Sunday, 14 October 2007

The attraction of a rangefinder

The photographer, Seville, November 2006

I've been thinking about the whole idea of a rangefinder camera for a while now. Various reasons for this, which I'll come onto in a moment.
If Leica were the only rangefinders around, it would be out of the question - far too expensive and not exactly perfect at that. There are, however, some real alternatives about: the Cosina made Bessa line and the new Zeiss Ikon. Whilst nobody could really call these cheap cameras at least they are affordable. Especially if you only want a lens or 2.
Colin Jago's recent words on the whole issue don't help me get over new kit syndrome here, either. Fortunately he posted a link to Big Bubbles in my comments to this post which was useful in tempering enthusiasm.

So why would I want (yet) another camera, especially an "old fashioned" thing like a rangefinder? It's for what they do best: street photography. Picture for this post is a perfect example. While I used a DSLR with a zoom lens, I manually zone focused, set to f/8 and shot with the camera on my lap. Never raised it to my eye at all. I doubt anyone knew I was there, certainly no one overtly noticed the camera. The photographer of the title spent ages tracking & zooming and fiddling. Doubt she ever got a shot in.
Street photography is, for me, all about the discrete. If I can carry a camera that doesn't get noticed and can be shot from the hip (literally), that's ideal. This is where the whole rangefinder thing comes in. Also quite handy for the casual sort of snapping. Some fast film, wideish lens (say 28 - 40mm) and you can cover a wide range of situations.

I did take a look at the new Canon G9 briefly (whole other camera but similar use for me) which looks like it could also be usable in these cases. I think I'll have to take it for a test drive. Pity I can't do the same with an RF, too.


  1. Don't forget the used market. Good film Leicas are easy to come by even if the lenses are in short supply at the moment.

  2. Oh, great. Just what I need - even less reasons not to :-)

  3. At the risk of tempering your enthusiasm even more, part two of my Rangefinder experiment here. (There's also the as-yet unwritten part three, in which I explain why I will be selling the R2.)

  4. Ade - another honest opinion, thanks. Between yourself & Colin it's like having my own shoulder angel & demon.

  5. I think you should bear my experience in mind, but don't let it put you off. The Bessas are fine cameras and there are plenty of people who love them and get great results. (Consider though that your DSLR is probably quieter in operation.) Rangefinders are such a different method of working that you really need to try one to see what they're like - which I why I have no regrets about my trial run. I would suggest starting with something cheap like a Zorki, but I don't know how pleasant it would be to use. Just be prepared to cut your losses if it doesn't work out, as I don't believe they're for everyone.

  6. Ade, thanks. It's not thta I'm worried about being put offf, au contraire. My instinct is that I'll pick up a rangefinder, love it to bits and then melt what's left of my bank balance. It's actually nice to see someone who has some less than glowing comments on the gestalt. RFs 9especially Leicas) cannot be perfect.


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