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Old Aug 11, 2013, 02:07 PM   #1
kallisti
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Rangefinder cameras

I'm always a little surprised/peeved that the rangefinder format hasn't translated well into digital. The only real option is Leica, which is crazy expensive and prohibitive because of this for most.

It requires a little more work and understanding of photography compared to phones, P&Ss, or even DSLRs, but the rewards can be great (I just answered my own question...).

There are some things that a rangefinder does really well, possibly better than a DSLR. They are light and compact. While slightly larger and heavier than a P&S, they give the same quality and shooting options as a full frame DSLR. Very good for travel or street photography.

Because of the manual focus, they can't compare to a DSLR for action photography. They also suffer on the long-end, so not good at all for birding or other nature photography.

But for what can be shot within their limits, they are very, very good.

The viewfinder is bright (usually better than a DSLR which is limited to displaying an image at f/2.8 even if the lens is actually faster). On a rangefinder, you see quite a bit more through the viewfinder in low-light compared to a DSLR. You also see outside of the image frame, which can help with composition.

The biggest advantage (and biggest detraction) is manual focus. For action, a rangefinder is a frustrating tool. For static compositions, the manual focus can actually be an advantage. With a rangefinder camera, you can often set focus without looking through the viewfinder. If you want everything in focus, it is ridiculously easy to set the lens to the hyperfocal distance where everything is in focus for a given aperture. Decide on the closest element that needs to be in focus and then adjust the focus ring until the infinity symbol hits an aperture marking on the right that corresponds to your required close focus distance on the left. Focus is done. Change your aperture to that aperture. Compose through the viewfinder and shoot.

For shots where you don't want everything in focus it's a similar process. Focus through the viewfinder. Decide on the DOF you want. Look at the DOF scale on the lens. Adjust aperture as needed to make sure what you want to be in focus will be in focus. Compose and shoot.

It is certainly possible to just shoot by focusing through the viewfinder. This is what I do most of the time. Manual focus is actually much easier with a rangefinder compared to a DSLR.

But there are times that being able to view the DOF on the lens barrel makes it easier to choose the appropriate aperture for a given composition. Harder and harder to do this with a DSLR as modern lenses don't include DOF scales on the lens barrel.

Manual focus can allow you to pre-focus and then just shoot as your subject changes dynamically (I've captured some candids of people this way by having focus fixed beforehand and holding the camera away from my face at chest level or on a table and tripping the shutter at the "right" moment"). With an auto-focus camera these shots get trickier since you don't know beforehand what the auto-focus will choose as the subject.

With open apertures or close subject distances (situations where focus is critical) you have to focus with the viewfinder and trip the shutter with the camera held to your eye just like with a DSLR. But focusing with the lens barrel can be quite useful at times.

Rangefinders aren't perfect and they are worse than DSLRs for some applications. The lack of zoom, their focusing issues with longer lenses, parallax affecting composition, etc. But they are fantastic for certain shooting styles/situations. Small size/weight, excellent image quality, easy access to important controls.

Bums me out that there aren't consumer-level digital rangefinder cameras. I understand the reasons--most people want a fully automatic camera that does everything for them. The quirks of a rangefinder wouldn't appeal to casual photographers and some of their limitations wouldn't appeal to many experienced photographers. Pity. I sometimes read posts on this forum with people asking for camera advice and a rangefinder sounds perfect for their needs. The small size/weight and excellent image quality compare quite well to a DSLR. They can also be fantastic tools when learning photography. I find that I stop and think more when using a rangefinder.

Possible a consumer-level digital rangefinder would work really well for some people. Doubt it will ever happen though. The Fujifilm X100 kind of hit it, but not sure it really captures the rangefinder experience. Don't know enough about the next version, the X100S to comment about it.
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Old Aug 11, 2013, 02:26 PM   #2
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Well, first define a "rangefinder camera." Really rangefinders went out when autofocus swept in. It really has nothing to do with digital. I used to shoot with a Kodak 35 RF but the only non-SLR camera I've bought since had autofocus and no need for a range finder. It was a film "point-and-shoot".

