RF lens advantage: fact or myth?

Discussion in 'Rangefinder Forum' started by mesh, Mar 12, 2011.

  1. mesh

    mesh Subscriber

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    I am merely a hobbyist, shooting 98% 35mm, and have just recently become fully analogue (from a film to scan workflow). I really love photography but am not super-serious. Most of my photos are of my 5 year old boy and the dog to be honest but that's still important to me ;-)

    I know I am being an 'extreme maximiser' and I can only imagine the replies to this post saying "just go and shoot you idiot" ;-) Whilst that's really valid, I've actually enjoyed experimenting and learning about cameras and lenses over the years by trying everything possible. I've dabbled in Canon FD, Nikon, Contax, Minolta (old and new), Pentax, Leica R and more recently RF with a Voigtlander R3A and Leica CL. The great thing is that's it's affordable to 'play around' these days, as resale is often at or near purchase price.

    The reason for posting is that I am really struggling with rangefinders. I am not a total newbie, as I have been using them on and off for a while but only recently nearly 100% of the time. The obvious advantages have never rung true for me.... VF, size, weight... well frankly my old FE2 is about the same size and weight as the R3A, and with a finder brighter IMO (with a fast lens of course). I struggle... but really WANT to love them (which is a pretty stupid comment I know). I like their form, appreciate the ability to hold steady at slower speeds, and just kinda like them all round to hold and play with.

    The only thing I don't need convincing about is lens quality. I mainly use a Hexanon 50 which for me is a stunner lens - especially for its price. Compared to anything I have used in SLR, it really seems nicer... hard to quantify 'nicer' because I am not referring to one thing like sharpness. It's just a broad overall comment and I can't back it up with proper test samples or scientific evidence. I should also mention that it kills the Nokton 40 I owned in every way too.

    Anyway, to the point ;-) Between say 12 and 50mm, is there REALLY an obvious advantage to RF lenses generally? Is it just referring to retro-focussing or is it more? Can you really make that broad generalisation? I could sell my Leica CL, R3A and Hex and buy say a Pentax LX with 3 or 4 lenses including the 50 f1.2! Am I kidding myself trying assuming the RF lenses are superior?

    I had a day with a friend's M6 and 35 Summilux a few weeks back... mmmm... very special and I truly CAN see the difference (even on my very crappy prints) but I will never afford something like it in my lifetime. Can a Zeiss 35 f2.8 say really outperform ALL 35mm SLR lenses? Is it that simple? Is it worth persevering with rangefinders because of lens quality alone?

    I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this and sorry for the long post. Thank you.
     
  2. Clay2

    Clay2 Member

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    My rangefinders are Minolta Hi-Matic 7S's with Rokkor 45mm lenses. The story is that Minolta went to Zeis for help with the
    Rokkor lens designs. It shows in the results I get with the rangefinders and the SLR's with Rokkors.
    Best regards,
    /Clay
     
  3. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Because of need for retro-focus on some SLR lens, RF lenses were easier to design with spherical optics. With the advent of aspheric optics [early 1970's], it is easier to design retro-focus lenses [and all other lenses, but this is about retro-focus] and therefore the quality of SLR versus RF lenses depends more on the manufacturers and coatings then anything else. For example, the difference between coatings - Zeiss versus Canon and Nikon - hence the differences in contrast is a bigger factor than the SLR versus RF designs.
     
  4. lns

    lns Member

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    I personally think rangefinder lenses are generally better, especially at the wider end. This is just my experience. So for a 21mm lens, you should see a difference. That said, I personally think having a better quality lens has little correlation with making good pictures. Which for me is the point of it all.

    Also, every system has outstanding lenses. The Zeiss 35mm f2 ZM is one of my favorite lenses for my Leica, but the 35mm ZF is also great on my Nikon SLR, although much bigger and heavier. And the Nikkor 85mm f1.4 and 105mm f2.5 are two of the best lenses I've ever used for any camera, and much cheaper used than almost any rangefinder lens.

    It sounds like you prefer using your FE2, so why use something you like less, just because a lens or two may be technically better? There's the overall camera system to consider. I do love my Leica, but having three kids and two dogs myself, I think an SLR probably is a better all-around tool for shooting your 5-year-old and your dog. You have a closer minimum focus distance and you have better flash capability.

    -Laura
     
  5. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Not to dissuade anyone from presenting their views, but... this topic has been discussed ad nauseum, so it'd be a good idea to do a search on APUG. You'll find diverse opinions. On the other hand, bear in mind that many of the arguments surrounding RF vs. SLR are rather dated, and some of the old arguments are simply parroted online.

