A Russian Kiev 4a with 50mm f/2 and 35mm f/2.8 Jupiter lens would make a fine rangefinder outfit.
My vote for maximum value for money - a 1950s/1960s German camera like the Agfa Silette, Voigtländer Vito or Kodak Retina/Retinette. Lots of different models, with a little effort you can find one with a 4-element lens and coupled rangefinder for around £30 to 40 (GB market, Retinas more expensive) - only drawback could be that models with meters are rare; if present, a meter will be selenium match-needle type (no auto-exposure) and may not work accurately or at all. Optical quality, on the hand hand, is generally superb, much better than cameras like the Ollympus Trip, etc, which tend to have 3-element lenses (edge definition poor).
Stick your toe into the "pool" with a fixed lens rangefinder camera. If you like the experience, you can move up to an interchangeable lens camera and all the fun with trying out different lenses. Plenty of time for that!
You identified several excellent cameras indeed. You wouldn't go wrong with any of them. I'd mention a couple of others for your consideration, the Konica S2 (about the same size as the Yashica Electro, but will work without a battery) and the Konica S3 (a compact RF like the Canonet). My recommendation is to get yourself an Electro GSN, and either a battery adaptor (available from the Yashica Guy or on eBay) or using a PX28 battery and a small wad of aluminum foil. An automatic camera -- you override exposure by changing the film speed -- but you will be amazed at the quality of the lens and the accuracy of the meter.
The fact that it has no rangefinder and focusing is strictly by guesstimate. That can be a bit of a pain sometimes, with results that aren't very encouraging for a new user. There is absolutely no automation whatsoever should you want it. Loading the camera means removing the back, making the operation a real pain in the ass. The hot shoe is attached to the bottom of the camera. Mount a small flash to it and you'll be using the camera upside down and backwards unless you like old school monster movie lighting effects.
Originally Posted by Kvistgaard
On the plus side, the camera is incredibly tiny and has a very good lens. Of course, that's irelevant if you can't hit focus with the thing. Metering is pretty good, and better than I'd expected. It is well made with quality parts and workmanship, and irresistably cute.
As an example of camera jewelry, it's beautiful. As a quick shooter, not so much because it lacks the rangefinder.
the OP started with four cameras.
He's done some basic research, narrowed it down & wants recomendations on ONE of the four.
We're all over the map with Leica/Voigtlander/Rollei/Bessa etc.etc.
It would be nice to stick with the original question.
Heavily sedated for your protection.
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We are. The original post specified:
Originally Posted by John Koehrer
The initial list of four wasn't a "short list;" it was a list of models that he'd seen recommended in the past. Note especially sclee's last sentence -- s/he specifically asked for other recommendations, if appropriate. That said, the statement in a later post of a $150 budget does narrow the field, and some recommendations have ignored this. Other than that, and sclee's stated beginner status, we've got little to go on, so people are promoting their personal favorites and/or the cameras with which they're familiar. This sort of question always evokes this sort of response set.
Originally Posted by sclee
When I first started getting into rangefinders I got a Yashica Electro 35 for about £20/$40 on ebay. It has a stellar lens and is very capable of taking great photographs. A good start to see whether you like the rangefinder concept.
I then moved up to a Bessa. They are very good value and again very cheap lenses can be had. My first Bessa R with 50mm lens cost about £100.
I got hooked on RFs after that and now have a Leica, Fuji 645 and Mamiya 7ii. But that cheap Electro is still in my collection and still takes nice pictures.
Currently using Bronica RF645+65mm, Leica M6, Bessa R2a, Nokton LTM 50/1.5, Zeiss Biogon ZM 35/2.8, Nikon 35mm SLRs.
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My favorite at the moment is the Bessa-T. It's unusual in that it doesn't have a viewfinder, but it does have an extremely good rangefinder and a simple, reliable light meter. That rangefinder was good enough to give me sharp, in-focus pictures in a dark church, shooting with a Soviet 85mm f:2 wide open. The bride&groom were very happy with the pictures I got, and that I got them from sufficient distance to be unobtrusive, and that I didn't use flash during the ceremony.
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
Any of the 60's-70's vintage fixed lens rangefinder cameras from the major makers will give you good service.
I would not worry about maker as much as condition; after 30 -40 years that is going to make more of a difference than the fairly minor design differences.
I have both a Canon QL19 (same as 17 but slower lens) and the Olympus 35RD. Canon is bigger, easier to load (that "QL" thing), easier to find a nice one but usually higher priced. Olympus has a bit brighter viewfinder and is easier to pack around, maybe a tad sharper but that could just be me. Old Olympuses tend to be cheap because of oil sticking the aperture blades but you'll want either camera CLA'd anyway. Between size and focus ring position (close to body on Canon, at end of lens on Olympus) the 35RD is slightly easier for me to use but only by a small margin. Go shoot!