There are many different cameras out there that are very interesting, however, there is something special out there that are pretty distinct and rich in character, rangefinder cameras. These cameras have a pretty interesting place in the mirrorless camera industry and are one of the most popular choices for a lot of street photographers out there because generally, they are quieter and lighter while still delivering better quality than DSLR. Then why not more photographers use them? We will talk about that later.
For those that know a bit about photography, there are mainly two different camera types, DSLRs and mirrorless systems. Rangefinders belong to the mirrorless system camera type because they don’t have reflex mirrors. Mirrorless cameras are generally considered as newer models, but rangefinder cameras have appeared much earlier than SLRs. They have rocked the same design and features from the earlier days and are some beautiful models. They have their special uses and are not as versatile as SLR models or other mirrorless cameras.
in this article, we will be going through a complete guide to getting the best mirrorless camera out there. We will check out the best models you can get in the top picks section, we will go in-depth about what is a rangefinder camera, and we will check the pros and cons of such a camera. Let’s get on, shall we?
The Top 5 Best Rangefinder Cameras
5. Olympus 35 RC
We are going to kick off this list with a cheap yet powerful model that will teach you everything you need to know about rangefinder cameras and photography, the Olympus 35 RC. This camera is a joy to use.
The biggest selling point of this camera is that it has two light meters, an ordinary scene meter, and a more specific spot meter that is more of in control of exposure settings overall. IT is also very compact and pretty light, with the Olympus build quality to make things even better.
The focusing process with this model is also pretty easy and it is the best model for street photography, paired with a good lens of course.
4. Contax G2
Moving on with our list I have the Contax G2 which is a pretty new model compared to the others in this list but is great overall. It also has some exceptional features, great build quality, and some modern additions that make it very attractive overall.
The Contax G2 first was produced in the middle of the 90s and it became one of the most popular and best rangefinder film cameras. It has removable lenses and a great electronic autofocus system which will be extremely handy for all of us. It is a bit more expensive though which makes it not the most viable model
It also pretty fast and its continuous focus mode makes wonders. The max shutter speed is 1/4000 in manual mode and in aperture priority mode it is 1/6000th. A beast in its own right.
3. ZORKI-4K Vintage
If you are looking for a vintage rangefinder camera out there, the ZORKI-4K Vintage is one of the best for a lot of reasons. It is cheaper than Leica models and it has a lot of features such as its simple design and great operation that will please even the most nitpicky.
I can say that this camera is not bulky at all and it is well-balanced overall, however, it has a noisy shutter that makes things a little annoying. It has an aluminum construction and the metal top sheet helps it make a bit more durable than most models out there.
I am a fan of its smooth focus operation and everything feels good on this camera apart from the knurled wind knob which can be accidentally switched.
2. Yashica Electro 35
The runner up on this list is also a great rangefinder camera that will please a lot of photographers out there, the Yashica Electro 35. This camera was first released in 1966 and it was the first model that started making high-quality 35mm rangefinder cameras.
It comes with a super-fast 45mm f/1.7 Yashinon lens that is super fast and actually one of my favorite ones for this kind of camera. It has a great build quality better than most of its competitors and therefore it is a bit heavier than its counterparts, but it is something that you can oversee.
The Yashica Electro 35 delivers a superior color reproduction and it has a stepless automatic shutter, with aperture priority exposure and parallax-corrected viewfinder. It has an ISO range that spans from 12 to 400 ISO and it is a beautiful camera to play around with.
1. Canon Canonet QL17 GIII
Coming up to the top of the list we have a royalty coming in from Canon, the Canonet QL17 GIII. This camera’s first version or generation was released way back in 1961 and it was one fo the best ones in the market with its 45mm high-speed lens with 1.9 aperture.
The Canon Canonet QL17 GIII is the last generation fo the series and was produced up to 1982 but it still a viable model with its quiet operation, amazing compatibility with an external flash due to its hot-shoe mount and the amazing lens that delivers superb quality.
It also has automatic exposure and it delivers superb precision and clarity to your images which makes it for a desirable model for a lot of photographers. The Quick Load feature is great as well, and despite being a pretty dated model, I like this camera and I think that it will make you one happy photographer.
What is a Rangefinder Camera?
These cameras are generally considered as the original mirrorless cameras and are super popular with street photographers like I mentioned. They are also much smaller than an SLR camera, but rock the same 35mm film as SLRs and have no reflex mirror at all. If you are familiar with photography, you probably already know how SLRs and DSLRs work, but mirrorless systems work in a different way. For example in SLR models you see exactly what you get from the viewfinder, so you have an idea about the end product you get.
