I have a number of 70s fixed lens rangefinders and a Fed-4.
The Fed-4 is, for me, a wonderful camera and much more robustly made than internet 'wisdom' often has it. Also, the Industar-61 is a beautiful lens. The only problem with it is that it's quite a bulky camera.
The Japanese fixed lens rangefinders are much smaller and take good pictures, but, as the previous commentator said, lack charm.
I paid 10 UK pounds for the Fed-4 and 5 pounds (I think) for the little Chinon fixed lens rangefinder I use. So it's easy enough to dip a toe into the water cheaply.
Picked up a mint condition Minolta Hi-Matic 7s at a flea market for $10. Unlike the Yashica Electro 35's the minolta can be operated in automatic mode or in manual mode with full control of shutter speed and lens aperture.
There are so many options out there that you could get all tied up in knots. I agree that the CV Bessa cameras are a great way to start. So many people seem to like the Kievs but I find them interesting but horrible to use, that will get some irate replies! Has anyone mentioned the Retina 111S? An exceedingly pretty camera that is very quiet and has excellent optics. It uses the same lenses as the later Retina reflexes, the whole lens changes not just the front element. I much prefer it to the 111C.
I find that a couple of layers of either clear or black nail polish on the metal edges does a good job of protecting my glasses.
People forget that the Kiev4 is really just a continuation of production of what was arguably the best 35mm in the world before WWII, the Contax II. Good enough for Robert Capa, among others. My 1939 copy of Press Photography with the Miniature Camera notes that the Contax is slightly more popular among press photographers because of the quieter shutter (!) and earlier availability of fast lenses. They also define miniature as anything from 35mm to 6x9!
At the risk of blatant self-promotion, take a look at Rangefinder, Equipment, History, Techniques, by Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz, ISBN 1-86108-330-0, GMC Publications 2003.
I've been using RF cameras since about 1970. They ARE different from SLRs and what you get for more money is (usually) an easier camera to use, though not necessarily better quality.
Roger (www.rogerandfrances.com, where you can also see more about our books)
Good to see you here, Roger. :)
You are indeed missed where you have become scarce. :)