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  1. #1

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    New to Rangefinders. Question about image quality.

    Hello,

    I'm grateful for your take, guidance, patience. I'm new to Rangefinders. I shoot documentary essays, street portraits and some photojournalism. I'm drawn to rangefinders because they are elegant, gadget-free, fast, accurate, unobtrusive, and one of the few tools that's perfect when making a study of light.

    What I've noticed: that each format and each technology has its own signature, and this is certainly true of rangefinders. Most of the pictures I've studied across most makes, models and films are rich in grain and, with rare exception, print natural light flat. No matter how balanced the contrast, variation of skin tone, say, is fairly even. When I lay these pics side by side with a medium format print, there's a compelling difference. I may be making the wrong comparison. Like I said, I'm new to these cameras and very used to the digital and photoshop world.


    The tonality I'm after. Larry Fink, Social Graces, 1976. (Off camera flash helps, yes.)



    The tonality I see most. Nomi Baumgartl, Leica M6/Noctilux 50/1. (I believe.) Beautifully rendered, but flatter than what natural light is capable of giving.

    If what I'm seeing is right, I'm wondering if choice of film or (of course) lens makes a difference. I'm just getting to know the importance of base-length to focusing accuracy, and I know the difference between a $600 Nokton and a $5000 Summilux. I also know how much the character of the picture depends on decisions made in the darkroom. What I'm wondering: what are the in-camera techniques, or film choices, that yield the richest tones--the deepest blacks, the truest whites, the sharpest edges?

    Again I appreciate your patience. I know this is a new-to-the-field question. I'm grateful for any discussion, pointers, books, or links to resources.

    Best-

    --Richard

    PS: The camera I'm looking at is entry-level, but downright beautiful: a Voigtlander r2a + 35/1.4

  2. #2

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    I would be surprised if any 35mm picture can match the look of a medium format camera. If that is your goal, shooting medium format may work better. A TLR or a small folder could be a decent option for quick, low profile shooting.

    A disproportionate number of rangefinder users are street photographers. Street photographers often want as much in focus as possible - often shooting 400 speed film. Tri-X and its grainy look are commonly associated with the style of shooting. I'd wager these photographers often push the film a bit which contributes to the look you're seeing.

    Candid shots would probably have less ideal lighting in general as well as less consistent metering than slower paced shooting styles. Over on rangefinderforum, I've seen debates among street photographers about how much the image quality - proper exposures, etc - even matter.

    Lastly, many rangefinder users are shooting older glass (particularly Leica, etc). These lenses lack modern coating and are often hazy/scratched/etc. The end result is a loss in contrast compared to more modern glass.

    Edit:

    Here is an example of a rangefinder lens with a moderate amount of cleaning marks (an Industar 22 in this case):

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelb...7624508315665/

    And here is a more modern Olympus 35DC in much better condition:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelb...7624508367459/

    And lastly a few from a Kiev 4a with a Jupiter 8 from 1968 in reasonably good condition:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelbrae/5077016993/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelbrae/5074063569/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelbrae/5074661520/

    With the later cameras/lenses, the biggest problem with tonality is my ability to expose and develop well. I'm still not happy with what I am getting but I know that is all me.
    Last edited by Brian Legge; 10-17-2010 at 09:50 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  3. #3
    clayne's Avatar
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    To the OP: you're overthinking it.

    Any standard M body, any summicron, and tri-x will get you the tonality and "quality" you desire.

    Noctilux is a joke and not what you need.

    See within the realm of film there aren't set linear standards of quality and metrics that can be compared 1:1 like in digital land. Drop that frame of thinking.
    Stop worrying about grain, resolution, sharpness, and everything else that doesn't have a damn thing to do with substance.

    http://www.flickr.com/kediwah

  4. #4
    Nicholas Lindan's Avatar
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    I don't know why this is a 'rangefinder' issue, unless 'rangefinder' here means 35mm. There are plenty of 120 rangefinders in 6x6, 6x7 and 6x9. And a 35mm SLR's gradation isn't going to be any different from that of a 35mm rangefinder.

    The only way I know of to get medium/large format gradation out of 35mm is Tech Pan developed in Technidol. TMX in Microdol 1:3 comes close in 5x7 prints, but doesn't really maintain the illusion in 8x10 or larger.

    In the end, there is no substitute for square inches.
    DARKROOM AUTOMATION
    f-Stop Timers - Enlarging Meters
    http://www.darkroomautomation.com/da-main.htm

  5. #5

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    This is incredibly helpful feedback and I'm grateful.

    First: Brian, the pictures you posted are terrific and carry in them a lot of what I'm after. It's good work. Also your point about shooting tri-X 400 and the grain that's inherent to that. So I'll follow from Nicholas's suggestion about TMX in Microdol (this is a whole new language to me) about which there's a some long discussion in the ether re tonality. I'm grateful for the clue, and what its led me to at "photography forums."

    Yep, I may be over-thinking, it. And I don't disagree that, coming from "digital land," my references are specific. That'll change, no doubt. But it's a such a shame to learn that the rig I've ordered is "a joke." It was a first-love kind of thing. After years of shooting big-bodied digital full frames, the elegance of this small camera and its way-bright viewfinder really got me. I'll keep my eyes open for a decent-condition M3 and, when my Google stock hit $800, maybe a Summicron.

    Thanks again for the help. It's terrific feedback and a way to flatten the curve a bit. Thanks, more, for the patience.

    Best-

  6. #6
    phaedrus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by r.benari View Post
    or film choices, that yield the richest tones--the deepest blacks, the truest whites, the sharpest edges?
    Had to think of Fujifilm Neopan (Presto) 1600 when I read that!

  7. #7

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    Time spent tweaking film exposure and processing technique is worth more than expensive lenses or cameras. Most prime lenses from prestige manufacturers will produce stunning results in terms of contrast and sharpness, but only if you've optimised the craft end. When I saw a friend's luminous 16 x 12" prints from his Nikkormat and 50mm back in the 70s I realised it wasn't just about the camera. In fact I'd say don't spend any cash on hardware until you've exhausted everything film and chemistry can tell you about your existing kit.

  8. #8

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    Just to add that medium format is often associated with studio photography, even when the shot is designed to look naturalistic. A photograph with a few thousand joules of artificial light will look more highly resolved than one taken under an overcast sky on the hoof, whatever format it's taken on.

  9. #9
    holmburgers's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by r.benari View Post
    ...But it's a such a shame to learn that the rig I've ordered is "a joke." It was a first-love kind of thing...
    Are you referring to the Voigtlander R2A? Where did you get the idea that this camera was a joke? It's not. A camera is merely a black box for a lens and some film... it only affects usability, not image quality (generally speaking).

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by holmburgers View Post
    Are you referring to the Voigtlander R2A? Where did you get the idea that this camera was a joke? It's not.
    Naw. I think the camera and the 35/1.4 are quite good, and a pair I can use. I was responding to clayne, whose comment I may have misread when he warned against Noctilux. If so, apologies all around.

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