Finding the magic of rangefinders...

My first two film cameras were SLR cameras. The first, a Pentax K1000 was given to me as a gift from my friend John. It had been his in Highschool and he noticed my enthusiasm for photography, so he gave it as a gift shortly before a cross country road trip with a 50mm and a zoom lens - plus two rolls of monochrome film. The meter was broken and I didn't know much about the exposure triangle at the time. The film was developed and accidentally given to my friend and client when they picked up some digital photography prints. They still have the film and for some strange reason the photo lab (who will remain nameless) didn't bother to send me the digital files, but was happy to charge my client $50 and hand them a small box with a developed roll of film in it. I have no idea if my photos of the Grand Teton's came out on that 20 year old film or not. I digress. I later picked up an OM1, the Olympus legendary flagship camera. I loved it. It seemed to live up to the reputation of being a nearly invincible adventurers camera.

Unfortunately SLR's are a bit heavy, big compared to other varieties of cameras and I found myself wanting to shoot film all the time, but not wanting to carry an SLR around.

I had picked up a half frame Olympus Pen EES-2 and loved it. I took it everywhere and didn't have to worry about shooting too much since it takes small photos and you get 72 shots out of a 36 frame roll. While shooting snapshots was fun, I needed to grow as a photographer, have some control over depth of field, shutter speed and focus. If you're new to photography, this article explains depth of field much better than I can.

I had enough experience to roughly understand the basics and had heard about "Rangefinders". My gripe with the Olympus Pen EES-2 was that it had a window to view approximately what I was shooting, but no way to tell if I was focused correctly other than some numbers and symbols on the lens focus ring. This type of focus is called "Zone-Focus". You have an approximate guess, say 2 meters or about 6-7 feet based on the number or a symbol of 2 people on the focus ring. But what if you forget that you focused further or closer on your last shot and didn't adjust the focus. Now the shot will be blurry. Enter the rangefinder camera to the rescue. Like my little half frame camera, a rangefinder does not show what the lens is seeing, but instead a window to what the framed subject will be. But there's an added feature. A small yellow transparent square in the window that creates a second image. As you turn the focus ring, the proper focus point will align the yellow square image to the actual subject in the viewfinder, guaranteeing proper focus. Sans blurry shots!

After some research, I came across camera legend Ken Rockwell's post on the Olympus 35RC and was sold. Over 2 years and several cameras later, I've come to understand why the camera is so revered in this review:

It took a while to find one within budget. I'm not too cheap, but a bit picky. I found many that did not have a working light meter, so the camera would have to be manually set to the proper shutter and aperture for proper exposure. No thanks! Patience lead me to the Olympus 35 RC that I currently have. It was fantastic. And then I dropped it. Hard. The sensor wire came loose and the light meter no longer worked after the first week. I shot a roll of Ilford400 through it and just guessed the manual settings. In Ken's review, he mentions that the lens is a perfect 42mm, and I found that his points were true. The lens has no distortion. It's very precise and even after dropping the camera, the focus worked great. Here's some unedited examples.

A great feature of the 35rc is the ability to manually adjust focus and shutter speed, so if the meter breaks (which it won't if you don't drop it!) or the battery goes dead, you can still finish the roll.

I still have my 35rc, the first of several rangefinders. The lens is so good, it fits in my jacket pocket, and still works despite being dropped.

Do you prefer SLR, Zone focus, or rangefinders? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading,


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