Short answer: there are many good old compacts around
I like my G-III, and it's easy to put a bit of white gaffer tape next to the lens and scribe-on the DoF markers. None of those old cameras are built like pro gear -- they'll inevitably strip a gear or something. Buy two more.
Though I like mine QL17 as well I really want an Olympus RD35 or SP35.
I'm ALL about the cheep rangefinders.
If a FED/Zorki/Kiev is out (and really, don't knock them just because they're not Leicas or Contaxes -- my Kiev 4 is rock solid and takes great pictures with both the Jupiter 50mm f1.8 and 35mm f2.8 lenses) and a Canonet is out, then the obvious choice is a Yashica GSN or a Yashica Lynx 14.
The GSN series has f1.7 glass, the Lynx has f1.4. The GSN has LED metering that you can see from miles off. The Lynx has a needle that can be hard to see. Both are just rock solid in build, have a beautifully quiet leaf shutter, and take nice photos. The glass is sharp and contrasty. The only downsides are the range/viewfinder might be dim and the rings may have grit under them. A good repair shop should be able to correct both of those.
The alternative, one which I've been salivating over for months, is the Bessa R3a. M mount, modern (AE, metering, etc), but doesn't require the sale of your (or another's) kidney to buy.
This post is only a month late , but here it goes anyway...
I would recommend the Yashica Electro 35 GSN. It seems to fit your requirements quite well. The lens (45mm f/1.7) is quite fast and sharp, and you can get these cameras from eBay quite cheap. The only downside to the Electro 35 is the battery - they originally used 5.6v mercury batteries which are not available here anymore (you can still get them in Asia). However, that being said, there are adapters available (Yashica Guy, Cris Cam, etc.) that will use readily available batteries to replace the original one. Some of these adapters are supposed to step down the voltage to 5.6v while others use 6v. I do not know if the .4v difference leads to any exposure issues: I have always used the mercury batteries but now I will have to look at alternatives.
Hope this helps.
The Yashica 35 GX is a great choice for this sort of camera. However, I have a Petri 7S which also works very well. The Petri Color 35 is nice too.
A Kodak Retina IIIC might be a little above your price range. Or a Minox 35GL. Or a Rollei 35. The Rollei 35XF is really a Voigtlander VF135.
Lots of possibilities.
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Another late addition to this thread.....but I'll cast another vote for an old Yashica Electro. The lens is very sharp, it has aperture-priority, if the rangefinder is clean it focuses quickly. Get the battery adapter from Yashica Guy and you're set. I use mine frequently--amazing results for such a small investment.
Konica Auto S2 gets my vote -- it's bigger than a Canon QL17, but it has a nice built-in lens hood, and can be fully manual.
Second place - Olympus 35RC -- fun little camera, can be fully manual, nice lens, and I wish my daughter would sell hers to me...
You are saying that the meter works fine with the Yashica Guy adapter? In that case I can get that adapter for $12.50 instead of the one from CrisCam.com for $29.95.
Thanks for the input.
Why not a FED, if you want cheap? I've had one for years and it's been perfectly reliable through some hard knocks. I think I paid 20 pounds UK for it 2nd hand, so if it dies, who cares get another. I also have an old Leica IIIa a Bessa-R and a Canon GIII QL17, but I still use the FED if the camera is likely to get bashed, wet, muddy etc.
Might I respectfully suggest either a Moskva-5 (6x9, Tessar-copy coated f/3.5 lens, folds to a little bigger than a 35 mm SLR body without the lens) or Iskra (6x6, similar lens and folds even smaller)? Both have coupled rangefinders, the Iskra has automatic frame counting (if it works -- many have been converted to red window), and while they're bulkier than a compact 35 mm rangefinder, the negative size makes it worthwhile. Either can be had in working condition for under $100 (though the Iskra is a little riskier, with the relatively fragile frame counter).
I have a Mosvka-5 (including the 6x6 format mask) that cost me $72 shipped from the Ukraine, and the only major complaint I have with it is that it's hard to get a good steady hand hold. Since I bushed the tripod mounts to fit American tripods, it's given me some really stellar images...
Photography has always fascinated me -- as a child, simply for the magic of capturing an image onto glossy paper with a little box, but as an adult because of the unique juxtaposition of science and art -- the physics of optics, the mechanics of the camera, the chemistry of film and developer, alongside the art in seeing, composing, exposing, processing and printing.