Tag Archives: Nikon

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.