Rangefinder cameras occupy a special place in the mirrorless camera industry and many street photographers want to use these cameras which are extremely light and quiet. They are compact and take wonderful pictures. In this article, I will help you choose the best rangefinder camera for your purposes.
As a rule, all cameras can be divided into two main types: digital SLR and mirrorless. But what is a rangefinder camera? This type of camera belongs to the mirrorless cameras group. Rangefinders appeared even earlier than SLR cameras. The design and main photography functions have remained almost unchanged since their first release. The rangefinder cameras are indispensable for shooters engaged in street photography. The rangefinder focus mechanism makes such cameras the most suitable for outdoor shooting. Of course, you can be a successful street photographer without a rangefinder camera.
Unlike SLR cameras, the rangefinder camera body does not have a reflex mirror. Besides, the viewfinder is located on the side of the camera. At the same time, DSLR cameras are equipped with a viewfinder located on the top. If you are shooting with a rangefinder camera, you are not looking through the lens – you use the viewfinder. Thus, you cannot see which objects are in focus and which remain blurred. In fact, this is the main difference between a rangefinder and DSLR cameras.
Price: About $1,000
This model is undoubtedly the best rangefinder camera from the mid-twentieth century. Thanks to the original design, it gained immense popularity. The M-bayonet mount was an absolutely new improvement. The M3 is very resistant to weather conditions and damage, and therefore some photographers have been using it for 10 years without repair. The camera focuses from 0.9 meters, but the best accuracy will be when shooting from 1 meter. The only significant drawback is the lack of built-in metering, but many photographers use separate meters, so we can say that this is only a small inconvenience.
Photo by Leica M3
Price: About $900
This camera appeared in the middle of the 90s and became one of the best film rangefinder cameras. The G2 has removable lenses and an electronic autofocus system. I like to use a continuous focus mode, a so-called yracking mode. The camera is very fast. The maximum shutter speed in manual mode is 1/4000. In aperture priority mode, the speed is 1/6000th. Unlike other rangefinder cameras, the G2 has the ability to change lenses and has many of them. You can choose lenses from Carl Zeiss from 16mm options to 90mm focal lengths. I would like to note that the 45mm f/2 Planar is considered one of the best 35mm lenses for street photography.
Photo by Contax G2
Price: About $90
The Olympus 35 SP is one of the best cheap rangefinders. The key feature is two light meters. The first one was an ordinary scene meter, and the second was a more specific spot meter that is responsible for exposure settings. No one had made such things before. Moreover, technological innovations are not the only reason why Olympus 35 SP is called the best street photography camera. Just pay attention to its lens. You won’t want to change it. The camera is equipped with a Zuiko 42mm f/1.7 lens which most closely matches 43.27mm diagonal of a usual 35mm frame. Thus, you get the opportunity to render things in almost the same way as you see them with your own eyes. A good choice for street shooters.
Photo by Olympus 35 SP
Price: About $170
These models first appeared on the market in 1958. Both cameras are equipped with a screw mount. The only difference is a conventional top-mounted film-wind lever in the VI-L, while the VI-T is equipped with a hinged left-hand trigger. Because of the trigger, the VI-T is a bit heavier and taller. That’s why VI-L is the best rangefinder film camera from Canon. Its weight is great for shooting outdoors. This is a perfect camera for beginning rangefinder camera users.
Photo by Canon VI-L/VI-T
Price: About $150
Olympus introduced this good budget rangefinder in 1974. It was the last in the line of the so-called classic fully manual rangefinders equipped with a mechanical shutter. The focal length of this camera is 40mm, which is almost completely consistent with 43mm standard. Anyway, it is much closer to the ideal indicator than most mirror cameras with a focal length of 50 mm. To take a picture, you need to put in a lot of effort. Despite the fact that this street photography camera appeared more than forty years ago and, taking into account some of its disadvantages, it can still compete with some mirrorless cameras. Using a Nikon 500ED scanner and a fine-grain film, you can get a beautiful bokeh on portrait photos.
Photo by Olympus 35 RD
Price: About $60
If you are looking for the best rangefinder camera for beginners, this affordable model will be a nice choice. This original rangefinder camera is one of the most fully featured Soviet models. It does not need a battery and is strong. Therefore, it will serve you for many years. Compared to many modern rangefinder cameras, the FED 5 was partially made of plastic (to reduce its cost). The maximum shutter speed that the camera supports is not too short – 1/500 sec. It has a self-timer, which can slow the shutter release by 9-20 seconds. The FED-5 is one of those few rangefinder cameras that lets you set the necessary shooting parameters without additional devices. Although FED 5 contains rare, slightly radioactive metal Lanthanum, its isotope radiation frequency is quite safe. Actually, it is almost the same level as a potato.
