All posts by RC

Yashica Rangefinders

Whenever I see a product shot of a Yashica rangefinder camera it takes me back to my early days as an amateur photographer. The Yashica Minister D, possessed solid optical features that allowed me to shoot in a wide array of lighting conditions. The shutter action was smooth and quiet which allowed me to remain unnoticed when shooting around the school or on the city streets.

Yashica’s rangefinder focusing system was fairly standard in the 60s and 70s but it did allow me to develop my zone focusing techniques. Even now after 40 or more years I still prefer manual operation to the modern digital camera’s autofocus systems. The camera’s large viewfinder makes it fairly easy to view your subjects.

There are certain features on Yashica’s rangefinder models back in the 60s and 70s that were extremely attractive for budding photographers. The viewfinder was roomy and allows for full visibility when framing a shot. The smooth cocking action of the film advance and gentle but sure click of the shutter release reassured you that you got the shot.

The RF cameras were perfect for this kind of casual photography. We wanted to be photojournalists taking street life shots and Ansell Adams’ landscapes. The Yashica rangefinders offered that kind of flexibility at a great price for photogrphers.

Loading and rewinding film was made quick and easy with this camera body. There’s plenty of space afforded by its layout to load and shoot on the run. The Yashinon was a fairly fast lens for the time and money. Popping in a roll of 36 exp. – ASA 400 Kodak BW film allows gets your day started off right.

The camera’s user selectable shutter speeds started with B and got up to 1/500 sec and had a fairly good flash sync at .60. You could set the shutter at either X or M unless you are using the self timer. For some reason you had to have the camera on when using this feature with or without flash.

Another great feature that made it easy to operate was the way the f-stop changed when you moved the aperture ring. With the user selectable input your range of F-16 to f2.8, although you can set it two separately for the use of an outer ring on the lens.

Yashica’s parent company purchased lens manufacturers and prided itself in the sharpness and precision of the glass. For some reason various models had different mounts; rangefinders were either screw mounts or bayonet mount lenses depending on the particular format/model.

Since the demise of the company after being purchased by Kyocera, lots of camera buffs and collectors have made many of these models their target for acquisition. Both the rangefinder and SLR models can still be found on the Internet if you take the time to look around. If you do get your hands on one of these cameras in pristine condition, treasure it because as the old saying goes, they don’t make them like this anymore.

Rangefinder Digital Cameras

With the proliferation of digital SLR’s on the market over the last decade, it comes as no surprise to see the digital rangefinder following suit. Epson has started the trend with the R-D1 which works well with a wide range of M and L mount rangefinder lenses. Leica has managed to take control of this upscale market over the last few years with its Digital M-series.

The M8 and R-D1 are expensive compared to the digital SLRs on the market right now. They don’t have a few of the standard features as live preview, movie recording, and face detection. Many pros and advanced amateurs are grateful for that because they don’t want the camera’s technology to get in the way of their photographic style or techniques.

There are only a few brands digital rangefinders around but the ones that are here are very good at what they do best. Thousands of great RF cameras and lenses were manufactured by Konica, Minolta, Leica, Zeiss, Voightlander. Most of these RF cameras are still in usable condition over the decades. Many owners have heavy investment in very expensive lenses and want to get a digital camera to put them on.

The choices of players in the DRF market are meager. The prices are high and the pickings are slim in this market right now. Someday when digital R&D costs come down, there will be niche players in the photographic market again. But until then, get used to not having your needs fully met if you are a serious amateur or professional photographer looking for great balance between amenities and price in your digital rangefinder cameras.

If you’re looking to get a brand-new camera, you should know that both digital SLR’s and rangefinders are going to be costly. You can choose a lesser known brand for the body and put your money in the lenses. This is one option many budding photographers have considered because all the major camera manufacturers pride themselves in the quality of their lenses.

Pros and amateurs with a collection of M-mount lenses would be very happy with a really good digital camera body in a mid range price that allowed them to use their lens collection. There already are a few rangefinder digital cameras being manufactured today in a few high and mid range price ranges. Manufacturers such as Voigtandor, Canon or Leica are promoting the format again. A lot of factors surface when choosing a camera for your overall use; format and function does matter along with price.

