My Rangefinder vs. SLR experiment

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Max Cooper

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Hello APUGgers. I'm a long time Nikon user, but lately borrowed my dad's rangefinder and ended up embroiled in a photographic identity crisis. I never believed the hype until I tried it for myself, and now I believe at least some of the hype. In any event, I've been posting observations on my blog (starting here) as part of my Scan-A-Day project, and did some informal testing of the two camera systems and wrote up the results. Thought you might find it interesting:

Rangefinder vs. SLR

Thanks,
mc
 

Trask

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Max -- I enjoyed reading your various entries on the RF vs SLR issue. I've pretty much moved from SLRs to RF cameras myself in the past 15 years, as I find RFs easier to focus with my 58-year-old eyes -- not yet a factor for you. I also find the viewing quite different: with an SLR, I'm always aware that the blackness of the viewfinder is framing what will be the picture, so I'm thinking to myself "this is the picture." With an RF, I'm much more aware that the framelines are suggesting a picture that's part of a larger reality outside the intended photograph. This difference causes me to see my intended photographs a bit differently. Of course, for close-up or telephoto work, an SLR wins hands-down. FYI, I happen to own a Nikon S2, Konica IIIa and a Canon P, and I do find that a 1:1 viewfinder makes a small difference as on occasion I can keep both eyes open when shooting. The P is a brick, the S2 is beautiful, and the IIIa has a very very quiet shutter and great lens.
 

mjs

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I don't think it's an either-or situation. Each has strengths and weaknesses, some of which overlap and some which make one or the other a better choice in specific circumstances. I'm grateful that with the fall in prices in the past ten years, I can afford some of both!

Mike
 

Steve Roberts

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Interesting website, Max, and apart from the photographic aspects, I like the writing style. I've recently read Roger Hicks' book on rangefinder cameras. It covers elements of technique, history, collecting and just about everything. Like all of Roger's books it's a very entertaining and informative read. However, from the position of one who by my own admission has very little experience of rangefinder cameras (yet), I came out of the book unconvinced by many of the arguments in favour of RFs vs. SLRs. In the 1950s, size, weight and quietness might have been valid arguments as indeed may have been optic design, but with more modern SLR designs, the areas where rangefinders had the upper hand are perhaps less pronounced than they once were. Take, for instance, the Pentax MX, which is pretty small, pretty quiet, has some fine M-series lenses and neat split-image focussing on a bright screen - quite a package for a rangefinder to compete with. I'm also not at one with the rangefinder focussing by converging images that is supposedly so good in poor light. My two RFs are getting on a bit and I'm sure that their finders aren't as good as they once were, but without a good, sharp vertical edge to focus on, life gets hard, whereas with the SLR there's often the choice of the split image, microprism and ground glass focussing all on the same screen. Another argument by the RF proponents is the non-loss of viewfinder image during the exposure, but is that so much of an issue except in very long exposures where the subject may have moved? As for close-ups, long-focus lenses, parallax errors.....
Don't get me wrong - I admire rangefinders and hope to get a lot more use out of mine in a retro kind of way, but I regard them as "of their time" and see the pleasure to be gained from them in much the same way as the pleasure I get from driving an old car - the crankiness is part of the appeal!

Steve
 

steven_e007

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Personally I always much prefer using RF cameras. Smaller, lighter, quieter, big bright viewfinder, lovely!

Then I get the pictures back (or print them) and find I've often chopped people heads off or something, nothing is ever quite framed the way I was hoping...

Of course the very best RF might compensate for that, but not the ones I have...
 

Steve Roberts

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Then I get the pictures back (or print them) and find I've often chopped people heads off or something, nothing is ever quite framed the way I was hoping.....

I think those problems are common to all cameras/photographers at some time or other. The shots I've taken that look great in the viewfinder but thoroughly indifferent when I see the results are nobody's business!

Steve
 

Blacknoise

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Then I get the pictures back (or print them) and find I've often chopped people heads off or something, nothing is ever quite framed the way I was hoping...

I used to get that, but when you get used to it, its absolutely fine. I do tend to use the turret finder on my leica and Kiev, but this is mostly because it is more comfortable as I wear glasses. The turret finder does give you some paralax corection though, which is helpful for close ups. After shooting them for a few months, I got used to it, and now no more head chopping even with the Zorki! (shudder...)
 

CuS

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Very good read!

That said, I use my slrs (mostly an AE-1) and rangefinders (mostly a Bessa R3M) pretty equally. I love them (and all of their brothers and sisters equally).