Photo by FED 5
Price: About $55
This model is one of the best vintage rangefinder cameras. It is a cheaper Leica II analog. The overall impression of this compact rangefinder camera is positive. It is not bulky and well balanced. Among its minuses, I would mention the noisy shutter. Though it is made of silk, it is inferior to the Kiev 4 with its metal curtain. If you have Leica L-mount lenses, you can easily mount them on this camera. Despite the lack of clicks-stops on the aperture wheel that can cause accidental changes of the f-stop while shooting, you will certainly appreciate its smooth focus. I would like to warn you that the integrated viewfinder on this cheap rangefinder is suitable only for 50mm lenses. Therefore, if you prefer to use different lenses, you need to purchase one of the auxiliary turret viewfinders.
Photo by Zorki 4
Price: About $90
The Electro 35 was first introduced in 1966 and its release was the beginning of the production of high-quality 35 mm rangefinder cameras. This model is equipped with a fixed Yashinon lens. The camera is endowed with a stepless automatic shutter, an aperture priority exposure, a parallax-corrected viewfinder and a “cold accessory shoe.” Film speeds ranges from 12 to 400 ISO. The shutter speed is from 30 to 1/500 seconds. A meter with cadmium sulfide (CdS) photoresistor measures light levels and was powered by mercury battery. This rangefinder camera is also equipped with special lamps that indicate over-exposure and underexposure.
Photo by Yashica Electro 35 GSN/GNT
Price: About $60
This series of rangefinder cameras started being released in 1962. The Hi-Matic is a 35mm rangefinder film camera. The great advantage of this device is that it’s completely automatic, and you have to concentrate only on the focus and the lens speed. The shutter speed and the aperture are set by the camera itself. If you want to correct exposure, you can do it by adjusting the film speed. On the top, you can see the counter of the film, and on the corner – the indicator that shows whether the film is in the camera. There is no window that would show you the ISO of the film.
Photo by Minolta HI-Matic E
Price: About $240
The first generation of this camera was released in 1961 as an amazing and quality device equipped with the fixed high-speed lens of 45 mm and 1.9. aperture. The Canon Canonet QL 17 GIII is the third and last generation of the Canonet that was produced from 1972 to 1982. It is compact, comfortable and really quiet. In general, it reflects all the advantages of the rangefinder camera and even has some extra functions. Quick Load is a direct reference to Canon's fast film loading system. Due to this function, other film cameras seem to be outdated and inconvenient, as it will let you take fast and exceptional pictures.
Photo by Canon Canonet Ql 17 GIII
The lens deserves special attention. The 40mm f/1.7 lens is one of the best among its competitors, and it highlights all the advantages of Canon’s optics. It is sharp, has great contrast and excellent color rendering. In general, if you didn’t know what a rangefinder camera was before, this is the best example.
Price: About $500
This rangefinder film camera was released in 1980. It was considered to be the best Leica M mount camera until the Leica M7 was introduced on the market in 2001. The compact size of this camera made it a first-class device system. It is powerful, firm and it is made from metal. You will have no problems using this camera. All you have to do is to insert the film, adjust the ISO settings, put the shutter speed to mode “A” and there you are. You can start taking pictures. Moreover, the Minolta CLE is really quiet and small, but it will still please you with excellent results. This fact makes it the best rangefinder camera in this series.
Photo by Minolta CLE
Price: About $95
The Olympus 35SP is one of the best rangefinder cameras produced between 1969 and 1976, and despite its age, the camera still does not lose its relevance. Even after more than forty years, the 35SP remains the only rangefinder camera with the ability to do spot metering and both automatic mode and full manual settings. The metal body of the camera and the high build quality have an excellent effect on the tactile sensations, so you just do not want to let it go. Moreover, it is really compact and maybe the smallest 35mm rangefinder with AE and manual exposure settings. The camera has everything that a street photographer needs. It features a good lens and exposure system that will provide you with beautiful and sharp photos without additional problems. With the Olympus 35RC, you will just not have the opportunity to take a terrible picture. In case the lighting conditions or your adjustments lead to bad exposure, the shutter will lock in the auto mode.
Photo by Konica S3
Price: About $220
The Konica S3 is a universal and typical rangefinder camera with a 38mm f/1.8 Hexanon lens. This fast and six-element lens has a reputation for producing extremely sharp and detailed images. The camera is made of plastic and is very small. Now, this brand is not so popular and difficult to find, but the Konica camera can compete against the famous Zeiss and Leica cameras.
Photo by Konica S3
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There are no prisms, focusing screens and moving mirrors in rangefinder cameras. This is the reason why they are so lightweight.