The Leica is basically anachronistic. Point-and-shoots have become the logical successor to range finder cameras, and they are all autofocus. Even DSLRs have gotten so into autofocus that they are difficult to manually focus, lacking any focusing aids.
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Old Aug 11, 2013, 03:13 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by talmy View Post
Well, first define a "rangefinder camera." Really rangefinders went out when autofocus swept in. It really has nothing to do with digital. I used to shoot with a Kodak 35 RF but the only non-SLR camera I've bought since had autofocus and no need for a range finder. It was a film "point-and-shoot".

The Leica is basically anachronistic. Point-and-shoots have become the logical successor to range finder cameras, and they are all autofocus. Even DSLRs have gotten so into autofocus that they are difficult to manually focus, lacking any focusing aids.
Are you being facetious? A rangefinder is a camera that has a viewfinder separate from the lens to focus and compose an image. As opposed to SLRs (or DSLRs) which have viewfinders that let you see through the lens, the viewfinder on a rangefinder is independent of the lens.

Yes, I understand that almost any modern camera (whether phone, P&S, or DSLR) has auto-focus. Perhaps that makes a manual-focus camera seem "anachronistic." As outlined above however, there are advantages to manual focus in certain situations. These aren't just crazy "niche" circumstances. I've actually become more comfortable in manually focusing with my digital rangefinder compared to the auto-focus on my DSLRs.

My point is *not* that everyone should run out and buy a Leica system. That is just stupid. My point is that rangefinders would be a very viable option for many people if they were affordable. It's a different system and a different way of shooting compared to a DSLR. You lose some things, but you gain some things. Different tool that for some might work better (if made affordable) compared to other current options.
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Old Aug 11, 2013, 04:13 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by talmy View Post
Well, first define a "rangefinder camera." Really rangefinders went out when autofocus swept in. It really has nothing to do with digital. I used to shoot with a Kodak 35 RF but the only non-SLR camera I've bought since had autofocus and no need for a range finder. It was a film "point-and-shoot".

The Leica is basically anachronistic. Point-and-shoots have become the logical successor to range finder cameras, and they are all autofocus. Even DSLRs have gotten so into autofocus that they are difficult to manually focus, lacking any focusing aids.
Surely a rangefinder camera is a camera fitted with a rangefinder, no?

Rangefinders certainly didn't go out when autofocus swept in. Without checking camera history, I would suggest the development of SLR's was the first serious challenge to rangefinders, with mass movement of photojournalists, (who traditionally favoured rangefinders), to the new format. In the 90's there was somewhat of a resurgence in rangefinders with Hasselblad, Voigtlander, Konica all introducing new models, and of course Contax developed the G system which was an AUTOFOCUS rangefinder, a system generally considered better than Leica, but Contax as a company failed to move to digital and ultimately failed as company.

The mass, and very rapid movement to digital certainly was a factor in all but Leica dropping out of the RF market. Epson developed a digital rangefinder, which was pretty good by all accounts but never followed up. Leica seriously struggled to move the M system to digital. They seem to have hit their stride now, since the M9 seems to have been a runaway success, the M monochrome seems to have hit the spot for many, and the most recent M looks like they have finally started looking forwards instead of back!

Rangefinders have their place, but they're not for everyone, I have one and can honestly say I hate it, I just never seem to get round to selling it. Using zone focusing, nothing is faster, a P&S is laughably slow. For street, documentary, some reportage rangefinders, and today by definition that means Leica, are fantastic, if you can get used to it. Yes, other cameras can be just as good, horses for course, you use the tool that suits you best.

I would love for other manufacturers to develop digital rangefinders. There is definitely a market for sensibly priced digital rangefinders, look at how strong the used market for M8, M8.2 is. Leica could certainly use some competition. It would be great if Nikon developed a digital S system, for Epson to follow up on it's early success. I guess the costs of developing and manufacturing such a system must be prohibitive considering the volume of potential sales, which I would guess would be comparatively small. Though the success of cameras like the Fuji X system (I know, not a rangefinder, but certainly rangefinder inspired and doesn't the X-Pro 1 have some kind of faux rangefinder focus?) must have drawn the attention of several executives from the likes of Canon, Nikon etc.

