Why are Rangefinders Preferred for Street Photography

Why are Rangefinders Preferred for Street Photography

What is a Rangefinder Camera in Photography

A rangefinder camera is a camera that is designed to be fitted with a rangefinder; a rangefinder allows a photographer to measure the distance to the target object using the rangefinder’s focus mechanism.

The whole point of the distance measurement aided by the focusing mechanism design is to help the photographer achieve photos with sharper focus.   

Typically, a rangefinder camera has a viewfinder where two images of the same object are displayed or shown on the viewfinder.

The rangefinder camera has a calibrated wheel feature design that is essential for a sharper focus. While the double image of the same subject is displayed on the viewfinder, the calibrated wheel is turned, once it has been turned, one of the images moves towards the other image and they infuse to become one image.

The distance to the object can only be read off the screen after this collision of the two images into one and the distance measurement essentially helps the photographer take clearer pictures. However, this feature is only available to more recent designs of rangefinder cameras.

Older versions of rangefinders do not necessarily have this feature, they are non-coupled rangefinder cameras, that is, the rangefinder is not fitted to the camera and they usually have the distance measurement and the focusing distance of the object displayed but the photographer would be needed to transfer all the details of the lens focus ring.

Cameras that do not have the fitted rangefinder feature design usually have their rangefinders fitted into an external spot. Some of these camera types even had separate rangefinder windows and a separate viewfinder. Future designs soon merged the rangefinder window into the viewfinder.

Even more amazing is that modern designs now have their rangefinders merged into the focus mechanism feature design to enable immediate and correct lens focusing when the double images of the same object are fused into one.                  

Advantage of Rangefinder Camera for Photography

Rangefinder cameras have a varied number of advantages over other camera types for street photography and we are going to go over some of them in this article. 

Rangefinder cameras have smaller and lighter lenses

Rangefinder cameras are often designed without the added extra weight of focus screens, flipping reflex mirrors, and prisms compared to other cameras. The lenses are often small because they are usually not designed with a flipping mirror.     

They have better wide-angle lenses

Rangefinder cameras are designed to have a range of wide, ultra-wide, and ultra-ultra-wide lenses. Rangefinder cameras have superior wide-angle lenses, comparative studies done between the cheapest rangefinder camera lenses and SLR most expensive lenses, usually found in the brands of Canon and Nikon are very wide apart that SLR lenses do even come close.

Makes less noise

Rangefinder cameras do not make the mirror flipping noise that is common with SLR cameras when taking any shot. The only noise rangefinders make is a low click shutter sound.

Amazing image quality

There are some feature design reasons why the rangefinder camera produces a higher quality image. With the absence of flipping mirrors in rangefinder cameras, the lenses have to be designed in a way that doesn’t take the back of the lens far away from the image plane in order to prevent it from hitting the mirror and this is an advantage it has over the SLR lens.

The wide-angle lenses allow the manufacturers of the lens to produce lenses whose back feature designs are brought closer to the image plane. This allows rangefinder camera lenses to be smaller, have much less distortion, and have sharper images in comparison to SLR lenses.

Also, the absence of flipping mirrors reduces the amount of vibration that blurs out hand-held images, unlike the SLR that blurs out shots taken on tripods at a speed of 1/30-1/8 unless a mirror lock-up is used.

No shutter lag

SLR cameras have to first get out the flipping mirror before the shutter can open, unlike rangefinder cameras that do not have flipping mirrors

Superior viewfinders

Rangefinder cameras have a very distinct advantage over SLR cameras. The viewfinders of rangefinders never blackouts in comparison to the SLR camera viewfinder that could blackout at a moment when you do not want it to the most.

Photograph with both eyes open

Rangefinder cameras with life-size finders such as Leica M3 and Nikon SP have the ability to focus and compose and shoot with the two eyes because the camera does not cover the left eye of the photographer. In comparison to other cameras, magnifying eyepieces have to be utilized or the photographer has to wait until the viewfinder reduces not to completely block out the other eye.

Dark passive focusing

Focusing with the least light possible is possible with rangefinder cameras. With these cameras, all you have to do is turn the focusing feature and the double images merge and a clear focus is achieved.                          

Even though the rangefinder camera has a lot of advantages over its counterparts, it also comes with certain disadvantages I will highlight below.

  • Rangefinder cameras need to be constantly serviced
  • It has poor focusing when using tele lenses
  • It has a focusing limit of about 0.6-1m or 2-3 feet  
  • Finder blockages

Rangefinders are ideal for;

  • Rangefinders are ideal for travel photography
  • They work great for nature and landscape photography or generally things that can hold still to a large extent
  • They are ideal if you require cameras and lenses that are typically lightweight and small in size
  • They are ideal when you need great image quality, most especially wide-angle photography

Street Photography

Street photography is an aspect of photography that seeks to shoot and capture the everyday routine of public locations. These shots are usually taken as Candid and the focus is mostly centered around public locations in urban landscapes.   

Now that we have an idea of what street photography is about, let’s look at how using rangefinder cameras would make you better at street photography, especially landscape photography.

Reasons why Using a Rangefinder will make you better at Street Photography

Some photographers have attested to the fact that rangefinders have helped them both in the artistic and technical aspects of photography. Some of the things you would learn include;

Master the basics of photography:

Photographers using rangefinder cameras have to work manually and they are often forced to learn about how the camera actually works. They have to learn about the aperture, the shutter speed, and the ISO. Rangefinder camera users are so familiar with exposure like their own names that they do not even need light meter gauges anymore. Essentially, rangefinder camera photographers are more in control of their camera because they have a better understanding of it.

More low-key:

Using a rangefinder camera for street photography is more discrete and less in people’s faces because the camera looks less imposing compared to DSLR cameras and they also have almost silent shutter sound. People usually tend to feel less threatened and intimidated when the camera looks less professional and bold.

Wider field of vision:    

One of the advantages of working with a rangefinder camera is that it offers the photographer a wider and brighter view of the focus point on the viewfinder. The photographer is also not restricted to just a scene of choice through the lens and this affords him or her a peripheral view. When framing a shot with a rangefinder camera, the photographer is opportune to a wider and fuller view in front of him.

More Keepers:

With rangefinder cameras, the keeper pile of photographers is much more compared to photographers who use DSLR cameras.

Shot anticipation:

Rangefinder camera photographers have grown to always manually focus their frames before taking the shoot. This helps them, in the long run, to help them anticipate their street photography shots.

Essentially, rangefinder cameras are important for street photography and they help photographers become better at their craft. In landscape photography, this camera type helps photographers see outside the frame and the accuracy of rangefinder cameras is simply amazing. The autofocus of a rangefinder camera with great quality and a long baseline focuses very accurately.   

Great examples of affordable Rangefinder Cameras you can use;

  • LEICA M3 of the LEICA rangefinder camera series is quite hands down the best camera ever made. The LEICA lenses are also very amazing and compatible. There is also another model called the M6 TTL
  • The Nikon S3 2000 rangefinder cameras
  • Konica Hexar rangefinder cameras
  • Hasselblad XPan
  • The Voigtländer Bessa has three rangefinder cameras in their lineups, the Bessa-L, Bessa-R, and the Bessa-T  
  • The Zeiss camera lenses are also a great buy
  • Japanese Voigtlander lenses
  • The Contax G System is also a great rangefinder camera that offers an amazing autofocus feature that photographers vie for
  • The Olympus 35 RC or the Olympus Trip 35 is another set of amazing choices for rangefinder cameras.   

Rangefinder cameras have a lot of advantages as I have explained to you but like I also mentioned, they have to be learned and like every other thing, practice makes perfect.