Best Rangefinder Camera

Best Rangefinder Camera

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.

best rangefinder camera

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.

13 Best Rangefinder Cameras


1. Leica M3

leica m3 Buy for $1000 on Amazon
Pros+
  • The camera body is made of metal
  • You can change lenses
  • Manual controls
  • No distractions
  • Nice viewfinder
Cons-
  • The accessories are rather expensive
  • The camera is heavy
  • You cannot place a tripod mount in the center
  • The viewfinder has a limited number of frame lines
 

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.

Leica M3 sample photo Photo by Leica M3

2. Contax G2

contax g2 Buy for $900 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Excellent quality for this price
  • The controls arrangement is intuitive
  • Eelectronic autofocus
  • The high quality build
  • Well designed and user-friendly
Cons-
  • Some problems with focus
  • The top LCDs are unlit
  • Fill-flash doesn’t work well
  • No in-finder warning
 

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.

Contax G2 Sample photos Photo by Contax G2

3. Olympus 35 SP/SPn

Olympus 35 sp Buy for $90 on Amazon
Pros+
  • The focus is very easy and fast
  • Compact and light
  • The best rangefinder under 150
  • You don’t need to waste time searching for the switch
  • The flash adjusts automatically
  • All camera functions work mechanically including automatic flash exposure, only the meter runs on the battery
Cons-
  • Exposure mode does not have an in-finder indication
  • The meter scale illuminator is not available
  • There is no depth of field scale
  • No automatic parallax compensation
 

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.

Olympus 35 sp sample photos Photo by Olympus 35 SP

4. Canon VI-L/VI-T

canon vi-l/vi-t Buy for $170 on Amazon
Pros+
  • A self-zeroing frame counter
  • The rewind crank can be folded
  • Well designed and reliable
  • The internal mechanics are high quality
Cons-
  • Difficult to find
 

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.

canon vi-l/vi-t sample photo Photo by Canon VI-L/VI-T

5. Olympus 35 RD

Olympus 35 rd Buy for $150 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Small size
  • Quick shutter
  • The controls are quite large, easy to use
  • Electronic flash can be synchronized at various speeds(1/2 to 1/500)
Cons-
  • Difficult to find
  • Metering is not available in the manual mode
  • It works with Mercury 625 batteries, which are outlawed in the US
 

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.

Olympus 35 rd sample images Photo by Olympus 35 RD

6. FED 5

fed 5 Buy for $60 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Does not require batteries
  • Cheap
  • Integrated light meter
  • Hotshoe flash
  • A special port for a flash cable
Cons-
  • Strange design
  • A heavy greenish cast in the viewfinder
 

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.

fed 5 sample image Photo by FED 5

7. Zorki 4

zorki 4 Buy for $55 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Simple design
  • No hot-shoe flash
  • Self-timer
  • Made of aluminum, has a metal sheet top
  • A classic design
Cons-
  • The camera's knurled wind knob is not convenient for the fingers
  • No exposure meters
 

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.

zorki 4 sample image Photo by Zorki 4

8. Yashica Electro 35 GSN/GNT

Yashica Electro 35 GSN/GNT Buy for $90 on Amazon
Pros+
  • 45mm f/1.7 Yashinon lens is incredibly fast
  • Shutter makes very little noise
  • Sturdy build
  • The color reproduction is high quality
  • Flash sync at different speeds
  • Easy to maintain and nice functioning
Cons-
  • It isn’t light
  • Difficulty focusing if you shoot in low light
  • Max film ISO is only 1000
  • Shutter speed reaches only 1/500
  • You can have some problems with light leaking
 

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.

Yashica Electro 35 GSN/GNT photography Photo by Yashica Electro 35 GSN/GNT

9. Minolta HI-Matic E

Minolta HI-Matic E Buy for $60 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Affordable price
  • Great lens
  • Compact size and suitable for carrying in a pocket or small bag
Cons-
  • No manual control
 

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.

Minolta HI-Matic E photograp Photo by Minolta HI-Matic E

10. Canon Canonet Ql 17 GIII

Canon Canonet Ql 17 GIII Buy for $240 on Amazon
Pros+
  • The ability to set an external flash with the help of the hot-shoe mount
  • The lens provides with high-quality shots
  • Automatic exposure
  • Compact and handy
  • The ability to view the scenes with special precision because of great clarity
Cons-
  • Requires the illegal Mercury 625 batteries
 

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.

Canon Canonet Ql 17 GIII photography 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.


11. Minolta CLE

Minolta CLE Buy for $500 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Very light, manual Leica body with AE
  • Amazing display and finder
  • More reliable than LEICA M7
  • Live off-the-film metering, including TTL flash exposure
  • Requires the most widespread A76 or LR44 batteries
  • Compact, handy, and it is easy to take the shots with one hand
Cons-
  • In comparison to the larger Leica bodies, this one has less precision for 90 mm lenses due to the shorter rangefinder base length
  • The finder does not support 35mm or 50mm lenses, only 40mm ones
  • No AE lock
 

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.

