Rangefinder cameras- what are your options?

Posted on by Bellamy

There are so many out there, what one is for you?
What rangefinder should I buy? This is a question that I get asked almost every day, and it is a question that I find very difficult to answer, there are so many variables that I could not possibly tell you what is right for you. But I can give you a good idea of what you might like and then you can make an informed decision, because ultimately the best camera for you is the camera that you are most comfortable shooting with, whether that is a disposable camera, an i-phone or a Leica M9.
I think that the most important thing to do is work out your budget, as I cannot count the amount of times that people have asked for a Leica and said that they ‘don’t want to spend more than $600, including shipping’. Be realistic, work out how much you have and how much you really want to spend and work within that. If you want a Leica but don’t have enough money, save up.

So, in this article I am basically going to give you some options based on price ranges. Most of the cameras you may have heard of, but some of them may be news to you.
Budget rangfinders

There are a lot of fantastic options available for the fan of rangefinders with a small budget. But don’t get too excited, you will be mainly limited to non interchangeable cameras, as in most of the options will be fixed.
The one in the picture would be a good choice as a budget camera for anyone, the Canonet QL17, which come with a lovely 40mm 1.7 lens. this is a lovely little camera and very simple to use. You can pick these up for under $100 nowadays.
Several different cameras with very similar specs came out at this time, and all of them are viable options for a cheap camera.
The Konica C35 noasts a 38mm 2.8 Hexanon lens, the Yashica Electro comes with the outstanding 45mm 1.7 Yashinon lens, The Olympus 35RC has a 40mm 2.8 Zuiko lens and is possibly one of the smallest rangefinders out there, The Minolta Hi-matic E has the 40mm 1.7 Rokkor lens which is amazing.
Then there are the Russian cameras, the Zorki’s, Kiev’s, Mir’s and so on. They are really cheap and there is often good reason for that. You can find good quality Russian cameras, but you will often find that they stray out of the budget category. If in doubt stick with the Japanese brands and you will surely be onto a winner.

Intermediate rangefinders

Now we are getting into the interchangeable territory, but we also have what can be classed premium fixed rangefinders.
In the picture you have one of the real ‘premium’ fixed rangefinders, the Konica Hexar AF. This camera is famous because of its ‘silent’ mode, which is so quiet you can barely hear it. It also has a fantastic 35mm F2 lens, so it it a very versatile camera. These can be picked up for anything from $500 to $1000 depending on the condition.

Now I am going to move onto the interchangeable cameras, as there are a lot of great ones in this section. This one is the Canon 7 black paint, now this one is actually pretty expensive (it is mine afterall :)) But the regular silver ones are not expensive at all, you can pick one up with a basic 50mm lens for about $400-$600. This is a great camera and the LTM mount means you can build a Leica thread mount lens collection.
One of my personal favourites is the Contax G2 (which shamefully I don’t have a picture of right now). This is an outstading rangefinder camera, with excellent build, brilliant meter and some of the best lenses of any camera at all, full stop. The 45mm Planar is considered to be one of the sharpest camera lenses ever made. You can pick these cameras up for around $600-$1000, and the good thing is that they are still new enough that you don’t need to worry about them failing. Contax also made the G1 which is the earlier model and goes for a lot less.

Next up in the Konica Hexar RF, this is the premium interchangeable camera from Konica and a very different  beast from the AF. The camera boasts an M-mount, so you can easily use Leica or Leica mount lenses. The body is tough and well bult, the wind on is full auto, so this is not a quiet camera, but it is a very capable camera. These can be had for around $750-$1000 depending on the condition, and they are still serviceable, which is a bonus nowadays. I have used one of these cameras for a long time and enjoyed it thoroughly.

I wouldn’t be doing the intermediate section any justice at all without mentioning the Voigtlander series of cameras. These cameras are now manufactured in Japan by Cosina, along with the lenses and Zeiss Ikon cameras and lenses. But don’t let that fool you, these are still very well made and highly regarded cameras and lenses, ideal for the first time user of a rangefinder. They are not terribly expensive, and as they are M-mount you can work on building a collection of lenses. The Color Scopar lenses are particularly well regarded.