These companies should be given serious consideration if you’re thinking buying a DRF this year. Rangefinder digital cameras are topping out on the resolution and beginning to focus more on ease of use and memory management.

The hunger for digital is still growing strong. Many young people who have started by taking pictures with their phones have graduated to more detailed and precise photographic tools. Having access to a few good rangefinder digital cameras will only help improve their art.

Rangefinder Cameras

When I think about vintage camera collectables, I think rangefinder. The rangefinder cameras that immediately come to mind are the Leica brand models. They have been around since the 1930’s. One of the major selling points of rangefinder cameras going back to the 50s and 60s was its ease of use. The sleek flat design made these cameras quite compact especially in an era when design meant big, bold and beautiful. One of the most practical reasons for owning the style was the amazing all purpose 50 millimeter lens.

I remember watching the spy movies back in the late 60s and looking at the really cool cameras that they had back then. One of my favorites was the Leica M3. This was around 1964 when the three dominant 35mm camera companies of the time were Leica, Yashica and Nikon. There was always something sexy and stylish about the 1960s era rangefinder cameras. The sleek body style was reminiscent of these sports cars of that time. The sleek trim and compact design gave you a feeling of danger; as a kid, I carried mine everywhere I went.

The basic difference between SLRs and RFs is in the function of viewing the image and focusing for the shot. The smooth shutter speed of the rangefinder cameras gives it an advantage over the SLR. You can shoot at shutter speeds range between 1/8 – 1/15 with your 50 mm lens and get great shots! Another great advantage is the ability to get razor-sharp optical quality with wide-angle lenses and in low light levels even at f/2.0.

I am still sold on the ease, speed and accuracy of focusing with the rangefinder. There is a small rectangular yellow patch in the center of the viewfinder. Find your subject and you’ll see a superimposed double image. Quickly adjust the focusing ring to bring the two images together as one; you’re now in sharp focus; it’s that easy.

One of the most important components of the camera system is the type of lens you are using. The lens mount is the particular connecting mechanism that attaches the lens to the camera body. This allows for interchangeable lenses to be used with your rangefinder. You’ll find the standard variety available in screw threaded type, bayonet type or friction lock type; the various camera companies insure compatibility between camera and lens through their unique locking systems.

When shopping for additional lenses for your rangefinder, be sure to identify the particular lens mounting system. Each camera company tends to favor its own unique mounting system; screw type mounts, baronet mounts, etc., Leica originally developed the screw mount system way back in the late 1920’s.

Many of the classic rangefinder cameras can still be found in the hands of collectors. Modern RFs still hold their unique locking systems for their lenses; for instance, screw mount versus bayonet mounts. Many of the premier lens manufacturers such as Nikon, Canon and Leica offer adapters or various styles to fit other camera bodies.

Rangefinder Camera Reviews

As a rangefinder camera buff, I’m constantly searching the classifieds in local newspapers and online. As a collector as well as a photographer, part of the fun comes from contributing my observations and even my pet peeve’s to the general discussion. Every so often I will head to the Internet chat rooms or forums to read or even write rangefinder camera reviews.

Although many of these tend to be camera aficionados stretching their egos a bit, there are usually quite a lot of good information to be gleaned from members with a lot of experience in both photography and valuation of vintage cameras.

If you happen to have a desire to find out whether the 1958 Nikon S. rangefinder your uncle left you is worth anything there is usually quite a lot of detailed information from reviews available. If you’re in the market for vintage cameras, using many of the rangefinder camera reviews to determine what would be appropriate for your needs.

When buying a new camera, I will usually start by reviewing the official website to get the specs and then move on to search for review articles on the blogs that I trust as well as user generated forums. Sometimes you might find a few reviews that are actually PR pieces but generally you can count on material that is consistent with good photographic principles.

Reviews and articles may get a lot of responses both pro and con. For instance the Nikon rangefinder camera series has been around since the 50s; there are those who absolutely love these cameras and others who are passionate to a fault about its main rival Leica.  Rangefinder camera reviews on forums will bring the most responses while those on article directories usually go unchallenged.

The most useful reviews will cover the brand of camera, a brief description of its history and then focus specifically on the pros and cons. They will make a clear distinction between the features of the product and their opinions of its capabilities. You’ll be able to easily identify the commercial reviews because they will tend to contain a lot more technical specifications and a lot less observations from practical experience.

