I have never owned a rangefinder camera and have been considering getting one. I have always been drawn to the Leica mistique, but the prices scare me. On several occasions I have been about to order an M6 or M7 with a lens, then reality sinks in and I come to the conclusion that I can get a few Nikons with a couple of great lenses for that price.
I would like a rangefinder because of its quiet operation, low profile, sharp optics. I have been thinking of candid portraiture and I think a rangefinder will stand out less than one of my Nikons with lens attatched.
What can I expect from a Voigtlander Rangefinder? Why are they so inexpensive compared to Leica and others? Is it a reliable camera? What are the differences between the R2 and R3a? Are the lenses any good? Will I get images comparable to my current Nikon system? Will I be better off getting a used Leica or a new Voigtlander?
I am not a rangefinder owner, but I have toyed with both a Leica and the R2M Bessa, and the sad thing about the Bessa is that it's got everything right except for the shutter sound. It has a springy/metallic sound that is high-pitched enough to be detectable. Otherwise it's a fine camera, has TTL metering, great lens selection, good price, etc. The Leica is mute silent in comparison, almost quieter than a leaf shutter.
I've also compared the sound of Kiev and Zorki RF, and these two surprised me. They're not silky silent, but they are damp enough that they don't emit springy noises. All the sound is in the lower frequencies, which may be harder to detect against background noise (if you're doing street photo, say).
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I owned an R3M for a short while. I just couldn't get used to the RF patch. It seemed small to me and I had to align my eye in the viewfinder just right to see it well. I own a Canonet QL17 and find it easier to focus, but I'm sure it's just me. The camera felt solid and worked great. The 50/2 Heliar that came with it was a sweet lens. I couldn't get use to it and didn't use it, so I sold it. I'd like to try a Leica someday.
I have an M6 and a Bessa R2. The M6 was second hand, never had a problem. The Bessa, well that is a different story, rangefinder goes out of adjustment, things keep breaking or falling off. The Cosina lenses are good, but make sure you check them out, some are better than others.
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Cosina, to me, is like a good clothing brand comapny trying to make good quality shoes, but it's not quite working.
In my experience, Bessa R is well-made for its low price, but beyond that, I'm not so sure. I would certainly go back to the older, the more traditonal shoe makers to find a nice pair before coming back to the new brand.
When Bessa R2 came out, I tried one in a store. I liked it because it was new, but I didn't find any other reason to buy it. Lately I tried the Zeiss Ikon RF, but I was not really impressed by the feel of the camera.
Meanwhile, my Leica M3 is getting really old and beatup, but there's still something I feel comfortable using it. I feel this about my SLR system, too. I've been using my New F1 so much that I cannot move on to use the EOS bodies. There's something I don't feel right about the newer stuff, but I don't mean plastic bodies, etc.
So, you should try whatever desires you first and decide whether to keep it or not.
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For "candid portraiture", although I don't know what you mean exactly, I'm not sure if it would necessarily require a quiet RF camera. Do you know, or at least have any idea about what situations you will be shooting mostly?
Since you said you already have Nikon, why not get a used original F body? The original F has a very quiet shutter noise. and the used ones run from 300USD or so. The F's prism is easy to see, and if it needs a replacement, it can be done pretty inexpensively like 100 to 150 USD (at least in Japan).
The requirement that you align your eye peperly with the RF patch is actually a sign of a superior rangefinder. The same is required on an M3, the best rangefinder focusing system that Leica ever made. They cheapened their rangefinder mechanism after that.
Originally Posted by matt miller
There is something called rangefinder parallax, which results in focusing errors due to proper eye to RF patch alignment. Not a good thing. Obviously it is an issue primarily in situations where critical focus is required.
Developing proper eye to RF patch alignment is easy & it becomes second nature within a short time.
well - I've had my r3a with 40mm nokton and 25m skopar for 18 months now. I LOVE it - unhealthily so. I couldnt afford a new leica m and through buying problematic used goods in the past, I decided I had to buy new with manufacturers warranty. I've had no problems, the build quality is adequate for all my needs, and so what if the shutter is load? people will only register the noise after the shot is taken anyway
There are multitudes of happy Bessa owneers out there. I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to get one if that is your cup of tea. Cosina has been improving them with each successive series over the past 8 years. Yes, there are incidents of misaligned rangefinders, but there are with Leicas too. A rangefinder is a delicate instrument & must be treated properly. I, for example, never put my camera bag on the floor of my car where vibration can cause a misaligned shutter. It's always on the seat. I owned a Bessa R2 for a year & never had a problem. A new camera comes warranteed, so any initial problems will be corrected by the manufacturer.
The importance of shutter noise is wildly exaggerated IMHO. First, the shutter sounds louder to you that it does to anyone else because you're holding the camera right next to your ear. Second, a Leica is not silent - especially at slow shutter speeds. If a silent camera is required, there are better options. Third, there are situations in which it is important to have a quiet camera & in these situations a Leica is preferred. Right tool for the job. Only you can determine if this feature is required for the photography that you do. This feature certainly does not make a Leica universally better. If it did, professional photographers who switched to SLRs 40 years ago would have stopped using them as soon as Nikon abandoned the cloth shutter. The shutter in any of the Bessa cameras is a standard focal plane shutter made by Copal & used in numerous SLRs. There is nothing unique or especially loud about it. Just different than a Leica. The use of a half case on a Bessa can help to muffle the shutter sound if that's important to you. A Bessa is still quieter than any SLR built in the last 20 years because it doesn't have mirror slap accompanying the shutter & it doesn't have motorized rewind.
Another alternative for you is the Zeiss Ikon, priced between the Voigtlander Bessa line & the Leica M's but closer to a Bessa ($1250 at www.popflash.com). What distinguishes it from a Bessa is that it has the focusing precision of a Leica due to its long base length & its viewfinder has 28 mm frame lines which the Bessas do not. It's viewfinder is generally regarded as better than a Leica's & it's immediacy of response is as good as a Leica (no shutter lag. The shutter noise is sort of a quieter Bessa type noise but not the muted sound of a Leica. Some resources on the Zeiss Ikon are www.zeissikon.com, www.zeiss.de, www.elekm.net/zeiss_ikon/
I don't know if anyone does this, but when I have to shoot in a quiet place and I know my camera makes unwanted loud noise, I fake-cough a few times first and see how other people will react. Sometimes I do fake-cough at the same time I press the shutter of my camera, so no one hears just the shutter noise.