    A few decades ago, I think the case for RF wides was clear; you can probably look through MTF charts at photodo and see why. But now there are superduper apo hypercorrected SLR lenses, even zooms such as the Nikon 14-24, that absolutely delight their users, be they amateur or professional.

    For me, personally, the best arguments in favor RFs have a lot more to do with the mode of composition and ergonomics than lens theory. That said, I (and others) can cite specific RF lenses that are without peer.
     
  6. mesh

    mesh Subscriber

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    Thanks for the replies. I have read past threads (on many sites) but the problem is that you just keep getting a distorted view, and I guess there have been quite significant changes to lens designs recently (certainly the last few years). Anyway, that's been an interesting help. It's funny, I am having my first major exhibition in a few months of portraits, and they are nearly all from my SLR cameras so obviously I do enjoy them more. Time to sell some RF gear I guess ;-)
     
  7. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    I agree. The technical differences are no longer significant. Use what works for you.

    We violently agree! :smile:

    This is exactly the point! Some are happier with one over the other and it just comes down to a personal choice.

    Steve
     
  8. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    There still are some differences (usually), namely that it is far easier to design a non-retrofocus wide-angle lens for a RF having little or no distortion (but generally vignetting a bit more).

    Otherwise, for me the difference is mainly in being a different medium.
     
  9. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Yes, well, this topic mixes two of the activities most damaging to your [photographic] vision, namely brand-wanking and gear-wanking.
     
  10. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    First of all, ask yourself, "Can I really see technical differences in lenses that seriously affect the content of the work in its final form?"

    In other words, ask yourself why you really need to know, and why it would make a difference even if you did know.

    Then decide if the price of the supposedly better optics is worth the many drawbacks of rangefinders in many situations just to gain that technical edge, if you can even see it at all.

    My opinion is that rangefinders are definitely "fun," and hold the occasional advantage in the occasional situation. I have a few, and I love them and the results, when used in suitable situations. But I find the usual arguments for their superiority to be strongly lacking in the practicality department, and to be rooted in emotion more than anything else. IMO that is a valid reason, but it ought to be stated as such, not with some technical drivel as an argument. Rangefinders won't make any bad photo good. But they can certainly make what would have been a good photo, perfectly composed, timed, and focused, if you had had an SLR into one that is not worth printing because you were fiddling with focus, extending your lens, forgot your lens cap, couldn't see your composition because your lens hood was in the way, ended up with slightly different spatal relationships than what you saw in the VF, didn't get the D of F you wanted, etc.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 12, 2011
  11. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    I have much experience with medium format rangefinders and SLRs and I can say that I can see a significant difference in sharpness between the Mamiya 6 lenses and the Bronica SQ lenses. Certain Bronica lenses at certain apertures can come close, and Hasselblad lenses in general do come very close to the same sharpness but not quite. Again, this is my experience. Someone else may not believe me but I'm just stating what I've seen. I think anyone that owns a Mamiya 6 or 7 can attest to the rediculous shapness of the lenses. They probably are the sharpest MF lenses.
     
  12. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

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    I always thought the RF vs SLR lens quality discussion made very little sense because most 35mm photography is done handheld anyway. A tripod would probably make more difference than the lens anyway. That said, a rangefinder is much easier to handhold given the lack of a mirror so I think the biggest advantage for rangefinder image quality has to do with the lack of mirror and aperture shut down than anything else.
     
  13. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    Another advantage of RF in relation to SLR is that RF tend to be much less noisy. That means you can actually take several pictures, let's say at a party, without people really looking at you, while with a SLR after the first picture everybody in a 4 m range will turn their head toward you and from that moment on they will just pretend they are not aware of you.

    Not every RF is silent, though. I have two, a Canon Canonet 19 QL-III and a Voigtlaender Vito CLR. The former is quite noisy, not as much as a SLR but really not much more silent, the latter is very very quiet and is probably the quietest camera on Earth.

    Among RF with interchangeable lenses, cameras with horizontal cloth shutters (such as Leica M) are said to be generally more silent than cameras with vertical metallic shutters (such as Contax G2). I have no direct experience of those though.

    The advantage of a RF over a SLR can be subtle: an unobtrusive camera can make you less obvious and can make people more relaxed. The bigger and the noisier the camera, the more people is "aware" of the presence of the photographer and tends to behave rather than just be.

    Some people, for whatever reason, don't like their picture to be taken with a "serious" camera but don't object to the same picture being taken with an "unpretentious" camera. That also goes for places where security/paranoid reasons restrict photography, i.e. restrict photography to persons with big SLRs :wink:
     
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  15. vpwphoto

    vpwphoto Member

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    And then there is the thread saying Zooms are as good as primes....... use what works for you!

