Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Favorite 35mm Rangefinder Cameras

A black Leica M4 or M2 is in my wish list ever since I went back to using film early last year. I can’t afford or justify the big expense of buying these classics just yet so I’ve been buying a poor man’s substitute for them ever since. So far, I had acquired a small collection of various models of vintage rangefinder cameras.
Come to think of it, if I had saved my money instead I could have gotten my dream M4 or M2 by now, but I don’t think I would have gotten more fun. Each of my vintage rangefinders have their own quirks and characters. I think just using them had enhanced my photographic skill and technique.
Regretfully I haven’t been using all of them as much as I want to. Recently, however, I found that I have three favorite cameras that I use more often.

The first one is a Leica IIF, an older and less expensive sibling of the M series. Designed by Oscar Barnack, the innovator of the 35mm rangefinder camera format, this is the type of camera that made Leica a legend. It has interchangeable screw mount lens, separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows. It is a small and compact camera. I use it with a collapsible Fed-50 f3.5 or Jupiter-12 35mm f2.8 lenses borrowed from my Fed-1 camera (Soviet copy of the Leica II).

Leica IIF

Sample shots

The Last Passengers

Roller Stroller

Music Lesson

Weeds & Metal

Canon P

For extensive shooting, my favorite is the Canon P ("Populaire") produced in Japan from 1958 to 1961. A camera that is also compatible with many Leica screw mount lenses. It has a big and very bright parallax corrected viewfinder with visible built in frames for the 35/50/100 lenses. Film loading with this camera is better and faster than the Leicas because of the hinged back.
My Canon P came with a 50mm f1.8 lens that is comparable with many Leica lenses in image quality and sharpness.

Sample shots



Inwood Park

Backyard Graveyard

Kodak Retina IIA

My next favorite is the Kodak Retina IIA (type 016), a very compact folding rangefinder camera made in Germany in the early 1950s. It has a fixed 6 element 50mm f2 Schneider Xenon lens that I find very sharp. This camera replaced my Leica IIF as my carry everywhere camera because of its folding design and compactness, very easy to carry in a coat pocket. The Xenon lens is also faster with the f2 largest aperture than the Fed-50 f3.5 lens.

Sample shots

The Bather


Bird House

See my other rangefinder cameras and photos taken with them.

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