Camera Geekery: Konica Hexar RF review
My good friend and passionate camera aficionado Dan K has put together a detailed and very informative review of this great camera. Read on and find out about the Hexar…
Konica Hexar RF Review
The Hexar RF is an advanced motor-driven M-mount camera body. I am lucky enough to have owned two of these excellent cameras and Bellamy has asked me to share my thoughts on them, both positive and negative.
I like the viewfinder. It’s good; it’s clear, moderately contrasty, easy to focus and is multicoated to reduce flare. I would describe it as being in the same league as a Leica M6/M7 or Zeiss Ikon ZM, but definitely not as good.
It has all the right framelines and I am told it even accepts Leica lens glasses. Framelines are 28+90, 50+75, 35+135. They are not labelled. The framelines can be a bit sticky. On mine, the 35 sometimes appears among the 50+57 framelines. A twiddle on the manual frameline selector is needed. The left side of the finder has a tendency to pick up light and can look a little like a 28mm line. Keep your wits about you when framing. I couldn’t care less, because I am in love with 28mm and that means I just fill the finder and press.
The viewfinder is acceptable (but not the best available) for glasses wearers. There is decent eye relief, but the finder is not as big and tolerant of eye positioning as the Zeiss Ikon, but then, neither is a Leica M.
For me, the best thing about the viewfinder is the motor drive. I know that sounds silly, but bear with me. Being left-eye dominant, I focus and frame with my left eye, and that means I often poke myself in the eye with either the lever tip or my thumb when advancing the film on a Leica M. On the Hexar RF, there is no lever and no problem.
The motor drive also contributes to stability. Regardless of which eye I use, the action of using a film advance lever jerks the camera a little between shots, whereas the Hexar RF remains steady. I have occasionally used the trick of shooting three continuous shots at low shutter speeds so that the middle photograph does not suffer from any movement from the depression of the button.
The limited 0.6x magnification is distracting if you are used to shooting with your right eye at the viewfinder and both eyes open. As I use my left eye, it is no problem for me and you can always close one eye. It’s perfect for this, as the leatherette is rubber, which is better wearing than the Zeiss Ikon ZM. I have a nose mark on my ZM.
It is potentially a bigger problem if you wish to use a lens with a razor-thin depth of field. The low magnification doesn’t help focus accuracy and the effective base length is 41.5mm, which is a little lower than a M7 or M6 .72, or a Zeiss Ikon ZM, but still better than the Leica M6 .58, Leica CL, Minolta CLE, and even the best of the Bessas, the Bessa R3. I am content using the Hexar RF a 35mm or 50mm f/2 at head and shoulder portrait distances.
One trick specific to the Hexar RF is focus bracketing. By shifting my body position by a few inches, I can rattle off three shots in continuous mode in a smidgeon over a second, preserving the framing. This would take care of any focus error with longer lenses wide open.
Having fallen in love with the Konica Hexar AF fixed lens compact for its super quiet shutter and winding, I had impossibly high expectations of the Hexar RF. In a quiet indoor environment, I find the motor to be screechingly loud, compared to the AF or any lever-advanced M-camera, but then I am hypersensitive to noise when I am taking candid photos. In truth, it’s no louder than most compact cameras and in a street environment, the high-pitched noise dissipates over a very short distance.
Loading and Rewinding
Loading and rewind is easy and efficient. The rewinding pauses for a second at the end to give you a chance to open the door and recover the cartridge with the leader still out. This gives you a chance to swap film, double expose and saves time if you develop your own film, all without requiring a film picker. Winding is very accurate. I am told the Hexar RF has an optical film position reader to advance precisely to frame zero. Rewinding can be paused mid-rewind by turning the camera off.
The camera has a centre-weighted SPD meter. Automatically selected shutter speeds are shown to the left of the finder. Some people consider this to be too bright, but it works for me even in low light. There is an exposure compensation warning, but it does not indicate the number of stops of correction in the finder.
Note that the tree does not indicate speeds under 1/4s, nor Bulb. These are shown as 1/4s.
In manual mode, the tree indicates both the selected and metered reading, which is very useful. It does not indicate current metered shutter speed in auto exposure lock.
