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What Is A Rangefinder Camera?

A rangefinder camera has a range-finding focusing mechanism allowing the photographer to measure the subject distance and take photographs that are in sharp focus. This is what makes the rangefinder cameras popular among the passionate photographers — the focusing mechanism. The viewfinder of the rangefinder camera shows two images of the subject and as you go on rotating the focus wheel, one of the images moves closer to the other until the two images coincide and fuse into one. And this is how the rangefinder cameras get sharply focused images. Check out the beautiful images shot with Leica M9:

Sunset Glow

Rowing Through The Sunset

Under Construction


Sunset Meditation

Even though digital rangefinders have made their way, it is still film rangefinders that are the talk of the town even today. The nostalgic magic of film and an amazing focusing mechanism is enough to charm serious photographers. Rangefinders score over SLRs owing to the following reasons:

  • Better focusing system.
  • Higher image quality, especially when shooting with wide angle or normal lenses.
  • Ability to go wide — ultra-wide.
  • Smaller size and light weight construction.
  • No flipping mirror, thus no blackout while shooting.
  • Ability to shoot with both the eyes.

Having talked of all the advantages that you get with rangefinders, here are some of the fall backs of rangefinder cameras:

  1. Parallax Error: The viewfinder of a rangefinder camera is necessarily offset from the lens taking the photograph, thus the image shown is not exactly what will be recorded on the film. This parallax error is negligible at large subject distances, but increases as the distance decreases; as in the case of extreme close-ups. In contrast, ‘through the lens’ feature of the SLR eliminates the parallax error, thus allowing you to capture what you see.
  2. Not Suitable For Macro Shots: De facto with rangefinder cameras is that these cameras rarely focus closer than two or three feet. When you move closer to the subject, the viewfinder no longer points at the subject and you fail to get the intended picture. The camera however is good for theater photography, portraiture, action grabbing candid shots or for taking crisp and sharp street photos.
  3. Poor Focus With Tele Lenses: While its focusing mechanism is an advantage for wide-angle photography, the focusing gets less accurate for longer distances. Depending on the effective base-length of the model, its operating focal length is specified. Leica M6 for instance is designed to work with lenses no longer than 135 mm.

Still some photographers simply love rangefinders. Watch out this space for the reason — stacking them up against digital/SLRs.

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