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How-to's Camera Reviews

FAQ - What Camera to Buy?

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

Keywords: nikon, camera, bodies, faq, film

Page 10/12 show all pages

The 35mm rangefinder manual focus cameras were what the pros used before the advent of the SLR. We the amateurs, either had box or rangefinder folding cameras such as the Voigtländer, Retina and the like. Legendary names are Leica, Contax and Nikon. Legendary not just because of the precise mechanisms but also due to the magnificent interchangeable lenses produced for these beauties both by Leitz, Zeiss and then Nikon.

Click to see a larger photo of the S3 2000

 1958 Nikon S3 rangefinder camera, offered again as a limited edition


Today, a retro craze seems to continue on and Voigtländer offers the Bessa R, Leica the M7, Contax the G1 and G2 and Nikon reintroduced the S3; even Konica entered the market with the Hexar RF. The rangefinders have no moving mirror so they have thinner smaller bodies, are less prone to vibration and produce less noise, therefore allowing for sharper handheld pictures and less obtrusive shooting.






See it at B&H Photo and Video


Leica M7 - more info at leica-camera.com

Nikon S3
Leica M7
Behind the scenes, almost discretely, the news of a rebirth of the famous S3 rangefinder camera slowly came out and were finally confirmed. It came back to market in a limited edition. Based on the 1958 model with minor cosmetic changes: frame counter has 24 and 36 marked instead of the old 20 and 36; the film speed reminder was modernized to read ISO instead of ASA. Production numbers are still a mystery but well founded rumors talk from no more than 3,000 cameras made. When introduced in 1958, it was offering the largest lens range of any 35mm rangefinder system, from the 21mm f/4 to the 1000mm f/6.3; it also offered a macro lens, the 50mm f/3.5. It was typically sold with the 50mm f/1.4 and the 80mm f/2, which had caused quite a stir in the photographic world of the Korean war era. A great buy both for the user and the collector. 
The Leica is the cult star. The preferred jewel of the professional photojournalists, from the time Oskar Barnack designed it in 1914 to 1959 (when the Nikon F was introduced) and even beyond. The latest model, the Leica M7 is for many the epitome of classic, timeless elegance, not just a piece of high precision technology, at this time integrating modern electronics with the well proven mechanics. With great, razor sharp Leitz lenses, Leica helped make the images we cherished or cried over, specially those of the Korean war. Although in the 50's they were replaced with Nikon lenses, those Leitz ones were and are a true marvel. Viewfinders show less than 1x the image (0.58X, 0.75x, or 0,85x) but not only you get used to that, you may even learn to shoot from the hip. Or you can buy the new 1.25X viewfinder magnifier. All of the above of course, if budget is no object.
Konica Hexar RF

Check it out at B&H

Konica Hexar RF
Voigtländer Bessa R
With Leica bayonet type mount, rugged and beautifully manufactured, the Hexar RF adds a built in 2.5 fps motor plus auto rewind, auto loading, auto exposure and DX.  Shutter speeds from 16 to 1/4000 sec. It has an aluminum die cast body and a titanium shell.
Auto and manual metering, manual winding and rewinding; manual everything. Old Leica type screw lens mount. Three M-Hexanon lenses were designed for this camera: the 28mm f/2.8, the 50mm f/2 and the 90mm f/2.8. Beautifully made in Japan by Cosina. Other models are the L and T.

Check current prices at B & H


Current price? Check it at B&H

Contax G1
Contax G2
With a titanium cover, bottom and sides, the Contax G1 is an excellent choice for an interchangeable lens, AF and manual rangefinder camera. It combines the flexibility of an TTL metering SLR camera with the portability and ease of use of a compact camera. Shutter speeds from 16 to 1/2000 sec. The lenses are from Carl Zeiss and their performance is naturally superb. A zooming viewfinder provides an appropriate view for any installed lens.
The G2 is the Contax AF and manual rangefinder flagship with TTL exposure metering. It adds a four frame per second integrated motor drive, top shutter speeds of up to 1/6000 second, X sync at 1/200 second. The Carl Zeiss T lens line is now extended from the 18mm f/8 Hologon to the Sonnar 90mm f/2.8, enhanced with the addition of the Biogon 21mm f/2.8 and the Planar 35mm f/2.0, plus the Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 35-70mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. 


35mm Rangefinder Recommendation:
  • As said before, no matter what, stay clear from APS, it is not 35mm. 
  • If you are casual photographer, get a compact 35mm Point & Shoot
  • If you want to get serious about it, buy a 35mm Single Lens Reflex
  • If you have the budget, like to feel in control and savor exquisite pieces of high tech machinery and optics, get a 35mm rangefinder camera like the ones shown above, although you will encounter a limited set of (superb and expensive) lens choices and not that many zoom lenses as of yet. 
  • Least WYSIWYG, but you may even learn to shoot from the hip. In terms of status, yes there are models that will enhance it: the Nikon S3 and the Leica M7 TTL; the Contax G2 and the Hasselblad Pan-X; even the Hexar RF. Bear in mind that a Leica M7 body or a Contax G2 body will cost you about the same as a Nikon F5 SLR body when not more. 
  • Which one is the best? The one you like the most will be the easier to learn to use well. Now, if you want superior negative's quality at all times, or are considering becoming a pro and/or have no serious budget constraints, go for the ...... Medium Format 
(3 Votes )
Page 10/12 show all pages

Originally written on May 21, 2002

Last updated on December 19, 2017

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza Garcia, Mexico
Admin, 42539 posts


Larry Jones (Larry443) on May 4, 2014

Outstanding! Thanks so much for the overview and the recommendations. I enjoyed reading about each class or group you presented. I especially liked your closing comment as that's what it's all about for me. Thanks again! Larry

Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on March 5, 2013

Very good points which we may check when we want to buy a new camera. Thanks.