If you’re the type of person that likes to read the technical specs, definitely stop over at the various camera websites and download the PDF documents. If you’re the type of person that simply wants a general opinion on a specific piece of machinery, camera lens or accessory, rangefinder camera reviews can help a lot.

When the Leica M8 came out, the buzz about its capabilities appeared all over the internet. Most of the information was actually speculation with a few insiders who actually got to play with the camera. I prefer to wait until new equipment has been sold for a while before sinking into the reviews. You’re more likely to get the honest appraisal versus the professional review at that point. There’s nothing wrong with a little industry punditry but I prefer the “man in the street” perspective.

Nikon Rangefinder Cameras

In 1948 a 35mm rangefinder camera known as Nikon I was manufactured by Nippon Kogaku KK of Japan. The cameras actually began to be recognized because of the lenses created by the company. Photographers requested Nikkor lenses to fit their Leicas. By the 1950s, the Nikon S became very popular in the United States. These early cameras still fetch a high price on the collectors market.

The Nikon rangefinder cameras are way ahead of the competition in terms of design and lens sharpness. Whether taking still life or group shots or little league victory parties, I’m still impressed with the ease at which these cameras can be loaded, focused and fired. Many professional photographers who handle weddings, portraits and special events use digital rangefinder cameras. They also keep a backup RF with film.

There are a few issues with close up and zoom; that’s a drawback of most RF cameras. Extreme close-up shots are a little clunky to achieve. There are workarounds with specific close-up lenses and viewfinder adapters. Some filters can block the viewfinder area as well. These are minor issues in comparison. Using the classic rangefinders makes me appreciate the craftsmanship put into these vintage models from the 1950s and 60s.

Even in today’s modern digital camera world, there is a clear difference between the two systems. The SLR has certain features that are attractive to certain types of photographers while the RF cameras continue to have their devotees. Because the viewfinder magnification remains constant no matter which lens is mounted, this makes it excellent for certain types of pictures. These cameras are amazingly accurate especially when shooting sports and outdoor scenes.

Other than the workarounds needed to do extreme close-up work, I find the Nikon RF models give me wider latitude with my selection of 50 mm and 28mm lenses. I get sharper pictures with my normal lenses at full to medium a picture. If I’m heading out to shoot street scenes I can count on the rangefinder to give me good quality with available light from dawn till dusk.

When I’m photographing kids and young adults in a social setting, I can open up my lens aperture and capture action. At this stage I’m all about capturing composition quickly while framing small or large groups

Many SLR users tend to have a difficult time adjusting to the world of the rangefinder. The focusing techniques are different and in my mind even the shooting styles are not quite the same. I tend to use the RF for candid and lifestyle photography because it lends itself to spontaneity and natural light conditions.

The classic focal lengths for the rangefinder are 28, 35, 50 and 90 mm lenses. If you have collected lenses in the past, you definitely get to use them on the new digital bodies. The popular L and M amounts are compatible with a variety of brands and you can always find adapters available on the Internet. Nikon rangefinder cameras are worth keeping regardless of age.

Leica Rangefinder Cameras

Leica rangefinder cameras are the royal family of the RF format. They literally got this system off the ground in the twenties. My first introduction to the Leica rangefinder cameras was at age 14 when my father took me to Times Square in New York City in search of the right camera for my new hobby. The camera store clerk knew absolutely nothing about the merchandise but he let me hold practically every camera in the store.

If you are a fan of Leica rangefinder cameras, you may be familiar with the legendary Leica II. Back in 1932, this camera popularized the 35mm rangefinder model. Rangefinder cameras came in all sizes and formats with this stylish and compact design held the fascination of the general public.

Using the classic rangefinders makes me appreciate the craftsmanship that was infused into these vintage models from the 1930s through the 70s. These cameras worked hard along with their owners during World War II and the Korean Conflict, then later during the war in Viet Nam.

Photo journalists loved the light weight, the solid workmanship and the rangefinder’s ability to quickly frame and shoot in all manner of lighting conditions. The models come with a viewfinder/rangefinder system with bright automatically switching frame lines for easy focusing and composition.

