Film But Really, Which Film Rangefinder Should I Try?

agentlossing

Regular
Mar 23, 2015
69
Hey folks, I have been hankering after a rangefinder for a long time. I have a couple of functioning film SLRs, since that type of camera seems to be overwhelmingly predominant in all thrift stores, antique shops and even on the auction sites, but I don't like the relative clunkiness and weight/size of these types of cameras, and the split screen focusing somehow just doesn't seem as "fun" to me as a rangefinder patch. I also really like the focus tab a la Leica lenses for one-handed focusing. I'm planning on getting into developing B&W film, so I'm looking at different options. Just want to see which ones you really recommend.

I do like some electronic examples like the Konica Hexar and the Contax G2, but should I stay away from electronic models due to aging components? I've got several electronic SLRs that have bit the dust due to components going out. Another era I've looked at are the electronically driven shutter-and-aperture-priority fixed lens models like the Yashicas and Konica Auto S3/C35fd. I had a working fully auto C35 with zone focus and it produced really nice images, no focus patch though.

Or should I go more mechanical, and what's available that isn't Leica expensive? The Leitz Minolta CL looks pretty interesting, and there are always Voigtlanders.

Any recommendations?
 
Dec 29, 2013
124
Switzerland
Hey folks, I have been hankering after a rangefinder for a long time. I have a couple of functioning film SLRs, since that type of camera seems to be overwhelmingly predominant in all thrift stores, antique shops and even on the auction sites, but I don't like the relative clunkiness and weight/size of these types of cameras, and the split screen focusing somehow just doesn't seem as "fun" to me as a rangefinder patch. I also really like the focus tab a la Leica lenses for one-handed focusing. I'm planning on getting into developing B&W film, so I'm looking at different options. Just want to see which ones you really recommend.

I do like some electronic examples like the Konica Hexar and the Contax G2, but should I stay away from electronic models due to aging components? I've got several electronic SLRs that have bit the dust due to components going out. Another era I've looked at are the electronically driven shutter-and-aperture-priority fixed lens models like the Yashicas and Konica Auto S3/C35fd. I had a working fully auto C35 with zone focus and it produced really nice images, no focus patch though.

Or should I go more mechanical, and what's available that isn't Leica expensive? The Leitz Minolta CL looks pretty interesting, and there are always Voigtlanders.

Any recommendations?
I think you named two of the more interesting options yourself - the CL and CLE are well-priced, and the former is common enough not to be overly expensive; both are highly regarded for a reason. I personally prefer the CL because it's a fully mechanical camera as far as its operation goes, and, since there are quite a lot of them around, easier to find spares for. Getting spares for the CLE is notoriously difficult, unfortunately. The sole real problem with the CL is the small viewfinder that doesn't cover anything wider than 35mm (frame lines are limited to 40mm, 50mm and 90mm); handling is a bit quirky, but pleasantly straightforward once you wrap your head around it. If you can find one with a working lightmeter, you'll get a very sturdy, yet small and light camera that is capable of very nice results, especially with its standard Summicron-C 40mm f/2 lens. Mind you, even with a dead meter, it's fun to shoot, and Sunny 16 is not that hard to master ... I think the CL is both a very good entry point into RF shooting and a definite answer to the question of best *small* RF model. There are fixed-lens alternatives, though; especially Olympus and Minolta had great options available - like the Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II I also own and love; it's a real contender if you plan on just owning the 40mm ...

The Voigtländer bodies, especially the latest series (R2|3|4A||M) are great cameras for the price they usually go for; there also are a couple of clones and earlier models that are also worth a look. These cameras are a bit more modern, bulkier and a bit workman-like; the A series have electronically controlled shutters with aperture priority. I find them nice in the hand, but since I own other M mount rangefinders, I never could justify owning any of them. Depending on your preferred focal lengths, you may prefer one line (2|3|4) over the others. The 3 series has a 100% viewfinder, but only covers 40mm and longer; the 2 and 4 fit wider lenses (35mm and 28mm, respectively).

All that said, my favourite rangefinder camera is another Leica - the M4-P. It's a joy to shoot, just the right size (i.e. more compact than later models), no electronics that can break, slick and reliable in operation while offering all the options other models may lack. As these things go, it's one of my favourite pieces of kit, regardless of technology; I pair it with any of my compact 35mm lenses for pure photographic bliss. I know some die-hard people would either prefer older models, notably the M3 or M6, but these have their own issues. The M4-P is middle-of-the-road, full-featured if you don't need a meter.

The sleeper model is the M5 - if you can live with its size and somewhat more industrial looks, it's a fine camera. The models that came after the M6, the M6 TTL, M7 and so on, are great, but still quite espensive; they're modern cameras with lots of life in them, so if you consider sticking with those much more convenient cameras for a long time, they may well be worth the investment. Of the modern cameras, the M6 TTL is my favourite - still small, comparatively inexpensive, full-featured, issue-free. The least known may be the Zeiss Ikon ZM - another powerhouse with modern electronics inside, sporting arguably the best viewfinder ever built into a 35mm RF camera. In my book, the M6 TTL and ZM are clearly more desirable than the Voigtländer cameras and earlier or later metered Leica models - but they are at least twice the price of the Voigtländers ...

YMMV, of course, and I wouldn't be surprised if you got all sorts of responses to your question.

M.
 

BrianS

Super Moderator
Apr 3, 2013
124
I would stay away from the older electronic models, would choose a CL over the CLE. With the CL- many have meters that are not working. These should be priced accordingly.