Exposure compensation is available plus or minus two stops, in third stop increments.
Build Quality and Ergonomics
The Hexar RF is a quality camera. I’d place it in the same league as a late-model Leica. The moulded synthetic rubber grip is excellent. With a titanium shell, I’d have expected the camera to be lightweight. Instead, it’s heavy like a Leica M, rather than a Leica CL or Zeiss Ikon ZM. The mass gives the camera better balance with a larger lens, better hand-holding stability and less vibration sensitivity. At the same time, you won’t forget about it in your pocket, like I do with my ZM.
Whatever black paint they use is very durable. The Konica logo and film plane datum are cast into the titanium top plate, which is a nice touch, because it means they will not wear off like some more expensive cameras.
The ergonomics are good; better than my M4 and almost as good as my ZM. Getting to the shutter speed dial is a little hard with the right hand without shifting hand position away from the shutter release, but the shutter release, exposure compensation dial, and power off/drive mode lever are ideally located. The shutter release is a reliable short-travel dual-stage electrical contact.
It’s ultra-simple and intuitive to use. I doubt many second hand buyers spend any time looking for a manual. The only thing that is worth explaining is that while the camera has the ability to automatically read DX settings off the film cartridge, the auto-DX mode can be so hard to find that I didn’t realise it had DX for the first few rolls until I noticed the DX contacts in the film compartment. DX mode is hidden in the ASA setting window above (way above) 6400ASA. Follow the little arrows and keep turning. DX can be over-ridden by manually selecting a film speed. This is essential if you bulk-load film in cartridges that do not have the proper DX for your film.
The shutter speed dial has a lock button in its centre that prevents you from accidentally slipping out of AE/AEL modes. The dial will rotate throuh360 degrees, so you can quickly go from 1s or 1/4000s to AE. If you preset a shutter speed, the dial is unlikely to get knocked by accident.
Did you pick up on the 1/4000s top speed? That beats Leica by two stops. A Leica can only shoot at a maximum of f/5.6 with 100ASA film in bright sunlight without an ND filter. The Hexar RF will let you open up two more stops to f/2.8 without risk of losing detail in the highlights.
The electronic shutter is highly reliable at all speeds and not dependent on a regular tune up. That makes for a lower maintenance cost.
Much has been said about the supposed issue of Leica lens compatibility. Dante Stella went so far as to describe it as a holy war in his review. Suffice it to say that I have never noticed a problem with any Leica or other brand M-mount lenses and I don’t know anyone who has told me that they did either.
There is no TTL-flash. Sorry! Konica totally dropped the ball. Few people use a flash with an M-body though, and I have never seen someone with a flash of any type on a Hexar RF.
The bundled HX-18W (GN 18m at 100ASA) flash mounts in the standard hot shoe and is powerful enough for most purposes, and has a special pin that sets the camera to the maximum X-sync speed of 1/125s. The HX-18W is wide enough to cover all lenses to 28mm. The HX-18W has two aperture settings for auto-flash.
The manual states that alternate HX-14 (GN 14m at 100ASA) that came with the Hexar AF has one auto mode (F4) and a P.Full mode and will work with the Hexar RF. It also has the pin, but I have not tried mine on the Hexar RF and can’t say for sure if it’ll fully cover 28mm lenses.
Both flashes should be used in AE or AEL mode, or can be used manually with the the aperture set according to the guide number and distance.
Other manual or auto-flashes will also work, although I haven’t tested flashes with high trigger voltages. I am told the Konica auto-flashes will work on all Leicas before the M6-TTL.
This is the Hexar RF’s Achilles’ Heel. The camera takes two CR2 batteries and is dead without them. You can’t even rewind the film cartridge without power. To make it worse, CR2 is one of the more obscure batteries and it may be a struggle to find replacements in a hurry. At least they are still manufactured and sold, unlike the batteries for some cameras that I use. I recommend that you carry spares if travelling.
Thankfully battery life is very good, considering that it’s motor-driven. Batteries last for upwards of 100 rolls and there is a LCD display showing the battery status that shows even when the camera is switched off. The low battery warning is good for one more roll.