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Old Aug 11, 2013, 04:24 PM   #5
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I asked myself the same question a few times. Furthermore, I expected Fuji to come up with a rangefinder for their X series. There might be other factors such as patents etc, but I believe there's just no market for rangefinders anymore. People who take pictures with their phones/P&S won't bother with MF, so do Pro's(for other reasons). The people in between are the more ambitious amateurs and only a fraction would consider a digital rangefinder, I think.
A rangefinder with APS-C size sensor would be interesting, but that would probably require a new system with all new lenses, which makes me believe a 'rangefinder X100' would be the only realistic option(fixed lens, APS-C sensor, around 1000$ street price).
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Old Aug 11, 2013, 04:48 PM   #6
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The problem of APS-C is wide angle lenses. Rangefinders are famed for fast wide angles. So there is an immediate conflict there. Even the Fuji X system suffers from this somewhat. Look at the APS-C DSLR systems and the one area, lens wise, they all lack is fast wide angles.

Used prices for the digital Leica rangefinders are strong, so there is a demand. is it a demand for "Leica" or rangefinder...probably both, though the market for film rangefinder of all vintages is also strong with prices moving up.

Fuji kicked the door open with the X100 and their new approach to the rangefinder style of camera. This may be the future of this form of camera, it will be good to see what happens over the next few years.
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Old Aug 11, 2013, 05:40 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Attonine View Post
The problem of APS-C is wide angle lenses. Rangefinders are famed for fast wide angles. So there is an immediate conflict there. Even the Fuji X system suffers from this somewhat. Look at the APS-C DSLR systems and the one area, lens wise, they all lack is fast wide angles.

Used prices for the digital Leica rangefinders are strong, so there is a demand. is it a demand for "Leica" or rangefinder...probably both, though the market for film rangefinder of all vintages is also strong with prices moving up.

Fuji kicked the door open with the X100 and their new approach to the rangefinder style of camera. This may be the future of this form of camera, it will be good to see what happens over the next few years.
I think Fuji has done quite an amazing job of being the next step for rangefinders. The Fuji x 100s is an extremely impressive camera. What we see as a slight step forward as the electronic viewfinders somewhat replacing the rangefinders. The Fuji x-E1 is a perfect example and though the lenses offered are limited at the moment (a typical handful that even a Leica owner would probably like), these cameras take other maker lenses including Leica, Samyang and more. While the electronic viewfinder (video if you will) is not without quirks, it is improving in leaps and bounds.

I have a rollfilm viewfinder camera that shoots vertical 6x4.5 images and has a slightly wide angle lens. The results were nothing short of excellent with both negative and transparency films. Most people were sure the results were shot with a Hassie. Mamiya 6 and 7 are also rangefinder style cameras with a few lenses and they used roll film as well. Of all the rangefinders, perhaps the Mamiya 7 produced the very best results for sharpness and tightness of grain.

Sony offers an eyepiece/viewer for some of its camera lines akin to rangefinder/electronic view and the little Olympus also belongs to this group of mirrorless cameras. It appears that the mirrorless cameras are the successor to the rangefinder cameras.
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Old Aug 11, 2013, 06:43 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by kallisti View Post
Are you being facetious? A rangefinder is a camera that has a viewfinder separate from the lens to focus and compose an image. As opposed to SLRs (or DSLRs) which have viewfinders that let you see through the lens, the viewfinder on a rangefinder is independent of the lens.
My quibble here is with my years of experience with rangefinders. That Kodak 35 RF had a rangefinder for focusing built into the camera but it was separate from the viewfinder. I also had a Mercury II that had a focusing ring and a viewfinder but no rangefinder (you had to guess the distance), but other than that the style was closer to a Leica than anything I've ever owned. Compact, interchangeable prime lenses, with a body made of machined aluminum. The SLRs I owned didn't auto-focus but had a "split image rangefinder" as part of the focusing screen. It was a great aid to focusing. No camera I've bought in the past 25 years has had any good means of manual focusing. The market is basically dead and the Leica only sells to a very small niche. It isn't the rangefinder so much as it is its quiet action and small size.
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 06:23 AM   #9
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The point you make about focusing screens is quite valid. I can remember the days of the SLR coming with a horizontal split image focusing screen, and these being interchangeable with any number of different designs dependant upon your specific needs.

Your comment prompted me to check the situation today. I use Nikon, so checked their current bodies and it seems that Nikon do not make replacement focusing screens anymore, but there are a few third party vendors. I guess the demand for these screens is minuscule. However, for certain types of photography this must make things more difficult. I'm thinking about macro, scientific etc.

