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.