Since you are looking for a low-cost rangefinder, take a look at the 35mm Argus C3. It is possible to find a C3 in excellent condition for between $10 and $50.
The C3 does not require batteries, it does not have a built-in exposure meter, you must manually focus, you must manually advance the film, and you must manually cock the shutter.
It was built in the 1940s and 1950s in Detroit Michigan. It is a rugged and reliable rangefinder that accepts interchangeable lenses. Four lenses that are available are the 35mm wide angle, 50mm normal, 100mm telephoto, and 135mm telephoto.
I can't recommend the Argus C3. Low price, yes. Erratic quality, yes. The three element lens is much better than the Holga, though. The interchangable lenses are rare, compared with the cameras. The rangefinder is a big step below the great rangefinder cameras when it is in adjustment, and is a bear to adjust when out. The film advance is primative. A couple of generations of Americans praised the C3. Most of them neither used nor needed anything better. Some day I intend to test mine to see just how good or bad it is. Until then, it is stored with some other junk.
Originally Posted by narsuitus
You could look into a used Soviet auxiliary viewfinder. I've got one that uses a rotating turret to bring different optics into view to handle any of several common focal lengths (five, IIRC). I don't have a Kiev 4a, so I can't comment on how this works compared to its built-in viewfinder, but mine's definitely easier to use than the viewfinder on my FEDs (2 and 5), except of course that I've got to use the camera's viewfinder to focus. They typically cost $50, give or take $20, plus shipping. Try searching on eBay for "viewfinder (fed,zorki)" to find them.
Originally Posted by T42
There's also a Zenit Camera Group on the Yahoo forums. Despite the name, all Soviet, Russian, and Ukrainian cameras are on-topic there, not just Zenits.
There is a Russian Camera interest group at Beststuff.com. Those guys are very helpful, and they know who the reputable dealers are ... and some of those who are not.
Thanks for the guidance with respect to the Russian turret finder. I have wondered about seeing the full frame with one of those. Now I am more encouraged, since I see on your website that you are wearing glasses. BTW, I was pleased to see all the stuff about Linux. I cut my teeth on UNIX, and am now wanting to get up to date with the new stuff.
If you buy Soviet, I'd look at Fedka (www.fedka.com) and pay his slight premium over Ebay sales. Better to have someone reputedly trustworthy, IMO.
My first recommendation would be a Canonet - check the rangefinderforum.com classifieds and there are usually one or two for sale with a recent going over or CLA. Buying off Ebay could be a crapshoot. Even the best, with a recent CLA, will probably run less than $75 at RFF.
For a step above that, my recommendation would be a Bessa R and one of the Cosina lenses - the R2A and R3A are nicer and more automated, but a good 3x the cost. At Cameraquest you can get a Bessa R and 35mm lens for $400 w/ one-year warranty. That's about as cheap as you'll a new rangefinder with warranty.
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If considering a Kiev think about the 4AM. It was the last version they built and has a folding style rewind. The earlier ones have a knurled knob sitting close to the top of the camer that you have to turn and turn to rewind the film.
People say that the later Kievs have the worst quality but I haven't had any problems with mine and on a plus it comes with the Helios lens that rival a Summicron lens.
Besides Canonet and other Japanese '70s rangefinders, also the old German Voigtlander rangefinders are cheap and good. And if Leica M is too expensive, screw mount Leica before the war is not too expensive and still good to use for years to come. My Leica IId with Nickel Elmar produced in early 1930s will certainly survive me.
If you are interested in a Yashica Electro 35, send me a PM.
Check out an Argus C3 a.k.a. "The Brick" You can get decent users for $10-$25 and many times a whole kit from someone's uncle's closet with the flash, leather case, manual and what-not. The C3 is a fascinating piece of America's photographic history and a lot of fun to play with!
Originally Posted by niclester
"A certain amount of contempt for the material employed to express an idea is indispensable to the purest realization of this idea." Man Ray
I would recommend a brick (Argus C-3) to anyone for a half dozen reasons: 1. It is an important piece of photographic history 2. You can easily find a good one for under $20, and they last forever 3. If you decide to learn camera repair, or just want to see how things work, they are easy to work on 4. The lens is surprisingly good, and the ergonomics force you to really think, which seems to lead to better pictures (in my case, anyway) 5. Anyone over 60 will have fond memories to share (the only cameras I have that start more conversations with passersby are the Speed Graphics and the Century) 6. Some of my favorite shots were taken with a brick and Kodachrome.
That being said, for interchangeable lens rangefinders I can recommend the Kiev4a, the Zorki 4 and 6, and the Fed 2,3, and 4 among the Russians, plus the bricks descendants the C-33 (ugly as sin, but a good rangefinder and good lenses), and C-44. In general, I recommend Feds and Zorkis for small hands and Kievs for large. That Contax grip is easier with long fingers.
I haven't used many of the old Voigtlanders, but have found the ergonomics of the few I have handled dreadful. The little german built folders (Retina, Contessa) of the 40s and 50s are jewel-like with great optics.
The fixed lens Japanese models of the 60s and 70s add the convenience of a meter, some auto modes, light weight, and often better viewfinders but lack charm.
My recommendation: get the C-3 (because every home should have one), then either a Fed/Zorki or a Kiev depending on your hand size. If you really want a built in meter, get one of the Japanese models instead. That way you can get a good feel for what rangefinders can do for under US$70. Then, if you find you like rangefinders, upgrade with a modern Voigtlander, or whatever else the budget will bear.