RF lens advantage: fact or myth?
I am merely a hobbyist, shooting 98% 35mm, and have just recently become fully analogue (from a film to scan workflow). I really love photography but am not super-serious. Most of my photos are of my 5 year old boy and the dog to be honest but that's still important to me ;-)
I know I am being an 'extreme maximiser' and I can only imagine the replies to this post saying "just go and shoot you idiot" ;-) Whilst that's really valid, I've actually enjoyed experimenting and learning about cameras and lenses over the years by trying everything possible. I've dabbled in Canon FD, Nikon, Contax, Minolta (old and new), Pentax, Leica R and more recently RF with a Voigtlander R3A and Leica CL. The great thing is that's it's affordable to 'play around' these days, as resale is often at or near purchase price.
The reason for posting is that I am really struggling with rangefinders. I am not a total newbie, as I have been using them on and off for a while but only recently nearly 100% of the time. The obvious advantages have never rung true for me.... VF, size, weight... well frankly my old FE2 is about the same size and weight as the R3A, and with a finder brighter IMO (with a fast lens of course). I struggle... but really WANT to love them (which is a pretty stupid comment I know). I like their form, appreciate the ability to hold steady at slower speeds, and just kinda like them all round to hold and play with.
The only thing I don't need convincing about is lens quality. I mainly use a Hexanon 50 which for me is a stunner lens - especially for its price. Compared to anything I have used in SLR, it really seems nicer... hard to quantify 'nicer' because I am not referring to one thing like sharpness. It's just a broad overall comment and I can't back it up with proper test samples or scientific evidence. I should also mention that it kills the Nokton 40 I owned in every way too.
Anyway, to the point ;-) Between say 12 and 50mm, is there REALLY an obvious advantage to RF lenses generally? Is it just referring to retro-focussing or is it more? Can you really make that broad generalisation? I could sell my Leica CL, R3A and Hex and buy say a Pentax LX with 3 or 4 lenses including the 50 f1.2! Am I kidding myself trying assuming the RF lenses are superior?
I had a day with a friend's M6 and 35 Summilux a few weeks back... mmmm... very special and I truly CAN see the difference (even on my very crappy prints) but I will never afford something like it in my lifetime. Can a Zeiss 35 f2.8 say really outperform ALL 35mm SLR lenses? Is it that simple? Is it worth persevering with rangefinders because of lens quality alone?
I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this and sorry for the long post. Thank you.
My rangefinders are Minolta Hi-Matic 7S's with Rokkor 45mm lenses. The story is that Minolta went to Zeis for help with the
Rokkor lens designs. It shows in the results I get with the rangefinders and the SLR's with Rokkors.
I personally think rangefinder lenses are generally better, especially at the wider end. This is just my experience. So for a 21mm lens, you should see a difference. That said, I personally think having a better quality lens has little correlation with making good pictures. Which for me is the point of it all.
Also, every system has outstanding lenses. The Zeiss 35mm f2 ZM is one of my favorite lenses for my Leica, but the 35mm ZF is also great on my Nikon SLR, although much bigger and heavier. And the Nikkor 85mm f1.4 and 105mm f2.5 are two of the best lenses I've ever used for any camera, and much cheaper used than almost any rangefinder lens.
It sounds like you prefer using your FE2, so why use something you like less, just because a lens or two may be technically better? There's the overall camera system to consider. I do love my Leica, but having three kids and two dogs myself, I think an SLR probably is a better all-around tool for shooting your 5-year-old and your dog. You have a closer minimum focus distance and you have better flash capability.
Not to dissuade anyone from presenting their views, but... this topic has been discussed ad nauseum, so it'd be a good idea to do a search on APUG. You'll find diverse opinions. On the other hand, bear in mind that many of the arguments surrounding RF vs. SLR are rather dated, and some of the old arguments are simply parroted online.
A few decades ago, I think the case for RF wides was clear; you can probably look through MTF charts at photodo and see why. But now there are superduper apo hypercorrected SLR lenses, even zooms such as the Nikon 14-24, that absolutely delight their users, be they amateur or professional.
For me, personally, the best arguments in favor RFs have a lot more to do with the mode of composition and ergonomics than lens theory. That said, I (and others) can cite specific RF lenses that are without peer.
Thanks for the replies. I have read past threads (on many sites) but the problem is that you just keep getting a distorted view, and I guess there have been quite significant changes to lens designs recently (certainly the last few years). Anyway, that's been an interesting help. It's funny, I am having my first major exhibition in a few months of portraits, and they are nearly all from my SLR cameras so obviously I do enjoy them more. Time to sell some RF gear I guess ;-)
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There still are some differences (usually), namely that it is far easier to design a non-retrofocus wide-angle lens for a RF having little or no distortion (but generally vignetting a bit more).
Otherwise, for me the difference is mainly in being a different medium.
M6, SL, SL2, R5, P6x7, SL3003, SL35-E, F, F2, FM, FE-2, Varex IIa
Yes, well, this topic mixes two of the activities most damaging to your [photographic] vision, namely brand-wanking and gear-wanking.
Originally Posted by mesh
First of all, ask yourself, "Can I really see technical differences in lenses that seriously affect the content of the work in its final form?"
In other words, ask yourself why you really need to know, and why it would make a difference even if you did know.
Then decide if the price of the supposedly better optics is worth the many drawbacks of rangefinders in many situations just to gain that technical edge, if you can even see it at all.
My opinion is that rangefinders are definitely "fun," and hold the occasional advantage in the occasional situation. I have a few, and I love them and the results, when used in suitable situations. But I find the usual arguments for their superiority to be strongly lacking in the practicality department, and to be rooted in emotion more than anything else. IMO that is a valid reason, but it ought to be stated as such, not with some technical drivel as an argument. Rangefinders won't make any bad photo good. But they can certainly make what would have been a good photo, perfectly composed, timed, and focused, if you had had an SLR into one that is not worth printing because you were fiddling with focus, extending your lens, forgot your lens cap, couldn't see your composition because your lens hood was in the way, ended up with slightly different spatal relationships than what you saw in the VF, didn't get the D of F you wanted, etc.
Last edited by 2F/2F; 03-12-2011 at 05:22 PM. Click to view previous post history.
"Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."
- Rob Tyner (1944 - 1991)
I have much experience with medium format rangefinders and SLRs and I can say that I can see a significant difference in sharpness between the Mamiya 6 lenses and the Bronica SQ lenses. Certain Bronica lenses at certain apertures can come close, and Hasselblad lenses in general do come very close to the same sharpness but not quite. Again, this is my experience. Someone else may not believe me but I'm just stating what I've seen. I think anyone that owns a Mamiya 6 or 7 can attest to the rediculous shapness of the lenses. They probably are the sharpest MF lenses.
I always thought the RF vs SLR lens quality discussion made very little sense because most 35mm photography is done handheld anyway. A tripod would probably make more difference than the lens anyway. That said, a rangefinder is much easier to handhold given the lack of a mirror so I think the biggest advantage for rangefinder image quality has to do with the lack of mirror and aperture shut down than anything else.