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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fixed Lens Rangefinders

Even though I nowadays tend to use cameras with interchangeable lenses I still have a soft spot for fixed lens cameras - and especially rangefinders.

There is something liberating in using a fixed-lens camera. It's normally a more compact kit and hence much easier to bring with you as a carry-around camera. By nature of being a fixed lens you therefore carry less stuff with you - no reason to bring that second or third lens with you. It also feel less 'complicated' and less of an undertaking to grab a camera with you as you head out the door.

When looking for a fixed-lens rangefinder camera one could do worse than looking into the ones that came out of Japan in the 60's and 70's. Companies like Canon, Olympus and Minolta produced some excellent cameras during that time that still today are excellent picture takers.
There are many advocates of the cameras that came out of former Soviet Union in the 40's through 70's but I'm not able to comment on them as I have yet to actually use one. For those interested in these cameras - and any other rangefinder camera for that matter - I recommend checking out the friendly forum at

Why should I even consider one of these cameras?
The way I see it there are three main reasons;
1) Price. These cameras does not necessarily have to cost you the farm,
2) Great optics. You will often find fast prime lenses that performs close to zoom lenses costing several hundred dollars.
3) Size. They are small and may even put some subjects at ease (as compared to using a modern, huge dSLR kit).

What Camera should I buy?
You'll get as many answers to that question as there are used cameras on the market. The good news here is that with the fairly low price on many of these cameras you have the oportunity to try a few of them out before settling on one that meets your requirements.

My personal short-list of cameras that would be worth looking into includes;
* Olympus 35SP/SPn
Estimated cost: $50-150
* Canonet QL 17 G-III
Estimated cost: $30-70
* Yashica GSN/GTN
Estimated cost: $10-30

It can't all be good can it?
There are indeed some 'sacrifices' you have to make if you decide to venture into the world of rangefinder-cameras-on-the-cheap.
1) The view- /rangefinder is often smaller and dimmer than those on more modern cameras - but they may be less cluttered as the viewfinder will only have to support framelines for one focal length.
2) The build quality is also often not up to par with what you may have have gotten used to from Canon, Leica or Nikon - but did I mention the price benefit? :)
3) As the name eludes to it's a fixed lens camera - meaning you're stuck with that one focal length.

I encourage you if you're interested to read up on the different models and characteristics (or quirks) that are out there. Odds are you'll end up with a small, compact camera with a fast, sharp lens for a price that won't make you think twice about bringing it with you out at night to the bar, to the beach or out on a drizzly, overcast day. It may end up living in your glove compartment - or in a pocket of your jacket - but it will have the power of being able to come with you anytime and anywhere and you may therefore be able to capture more of those fleeting moments that life is made up of.

How can that not be a good thing?

Olympus 35LE

Olympus 35SP, black (yes, three of them...)


Anonymous Rob said...

I don't think there's really much of a sacrifice involved with a rangefinder as I mainly use one standard lens even with my SLR. I only use the telephoto or wide angle lens for special shots which don't happen all that often. I have a couple of rangefinder cameras, and both are nice. One is a Fed 5C, and the other is a Kodak Signet 35. The Signet is really nice and compact, and can be had quite cheaply on E-Bay. Both cameras have nice lenses.

October 21, 2005 10:08 PM  
Anonymous Jordan said...

Some of the sharpest, clearest, best-composed images I have ever taken have been with my Yashica GSN. But right now it has some battery issues and is inoperative. I need to get it going ASAP. One of my favourite cameras ever (and I have about 9).

November 23, 2005 7:10 PM  
Blogger WeeDram said...

Oly porn. Rich, you have (again) strenghtened my resolve to have a black SP(n) and an LC.

As you know, I love the SP, and the LC is on my list of acquisitions.


April 10, 2006 6:48 PM  

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