Wikipedia tells me the F5 manufactured from 1996 until 2004 had interchangeable focusing screens, so there were cameras available at least until 9 years ago that had this feature. I think the introduction of autofocus forced Nikon to change the type of focusing screen because the autofocus sensor needed something the original screens couldn't do.

With regard to manual focus, there are some forms of photography that just don't need autofocus. Landscape for example. And companies like Zeiss seem to be doing OK manufacturing manual focus lenses with various mounts.

Maybe this whole thing is just like vinyl, it just wont die!
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 07:19 AM   #10
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I have two rangefinder cameras that I adore, but I certainly would not shoot with all the time. They are a pain in many situations and are certainly an acquired taste but the results can be simply amazing (and the old lenses really come to life when matched with the correct hardware rather than using adaptors on m43).

I have one film (Leica M3) and one digital (Epson R-D1). The M3 is simply amazing. So solid, so well engineered. The Epson is amusing as it still has a manually cocked shutter so a lot to the time it feels like shooting film! Both show a longevity that not many SLRs can match, especially DSLRs.
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 07:54 AM   #11
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its been mentioned here already but the fuji 100xs is about as close as you can find today (without going for leica) APS-C f2 (ish i think) 35mm equivalent fixed lens, hybrid viewfinder, i think you can even do split screen focusing.

Still getting to grips with min but seems a very capable camera low iso is excellent, just miss the focus speed of my FF DSLR, and the connivence of zooms.

I have a little old oly 35rc that I sometimes use, but really need to invest in my own scanner as paying for hi-res scans is quite expensive in the UK.
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 09:07 AM   #12
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I own two old rangefinders.

Rangefinders are great, but there are cams, pivoting mirrors and levers and moving things galore, all at some point requiring adjustment by actual experts.

All this complication can be bypassed by using electronic circuits stamped out by the millions and snapped together in a third world factory.

Perhaps there will be an electronic rangefinder some day, but cameras must sell in the millions in order to be affordable. Note the price of any sort of limited production camera.

If I hit the lotto, I will buy a new Leica and use it. It will not rest untouched as a collectable in a velvet lined box in the closet. Will it take better photos than my Sony or Nikon? Eh...that's up to me.
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 09:12 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Attonine View Post
Your comment prompted me to check the situation today. I use Nikon, so checked their current bodies and it seems that Nikon do not make replacement focusing screens anymore, but there are a few third party vendors. I guess the demand for these screens is minuscule. However, for certain types of photography this must make things more difficult. I'm thinking about macro, scientific etc.

Wikipedia tells me the F5 manufactured from 1996 until 2004 had interchangeable focusing screens, so there were cameras available at least until 9 years ago that had this feature. I think the introduction of autofocus forced Nikon to change the type of focusing screen because the autofocus sensor needed something the original screens couldn't do.
There are several factors optimizing for autofocus that work against manual focus.

First there is lens design. Focus rings have in many cases gotten really small - when they are large they just get in the way. Lens designs also leave off the focusing scale. But another factor here are the prevalence of zoom lenses which technically aren't zoom lenses but are varifocal lenses. A true zoom lens maintains focus as the focal length changes, a critical feature for video camera. With a varifocal lens the focus changes which makes having a distance scale difficult!

The split image (split prism) rangefinder went away because people didn't need it for autofocus lenses, however the third party replacements, such as the KatzEye will interfere with the center exposure spot for spot metering. So you lose spot metering (at least with the center sensor) if you add back a split prism. The design of the surrounding ground glass in the viewfinder has changed as well to emphasize brightness over focusability. The extra brightness is needed for the smaller apertures in the consumer zoom lenses to make it possible to see! The smaller apertures of course make it more difficult to focus because the depth of field is greater. On the other hand the ground glass design also makes fast lenses appear to have the depth of field of slower glass (I believe being wider than F2.8 has no effect on the viewfinder.) I just found some information on this on the KatzEye site -- http://www.katzeyeoptics.com/page--O...optibrite.html.

I should mention that modern cameras (at least the Nikon DLSRs I've got) also have a green light that indicates focus. It's a pretty good substitute for the split image rangefinder and works with MF lenses.