Minolta CLE photography Photo by Minolta CLE

12. Olympus 35RC

Olympus 35RC Buy for $95 on Amazon
Pros+
  • PC and hot shoe connection for flash
  • Quiet shutter
  • Shutter speed dial is very handy
  • The bottom plate is cut out, so the operations with the film are easier
  • Self-timer
Cons-
  • No metering function in the manual exposure mode
  • The advance lever provides a large, open slot
  • The shutter locks under poor lighting conditions
  • Low speeds stop at 1/15th, plus B
  • The VF/RF may get foggy and flare with age
 

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.

Konica S3 photography Photo by Konica S3

13. Konica S3

Konica S3 Buy for $220 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Lens caps may be switched to save battery life
  • PC and hot shoe connection
  • Rewind lever lets you open the camera back
  • The threaded cable shutter release
Cons-
  • No manual over-ride
  • If the battery life runs out, the aperture will be opened at f/1.8
  • Created for 1.35V EPX-675 Mercury Battery
 

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.

Konica S3 photography Photo by Konica S3

13 Best Rangefinder Cameras

IMAGE NAME LENSES  
Leica M3
Leica M3
OUR CHOICE
  • 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm
CHECK PRICE
Contax G2
Contax G2
35 MM
  • Optional
CHECK PRICE
Olympus 35 SP/SPn
Olympus 35 SP/SPn
FILM CAMERA
  • Zuiko 42mm f/1.7
CHECK PRICE
Canon VI-L/VI-T
Canon VI-L/VI-T
BEST CANON
  • Optional
CHECK PRICE
Olympus 35 RD
Olympus 35 RD
VINTAGE CAMERA
  • 45mm f/1.7
CHECK PRICE
FED 5
FED 5
FOR BEGINNERS
  • Optional
CHECK PRICE
Zorki 4
Zorki 4K Vintage
CHEAP
  • 50mm f/3.5-5
CHECK PRICE
Yashica Electro 35 GSN/GNT
Yashica Electro 35 GSN/GNT
  • 45mm f/1.7
CHECK PRICE
Minolta HI-Matic E
Minolta HI-Matic
  • ROKKOR 40 mm/f 1.7
CHECK PRICE
Canon CanonetQl 17 GIII
Canon CanonetQl 17 GIII
  • 40mm f/1.7
CHECK PRICE
Minolta CLE
Minolta CLE
  • Optional
CHECK PRICE
Olympus 35RC
Olympus 35RC
  • Optional
CHECK PRICE
Konica S3
Konica S3
COMPACT
  CHECK PRICE

Benefits of Using Rangefinder Cameras

Lighter and Smaller

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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.

Lenses

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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.

Wide-Angle Lenses Have Excellent Quality

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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.

Rangefinder Cameras Are Quieter

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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.

Never Stop Showing the Scene

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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.

Focus, Create a Composition and Shoot, Leaving Both Eyes Open

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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.

Passive Focusing in the Dark

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.

You Never Know What You Get

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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.

Viewfinder Lock

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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.

You Cannot Buy All Types of Lenses

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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.

Rangefinder Cameras Need Constant Maintenance

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!

No Macro and Close Focus

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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.

Best Rangefinders

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.


1. Bushnell Bone Collector 4x

Bushnell Bone Collector 4x Buy for $150 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Very convenient
  • Emergency lock single button
  • High resolution
  • Very efficient
  • Compact, lightweight and well-built
  • Weather resistant
Cons-
  • There is no ability to measure slopes and elevations
  • It is slightly difficult to change the 9-volt battery in the field
  • There is no switching between meters and yards
 

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.


2. Simmons Rangefinder 4x20 LRF 600

Simmons Rangefinder 4x20 LRF 600 Buy for $150 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Ergonomic and lightweight
  • Amazing field of view
  • Ideal eye relief
Cons-
  • It fogs up quickly
  • After 300 yards, the accuracy will fall off
  • There is no inclinometer
 

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.


3. Nikon 8397 Aculon Laser Rangefinder

Nikon 8397 Aculon Laser Rangefinder Buy for $150 on Amazon
Pros+
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Works very fast
  • Convenient and handy
  • The presence of Distant Target Priority Mode
  • There is an eye relief
  • Waterproof construction
  • Comfortable display
  • Automatically switches off when the device is inactive
  • Multilayer-coated optics
  • Uses meters and yards for measuring
Cons-
  • It requires a CR2 battery, which is a little expensive
  • Reading on small targets requires a really steady hand
  • It will not work with dark targets
 

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.


Ann Young

Hi there, I'm Ann Young - a professional blogger, read more