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SLR vs Rangefinder Cameras: Which One Is Better?

Photography is an enormous “field of art”. As some of you may already know, we can find different cameras, especially when it comes to types!

Even though nowadays we know that the most famous types of cameras are DSLR and mirrorless ones, we have some older versions that in a way, confuse us when it comes to choosing the right one. SLR and Rangefinder cameras!

Which one is better? Are there any similarities? What are the differences between them? In this article, I’ve chosen to answer to you all the questions, that you may have!

Without losing too much time, let’s get straight to the topic!

What is an SLR Camera?

With the letters SLR, this camera tells us that it has a single-lens-reflex.

They own a mirror and a prism system in order to take a picture. Through the lens of the camera enters the light, and you will see directly what the lens sees via the viewfinder.

An SLR camera can be used with film, and it can be digital as well. They have interchangeable lenses, and it is a quite beneficial thing.
SLR cameras are very precise, and they bring great pictures with great quality.

SLR versions of cameras are older models of DSLR, which basically means Digital Single Reflex camera.

What is a Rangefinder Camera?

Rangefinders cameras go way back to 1950 and they are known as the best cameras ever made! 

They include a dual-image rangefinding device in order to focus, and that’s the reason why they are called rangefinder cameras. 

In a rangefinder camera, you won’t find a mirror. A specialty that they have is that they are quieter and very compact.  

These types of cameras are amazing at focusing.

Even though not a fact, rangefinder cameras are somehow older mirrorless cameras.

Similarities Between an SLR and a Rangefinder Camera

I would like to start this “war” by mentioning the two important things that these two types of cameras, SLR and Rangefinder, have in common!

Design

These cameras have a very similar design. Both of these types have a very retro look. For those people that need a camera that looks cool, both of them will fit very well.

SLR and rangefinder cameras mostly come in a combination of two colors, black, and silver.

Film

A film in the camera is a chemical surface or substrate that is very sensitive to light. On a film are added the pictures that you take. Both SLR and Rangefinder cameras accept films of 35mm meaning that it is an important similarity.

If you have no idea how a film can be put into an SLR or a rangefinder camera, I would advise you to check out my article “How To Put Film In A Camera?” Don’t worry because films can be put in different cameras in the same manner.

SLR vs Rangefinder/Differences between an SLR and a Rangefinder camera

Differences between an SLR and a Rangefinder camera
Moving on, in this section I will mention the main things that will give you more information in order to know the differences between an SLR and a rangefinder.

Size and Weight

As I mentioned above, the SLR cameras have a mirror while rangefinder ones don’t. Well, that is the main thing that makes rangefinders one win the round of the size and weight. They are smaller and lightweight, meaning that they are way more portable.

Rangefinders are the best cameras for travel photography.

Lenses/Focal Length

Since the first part was won by rangefinder cameras, in this case, when it comes to lenses, we have another winner. An SLR camera.

You know that lenses have particular focal lengths, they are fixed, and some allow you to zoom in and out. A rangefinder camera has some focal length restrictions, while an SLR camera can accept different types of lenses.

Viewfinder

Even though it may sound like it is not very important, I would like to tell you about the viewfinder placement.

In rangefinder cameras, the viewfinder is placed on the right side. On some of them, it can be found on the left side. The SLR cameras have a viewfinder on the middle top of the camera.

I think that this is based on your preferences.

Focus

Focusing is one of the main things when it comes to the differences between these two types of cameras. What is important to mention in this part is that with both the cameras, rangefinder, and SLR, the lighting of the environment in which you are taking the pictures plays one of the main roles.

I mentioned the light because when you are shooting in a very bright place, a rangefinder camera will be better at focusing, while if you are in a dark one, an SLR camera does the job pretty well.

If you focus very close with a rangefinder they won’t bring the clearest thing, meaning that these cameras are not the best for close-up photography in general, but, SLR cameras don’t really have a problem with that. 

In general, they both are able to focus when it comes to different types of photography.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed of an SLR camera works at 1/2000 or 1/4000 while with a rangefinder camera you will have a shutter speed of 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second. 

This means that a rangefinder camera is slower than an SLR one.

Why Get an SLR, and why a Rangefinder?

Get an SLR for:

traveling (small and lightweight), still photography in general, great image quality.

Get a Rangefinder for:

fast-moving subjects, different lenses, usable in studios.

Final Words

As we came at the end of this article, I would like to say that these types of cameras are the greatest things that anyone could have! Even though we are living in a modern world and digitalism and technology are at their highest level, vintage has big importance! There is a saying:

 “When you buy a piece of vintage (about anything), you’re not just buying the fabric, you are buying a piece of the past!”

I think that it goes the same with cameras! – Everybody loves vintage and besides that, these cameras do a great job!

If you are interested in more vintage photography gear, you can read our article on the best vintage lenses you can buy.

Caleb Soppe