Really, with a modern camera the best you can do is buy some old prime lenses (for Nikon, AI or AIS), get the KatzEye cconversion, and buy a separate exposure meter (I used to use one of these back when my cameras not only didn't have autofocus but also didn't have metering!)
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 10:34 AM   #14
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My $0.02, as a hard-core rangefinder user:

Digital rangefinders hold no interest for me. The reason? When I shoot a digital camera, I do so because I'm looking for technical perfection (or as close to it as my technique and abilities allow). I want speed of operation. In short, I want autofocus. Rangefinders are great, but the focusing accuracy is not up to the resolving power of modern 16+ MP digital cameras. A good analogy would be modern lenses. The Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm is as perfect a lens as you'll ever see; great for a 20+ MP digital camera, where you can resolve 80+ lp/mm, but totally overkill for film, where the medium inherently limits the detail you can resolve.

That said, I greatly prefer the rangefinder camera gestalt. That is, small, unobtrusive, quiet, optical viewfinder, etc. In my view, the only manufacturer that really 'gets' how that type of camera translates into a modern, 21st century instrument is Fujifilm. The X-series cameras aren't perfect, but they do what they do VERY well.

Even as a Leica user (an M6 is my main workhorse camera), I have no interest in any digital Leica. First, my X-Pro1 produces a subjective image quality that is as good as what an M9 (or even an M) can produce (the XF 35 f/1.4 is a truly brilliant lens). And second, because ALL digital cameras are really just computers with a lens bolted on. In my view, Leica's forte is the production of very high quality optics and very high quality MECHANICAL cameras. The digital M's will suffer the same fate as every other digital camera ever made: rapid obsolescence.

Will your Typ 240 be working in 30 years? No way; the computer that is the heart of that camera simply isn't designed to be functional for that long. On the other hand, my early run M6 is now 28 years old, and just came back from a CLA as good as the day it left Wetzlar (my M6 predates the move to Solms). There are 60 year old M3s that function beautifully. The film Ms are fully mechanical (with the exception of the M7), and thus are not subject to the same rapid obsolescence as a digital camera. That's not a huge problem when you're paying X-Pro1 money; but when you're paying Typ 240 or Monochrom money, it sure is.

So I think digital rangefinders haven't taken off simply because they aren't what most people need/want in a digital camera. The "rangefinder method" just isn't as suitable to a digital camera as it is to a film camera. Fujifilm has taken what is great about a rangefinder (an optical viewfinder, small form factor, quiet operation) and tried to integrate those features into a modern autofocusing digital camera. And I think they've succeeded very well, indeed.
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 10:40 AM   #15
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The split image (split prism) rangefinder went away because people didn't need it for autofocus lenses,
Not because people didn't need it, but because it interfered with the focus detection indicator. Split screen couldn't be used if autofocus was implemented.

According to this site.

http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography...konf4/screens/
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 11:06 AM   #16
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Not because people didn't need it, but because it interfered with the focus detection indicator. Split screen couldn't be used if autofocus was implemented.

According to this site.

http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography...konf4/screens/
I think something may have been lost in translation. They switched to the type B as standard because the split prism rangefinder was no longer necessary. The type K was still available as an option (and especially valuable for the many manual focus lenses!).

Note that you can install the KatzEye split prism focusing screen on many new cameras and it doesn't affect autofocus at all.
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 12:18 PM   #17
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My first camera (given to me as a gift when I was a teenager) was an ancient, solidly built rangefinder Minolta, and it took beautiful pictures. It has also left me with a liking and respect for rangefinders as a result.


Since then, I have used SLRs, until recently, that is. A few years ago, my (film) Nikon F100 (a lovely camera) was stolen, and, as I was working in the Caucasus at the time (and couldn't replace it immediately), I debated long and hard whether I should use that as the opportunity to switch to digital photography. In the end, I didn't switch, mainly because decent digital SLRs are - or had become - complete monsters, and are brutally heavy, and besides, I wasn't sure that they had reached the standard that I was used to from film.

So, instead, I went retro, and bought a Leica, one of the last from the SLR (film) range, the R7, a solid and elegant camera; more recently, I have added a rangefinder, a M6 (and some lenses) to that.

