parallel -- alongside, it must be said, a range of roll-film cameras and large format cameras up to 12x15 inch. But we find that the small size, light weight and superb lenses of RF cameras mean that they are always our first choice: we switch to something else only when the RF really isn't suitable.

 

Time Traveller

Frances took this picture at a mediaeval re-enactment at a village near us. She suddenly thought, 'What if there were real tine travellers here? What would they think? What would they look like? The dramatic burning-in and the hand colouring help to further the sense of unreality and anonymity. Voigtländer Bessa-T, 90/3.5 Apo-Lanthar, Ilford XP2 Super, hand coloured with Spot Pens.

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© 2005 Roger W. Hicks