Tag Archives: Minox / Leica Leica M3 Digital Camera

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.

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.