Re Leica, notwithstanding the eye-watering prices, I like the size of the cameras, the superb build quality, the stunning lenses, and the fact that one has to think before even contemplating taking a picture. However, when you get it right, the results can be very impressive indeed.
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Old Aug 17, 2013, 06:38 PM   #18
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My $0.02, as a hard-core rangefinder user:

Digital rangefinders hold no interest for me. The reason? When I shoot a digital camera, I do so because I'm looking for technical perfection (or as close to it as my technique and abilities allow). I want speed of operation. In short, I want autofocus. Rangefinders are great, but the focusing accuracy is not up to the resolving power of modern 16+ MP digital cameras. A good analogy would be modern lenses. The Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm is as perfect a lens as you'll ever see; great for a 20+ MP digital camera, where you can resolve 80+ lp/mm, but totally overkill for film, where the medium inherently limits the detail you can resolve.

That said, I greatly prefer the rangefinder camera gestalt. That is, small, unobtrusive, quiet, optical viewfinder, etc. In my view, the only manufacturer that really 'gets' how that type of camera translates into a modern, 21st century instrument is Fujifilm. The X-series cameras aren't perfect, but they do what they do VERY well.

Even as a Leica user (an M6 is my main workhorse camera), I have no interest in any digital Leica. First, my X-Pro1 produces a subjective image quality that is as good as what an M9 (or even an M) can produce (the XF 35 f/1.4 is a truly brilliant lens). And second, because ALL digital cameras are really just computers with a lens bolted on. In my view, Leica's forte is the production of very high quality optics and very high quality MECHANICAL cameras. The digital M's will suffer the same fate as every other digital camera ever made: rapid obsolescence.

Will your Typ 240 be working in 30 years? No way; the computer that is the heart of that camera simply isn't designed to be functional for that long. On the other hand, my early run M6 is now 28 years old, and just came back from a CLA as good as the day it left Wetzlar (my M6 predates the move to Solms). There are 60 year old M3s that function beautifully. The film Ms are fully mechanical (with the exception of the M7), and thus are not subject to the same rapid obsolescence as a digital camera. That's not a huge problem when you're paying X-Pro1 money; but when you're paying Typ 240 or Monochrom money, it sure is.

So I think digital rangefinders haven't taken off simply because they aren't what most people need/want in a digital camera. The "rangefinder method" just isn't as suitable to a digital camera as it is to a film camera. Fujifilm has taken what is great about a rangefinder (an optical viewfinder, small form factor, quiet operation) and tried to integrate those features into a modern autofocusing digital camera. And I think they've succeeded very well, indeed.
Well thought-out reply.

The auto-focus vs manual-focus argument is complicated. There are subjects that require critical focus (namely anything with a shallow depth-of-field, whether from a wide aperture, long focal length, and/or short subject distance). Manual focus with a rangefinder is faster/easier that manual focus with an SLR/DSLR. Auto-focus is always faster (assuming the auto-focus mechanism focuses on the appropriate element, not a problem usually if you have set the auto-focus parameters correctly for the subject you are shooting). The counter-argument is that zone-focusing has it's own advantages for certain subjects.

The obsolescence argument is a bit trickier. Who knows if any digital camera will be viable in 10 years, let alone 20, 30, or 40 years. Not only from the standpoint of will they still function, but will they be compatible with future interfaces, file formats, etc. They all rely on batteries to function, but will manufacturers continue to make batteries for older digital cameras?

The flip side of this is that there is no guarantee that film cameras will be viable in 10, 20, 30, 40 years. While they may still work mechanically, how much longer will film still be available? Markets follow the demand/money. As more people switch to digital, fewer and fewer are shooting film. Possible that in the not-too-distant future, film will no longer be financially viable to produce and/or process. Maybe a sizable enough niche market will still make it available, but not inconceivable that it could die out completely.

In my opinion, the elephant in the room regarding digital is when is enough enough? Put another way, at what point can a digital camera resolve enough detail, capture enough color nuances, and/or have enough dynamic range that it surpasses the abilities of output media to display this information? For printed output (i.e. to frame and hang on a wall) have we already reached a point of overkill where prints from digital negatives can't reproduce what is seen on a computer screen? Better stated, how close are we to a point where digital camera sensors are able to capture what can be captured with film? If we aren't there yet, is it that far off?