Now this camera is a personal favourite of mine, the lovely Minolta CLE. It is light, small, fast and quiet. It has a brilliant meter and clean viewfinder. The camera is a beauty to use. There are some drawbacks though…despite having an M-mount, you are limited to which lenses will actually clear the focal plane, and getting parts to have the camera repaired can be very very difficult. Still, this camera comes with the stunning Rokkor lenses, which I love so much. The price of these has been climbing recently, but they are still in the $800-$1000 arena, and worth every penny.
High end rangefinders
Now we come to the juicy part. The high end rangefinders. Basically I class this as anything that will run you over $1000 for the body only. Some people might disagree with my selections, but I am trying to be objective and cater for everyones taste, and trying to give you an idea of what the prices are for these cameras.
See the lovely Nikon at the top of the page? Yes, that pretty thing is a classic Nikon S2. They are beautiful rangefinders and a lot of fun to use, they are built like tanks too. The Nikon series of rangefinders stopped with the introduction of the F, but was re-introduced with a special edition S3 2000. These cameras are expensive, very expensive $3000+ should see you right. But they are stunning.

OK, this article would not be in any way complete without Leica cameras. Leica are the rangefinders, true and in the purest form. There are a number of different models to choose from, depending on your budget. In the picture you can see an MP, they are pricey, especially the original ones. But they are hand made pieces of mechanical precision. Better start saving then.

Don’t have the budget for an MP? No spare kidneys? Then you still have options. The M6 is a metered Leica with excellent capabilities and reliability. These bodies can be picked up now for just over $1000. If you want to get a nice one you can spend up to $2000 though.
If you are not scared of a non-metered camera then you could get an M2 or an M3 for around $1000 without too much trouble. They are masterfully engineered cameras, and will certainly outlast you.
Digital rangefinders
I have to tip my hat to them, as their popularity has been important in raising the rangefinder profile.
There are not all that many options for you if you are looking for a digital rangefinder, and you had better have your creditcard ready if you are, becuase this is going to get expensive. The king daddy of them all is the Leica M9, which really need no introduction. The price is high, but that is the price you pay for a high quality, full frame digital camera. Can’t quite make that? Well the M8/M8.2 are viable options. They run an APS-C sensor and will set you back half that of a used M9. Still a great camera, and a lot of fun to use.
There is one other option for those on a tighter budget….The Epson RD1. Some people knock it, but I like this camera, it is easy to use, and the later version have significantly improved firmware. It is also a lot cheaper than the next in in Leica, usually about $2000. This is a good camera and a great way to get into digital rangefinders without killing your bank.

So, there you go, a semi-guide of what is available to you on your budget. There are a lot of different cameras out there and you can find one that suits you. If you want to find one, drop me a line, and I can find one for you. Contact me here and I can get you the camera of your dreams.


47 Responses to Rangefinder cameras- what are your options?

nameisis October 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I would also include in high – end. Both Fuji and Mamiya Medium format rangefinders.

    Randle P. McMurphy September 29, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    I want to do this quick and dirty now.
    Why spend a lot of money on Leica Cameras and Lenses
    when you dont see it in your results ?
    If you look a the picture you are not able to see if this was
    taken with a Leica or Canon or even a cheep Olympus !
    Most of the Grearheads use a 35mm lens to shoot “Street”.
    Why ? Because everything is sharp at f8 and they dont have
    to focus exactly. Autofocus is much faster but the Leicaman
    dont need what he can´t buy.
    He better spend his money on Cron´s and Lux´s for thousands
    of Dollar even if he uses a 400 ASA film witch can not transfer
    a single bit of these fantastic made optics.

    You surely want to know witch Camera I would suggest you ?
    A bargain with a razorsharp lens for 1/100 of the price ?

