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  • Writer's pictureIgal Schneider

Rangefinder cameras

Shot with Olympus XA on Kodak Portra 400

Rangefinders are cameras where you compose your image thru a window, usually with split-image mechanism, which works by turning a dedicated wheel and trying to get two split images together. On older cameras, the rangefinder is uncoupled, meaning you bring the split-image together, then read the distance and set it on a lens. On newer cameras, coupling made it easier to focus, since you are focusing the lens as you fusing the split-image.

Shot with Ricoh 500 RF on Kodak Gold 200

In the beginning of my film journey, I tried couple of rangefinder cameras, and disliked them. I thought of them as of toys rather than cameras for “serious photographers”. So I focused on SLRs. But with the time, I started wondering what’s the buzz around Leicas.

Shot with Ricoh 500 RF on Kodak Gold 200

My first rangefinder was Canon Canonet QL17 GIII. Many film photographers call it “the poor man Leica” . It has a very sharp and fast (f/1.7) fixed lens, with a beatiful bright patch - the quadrangle inside the viewfinder, where you actually fuse the images together to focus. It is pretty small and fun to use, but that’s what think of it now. When I first touched it and tried running couple of rolls thru it, I didn’t like the idea that I don’t see the actual focusing thru the lens, like with Zenit or Minolta X-700. These two cameras have microprisms on the viewfinder, allowing you to see the focusing in and out as the image becomes sharp or blurry.

Shot with Canon IVSB II and Industar-22 on ORWO Chrome 100

I forgot about rangefinder cameras for a while. What brought me back to them was my fascination with the medium format. I got couple of folding cameras, one of them with scale focus (see my previous article), and another with uncoupled rangefinder. Falling in love with these cameras caused me to re-evaluate how I focus.

Shot with Canon IVSB II and Industar-22 on Agfa Aviphot Pan 200

Today I have a bunch of them, from Zorki - Russian Leica III copy to Minolta CLE - an advanced Leica M-mount shooter with excellent TTL metering and crisp sharp M-Rokkor lens. Some of them are fully mechanical, some have battery powered metering, and some are fully automatic. What I love about these little cameras is that they are small, pocketable (well, most of them), quiet and they have no mirror. The last fact allows you to shoot on much slower speeds handheld than with SLR. If you don’t have a rangefinder, get yourself a Zorki or FED off eBay. They are dirt cheap, but fun to use and they will bring you into the new shooting experience.

Shot with Canon IVSB II and Industar-22 on Agfa Aviphot Pan 200

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