you a Leica-sophist? If this ruffles your feathers, you are probably on
the way to recovery.
Does a rangefinder
camera make you a better photographer?
a word, no. I
have heard a lot of people, including several I respect very much, make
the somewhat extravagant claim that a Leica or some other 35mm rangefinder
camera makes better pictures, frees you up to be creative, allows you
to "see" the subject, makes focusing easier, etc. There is only
one adequate response to that: bullshit. You ability to make good photographs
comes from within the powers of composition and visual discrimination
that make good pictures don't depend on whether or not you are holding
a box that says Leica, Voigtlander or Konica rather than a differently-shaped
one that says Nikon, Canon or Contax. Those powers are within you. Maybe
a rangefinder brings you confidence, like a pair of Johnston & Murphy
shoes at an interview, but it doesn't make you any better at making pictures.
This section will
not address the use of rangefinders in medium fomat, where there are other
reasons to use such a mechanism, as in avoiding the use of huge reflex
are a few of my favorites, pulled from the sophisms repeated through the
find it easier to compose with a rangefinder."
comes when you are composing using space and selective focus, both critical
to portraiture. Using a rangefinder to focus a lens that has a thin
plane of focus or tends to exaggerate space is sheer masochism, because
a rangefinder presents an aerial image that always shows the same space.
Once you hit about 90mm, or f/1.2, whichever comes first, you should
be using an SLR, so you can see exactly what's in focus and what's out.
When you are using a superwide, you might also use an SLR to see the
spatial arrangement of the pieces.
outside the framelines really helps."
It is true
that with a rangefinder, you can typically see an area outside the framelines.
Rangefinders suffer from parallax error (even when they are "parallax
corrected). The field size they shows is often much smaller than the
actual frame, with an error of up to 15% (oddly, the dime-a-dozen cheap
rangefinder cameras often have field correction). That means that you
can get quite a bit more than you bargained for in the frame, which
is sometimes unpleasant in a format like 35mm, where it's often impractical
to grab one-half of a frame and enlarge it.
cameras are smaller and more concealable."
true when the alternatives were the Home Portrait Graflex, the Speed
Graphic and the Nikon Photomic. Traditional-style LTM cameras are small,
but their size is more than made up for by their sheer inconvenience
and squinty finders. A Leica M3 is no smaller than a modern SLR, and
a lot heavier. They may be easy to conceal if you're a big guy...
are soooo quiet."
sure how this one started. In the 1950s, when it was a world of Leica,
Contax and Rollei, the Rolleiflex was the quietest camera (in fact,
leaf shutters are almost universally quieter than Leica-type focal-plane
shutters). Perhaps it was in the 1970s when you had mirror slap and
the Copal Square S metal shutter. But it is not the case now. Today,
a Leica is more quiet than a loud motorized SLR, but it is a lot louder
than a Contax T or a Hexar autofocus model. In fact, it is even louder
than some cheapo p/s cameras.
operation is so simple, it frees me up to be creative."
that most people who write this would probably never own a Pentax K1000,
but the metering on the Leica M6 and the Cosina Bessa-R is identical.
I never liked the Pentax K1000 because the match-needle metering was
useless in a crunch - where you have about 1/4 sec to figure out how
to change *a* parameter. The first thing you always reached for was
the aperture dial, because you didn't need to take your eye away to
do it. SLRs started coming out with aperture-based autoexposure to allow
you to preserve your aperture selection instead of resorting to changing
it first in a hurry. The invention of needle-based and LED-based shutter
speed scales allows you to see the contrast range of a scene in ways
that you can't with match-diode metering.
make this statement in reference to the meterless cameras of yore may
also think that a Model T frees you up to enjoy driving more, because
automation like an electric starter takes away from the fundamental
experience of driving.
focus more accurately."
true, to a point - but to be true, the rangefinder mechanism in the
camera has to be aligned perfectly (vertically and horizontally), you
have to be able to see clearly, and your lens needs to be 90mm or shorter.
Even then, as noted above, you lose focus as a predictable compositional
element. SLRs also let you see the depth of field in a lens wide-open,
which can be more effective than trying to figure it out using a distance
scale on the lens. They also allow you to detect and compensate for
bad lenses sometimes because you will see them not focusing. That is
not the case with RFs, where you often find out about these problems
the hard way.
not hard to bottom-load a Leica once you get used to it."
As Sir Winston
Churchill said in relation to the abolition of grog and the Navy's protest
that it was tradition, "Tradition? Rum, sodomy and the lash."