    Yashica T5 !
    Carl Zeiss 3,5/35mm
    Flash include

    I even made 3 pictures sharp and well exposed before
    you get any Leica ready to take off………

Tom October 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm

You missed out the Zeiss Ikon, I have one and they are great cameras with a bigger viewfinder than the Leica and relativley inexpensive.

Gian October 18, 2011 at 2:47 am

I’m sorry, I don’t want to sound like Mr. Pedantic here, but I have to point this out. If you are speaking about DRF how could you possibly not write about the Fuji x100?

It’s quite frankly the best mid-price DRF on the market and most importantly has a number of digital aids tha can help the RF rookie to understand how the story goes.

Cheerio lads

    Bellamy January 19, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Well, because the X-100 is not a rangefinder. Pure and simple. And I honestly think that it is not actually a very good camera. Poor color rendition, poor firmware and a disappointing lens. I expected more from Fuji.

Mochi Mochi December 15, 2011 at 7:38 am

The Canon Canonet QL17 is a f1.7 40mm lens (not f1.9). Other flavors of the Canonet include a 35 and a 28. These are remarkable cameras. Very tough and durable. Lens is very sharp and fast on the QL (QuickLoad) 17. Close to camera design perfection at an affordable price.

Most beautiful rangefinder I have is Fuji GF670. Silent – more quiet than leica – medium format.

Jon January 2, 2012 at 9:06 am

I got a Yashica Electro 35 GTN a few days ago, and I fell in love immediately.
Took it on a trip the very next day, and I ran a test roll on it.
Was a very very exciting experience. I guess my FM2n with 55 1.2 Nikkor will have to warm the substitute bench for now.
Thank you for an informative piece, and a lovely website. :D

Derek Lyons June 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm

How can you write an article about rangefinders – and not mention the Argus C3?

    Bellamy June 27, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Well, as you can see I did say that there are a great many cameras that I didn’t mention. I also suggested that people tell us what they shoot with and why. I have not used the Argus, but thanks for the suggestion.

Mike March 21, 2013 at 2:49 am

The bargain Leicas are the thread mount models. Always have been. They are quirky and take some getting used to, but they are beautifully made.

De nis April 14, 2013 at 11:31 am

Kodak retina iia is one of the finest compact sized below 100 dollars rf you can buy. .. Crazy sharp sk glass and its rangefinder base
Is longer than most compacts

Jukka Watanen April 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Well, I am a simple guy… for me it is leica M. All the others be it Nikon D3, several Fuji pro digitals, even the hasselblad CFV digital back, I have sold away. I simply don`t like them. If I have to make a quick website/flickr/facebook image, I use my Nokia N97 or I Phone 4s “cameras”. Sometimes you cannot see the difference of their images to Nikon DSLR, whatever is the numbers, D3 or whatever… For Real images, I use leicas: M3/4, etc with film. scanned images, not that big difference, but when you print the negatives in “wet process” on a baryta paper 40X50 and up… there´s no comparsion … That`s what photography is to me, a great print on the wall in frames, nice girls enjoying them with a glass of champagne in hand in the vernissage evening… For that, the make of camera is not that important, more is the ability to go thru the process of seeing,exposing, developing, mentally realizing the potential of the image, printing it and finally going thru the process of having the exhibition… I use equipment that “fights back” as little as possible. That means I start out with M leicas… Simple as that, as I am a simple guy, to start with…

Mahendra Kumar Naidu October 24, 2013 at 11:56 am

Very Nice Illustrations. Even I was looking for good range finder cameras. After a thorough search for 4 weeks the conclusions are as listed by Bellamy.
The description, highlight on the rangefinder seems to be complete with detailed info to the camera enthusiast.

Atticus October 30, 2014 at 4:18 am

I am planning on buying a 35mm rangefinder, and I am a bit frustrated with my options. I want something sturdy, something with a quiet shutter, and something that has a 35mm lens available. My budget is $1200, and I plan to make the purchase next January. I have looked into the Contax, Canon 7S, and Leica M3. If I manage to find one I can afford, then it is an issue of finding one available. Any advice?


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