As it has been mentioned before, lenses for rangefinder cameras are not designed in such a way as to avoid colliding with a mirror, nor projecting a picture onto a mirror. Therefore, the lenses are more compact, and they are also smaller. In addition, the lens' design itself is simpler, better and lighter.
It is very easy to buy wide, ultra-wide and ultra-ultra-wide lenses for your best rangefinder camera. You can effortlessly find the lens say 12mm per full frame without any noticeable distortion.
Even the cheapest lenses for rangefinder cameras, like, say, Voigtländers, usually have excellent picture quality. However, the super-expensive wide-angle lenses for DSLRs, let’s take two of the most “top-of-the-line” to date, the Canon 16-35mm f / 2.8 L II and Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S, and they barely come close to average quality in comparison with the best cheap rangefinder lens.
During shooting, the mirror does not jump in the rangefinder camera, either dropping or climbing and does not make noise. Therefore, the only sound from a rangefinder camera during shooting is the sound of the shutter.
During the shooting of the frame with the SLR cameras, the mirror is lowered, and the data is recorded on the matrix. At this point, the scene disappears from the viewfinder and it turns black. In rangefinder cameras, there is no such effect. You always see the scene in real time, and your eye will never lose sight of the subject.
If you have a full-size digital rangefinder camera, such as a Nikon SP or a Leica M3, you can focus, make a scene and shoot, leaving both eyes open, as the device is so small that it does not cover the right side of your face. For telephoto lenses, there are special magnifying distance measuring viewfinders, which again provide your eye with a full-size picture.
If there is enough light in the room for your eye to see the object being focused, then you can easily and naturally focus the rangefinder camera by simply putting the two images together.
When shooting with a rangefinder camera, the viewfinder is separated from the lens and what you see is not necessarily what is captured in the frame, and something that you did not expect and did not plan can get into the frame. This problem is particularly true for macro and telephotography. Although there are special devices can be installed directly on your camera to help the photographer in such conditions, you are still unable to know for sure what will get into the frame until you look at the captured image.
If your lens is too large, you can see its edges through the viewfinder, and this, in turn, will prevent you from concentrating on the subject. Professional photographers avoid large lenses and try to use those which are invisible through the viewfinder.
Lenses with special effect are not available for rangefinder cameras, for example, fish-eye or ultra-long telephoto ones. Zoom lenses are also not available. So, you will have to zoom with your feet while using rangefinder cameras.
Even the best rangefinder camera is a delicate mechanical tool that requires constant maintenance and adjustment. Even with LEICA cameras, you can't avoid setting up to get the best shots!
Rangefinder cameras have big problems with focusing closer than 23-40 inches. But even at this distance, the viewfinder is not far enough from the subject to tune into it comfortably.
Don’t confuse rangefinders with rangefinder cameras. A laser rangefinder is an electronic optical device used for measuring the distance to an object. Used in surveying, sharpness in photographs, sighting devices for weapons, bombing systems, etc. Its purpose is to measure the distance quickly through the laser pulse sent and the signal reflected from the object the distance is being measured to.
Price: About $150
The Bushnell Bone Collector Edition 4x21 Laser Rangefinder performs a dual function as a 4-fold monocular and as a rangefinder with an LCD display in sight. The rangefinder uses an eye-safe infrared laser to measure distances of up to 0.4 meters with an accuracy of ± 40 inches. One operation button makes it simple and easy to use in any weather, even with gloves on. Moreover, this model is equipped with a weather resistant housing.
This advanced model may be called the best rangefinder camera. It also features the dual technology of colored and B&W picture delivery for day and night shooting. Besides, it can switch to night vision mode if it is dark.
Price: About $150
The Simmons rangefinder 4x20LRF 600 is a fixed-focus laser optical system for measurements in the range of 10 to 550 meters. It is characterized by a simple one-button operation. With a 4x zoom and an integrated LCD display, this rangefinder is a remarkably convenient piece of equipment for hunting or camping. Moreover, it is ideal for getting the line of sight to an object less than 300 yards away, but lacks the power to really go beyond that accurately. It is probably the best rangefinder camera for beginners as it ensures the line of sight distance to the object. The laser rangefinder emits invisible, eye-safe infrared energy pulses.
Price: About $150
The Nikon Aculon 6x20 is the best laser rangefinder that is designed for measuring the distance to the target up to 550 yards. The information is shown on a display in the field of view, and the automatic shutdown function saves battery life. The optics's multi-layer clarification, waterproof design, wide temperature tolerance and one-touch activation make this rangefinder a full-featured optical tool for many activities where accurate distances are critical.
Hi there, I'm Ann Young - a photographer, photo retoucher and of course, journalist. Here on FixThePhoto blog you can find all of my reviews, photography and photo editing tips, pricing guides, and photography experiments.