I learned how to
load and unload my M3 after many false starts. It is not convenient,
no matter how well you know it. I have looked at a lot of pressure plates,
some of which are as big as Leica's even on rapid-load,
motor-driven cameras and no one has ever been able to articulate
why Leicas can't be made to load through other than via a $246 removable
baseplate. I really don't like putting parts of my camera in my mouth
to load a roll of film. The thing that makes it even more unpleasant
is that even my Fuji 690 has a swing back and is easier to load
and with 120 rollfilm yet!
have less camera shake."
an argument that is very hard to evaluate in practice. Many people seem
to believe that you can handhold a rangefinder camera at much slower
speeds, because there is no mirror mechanism or autodiaphragm mechanism
to introduce additional moving parts. The theory is simple Newtownian
physics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It is a reasonable
As a generalization
made about rangefinders vs. SLRs, though, I think this is a fallacy
which persists because there is no really good way to measure shake.
Any tripod suitable for a resolution test will have sufficient mass
to make the moving mass of a mirror no less significant than an earthquake
in Japan when you are living in Denver. Leicas are also far heavier
than modern SLRs, so it is easier to keep them steady (when you are
fighting your own ability to keep the camera still, the heavier the
camera, the less effect your involuntary movements have. It is probably
true that you can hold a Leica steadier than a low-end SLR, just as
a function of weight. That's why I would love to see a comparison of
camera shake involving a Voigtlander Bessa R and a Nikon FM-10 (as close
as you can get to bodies which are identical except for the viewfinder
system). If I had to speculate, I would guess that you would see the
same shake in both.
In reality, camera
shake depends on a lot of things, not the least of which are: mass of
the camera, mass of the moving parts, steadiness of the operator, magnification
of the lens, and relationship between operation of the moving parts
and the exposure. In addition, some SLRs have mirror-counterbalancing
mechanisms which cancel any equal and opposite reactions from the mirror.
So be circumspect about what you are comparing.
you close your eyes and pick up the Leica and the Hexar several times,
the difference in feeling and haptics emerges. When you hold the Leica,
your thumb slides behind the advance lever and your finger lays on the
shutter release button, which is sharp as a trigger. This simple and intuitive
act signifies to the brain a state of alert attention and you fall into
the mood of a hunter or an active sportsperson anticipating the moves
of the other players. When holding the Hexar, both hands hold the body
and wen your finger touches the release button, there is no trigger effect.
The finger just rests there and you do not get any feedback from the body.
So you switch almost automatically into a more passive state of mind and
allow the camera to work for you. That is easy to do as the automatic
functions of the camera (exposure, film transport, motorwinder) are so
well executed that you start to rely on them and even transfer control
to them. In fact you are starting to become an operator of the camera,
adjusting the wheels and not the driver who forces the camera to do as
he wants it to act."
The above-statement was written by a noted Leica expert in relation
to two cameras that take the same lenses and have exactly the same type
viewfinder and focusing. Personally, I would like to see the EEGs of
people using Leicas and Hexar RFs before I swallow a statement like
that. While the writer is normally very organized and scientific in
his methods, I can't help but conclude that this statement is probably
the clearest proof that Leica (Leica, not other brands of similar equiment)
is a religion. Isn't a camera supposed to work for you?! Ifyou
want to talk haptics and concentration, there is nothing that breaks
the concentration of a left-eyed shooter faster than putting you right
thumb in your right eye while winding an M3. Talk about tactile. I'd
rather take the shot and forget about the "experience" of
taking the picture.
why use a rangefinder?
I think there are a few compelling things about rangefinders, and
all but one are related to the subjective qualities of optics.
wide-angle lenses like the 21/3.4 Super Angulon, the 35/2 Summicron and
the 21/2.8 Kobalux. There is no question that symmetrical rangefinder
lenses outshine retrofocus SLR versions in distortion and resolution.
They're also smaller front-to-back. You can get teeny 28s, for example,
that make a rangefinder camera pocketable. Retrofocus design (which underlies
SLR wideangles) also works better for rangefinder wideangle lenses (as
it does in the new Cosina lenses), because with rangefinders it is used
to increase the number of lens elements to improve correction rather than
being used to radically increase the backfocus distance to clear a 45mm-deep
well-defined optical fingerprints. These are the 50mm Sonnar-type lenses
which could never be made for an SLR due to back-focus constraints. All
modern SLR 50mm lenses are planar-type. With a lot of modern lenses you
lose bokeh and highlight separation.
lenses no one wants to make anymore. These include Ernostars, Sonnars
and Tessars. Again, these have the highlight separation that works well
for people's faces.
Lenses that are tough to get running with a modern body. The first version
105/2.5 Nikkor SLR lens requires an older Nikon F body with no AE, or
a disfiguring modification to work with AI meters. By contrast, the 1954
105/2.5 Nikkor rangefinder lens can be put on an autoexposure Hexar RF
made in 2001 and used like any modern lens.
with your gut.
Ultimately, you are the person who chooses your tools. Think carefully.
In the end, the experience of the camera makes no difference, nor does
its make or model. It is only the image you create with it.