One thing that the rangefinder has, in my mind, over my slr is the hand-held slow shutter speeds. This is especially true when I was to shoot very slow films (Fuji HRII @ ISO 6 and Kidak Ekta Dupe at ISO 25). I wouldn't even think to shoot these is my slr without a really bright day or with a tripod.

The rangefinder lets me shoot at 1/15 with a decent f-stop and I've even gone down to 1/8 sec at times when I really had to.
 

ntenny

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Very interesting article, and I think unusually well balanced in an area where religious wars are the norm. I confess to being quite surprised that the RF didn't show an obvious advantage in handholdability at slower speeds!

I find my aging eyes are more reliable with a rangefinder than judging focus in an SLR, and I like the compact nature of the RFs for travel purposes, but neither of those has anything to do with the technical capabilities of the respective systems.

-NT
 

Jeff Kubach

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Recently I've been using both, I enjoyed using the Rf and the SLR. Right now I can't make up my mind which I like better!

Jeff
 

Barry06GT

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Recently I've been using both, I enjoyed using the Rf and the SLR. Right now I can't make up my mind which I like better!

Jeff
.
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Do we need to choose one over the other?

Son or daughter, tabby or black and white, rangefinder or SLR, film or digital...oops, I went too far.
.
 

Joe Grodis

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Lately I've been growing more fond of the RF's. My Nikons are sitting in their bags while I tinker with my newly acquired Contax 3 and Mamiya 7. The more I use these RF the more I think WOW what a super piece of equipment. RF's both old and new are simply awesome. This Mamiya 7 is a super RF but it's rather hard on the wallet when it comes to glass. I often ponder what I'm going to buy next..... and.... I bet that Contax G1 and G2 are sweet!
 

Steve Roberts

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One thing that the rangefinder has, in my mind, over my slr is the hand-held slow shutter speeds. .

Interesting one - the chunky stability of a hefty SLR or the RF's lack of a mirror clunking up and down? All makes me want to get more experience with RFs!

Steve
 

mr rusty

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Sitting in my office loaded with film part shot I have: Kiev 4 with jupiter 8/ Ilford XP2, Retina iiiS with f28mm/Superia 200, OM1n currently with a f4 35-70 on it/Ilford XP2 and a minolta X300 with 50mm f1.7 and superia 200.

Says it all really. I pick up the camera I feel like using on the day! :tongue:
 
OP
OP

Max Cooper

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Hey guys, thanks for all the comments. I shot an event in a bar on election night and used an M2 . . . I'm still undecided. With some subjects, the advantages were very clear. With others, not so much. There wasn't really a time that I wished for my SLR, though.

I will say that I seemed to be able to hand hold the Leica much better than the Konia. Shooting 1/15 all night with little blur.
 

Bruce A Cahn

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Love them both. Currently when I shoot 35mm it is an M6 and a Nikon FM3 with Zeiss lenses.
 
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I´ve used Leicas for the last 20 years or so and the M6 and 4 for the last about 12y. My Nikons are just dustcollectors now a days since I find them just too bulky to bring them out. They´re not bad, just too big and very noisy. The mirror goes SMACK and the shutter CLONK and the F4 is about twice as big as the Leica M and...my back akes.
 

Joe Grodis

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I have a wide variety of cameras and I go through "phases" with all of them. Right now I'm deep in the rang finder phase but all summer I couldn't put down the F4 or F5. For me size and bulkiness doesn't bother me a bit if I really want to shoot with a particular camera. Last winter I was hauling my RB-67 up and down the river for winter scenery shots. I suppose when I don't shoot with a particular camera for a few months it feels like a new toy again when I get the urge to use it.
 

Tom Stanworth

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Both. If you are working in the sweet spot of either, neither will replace the other. Different beasts with their owns strengths and with the way I use them, limited overlap. I rarely use SLRs, but rarely use over 50mm. Now that I am shooting some portraits with a longer lens, I ordered a 85 for my Eos system because I feel this is SLR territory and I work more comfortably this way.
 

cbphoto

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One of the big things for me (I'm all RF now) was focus throw. My Leica lenses go from 3ft to infitity with a subtle finger motion, vs the long turning of an slr lens. For shooting people, I find this indispensable.
 

narsuitus

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Thank you for sharing your rangefinder vs. SLR experiment. I found it very interesting.

I shoot with both and love them both. When I shoot theatre, I use the SLR especially for the telephoto and wide shots and I use the rangefinder for the quiet scenes.

By the way, anyone with Ayn Rand on his library self is OK in my book.
 
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