Many of the classic Leica rangefinder cameras can still be found in the hands of collectors. Modern RFs still hold their unique locking systems for their lenses; for instance; screw mount versus bayonet mounts. Many of the premier lens manufacturers such as Nikon, Canon and Leica offer adapters or various styles to fit other camera bodies.

With the proliferation of digital SLR’s on the market over the last decade, it comes as no surprise to see the digital Leica M-series rangefinder cameras following suit. Leica has regain control of this market over the last few years with its characteristic attention to detail.

In 2006, they began distributing the M8 digital Leica rangefinder cameras. The price was steep; the prices of DRFs are a few notches above their SLR cousins. The expense was well worth the wait however. The all metal magnesium alloy body was reminiscent of the early Leicas that saw combat in three major wars.

The M8 makes use of a metal blade focal plane shutter that can sync at 1/250 of the second for flash photography using the M-TTL system very effectively. This shutter speed tops out at 1/8000 sec. and goes as low as 8 seconds. The 10.3 megapixels was a bit disappointing considering many SLRs now go as high as 18 megapixels but the camera is a beauty.

The lens mount has the special connecting mechanism that attaches the lens to the camera body. This allows for interchangeable lenses to be used with your Leica rangefinder cameras. You’ll find the standard variety available in screw threaded type, bayonet type or friction lock type; the various camera companies insure compatibility between camera and lens through their unique locking systems. After almost a century, these cameras are still going strong.

Contax Rangefinder Cameras

One of the best Contax rangefinder cameras ever made came out in 1932. Back in the 1930s and 40s the company, Zeiss Ikon was looking to go head-to-head with Leica in terms of quality and style. The Contax I rangefinder camera was engineered to be more technologically advanced than the current Leica model. They came out with the bayonet mount for a more precise connection to the camera body. They were also fanatical in their goal for sharper lens.

The Zeiss engineers looked to improve on every aspect of the Leica brand. From the removable metal back to the vertical metal shutter, their intent was obvious; they wanted it faster, they wanted it better. Unfortunately the product lacked the style and grace of the Leica. Later models continued to improve and upgrade the technology throughout the 1950s.

Zeiss pioneered a lot of advanced features that we take for granted in the modern camera today. It was clearly competition between the two companies as well as their supporters. In the 50s, the Contax II and III came out with a complete line of lenses with an improved focusing system. The company wanted to once again be on par with the popular Leica, Nikon and Canon entries into the market.

Although the company held fast to its goal of technical advancement, by the 60s their competitors were moving ahead of them. Contact rangefinder cameras were no longer pulling ahead of the pack. The Nikon SP, the Canon 7 and the Leica M3 all pulled ahead. The development of the single lens reflex camera also began to eclipse the rangefinder in popularity.

The original Contax I and II had the larger body and boxier style. They were heavier and larger than the Leica back then. Later, the IIa and IIIa came out, with a smaller body weighing in at 18 ounces versus the original 21 ounces; but when placed side-by-side there was almost a 20% difference in size between the II and the IIa.

Improvements came with the Contax IIa and IIIa. The shutter mechanism was an improvement over the competition as well as the Contax I and II. They redesigned the cloth connecting straps of the shutter curtains. The engineers ended up with fewer parts and better reliability.

The viewfinder/rangefinder windows saw improvements as well. They managed to reduce the rangefinder length to 73 mm original 90 mm. Even so, it was still longer than the Leica rangefinder base length by 15%. The viewfinder was stretched a little longer and wider by 1 mm for more comfortable viewing.

Zeiss improved the Contax rangefinder cameras in the IIa and IIIa models. It definitely made for a better camera although I think they outdid themselves when it came to manufacturing the lenses. The Zeiss engineers were always known for their world-class precision when it came to optics. During the 40s and 50s the lenses had a nice chrome finish. The bayonet mounts finally provided a firm click that assured any photographer that they were locked and loaded.

Best Rangefinder Cameras

When I gave two of my best rangefinder cameras to my mother, she thoroughly enjoyed the fact that there was no need to close one eye when focusing. You can focus, compose and shoot with both eyes open. The compact, lightweight Yashica body fit nicely in her hands.

During the 1920s Oscar Barnett showcased the Leica A. This is the beginning of 35mm photography as it exists today. The focusing system relied on a device that figures out the distance to an object using triangulation. This is done visually or electronically depending on the age of your camera.

