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Monday, January 17, 2011

Rangefinder Cameras

New Toy
© 2011 Simon Hucko

In keeping with my goal to shoot more film this year, I used some Christmas money to buy a Canonet QL17 G-III rangefinder. The Canonet falls into the category of compact 35mm rangefinders which were popular during the 70's. Most of these cameras can be found on eBay for around $40. Beware that at that price you may have to do some maintenance to the camera (especially changing old light seals and cleaning the rangefinder). Not terribly difficult, but if you don't trust yourself you can pay more for a CLA'd model that should work great for you. (CLA = Clean Lubricate and Adjust, standard parlance for a camera tune-up.) After some research on the different cameras available, I settled on the Canonet as the best bang for the buck.

So why a rangefinder? The main reason is that I was curious. There's a lot of talk about rangefinders, especially in the street photography crowd (Leica being the ultimate "street" camera), so I wanted to give it a try and see how they differed from a SLR. I figured it would be a good fit for my laundromat documentary project, as that will probably have a bit of a "street" vibe to it. Another big reason I got the Canonet is the compact size and all-mechanical operation. This will be a very easy camera to carry around anywhere, and the nice fast 40mm f/1.7 lens means it will be great for indoor gatherings (parties, family dinners, nights out at the bar). The Canonet is basically my 35mm point n shoot - while I do have to make a few decisions and focus manually, it's quite quick and easy to operate and should hold up better than the plastic pieces of crap that litter Goodwill sales bins all across the country.

Last week I loaded a test roll of Kodak Gold 200 into it and blew through 24 frames during a walk around campus. While using the camera and after seeing the results, I realized that there was going to be a bit of a learning curve for me. Rangefinder focusing isn't intuitive for me yet, so it would take me a second to process what I was looking at and focus. That should get better with a little practice. The lens is also fairly wide (40mm), and after looking through my photos I realized that I wasn't nearly close enough when trying to photograph people. This should be easier when shooting friends and family, but it's something I will have to come to terms with if I want to shoot strangers. It was also a weird experience to be so disconnected from the lens, and I found that my framing suffered several times because of it. Finally, scanning 35mm film (especially color) is not so easy. I had a hard time getting good color from my scans, and the sharpness and detail of the scan sucked. Scanning is something I have very little experience with, so I have a long way to go there.

My next roll through the Canonet will be black and white. Looking forward to processing that myself. Hopefully the scanning will go better, too. I'll try to document the process and write about it here.

I found this video that talks a bit about rangefinders and simulates focusing with one. The guy even has a Canonet. It's a little weird, especially toward the end, but it should give you an idea of what handling and using one of these cameras is like.


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