It sounds like to want a smaller camera, such as the CL. It might be wise to set a limit for the camera and lens, especially as you are new to Rangefinders. The CL with a 40/2 Summicron lens still fetches a good price, probably four times what a Canon P with Canon 50/1.8 would run.
 

donlaw

Hall of Famer
Sep 14, 2012
124
Texas
I vote for the sleeper M5 too. It is the only film rangefinder I have kept. Sherry Krauter did a CLA on it a few years ago and told me it was her favorite of all the M film cameras because it had so many refined adjustments built in. Since they weren’t that popular even while being produced you are likely to find a decent price on one.
 

BrianS

Super Moderator
Apr 3, 2013
124
Somewhere I have a picture of the Leica CL with 40/2 Summicron next to the Canonet QL17L. about the same size. The QL17L came out before the GIII, was made in Japan, the two models are the same basic size. The Ql17L is a bit heavier made, mostly little things- but still a difference. The QL17GIII has a lamp for the battery test, the QL17L uses the meter needle for the test. These are easily available for under $100. For the cost of film these days- it's cheap. The F1.7 lens is about 1.5stops faster than an F2.8. I've used the Canonet with ISO 400 film in existing light with good results.

I need to dig into my boxes of fixed-lens RF's and get some shots up. I have a couple of Ricoh's as well- solidly made. I tend to go for the cameras with the F1.8 and F1.7 lenses.
 
Jan 7, 2013
124
Cheshire, England
Somewhere I have a picture of the Leica CL with 40/2 Summicron next to the Canonet QL17L. about the same size. The QL17L came out before the GIII, was made in Japan, the two models are the same basic size. The Ql17L is a bit heavier made, mostly little things- but still a difference. The QL17GIII has a lamp for the battery test, the QL17L uses the meter needle for the test. These are easily available for under $100.
I wish that were true in the UK. I’ve only ever seen examples on eBay for well over £100, and they’re from Japan so that’s another £20 or so in import duties and the same for postage...total about $200 minimum. Mind you, all manual film cameras seem to be getting more expensive so my little collection is worth more!
 

agentlossing

Regular
Mar 23, 2015
69
Can I make a recommendation for a cheaper alternative? The Ricoh 500G (or GX) is very affordable indeed, has a great 40mm f2.8 lens, and would let you know whether you enjoy shooting with film rangefinders for very little outlay.
That's a very valid option. I've looked closely at all of those 60's and 70's era fixed lens rangefinders, most of which are electronically timed shutters. I have a real affinity for the Konica C35. I owned a C35v, which is fully automatic with no rangefinder and zone focus only, but I got some really beautiful shots out of it, stupidly sold it and bought a C35 Automatic (same camera but has a RF patch) that looked great, but the electronics don't work anymore.

The Ricoh 500 G looks like a great alternative, since it isn't fully dependent on an electronics for setting exposure. Thanks for the recommendation! Buying something for under $100 is probably a wiser start than ponying up close to $1000 for a rangefinder! That might have to be more in the long-term plans. I did just spend $900 for a Ricoh GR III... Without consulting the wife I am assuming that is the limit for the time being.
 

siftu

Regular
Nov 10, 2018
33
Mechanical fixed lens rangefinder with shutter priority (with battery), Olympus 35RC would be a cheap intro. Minolta Hi-Matics? there are lots and will give you a good idea if you want to go down this road with interchangeable lenses.

Then there is a the medium format folders with coupled rangerfinders. I just picked up a Mamiya 6 Auto folder (auto shutter cock when you wind a frame) for $80.
 

Lightmancer

Super Moderator
Aug 13, 2011
164
Sunny Frimley
My all-time favourite Leica M has to be the M2; I have owned three. Butter-smooth with uncluttered 35/50/90 framelines. Pair it with a 50mm Elmar-M and you are good to go.

A good cheap try-it-out rangefinder is an Olympus XA. Pick one up cheap with perished seals - get a seal kit and do a DIY replace. Even better, find one with a faded rangefinder patch - you can revitalise that with a tiny square of insulating tape - about 3mm on a side. Stick it dead in the centre of the viewfinder window (on the front, not the ocular) and presto! contrast restored.
 

BrianS

Super Moderator
Apr 3, 2013
124
Most fixed-lens RF's that I've worked on: popping the top and cleaning the haze from the viewfinder makes a huge difference. I've had a couple with faded beam-splitters, replaced one in a Lynx 14e myself. "Not Fun!"
 

jssaraiva

Veteran
Dec 31, 2014
104
Porto, Portugal
I have trouble recommending specific rangefinders, there are so many great ones out there, and a lot of them have been mentioned here (love the 7s ii):

Just adding a few
1) Nikon S2: great 1:1 viewfinder, quality equivalent (will not say better just to avoid discussion :) ) to an M3 at half the price;
2) Seagull 203 (don’t tell anyone) cheap 6x6 or 6x4.5 coupled rangefinder with amazing quality with glass sourced from Zeiss on the earlier metal winder models;
3) Revue 400 SE, cheap electronic alternative to Minolta 7s ii.

I own all of the above (and some more than one) and really cannot just recommend one. If I would have to make a selection, I’d go for M Mount, either with a CL or a Voigtlander R3M, but I’ve been avoiding M mount due to the temptation of Leica lenses :)
 

agentlossing

Regular
Mar 23, 2015
69
My immediate decision is to acquire a Ricoh 500 G from a fellow forumer and enjoy that for a while. I think long term I may look at the CL as I really like the look of that camera (and I like 40mm lenses a lot in general). But that will take saving a little dough first!
 

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