    I have reached the point where I use lenses like a painter uses a certain brushes. Zeiss, Rodenstock and Nikkors like painters knife, Petzal like a sponge, Jupiter and old Woolensacks like a watercolors,
     
  16. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Hi Mesh,
    Much of the price of Rangefinder lenses comes from their scarcity. The lens quality is there, and is also available in SLR lenses at lower prices. But I believe the chief advantage of Rangefinder over other kinds of cameras is that a rangefinder takes the picture when you press the shutter and you see the picture as it is taken. With an SLR, you see every moment except the moment you got. For carefully composed, tripod-mounted photography this is a non-issue. But I find that for handheld shots of active scenes, a rangefinder yields more beautiful pictures.
    Diapositivo,
    I discovered the effect with a Canonet, you could probably see the same effect already because that camera is so easy to bring to the eye and shoot.
     
  17. aoresteen

    aoresteen Subscriber

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    RF 50mm & shorter lenses are generally smaller & lighter. Some designs CAN NOT be made in an SLR version eg 21mm Biogon /38m Biogon. Long focus & telephotos are about the same RF & SLR versions except RF versions can have twice as many iris blades and not worty about auto stopdown issues - hence better bokeh.
     
  18. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    "Fun and occasional edge" are pretty subjective and rooted in emotion too.
    Any tool has an optimum use. Low light focus, silent operation, compact size are some.
    Perfectly timed can't be done with an SLR unless you compensate for the delay in shutter release time that it takes the mirror to actually release the shutter. Composition? Most SLR's don't use the entire frame to focus anyhow. they use 93-97% of the negative area to compose with. slightly different spatial relationships indeed. that 1 1/2 difference will make a big difference when you can't even compose accurately with your SLR.
    Can't compose because you meter needle was in the way etc. And I find them lacking in the practicality department. = )
    All of your arguments are specious and nonsensical .
     
  19. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Sorry but I've gotta give you a hard time, John! Here goes.

    SLR shutter lag, there's something not worth discussing. I don't know too many sports and wildlife shooters who use RFs. Stalking a decisive moment on a street- great. Extra bonus points to anyone for getting that one street shot off at precisely the right moment. I've seen a whole lot of amazing SLR decisive moments too though. Come to think of it, we've seen a lot of LF decisive moments too, right? It's all in the anticipation. A lot of successful photography is anticipatory.

    And if the objection to SLRs is that they don't have 100% VFs, well, how much of the RF window do you use to focus anyway? With most RFs you use a fairly small center patch. Now, RF patch focusing is fine and dandy unless your point of focus happens to be off center, then you have to do the wiggle. I can do the wiggle, all of us RFers can do the wiggle. But it is a limitation on speed and precision to which some could legitimately object.

    Anyway I hate to step into these A vs. B arguments; they are usually beside the point, in my opinion. Use the best tool for the task. Or, better yet: use the tool you want to use. And be happy!

    P.S. Everybody should just give their opinion and let it go. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I don't understand this need to rebut somebody else's opinion. But I guess I just did that so... my bad :wink:

    P.P.S. I am a proud SLR, RF, LF, pinhole, whatever-the-hell user....
     
  20. bwrules

    bwrules Member

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    I was pleasantly surprised when I bought Oly 35SP rangefinder that its lens is far superior to my 50mm Nikkor. In rendering and sharpness, but of course it has a much worse flare as the coatings were not up to par.

    That said, since I've used to use an AF Nikon SLR with that crappy (by comparison) lens, more often, I've gotten more interesting shots with it than Oly.

    Older lenses often have surprisingly better rendering than the mass-produced well-corrected stuff. All these corrections IMO only make rendering boring. I like smooth and swirly bokeh, and 3D look of certain older lenses that I want to own.

    That said, it's possible to take a great photo even with lenses with boring rendering, a toy camera or a pinhole. It depends on the photographer.
     
  21. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    Hi Keith,
    I agree with your response, but when it's suggested that a rangefinder is for "fun" and an SLR is "serious" it's silly. For every point there's a counterpoint.
    Inaccurate framing on the RF vs inaccurate framing because of incomplete composition from lack of coverage. RF's being slower? not any slower than a manual SLR.
    All the arguments are paper tigers. 1=1=1. It's based on particular strong points for the job.
     
  22. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    As you say, it's about strong points for the job. That was my point.

    After all, I did say, "My opinion is that rangefinders are definitely 'fun,' and hold the occasional advantage in the occasional situation. I have a few, and I love them and the results, when used in suitable situations."