On the other hand, rangefinder cameras are pretty different and the main difference between other models apart from the lack of reflex mirror is the focusing system. These cameras have a different kind of viewfinder as well, it is a completely separate system that doesn’t have any kind of connection with the lens, but it is mounted as close to it as possible. From it, you see two overlapping images of your subject and you have to align the images and range of the subject so you can focus. It is a little difficult concept to grasp if you don’t have experience with these systems, but nothing impossible and with a bit of experience you will have plenty of fun with these cameras.
Pros of Rangefinder Cameras
Everything has some advantages and disadvantages over other options so let’s check out the pros first.
Size and Weight
One of the most prominent advantages of rangefinder cameras over SLR models is that they have smaller and lighter bodies. This is mostly due to the lack of reflex prisms, flipping mirrors, and focus screens which add weight to their bodies. On top of that SLRs have larger bodies in general due to their styles and such. On top of all this, even the lenses of rangefinder models are pretty much smaller and lighter than SLR lenses. They are tiny in comparison and are absolute fan favorites for that reason.
Due to the lack of extra components such as the flipping mirrors and large lenses that push the lens to be far away from the sensor, rangefinder cameras deliver the better image quality and sharper images in general. For example, you can check wide-angle lenses for rangefinder cameras, which are smaller and lighter, effectively allowing manufacturers to design them so that the rear elements come super close to the image plane. For this reason, rangefinder cameras deliver less distortion, and lenses do that as well.
Also, while you might not notice it SLR cameras have some kind of vibration and blur due to flipping mirrors, on the other hand, rangefinder cameras don’t suffer from those things at all. You can see that clearly at speeds around 1/30 to 1/8 in SLRs, the flipping mirrors blur shots even when used with tripods. While a mirror lock-up can eliminate that problem, overall it is not always viable, so rangefinders are much better in that. On top of that, rangefinder cameras deliver better and more accurate focusing for wide-angle and normal lenses.
Exceptional Wide-Angle Lenses
Wide-angle lenses are popular with SLRs and they are quite good, but still, they deliver some distortion which may get noticeable. On the other hand with rangefinder cameras, it is super easy to get wide, ultra-wide, and even ultra-ultra wide lenses without any problem. 12mm ultra-wide angles on full-frame format are super popular on range finders and they have no distortion at all. On top of all that, they are extremely cheap and deliver better performance for the price compared to SLR lenses that might cost a small fortune.
Another super desirable feature of these cameras is that they are very quiet in operation, and that is also due to the lack of reflex flipping mirrors. For that reason, these are popular with street photographers and you will generally hear just a click from the shutter button.
Shoot with Both Eyes Open
This is maybe the most interesting thing about rangefinder cameras. Since combined with a life-sized finder you can focus, compose and shoot photographs using your both eyes, because the body of your camera doesn’t cover your other eye. But this may depend on the model you buy.
Cons of Rangefinder Cameras
You Don’t Know What You Get
This is maybe the biggest disadvantage of rangefinder cameras and it can be quite annoying, to be honest. This is because you see things from a different perspective and you maybe even out of focus and such, but you will only see that when your print out your images. This might not be a problem if you are shooting at normal distances but, when combined with longer lenses and macro lenses, you are in the dark and it is pretty annoying. In some models, you really have no idea about even the depth of field, but for some photographers, this is the best thing about these cameras.
Larger Lenses Block Your View
Just like it says in the title if you have a lens that is larger than the average its corner may obscure the view you get from the viewfinder which is pretty annoying. There are some lenses that have some cutouts to counter these issues but overall it can be quite annoying.
Not as Versatile
I have to mention that rangefinder cameras are not versatile at all, while you can photograph in different scenarios and ambients when it comes to the versatility they are nowhere close to SLRs, especially modern models. For example, you don’t get any telephoto lenses for these cameras, and zoom is pretty scarce. If you want a jack of all trades you should look elsewhere.
In my opinion, the biggest disadvantage of rangefinder cameras is that they require frequent and delicate maintenance which only a professional can do properly. Rangefinder cameras have intricate and fragile mechanisms that only a trained hand can operate on, it is not your regular oil change, it requires precision and a lot of knowledge. It can definitely be a pain.
As you might have noticed these cameras are pretty interesting devices. They are not the easiest to work with, and not the cheapest options out there, however, they have their own magic that makes everything worth it. I recommend these to every photographer that is up for a challenge, especially those who want to shoot outdoors and are into street photography. It can be a little hard to get such a device but overall it can be done with a little research and determination, look at your options, and choose accordingly. Have fun with your new camera.