Other Useful Features
The Hexar RF has a cable release screw socket where you’d expect to find a PC socket. It’s worth noting that the cable release does not turn on the meter; use a half press of the electronic shutter release button for metering.
There is a self-timer mode; an LED is constant to indicate countdown has begun and then flashes for the last three seconds. The timer can be cancelled by turning the camera off. The battery powered Leica Ms lack a self-timer.
They also lack the Hexar RF’s film window, which can save an exposed roll of film or serve to remind you of the speed and type of the film you have loaded.
Who’s it for?
I think any rangefinder user would enjoy using a Hexar RF. For some people it is truly compelling.
If you are a left-eye’d photographer, have dexterity issues or have any other need of a motor drive, then this is the obvious and only choice. If you want to use an intervalometer, be it an audible signal, or a cable release, this is the only choice.
If you appreciate the comforts and features of a ‘modern’ camera such as a blisteringly high maximum shutter speed, aperture priority auto-exposure, and easy loading and rewind, then the Hexar RF is a top contender.
Above all, the Hexar RF is a user’s camera, not a camera to be dusted and packed away in a hermetically sealed dry box between CLAs.
However, let’s say your ideal camera is a Leica M3 or M4, a finely crafted old-school manual camera. The Hexar RF would compliment the Leica well because it does everything that an old-school camera does well, and many things that an old-school camera does not. However, I suspect that the Hexar RF may start to come out of the bag more and more and the M3 less and less. Indeed, a Leica M3 would make a swell backup camera to the Hexar RF, being both battery independent and possessing a long effective base length for the occasional shallow depth of field shot. At one point my second camera to my Hexar RF was another Hexar RF.
It’s important to be careful when buying this model. As an advanced camera that is highly dependent on electronics, there is a lot to go wrong and good luck finding replacement modules. This is not really the kind of camera that you should buy from eBay unless the seller is willing to represent that it is in 100% working condition and is willing to take returns.
All the usual caveats that apply to pre-purchase checking of second-hand rangefinders PLUS the checks you perform on compact cameras also apply. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, ask someone who does know to inspect it. In fact, this camera is exactly the kind of camera that you should buy through Bellamy.
There do appear to be some common faults peculiar to the Hexar RF. I have already mentioned the sticky framelines. One other thing to look out for is the viewfinder window. On one RF, the window was popped in. I didn’t drop or abuse it, I must have pressed lightly on it by accident. The rangefinder patch was also out of alignment, but it was like that before I noticed the front element had been pushed in. It was a simple and cheap fix to get put right, but I wouldn’t buy one that wasn’t right.
Another known issue is if the camera hasn’t been used for quite a while, sometimes the meter reading may become unstable. It should soon settle with use.
Check that the lens doesn’t focus past infinity.
The Hexar RF was a lot cheaper than the latest M6 when it was sold in stores. Today they sell second hand for not far off the price of an M6 and prices are stable to rising. I consider that it still offers good value for money. The silver 2001 Limited Edition of 2001 units is even harder to find and commands a significant price premium. Sold with Hexanon-M lenses, I personally think Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander glass offers better value for money, so you might want to go without the original lens. However, if you have a Limited Edition, do not split the kit; lens and body numbers were sold in matching pairs match and mis-matched pairs, or kits missing the box or box contents are worth less. I have never seen a Limited Hexar RF on the street, so I presume they are all shrink-wrapped and on display somewhere.
I have heard that there are 50 half frame cameras out there marked “Hexar 72”. If you see one, count yourself blessed.
You should buy this camera. It’s a cracker of an M-body and I consider it to be one of the best ever sold. I was so happy to buy this camera that I bought another and only reluctantly sold it to a keen photographer with sad puppy-dog eyes who wanted a back up to his other Hexar RF. He stroked it lovingly and all but called it his “Precious”.
As long as they’re working, Hexar RFs hold their value as well as, if not better than, Leicas, so if the novelty of the motor drive wears off, you can likely pass it on without loss.
Many thanks to Dan for sharing this frank and informative review with us. If you are looking for a Hexar RF then I can find one for you without any trouble.
Please mail me by clicking here and I will get back to you with the details.