Why did most war photographers during 1960s-1990s carry an SLR and a Rangefinder?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by PGraham3, Dec 17, 2017.

  1. PGraham3

    PGraham3 Subscriber

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    Howdy, APUG!
    Something I've always been curious about: Why did most war photographers during the 1960s-1990s carry and shoot with an SLR and a Rangefinder?

    After viewing many photos of photographers, and also from what I've seen in movies about photographers, I've seen many carrying both a rangefinder and an SLR, and it made me wonder, why? I may be opening up a discussion here that probably has been debated endlessly, but I just thought I'd like to read a new view on it. I've never shot with a Leica, but I have with a few decent rangefinders, and I didn't see a super overall difference with what a solid SLR with a fast lens can produce. So why carry both? I understand the glass-to-filmplane distance is shorter in a rangefinder, but does that truly make the difference in why one would carry both? What types of photos should one take with a rangefinder compared to an SLR?

    Lots of questions here. But I'm hoping to hear your opinions on the matter.
    Thanks so much!
    -Paul
     
  2. wy2l

    wy2l Member

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    Because a 8x10 view camera is difficult to use in combat conditions.
     
  3. Richard Man

    Richard Man Member

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    Very simple. RF excels with 21mm-50mm, quick grab shots. SLR excels with longer lens.
     
  4. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member

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    My guess - at least for the early 60's when SLRs were just beginning to take over, was because they most likely were comfortable with a rangefinder and getting familiar with SLRs. I would imagine that even given all the advantages of SLRs that having a known quantity in that situation was important until they got more acquainted with the new tools.
     
  5. mshchem

    mshchem Member

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    RF is awesome in low light. Focusing is very difficult with an SLR especially back then. Even in near dark you can focus a Leica You can hand hold a Leica with a bit of practice for much longer exposures in low light, and RF are nearly silent. I had some beautiful Leica stuff, silent and unobtrusive. I got to old to fiddle with it. I use D***** for low light. Shoot everything else medium format. I have beautiful Nikons F, F2, F3, F5 etc. I use the F5 some. Noisy as all get out. You really want to have people freak out open up on them at 11 frames per second with a DSLR, really tends to piss people off.
    My favorite Leica is the M6 ttl, but the M3 has the best finder. Nothing has a better split image rangefinder than a clean Leica M.
     
  6. Alan Gales

    Alan Gales Subscriber

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    Yeah, I don't think telling combat soldiers to be still while you shoot them would go over very well! :D
     
  7. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I never noticed that... but I have a thought.
    Back in the old days a person tended to have "one" good camera. Well, when SLR's came out, everyone had to get one. So now all of a sudden they had "two" good cameras... the new SLR and their trusted RF.
     
  8. narsuitus

    narsuitus Member

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    I cannot speak for war photographers, but I carried both because there were times when I needed the quiet operation of a rangefinder.
     
  9. DC Lohenstein

    DC Lohenstein Member

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    They already had their Leicas. They were really expensive. They had to let them serviced which was expensive, too. So they felt elegiac throwing them into the bottom drawers. It's the same as with the VW cars.

    But there were these Nikons, too. Compare it to a Ford. They were cheap, they had a lot of system, they were reliable (more reliable than a Leica, as it is today, c.f. Leica M4 vs. Nikon FM2n). They were more comfortable (e.g. better viewfinder without those tiny masks for tele lenses, film loading system, greater lens barrels, smoother grips), they had quite good lenses - you don't see any difference between Leica and Nikkor lenses when enlarging 10x15cm. And they could also be quiet (mirror lock up with F2). Wasn't it DDD who shot the Corea War with Nikon?

    Nikon initially produced good lenses. The photographers in Corea used them on their range finder cameras. Then they saw in the 1950ies that Nikon produced cameras, too. They gave them a try and Nikon was established in the USA. It took the F2 to establish Nikon in Europe, too.
     
  10. Richard Man

    Richard Man Member

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    Yes, DDD practically made Nikon famous by using the Nikkor lens on the Leica bodies.
     
  11. BrianVS

    BrianVS Member

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    I did a small write-up on the Nikkor lenses.

    https://www.leicaplace.com/threads/...ens-that-got-the-attention-of-the-world.1440/

    I have a book on Life Photographers, remember reading that photographers were issued an M3 and an F. Seem to remember that a wide was on the Leica, Telephoto on the F. I'll try to find the article.

    David Douglas Duncan used the Nikkor-SC 5cm F1.5 and Nikkor-Q 13.5cm F4 on his Leica IIIc. They were hard to find, production in Leica mount was ~300 5cm F1.5 and ~600 13.5cm F4.
     
  12. Neil Grant

    Neil Grant Member

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    ..there's a lot of mention of Leica and Nikon kit but, for my money, the most useful camera brand in a war zone is Cannon.
     
  13. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Leica cameras because you can see what's happening all the time at the primeters of the viewfinder, and as said better low light cpabilities. But others used Contax cameras and the newer Nikon lenses.

