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rangefinder camera

The Best Film Camera For Street Photography

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The Best Film Camera For Street Photography

Analog photography refers to photography using film film with a fully analog camera. Whilst it seems that the ubiquity and the huge amount of digital cameras has squeezed film photography out of relevance however the slow process of film photography is still dear to many street photographers even till this day. Famous names such as Bruce Gilden, Joey Meyerowitz, Louis Mendes , Trent Parke and Jamel Shabazz are all film shooters till this very day. It's the mystique and organic feel of the film look that these street photographers prefer over digital cameras.

For street photography, many photographers including myself love the rangefinder cameras simply because it is fast and being unobstrusive. The ability to zone focus is a huge plus point and the no frills operation makes it a joy to use. If I were to only choose one cameras, my pick would he the legendary Leica M5 and here's why .

 

1. It's a RANGEFINDER camera

Rangefinder camera has always been the camera of choice for street and war photographers due to it's compact size, extremely easy operation, amazing optics, fast focusing and the ability to do zone focus. With practice, zone focusing can be even faster than any of the auto focus out there in the market. For those who would like to further understand what is aRANGEFINDER Camera, you may check out my past article HERE.

 

2. Amazing ACCURATE METERING

Not many film cameras come equipped with spot metering and M5 is just one of it.  The M5 metering is certainly one of the best I have used to far. More accurate than most center weighted metered cameras such as the M6, M7 and alike. It never fails to produce amazing results in all lighting situation. This old school CDS cell meter may seem quirky in operation as it positioned right in front of the shutter curtain and it swings down once the shutter is depressed but it worked flawlessly.

image from:https://asingulareye.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/leica-m5-fabulous-or-failure/

image from:https://asingulareye.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/leica-m5-fabulous-or-failure/

 

3. ERGONOMIC

I often say the M5 is a user camera even though it is not much of a looker ( for some ). The layout of the buttons are so strategically placed. The ISO button is positioned on the top plate which gives the photographer a good reminder which ISO they are working with and for easy adjustment. The huge shutter speed dial which over hangs a little on the edge of the top plate enable the photographer to adjust with just one finger with ease. Also due to the slightly larger and heavier body, it balanced off with heavy lenses such as the Summilux and Noctilux really well.

 

4. Amazing VIEWFINDER

Looking through the finder, you will see the shutter speed visible in the lower portion of the finder, and to the right of that a horizontal bar. I have not seen any full mechanical rangefinder camerathat has this function ! Hence the photographer can see the shutter speed setting without lifting the eye from the finder. This may seem like a norm in the modern digital cameras but not for a cameras which was designed back in the 19971.  For metering, the two meter needles intersect that bar, one is controlled by the ASA dial and one is controlled by the light intensity.  Adjust shutter speed or f/stop until the three bars intersect. It may sound rather complex but it's a lot easier in real life operation. Also not to mention that the viewfinder is totally flare proof. The M6

Leica M5

5. It has a BATTERY CHECK FUNCTION

You wouldn't want to caught off guard without battery on critical moments. The frame line selector lever when pushed to the right indicates the current battery level on the viewfinder. Like all of the Ms, the M5 can still operate even without battery.

 

6. Affordable PRICE

As compared to all the German made rangefinder cameras such as the Leica M as well as the Zeiss Ikon , the M5 price is often lower then most of the M series cameras. Being plague by the ugly duckling syndrome and it's non-conforming to the traditional Leica look, most cameras collectors avoid this camera like a plague hence making it still very affordable. A good used copy will set you back around USD 800 while the M6 would be around USD1300 and above. For the price I think it's an amazing value for a fully hand assembled cameras with such an amazing history.

 

Below are some images taken with the M5 on various lighting condition

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Which Film Camera to buy for beginners ?

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Which Film Camera to buy for beginners ?

So many film cameras in the market, which one should you buy ? Here are some tips for those who is starting out :

1. Keep it simple - The simpler film camera is , the less likely the camera will fail. Even if it fails, it would be easier and cheaper to repair. One have to consider the age of these film cameras could be as old as your parents A Leica M3 would probably be around 65 years old by now. I would suggest to get a camera with full mechanical function which does not rely on battery to operate.

2. Work within your budget - There is a huge range of film cameras in the market and their price varies from USD 40 all the way to USD 40k depending on the brand , rarity and condition. The Nikon FM or FE2 , Canon Canonet, Olympus 35SP, Yashica 124G, Minolta Autocord and Asahi Pentax are pretty affordable for newbies.

3. Type of cameras, Rangefinder or SLR - This depends on your shooting style. I would suggest rangefinder style camera if you love to shoot streets, travel and journalistic as rangefinder is more suited for the wide to mid range zoom lenses. The size is compact , less obtrusive and usually very light. Go for SLR if you love doing portrait , macro, sports or wildlife. What about TLRs you may asked ...well I wouldn't recommend it as your first camera as the number of shots per roll is a lot less as it is a medium format camera. You will only get 12 exposures for roll of film hence make your learning curve a lot more expensive.

3. Keep it small - There is a saying ' The best camera is the one with you ! '. I would suggest to start out with a camera which is small and portable so you would use it more. We understand that huge and bulky cameras such as the Hasselblad  500cm and Mamiya RZ67 looks uber cool but it require quite a bit of muscle to lug it around. It certainly not an everyday camera for you to learn. First the number of exposures are greatly reduced ( the Hassie 500cm only clocks 12 shots ) , the processing fee is pretty much the same hence the cost per shot is a lot higher !

4. Availability of film format and place to process the negatives - Through out the years many film format has already been discontinued. Hence if you found a camera with the below format kindly avoid them at all cost unless it plan to keep the camera as a paper weight or a display item - 220 ( discontinued ) , large format 4 x 5 and 8 x 10

5. BATTERY type - Many of the older film cameras out there uses mercury battery which is no longer in production. Always check if there is a replacement / substitute battery which you could use. If not it would be pointless to own a camera which you can't operate unless you are a camera collector.