    We perhaps disagree on what the strong points and suitable situations are. That's perfectly understandable, as we are different shooters. But how you read that I was stating that rangefinders are toy cameras and SLRs are real cameras from what I wrote, I do not understand; it was not suggested that a rangefinder is only for fun and an SLR is only for serious. It was simply and clearly stated that "rangefinders definitley are fun." It was a "compliment" to them, not a statement that they only hold use for the purpose of "fun."

    I, for one, think they are terrible for low-light focusing, in general, and provide very little advantage in the area of stealth. That is created by the photographer more than anything IMO. As for framing, one might say that one prefers framing with a rangefinder, and who is to argue; but to say that the framing and spatial depiction of the image is more representative of what will appear on the film with a rangefinder, or that SLRs are less representative of it simply because most amateur models do not have 100 percent viewfinders is simply not correct, on an objective level. As for timing, being able to see the exact moment of exposure does not matter to me, or to any of the professionals who make their livings by having perfect timing; they use SLRs almost entirely, because they provide the best compromise of focus, framing, and timing. Maybe with a RF these guys' and gals' timing might seem a touch better, but I don't see anyone complaining about what they do with SLRs. How much would their focus and framing sink in quality if using RF's? So much that any possible, and slight, timing advantage would be rendered null and void. The skill of perfect timing comes almost entirely from the photographer, not from the camera.

    Each camera has its characteristics, and like anything involving photography, it is a balancing act deciding which things are important for the work being done. When an RF's characteristics are not more burdensome or detracting than SLR characteristics, I love using my RFs.

    And the subjectivity of which I spoke related to the "romanticism" and "urban legend" that goes around to "champion" their use. My "fun" comment came from the fact that I wish people could quit with this, and simply say that they personally enjoy using them. In other words, if you are going to make a subjective judgment of an item, just state it as a subjective judgment; there is nothing wrong with that. Don't try to prove a subjective statement by objective argument, was what I should have said.
     
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  23. codester

    codester Member

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    I love reading threads about what lens is better or what camera body is better. They make me laugh. Everyone weights in with their pixel peeping. If more photographers spend less time on worrying about shooting resolution charts, comparing shutter lag times, bokeh, etc., and spent more time on developing their photographic instincts and shooting images they would see a vast improvement in their photography regardless of the equipment. The major manufacturers have spent millions of dollars in R&D and have hundreds of well-trained technicians designing and buildings lenses and cameras which will provide a photographer with excellent tools for taking pictures. The difference between Nikon X and Canon Y is so small it can only be measured in a lab. In the real world people can't tell the difference in a finished print nor do they care. A good photograph is a good photograph. I don't care what type of pencil or ink was used to write War and Peace. I only care that the book is a masterpiece.
     
  24. Mustafa Umut Sarac

    Mustafa Umut Sarac Member

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    I am an archaeologist and newly finished tool making , tool shape and detail selection to intelligence link book. If you look in to paleolithic stone tools which humanity works on them for 3000000 years , you find older ones are bigger and less details on them and new ones smaller and every corner hand tooled .

    If you look at them , you find that range finder cameras with little lenses like Leica is the most linked to our stone tools. And people agree to that toolmaking impact on our progress of intelligence , brain organization , thinking and creating habits.

    There is two options , bigger camera users are idiots because tool making points that or geniuses because they went one step more on Darwin selection but their photographs do not indicate this.

    I find more happy myself when holding a Leica but not with EOS.

    Umut
     
  25. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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  26. vpwphoto

    vpwphoto Member

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    I have used everything from 8x10 to Leicas... Leica is the only camera to let me down twice, with dragging shutter curtains in 20°F weather.
    After playing with a very fine Canon P, I decided funky framing issues with telephoto lenses and such, that I was missing many shot I would have just grabbed with a Nikon F, or similar tool.
    As far as image quality and compactness, the Hasselblad system with 80mm and 150mm are hard to beat.
    The Hasselblad SWC is the best non-retrofocus wide known to man (I do not own one... but borrow one from time to time. I know a guy that mounted it on a view camera and used it with 8x10 film.
    For general cary around fun, I like a TLR... but still know the SLR is the way to go for best framing of my vision up close.
    I have no issue with shutter lag, and while the mystique of the Rangefinder draws us in, generally the SLR was made to solve all the deficiencies of the mostly more primative rangefinder.
    Yet the 8x10 camera is the ultimate tool at capturing life or the essence of the experience on a 2 dimensional sheet, a window on a past reality... a clock for seeing.

    I stand by to be flamed.