    Ian
     
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  15. guangong

    guangong Subscriber

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    Back then, I certainly didn’t consider a Nikon as particularly cheap. I remember buying one from Japan, where they were much cheaper than in the USA, and, if memory serves me right, it was about $189.00. These were pre-Jimmy Carter dollars, so we are talking real money. A new Leica cost more, but I don’t believe that decisions were based on the difference in price. Besides, the major news agencies had camera banks from which photographers could pick what they wanted to use.
     
  16. BrianVS

    BrianVS Member

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  17. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Subscriber

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    When in college I freelanced for a few small local newspapers, I carried a Pentax Spotmatic and Retina IIIC with a 35mm, later when as a working PJ in the 70s to early 80s a Nikon F, F2 and a Leica IIIG or Canon 7s, most often with a 28 or 35, with a 105 on the Nikon. Reasons as already stated, zooms were not very good and slow so 2 cameras one with a wide to normal and a SLR with a normal or tele. Also rangefinders were quieter, shooting inside like at a funeral a rangefinder was less disruptive. I preferred the Canon to the Leica, loading was much easier for me, the non TTL metering was handy. When I upgraded to the F3 I started to use a second SLR rather than the rangefinder. Most carried a second F body and lens, I found a FG with motor drive worked well for me, even the kit lens 35 to 70 was good enough for the papers. In today's world seems that mirrorless camera are taking the place of the rangefinder, not common but I do see PJs with a SLR and a mirrorless, not sure of the lens, short zoom or prime.
     
  18. voceumana

    voceumana Member

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    I don't know that most war photographers carried both--movies don't always accurately reflect what really took place. In the 1960's, the SLR was just coming into prominence, and the rangefinder cameras were known as rugged work horse type cameras that would keep working in tough conditions. Fast focusing, fast working, and quiet. Don't forget many of the early SLRs did NOT have instant-return mirrors.

    Later, when SLRs became prominent and proved their reliability they would have been useful for longer shots, and RFs would have kept all their advantages for other shots. Don't forget, too, that a rangefinder setup will be lighter in weight and smaller in size than a comparable SLR setup--often significantly especially in you don't need to have longer than 90 mm focal length.
     
  19. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    I can't speak for combat photographers. I started using Leica in 1953 and Nikon in 1967, often carrying both systems for several reasons. The Leica excels with wide angle lenses and in poor light. It handles better (to me) than Nikon. I could change shutter and aperture and even roughly focus without looking at the camera. Optics and durability were excellent. The Nikon system was more versatile. Lenses longer than 90mm worked better on Nikon. Through-the-lens metering on the early Nikons was accurate, but that finder was a monster. Nikon had a much better system for macro- and micro-photography than the cumbersome Leica RF system. Film changing in later Nikons was easier, although with practice it was easy enough with any Leica. By carrying both cameras, I could shoot both color and B&W. Where either camera would produce the same results, I preferred the Leica. My M4 bought in 1970 was still working the last time I used it, with never a malfunction. A few Nikons failed over several decades. The Nikkormat was a valuable addition to the Nikon line, but a bit awkward to use.
     
  20. OlyMan

    OlyMan Member

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    Because a pre-hyperfocussed rangefinder with fast film and a wide-angle lens is far quicker at taking grabshots than an SLR when you're being shot at. But if you need the ability to take a long telephoto image, rangefinders are beaten mercilessly by SLRs.
     
  21. cooltouch

    cooltouch Member

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    Yep! I'm assuming that wasn't a misspelling. :cool: 155mm Howitzer should get the job done nicely.
     
  22. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    But of course the war correspondents were buying while in Japan at much lower prices (as already mentioned)and it was the quality of the optics for the Contax/Nikon SP that launched the Nikon F as the de facto pro SLR.

    Ian
     
  23. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    The rangefinder cameras were compact, well built and reliable. SLRs were coming of age. SLR allowed knowing what was in focus and both wider and longer focal lengths but the reliability was not high enough during the transition period.
     
  24. Nodda Duma

    Nodda Duma Subscriber

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    Lol

    IYAOYAS
     
  25. Neil Grant

    Neil Grant Member

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    ...spelt the other way, I think the humour would still have worked. Seems wasted on most people though, with only a couple appreciating it. Such a serious bunch!
     
  26. summicron1

    summicron1 Subscriber

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    looks to me as if everyone's answered -- if you look at photos of pulitzer-winnrs in Vietnam they typically had a Leica and a Nikon around their neck, the Leica usually with a wide-angle lens, the nikon with a normal or tele ... as a consistent Leica user myself, I know they're smaller and lighter and when you are out humping it with the troops, small and light counts for a lot.

    interestingly, no matter which brand they carried, it is interesting to see how basic their gear was -- when a chopper went down with one fotog, the ap had to send a memo listing the gear that was lost (along with the fotog) -- no zoom lens, nothing fancy -- a 135, a 35, a normal, that was about it, for the guys who got all those amazing shots.

    f8 and be there, still the best gear around.
     
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