 

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Leica M3 Review

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The Leica M3 is one amazing camera and I absolutely love it to the max. I had this camera for almost 2 years now right after I bought my Leica M2. I have always loved the design and built  of the film Leica cameras particularly those made in the  early 50’s till early 70’s.The built quality and use of materials are impeccable which explains why it still look pretty darn good after 50 over years. The finish is flawless even till today and it has the smoothest film advance I have ever come upon on a film camera. It feels like it’s running on a layer of butter !

The M3 is the first M series ever produced by Leica in Solms, Germany back in 1954. Equipped with a bright 0.92x viewfinder, 3 frames lines ( 50, 90 and 135 ), a self timer and 1/1000th sec shutter speed is all the features there is in this camera. Pure simplicity and only the essentials. What I love most about this camera ( besides it’s look ) is the viewfinder. It has the clearest and highest magnification viewfinder among all the M series and best of all it’s flare resistant ! The newer M6 classic, M6 TTL and M7 are prone to flare which makes focusing really difficult when shooting against strong lights. Only the recent Leica MP has flare proof RF like the M3. As I love shooting against back light , this is a truly a blessing. 

The 50mm frame is permanently visible, with broad white lines and rounded corners.
The 90 and 135mm frames pop up when the corresponding lens is inserted. Very clever and first in it's class back in that era. 

If there is a need to use 35mm or wider lenses, the M3 with its basically 50mm viewfinder is handicapped and it’s almost impossible to guess the exact frame lines. The only way would be to use the Leica 35mm with auxiliary reducing goggles or an additional 35mm view finder attached to the camera hot shoe. Easy fix indeed.  

There are many variants of M3 in the market due to it's long production life , hence the serial number is the easiest way to gauge which version you are having. Older M3’s adopted the continental shutter speeds (1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250) and later ones the international range (1/30, 1/60 etc.). The first version of the M3 has a smaller viewfinder frame , require double stroke to wind film ( cock twice instead of one time ) and lower ISO / ASA range on the indicator. Later models have subtle upgrades on all these parts. 

Film loading on the M3 is slightly conventional where one needs to remove the spool from the camera. It is indeed a little slower then the M6 quick load style but at least it is the most reliable and fool proof loading method. There are a few times where the film leader wasn’t securely fasten to the take up spool chamber on the M6. I know this is more like a user problem …but the M3 loading method does not have such room for errors. I heard that the quick load kit work wonders by converting the M3 conventional style to more modern M6 style but I was told that the film counter will not reset itself. I can live with it hence not a biggie for me.

I use this camera mainly for black and white photos. I love pairing it with the 50mm f2 dual range Summicron or the 5cm f2 collapsible cron with yellow filters for that classic black and white look. For metering, I’ll either use the sunny 16 rules when I’m outdoor or my trusty light meter apps on my iphone for more tricky lighting condition. Works great for so far and really enjoy using this camera a lot and I am a big fan of 50mm lenses. 

If you ever plan to get one , I would suggest hunt around for a serial number above 950,000 as most likely will have one with all the subtle upgrades implemented. Do check the rangefinder mirror too for signs of desilvering as repair would be costly. Comparing to the M2 , M5 , M6 classic , M6 ttl which I have, the M3 is still one of my all time favourite . 

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What is Rangefinder Cameras ?

Just like the tittle of this post implies, I love rangefinders camera A……LOT as compared to other types of cameras simply because of it’s focusing and shutter mechanism. All rangefinders camera usually utilizes either the focal-plane shutter (Leica M, Zorki, Kiev, Contax iia etc) or the leaf-shutter mechanism (Yashica Electro, Canon Canonnet, Minolta Hi-Matic, Mamiya 6/7 and etc).

Rangefinder cameras are usually much smaller than SLRs, quieter ( due to no flapping mirror ) , can be handheld at much slower speeds, flash sync at all speeds, focus in very low-light / low-contrast, are much more rugged, and usually cheaper except for the Leica of course. They are less complicated and moving parts thus less likely to break.

Using the rangefinder cameras require sometime of getting used to specially if one are used to shooting with a SLR . The images on the SLR viewfinder is ‘what you see what you get’ as it was focus through the lens. Rangefinder on the other hand focus through the viewfinder which is located on the side of the camera which is not through the lens.  To focus with these rangefinders, one would just have to turn the focusing tab on the lens to match the superimpose subject  in a small rectangular box right in the center of the viewfinder. It’s fairly easy when you are used to it. Being a rangefinder, the cloth shutter curtain is really silent  as it does not have a flapping mirror. Almost identical to our modern day mirror-less camera such as the Olympus Pen.  Also the size of the camera body and lenses is a lot less bulkier hence carrying the camera all day long would no be much of a problem. This is the reason why most street photography love using rangefinder camera as compared to SLR.

 

  • Pros

    1) Light weight and small

    2) Silent and unobtrusive

    3) Can be hand held at much lower shutter speed, say 1/15s on a 50mm.

    4) Sharper images as RF lenses normally protrudes deeply into the camera body and it’s very near to the capturing medium such a film or sensor.

    5) Superb wide angle and normal lenses

    6) No black out when the shutter is pressed.

    7) Superb framing. Easier for photographer to anticipate subject moving into the frame. 

    8) Very bright, aperture independent viewfinder

     

  • Cons

    1) Macro photography is almost impossible for film Rf camera.

    2) Parallax issue when shooting at close range - due to the distance between the viewfinder and lens position .

    3) DOF preview is non existence.

    4) Telephoto lenses are limited to 135 mm or shorter due to frames line restriction.

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