There are rangefinders and rangefinders, some come at a price, others are affordable all day long.
But many people often ask me awkward questions…..like “why use a rangefinder?”
Firstly, for those uninitiated with the art, there are 2 kinds of camera basically.
This type has the advantage of allowing the user to see exactly what is going to be on the film. That’s done by using a large mirror angled at 45 degrees inside the camera, which reflects the light from your object through to the eyepiece you are looking through. However, there are major disadvantages with this design, too. One is that because there is that mirror in the light path, it needs to be swung away a split second before the shutter fires and takes your photo. In doing this, it creates a lot of unwanted vibration in the camera, resulting in minute focus problems…..as I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, you can easily see the difference in shots caused by mirror vibration if you compare a photo taken with a rangefinder camera, and then look at one taken with an SLR.
The other not so serious problem is that SLRs are generally bulkier and therefore heavier, due to the extra components fitted inside, like the mirror assembly, extra prism at the top etc. And because of this, an SLR is difficult to use in street shooting for example, firstly because it is bulky and if noticed by passers-by, instantly changes their personas, and secondly because an SLR is noisier than a rangefinder…the clunk of that mirror being the main cause.
This kind of camera has no mirror, no prism and no extra optics unlike the SLR. That obviously makes it lighter, quieter and by necessity, smaller in size. These points make it especially suitable for use in public, or where the need to remain un-noticed is essential.
Second, because you are not looking at the subject through the actual taking lens, your peripheral vision (which is more acute than your normal 20/20 vision) is fully active, so you can see what is going on around you, in anticipation of that sudden “decisive” moment photographers all over the world strive for.
So, in answer to the original question, why use a rangefinder, precisely because it is lighter, quieter and allows you to be more aware of things going on around you.
Talking about rangefinders, I have a very good selection in my collection (hey..that kinda rhymes, doesn’t it….collection, selection..). Olympus 35SP, Olympus XA, Olympus 35RC, Nikon, Ricoh, and many others.
One of my favourites is the Yashica Electro 35, which comes in many different forms, all of which luckily I have.
This camera was very popular, and millions were sold all over the world. It came with a very fine 45mm f1.7 lens, with 6 elements in 4 groups, which makes it a very, very good lens indeed.
The shutter was a stepless affair, and famed to be quieter than the highest benchmark there is, the Leica.
In addition, the camera had an ingenious exposure system….two lights told you exactly what the camera saw and what you may need to do. The Red light warned you that the camera shutter speed is above 1/500s, so all you do is turn the aperture ring to make the light go out and shoot. The Yellow light advises that the shutter speed will be 1/30s or less, so you either hold the camera very still before shooting, or use a tripod.
The metering system uses outlawed mercury cells, but a PX32 works just fine.
All in all, a beautiful camera, that gives results comparable to those from cameras costing hundreds of $$ more.
See it here