Although there are many different cameras to choose from in both styles and format, I find that some of my most immediate and spontaneous shots come off the 35mm rangefinder. I love these cameras for taking candid shots in any light conditions. To this day, the most resilient brand of rangefinder cameras is Leica.

The simplicity in their design extends to how they operate. I still use the rangefinders for everyday shooting. The best rangefinder cameras allow you to shoot at high shutter speeds under a variety of lighting conditions.

If I’m shooting group shots at a wedding reception or high school reunion, the rangefinder cameras are excellent for quick composition and shooting on the go. I’ll keep the RF camera handy for this kind of photography because I can usually set it at f/8 – 1/60 – 1/125 of a second and mount the camera on the mono-pod. I can count on great informal looking shots even when I switch to fill flash.

If you’re into shooting the great outdoors, use a wide-angle lens on an RF camera and begin framing your shots. The Leica 24 mm f/3.8 wide angle lens allows me to shoot fairly sharp pictures at a wide variety of f-stops; with or without flash.

Because these cameras are practically vibration free, you can get great shots with longer exposures. Try shooting at f/4 or f/5.6 and marvel at the great results that are relatively free of distortion. Another great advantage is the ability to get razor-sharp optical quality with wide-angle lenses and in low light levels even at f/2.0.

Most of my RF cameras are flat, compact and easy to carry with one extra lens. The best rangefinder cameras allow me to shoot in available light during solemn occasions such as weddings and other special events. These cameras allow you to set your shutter speed manually and give you total creative control or you can set them on semiautomatic for party pictures.

The shutter design of the best rangefinder cameras gives them an advantage over the SLR. You can shoot at shutter speed ranges between 1/8 – 1/15 sec with your 50mm lens and get amazing shots! Learn as much about the operation of the RF’s from those who use it regularly.
Check out the forums and blogs to find out what other photographers are doing. It is a very active community for rangefinders on the Internet.

35mm Rangefinder Cameras

Some of the best 35mm rangefinder cameras came out during my formative years in the 60s. If you are a fan of these cameras, you may be familiar with the Yashica brand. Back in the early -70s, the camera was with me every day. It was sturdy yet easy to shoot; being a lightweight model that was perfect for a hobbyist.

The 35 mm Rangefinder camera has a certain mystique about it that’s unique from its SLR cousin. They bring back memories of the emerging U.S. space program, the 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 and young women with white vinyl boots and miniskirts. This model was my first introduction to real photography.

A 35mm rangefinder camera can simplify your picture taking in natural light and when taking casual photographs. The focus feature meant that you could take a picture easily so long as there was enough light to achieve focus. With RF cameras you have wider latitude with which to work. This may be one reason why so many of the greats of yesteryear used to them.

Not only were these cameras sleek and compact, there were much quieter than their SLR cousins. Even in the 21st century where the digital camera has taken over from its analog ancestors, digital rangefinders are far quieter. Perhaps that’s why I always associate the rangefinders with espionage.

The 35mm rangefinder camera continues to impress in both style and function. Although the modern camera has a lot of interesting features, I find them not to be as well made and sturdy as the classic 60s and 70s models. My 40 year old Leica and Yashica RF models will still function even when the battery dies. They can be set in fully manual mode and the shutter and apertures will work just fine.

The classic compact 35mm rangefinder camera from the 50s through to the mid-70s was very well armored. I’ve often joked that you could walk the streets without fear with one of these because you are basically armed and dangerous. Even the new Leica M series has a sturdy metal frame that reeks of quality and durability.

With the proliferation of digital SLR’s on the market over the last decade, it comes as no surprise to see the emergence of the 35mm rangefinder following suit. Leica has managed to take control of this market over the last few years with its M-series. Epson has joined the fray with the R-D1 which also works very well with a wide range of M and L mount rangefinder lenses. The challenge for most of us is the price.

My main considerations for digital 35mm rangefinder cameras are; ISO accuracy, file buffer handling, RAW processing capability and price. I can appreciate the work that goes into these models but there is still a matter of finding the right lenses that won’t leave you broke. This is the biggest upgrade cost for many photographers. Visit various websites that offer discounts on photo equipment to get killer deals.