My M9 is "outdated" compared to even consumer level sensors these days, yet the images I've taken with it still print quite well. Aside from it's crappy low-light performance, problems with images shot with it are my deficiencies and not the camera's deficiencies. It didn't magically stop working when the new "M" was announced.
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Old Aug 17, 2013, 08:17 PM   #19
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Well thought-out reply.
Thanks.

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The auto-focus vs manual-focus argument is complicated. There are subjects that require critical focus (namely anything with a shallow depth-of-field, whether from a wide aperture, long focal length, and/or short subject distance). Manual focus with a rangefinder is faster/easier that manual focus with an SLR/DSLR. Auto-focus is always faster (assuming the auto-focus mechanism focuses on the appropriate element, not a problem usually if you have set the auto-focus parameters correctly for the subject you are shooting). The counter-argument is that zone-focusing has it's own advantages for certain subjects.
Rangefinders are vastly superior for manual focus vs. a DSLR, but yes, a quick AF system is fastest. That said, MF is never fooled by tricky subjects, and I can MF my Leica in very low light.

Zone focusing is a wash; if you have a DoF scale on the lens, that can be done easily on any system.

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The obsolescence argument is a bit trickier. Who knows if any digital camera will be viable in 10 years, let alone 20, 30, or 40 years. Not only from the standpoint of will they still function, but will they be compatible with future interfaces, file formats, etc. They all rely on batteries to function, and will manufacturers continue to make batteries for older digital cameras?
Based on what we have seen over the last 20 years, my guess is that while standard formats like JPEG will be useable, hardware obsolescence is going to be a real problem, especially regarding availability of batteries (as you mention) and compatible memory cards.

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In my opinion, the elephant in the room regarding digital is when is enough enough? Put another way, at what point can a digital camera resolve enough detail and/or have enough dynamic range that it surpasses the abilities of output media to display this information? For printed output (i.e. to frame and hang on a wall) have we already reached a point of overkill where prints from digital negatives can't reproduce what is seen on a computer screen at the pixel level? If we aren't there yet, how close are we to this point? My M9 is "outdated" compared to even consumer level sensors these days, yet the images I've taken with it still print quite well. Aside from it's crappy low-light performance, problems with images shot with it are my deficiencies and not the camera's deficiencies.
I agree in general. In terms of dynamic range in particular, digital has a long, long way to go. Shadow detail is great, but highlight retention is incredibly poor relative to modern colour negative films like Portra 400. But yes, surely a 36MP sensor like that in the D800 is approaching the point at which enough is enough, for all but the most demanding users.

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The flip side of this is that there is no guarantee that film cameras will be viable in 10, 20, 30, 40 years. While they may still work mechanically, how much longer will film still be available? Markets follow the demand/money. As more people switch to digital, fewer and fewer are shooting film. Possible that in the not-too-distant future, film will no longer be financially viable to produce and/or process. Maybe a sizable enough niche market will still make it available, but not inconceivable that it could die out completely.
Here's the long and short on film:

1. Slide film will be gone within 10 years. Already, we have only three main emulsions left: Provia 100 and Velvia 50 and 100, all from Fujifilm. Provia 400X (which was the only high speed reversal film still made) was just discontinued. The reason is simple: the major traditional users of slide film - documentary, magazines, etc - have all switched to digital years ago. Some large format landscape photographers still use Velvia, but even they have largely gone to digital. So slides are on borrowed time. Not a huge deal; I have 10 rolls of Provia 400X in my freezer; when they're gone, I'm out of the slide game altogether.

2. Colour negative film will be around for considerably longer, for the simple reason that Hollywood still shoots tens of millions of dollars of it every year. Digital distribution is the new norm, but for actual shooting, film is still king. This has mainly to do with the technical qualities of negative film (particularly dynamic range). This won't last forever, but there is still a small but important market for colour negative still photography films. Good thing: I don't know what I'd do without Portra 400 and Fujicolor 400H.

3. Black and white film isn't going anywhere; it's the one area (aside from dynamic range) in which digital is demonstrably poorer than film; especially 120 and larger, but also in 35mm. Fine art guys shoot B&W film. Street photographers shoot B&W film. Loads of studio portrait photographers shoot B&W film. It's not going anywhere for quite a while.
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Old Aug 27, 2013, 10:22 PM   #20
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I've played around with the Leica M.

