Five great rangefinder cameras

SLRs may have the whizz-bang-flash of photography but there's a definite refined elegance of the rangefinder cameras. These snappers have been around for the best part of 100 years and there's something of a resurgence going on in look, as with the Olympus Pen EP-1, and even in true functionality as we've seen with the launch of the fully digital Leica M9 today.

There's more rangefinder cameras by more manufacturers still kicking about eBay and specialist shops than most other formats because of their eminently collectable looks and unique photographic results. So, if you're looking to pick one up, here are five, out of many fine examples, that we would recommend.

1. Contax G2

Type:
35mm film

Year introduced:
1996

Current price:
£495 with Zeiss Planar (2nd hand)


Contax G2
Manufactured by Kyocera, the Contax G series was designed to compete with Leica and pals when it was released with its own lens mount in 1995. There was initially some debate as to whether it was a true rangefinder camera as it uses both AF and electronic mechanism but it does, in fact, still employ the same genre-defining twin window technique of focus. All the same, once Carl Zeiss was on the case designing G-mount lenes, it didn't take long for the device to find a place in the hearts of photographers the world over. The 45mm Zeiss Planar has even gaining acclaim as the second sharpest lens ever. We could just have easily put the G1 in this list but you get the same performance with the later model plus a 4fps motor and shutter speeds up to 1/6000 of a second. Kyocera announced they would be ceasing all things Contax G in 2005 but, as with most rangefinders, a thriving internet community lives on.

2. Epson R-D1

Type:
Digital

Year introduced:
2004

Current price:
$2,653 (2nd hand)


Epson R-D1
The Epson R-D1 did two important things for the rangefinder. One was bringing the group into the world of digital photography and the other was to come in at around half the price of a Leica model. It was still prohibitively expensive for most people and even still now that it's out of production but it with the same M mount, it gave people the chance to use top quality lenses without quite the same financial outlay. It takes an SD card and displays all the shooting data on the back courtesy of some very neat servo-driven dials as designed by Seiko. The subsequent R-D1s brought arguably very little difference and, sadly, the most recently developed, the R-D1x, is only available in Japan for the equivalent of approximately £2,000.

3. Konica Hexar RF

Type:
35mm film

Year introduced:
1999

Current price:
$989 (2nd hand)


Konica Hexar
Very much modelled on the Leica M range, Konica essentially made a budget version for more casual photographers to enjoy. It's got Konica's bayonet KM mount which will work with the Leica lenses as well as the three specially made by the Japanese company. It shoots at up to 1/4000 of a second, features aperture-priority and AE lock, and can churn out 2.5fps in continuous mode. Sadly, like many of these machines, it's since ceased production but with Konica Minolta still going strong, there's always the chance of a retro edition.

4. Voigtlander Bessa R2A

Type:
35mm film

Year introduced:
2004

Current price:
£351


Voigtlander Bessa R2A
We could have picked any one of the Bessa range but what's best about the R2A is that you can still actually buy the thing and not for a crazy amount of money either. They also happen to use the M mount, so you can put all the megabucks you saved on avoiding the top end rangefinders into buying a beautiful lens to go with it. It's got an all manual focus for a proper old school feel but with auto-exposure setting to save you all the trouble of terrible prints while you get use to the thing. A good entry level model without having to risk the second hand market.

5. Leica M9

Type:
Digital

Year introduced:
2009

Current price:
£4850


Leica M9
It might be a little premature to have the M9 in this list but it's got so much going for it and you'd have to think that Leica learned from the mistakes on the M8. This is the company's latest go at a digital rangefinder and the first of its kind with a full-frame 24 x 36mm sensor. The sensor itself can detail up to 18 megapixels worth of information and was designed by Kodak to get the full 35mm size use out of the Leica lenses. The one piece magnesium alloy and brass chassis measures just 139 x 37 x 80mm and it offers up to 1/4000 sec shutter speeds. Fingers crossed but we could be looking at something special here.