Beyond manual focus and the popular 35mm film format.
Continuing from the world of interchangeable M mount lenses, there were many cameras that were offered as fixed lens 35mm rangefinder cameras by several manufacturers, mainly Japanese. Being extremely small, compact, and with great reliability, cameras like the Olympus 35 and XA, Canon Canonet and the Yashica GSN have all become cult classics today. Modern offerings in the form of high-end compact cameras also made their way into the market. These include the Contax’s T series, Ricoh’s GR21, Nikon’s 28Ti and 35Ti, and Minolta’s TC-1 amongst others.
Of interest to note is the Hasselblad X-pan, which was introduced in 1998. Although it uses normal 35mm film, it can produce images with a negative size of 65mm X 24mm instead of the usual 36mm X 24mm. Effectively, it’s in the medium format territory, albeit in a ‘panorama’ ratio. As a system, this camera only has a total of 3 lenses as options – a 30mm, 45mm and 90mm. The X-pan is sold in Japan as Fujifilm TX-1. A subsequent update was released as the X-pan II (TX-2 in Japan).
Rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lens have traditionally been manual focusing. In 1994, the world was greeted with an all-new G system from Contax. The G1 featured autofocus capability via electronically linked mechanisms through a twin window system. As such, some would argue that the G system was not a ‘true’ (mechanical) rangefinder system. Two years later, the G2 was introduced along with the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 35–70mm f/3.5–5.6, the only true zoom lens in a rangefinder system.
Rangefinder photography is more than just the 35mm film format. There are also plenty of medium format rangefinder cameras from Zeiss, Kodak and Polaroid, as well as large format press cameras. In the early days, many of these cameras used collapsible bellows, and are fondly called ‘folders’. In the 1930s, Zeiss had a series called Super Ikonta, which were very compact and popular. The Voigtlander Bessa series were also well received. Fujifilm and Cosina Japan collaborated on their latest 120mm film camera, Voigtlander Bessa III (sold in Japan as Fujifilm GF670), which was introduced in 2009. Besides folding cameras, there are also other interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras such as Bronica’s RF645 system and Mamiya’s 6, 7 and 7 II systems. Fujifilm also made several fixed lens medium format rangefinders in their G series lineup with negative sizes from 6 X 7, 6 X 8 and 6 X 9 cm, and in 2 focal length options. In addition, Fujifilm also offered the GA645 series of autofocus rangefinder cameras. A total of 5 models were introduced and the GA645Zi even offered 4-step zoom capabilities with a 55-90mm zoom lens.
The first digital Rangefinder camera was the Epson R-D1. This 6 mega-pixel camera was introduced in 2004 and has a 1.53X crop factor. It only has 28, 35 and 50mm frame lines. Effectively, this translates into actual focal lengths of 42, 53 and 76mm. This camera was updated twice as Epson R-D1s (2006) and Epson R-D1x (2009). In 2006, Leica introduced the digital M8, which has a crop factor of 1.3X. The 10.3 mega-pixel Leica digital rangefinder cameras have a unique 6 bit coding system that allows for Leica lenses to be automatically identified by the camera and specific in-camera software corrections to be applied to certain lenses when used. The M8 was superseded by the updated M8.2 in 2008. On 9th September 2009, Leica introduced the first full frame digital rangefinder camera – the 18.5 mega-pixel Leica M9.
Text and Picture by Benny Ng.