One feature that seemed like a gimmick works surprisingly well on a rangefinder. Namely Live View.

I've used Live View with a Nikon, but never really found it all that useful.

Live View with a rangefinder however is almost magical.

You have the option of TTL composition. For many (most?) compositions parallax isn't an issue, but it can be. Live View let's you see through the lens, just like with a DSLR.

The really interesting thing about Live View is that it takes the advantages of zone-focusing and puts it on steroids. Using LV on a Leica M you see red outlines on elements of your composition that are in focus. As you manually change focus, the red lines shift to continuously show what is in focus in the composition. If you change aperture, the red lines shift to reflect elements in focus for the new aperture.

What does this mean?

It's a really cool application of auto-focus technology for a rangefinder type of shooting. You don't have to base depth-of-field on the numbers on the lens barrel. You don't have to calculate depth-of-field. You see your depth-of-field dynamically in real-time on the digital display in Live View, and it changes as you make adjustments to aperture and/or focus. It works. Not perfect (just like any auto-focus isn't perfect), but it's pretty good. And *very* useful.
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Old Aug 29, 2013, 03:29 PM   #21
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Leica M, 35mm lens 1/60 sec @ f/1.4. Focus via Live View adjusted so the red focus lines were on the eyes. She was jumping around chasing a toy and I wouldn't have been able to capture this using traditional rangefinder focusing techniques.

Could argue I should have just used a DSLR. Focusing with the M's auto-focus in LV mode was actually better since I just quickly turned the focusing ring until what I wanted to be in focus adopted a red outline. Had already decided to shoot at f/1.4 to minimize depth-of-field as much as the focal length allowed (was testing LV focusing and not really thinking about the composition as a whole). Didn't have to futz with moving a focusing cursor, changing the composition to lock in focus, or just hoping the auto-focus chose the right subject. Merely turned the focusing ring until her eyes were outlined in red and tripped the shutter.

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Old Aug 30, 2013, 07:37 AM   #22
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This is really a horses for courses subject and there will always be those who prefer SLR's and those who love rangefinders.

I grew up with SLR's from the venerable Olympus OM-1 right through to a variety of Canon film SLR's. I then moved to Nikon DSLR's my last one being a Nikon D300.

A couple of years ago I had a hankering to try a rangefinder. I bought a Leica M9 (and have since switched to an M(240)). I also have a Fuji X-Pro 1. I find that there is no situation that one or other of these cameras cannot deal with. They are just as fast to focus (admittedly it takes a little practice) but much smaller and lighter to carry. I can carry both cameras and a couple of lenses for each in a bag that I would normally only get one SLR and a lens (maybe two) in.

I eventually sold my DSLR gear as I simply was not using it and would never go back.

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Old Aug 30, 2013, 09:01 AM   #23
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probably both, though the market for film rangefinder of all vintages is also strong with prices moving up.
Really? I just bought a Fuji GW690II, and I paid about half of what it would have gone for even three or four years ago. And I'm sure I would not get back what I paid for my Konica III (well, not if I included the cost of the shutter repair). Not that I would sell the Konica--it is a really nice piece of work.
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Old Aug 30, 2013, 09:45 AM   #24
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Really? I just bought a Fuji GW690II, and I paid about half of what it would have gone for even three or four years ago. And I'm sure I would not get back what I paid for my Konica III (well, not if I included the cost of the shutter repair). Not that I would sell the Konica--it is a really nice piece of work.
Can't comment about Fuji or Konica models as I don't know much about them. This is why my comment you quoted, the whole sentence, was about Leica!
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Old Aug 30, 2013, 10:54 AM   #25
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There is another technological difference between SLRs and Rangefinders.

Lenses on SLRs are physically further from the film/sensor than they are on Rangefinders. This is to accommodate the mirror in the SLR that needs room to swing up and down. And this dictates what kind of lense designs are available to each family of camera.

I'm not going to venture into which is better...

But I do have an extensive collection of Agfa film cameras (most are RF).

The other issue with RFs not yet mentioned is that by definition they suffer from parallax issues when used close up to the subject.
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