Rangefinder cameras are an elegant, discrete choice that often represents the top-tier of price and build quality. Let’s talk about the best of the best.
As 2022 approaches, we’ve been taking some time to look back over the past year. While it was a chaotic time for everyone, the film community saw impressive growth. More and more people are picking up old cameras, and more and more people are recognizing the need to keep these lovely machines in working order. That’s where we come in!
We have access to unique data regarding google searches, advertisement results, and other data sources that give us a rough estimate of how much people search for a specific model. We’ve crunched the numbers and are proud to present a number of Top 10 lists for you to ring in 2022!
I mention this so that it’s clear that this list is not the opinion of Kamerastore. It’s an amalgamation of data driven almost entirely by customers and film lovers like you! If a camera you love isn’t on the list, then spread the word and get it higher in search results! Or don’t, and enjoy a hidden gem. Up to you!
Our third list (and fourth article) covers rangefinder cameras. These cameras use a mirror-based triangulation system for focusing and a viewfinder system where the photographer does not look through the lens. At one point, and for some still today, the rangefinder is the dominant camera for professional work.
Let’s dive right into it! Click the video below to see Nico & I discuss the list (and forget about the Voigtländer Bessa-R!) or keep scrolling for the text version. I’ll give you more information and some alternatives to each model on our list!
10. Leica M2
- Leica M Mount
- Shutter: 1s - 1/1000s + B
- ISO range: 4 - 1000, Reminder Only
- Released in 1957.
- Fully mechanical operation, no battery required.
- Second Leica M body ever produced, made with a lower budget and wider lenses in mind.
The M2 has been one of the best entry-level Leica cameras since it was introduced in 1957. Originally intended as a lower-cost alternative to the M3, the M2 achieved commercial success by retaining most of the Leica quality and catering to a different type of photographer.
Most importantly, the M2 features a 0.72x magnification finder, the first on a Leica camera. In English, this means the finder is built around the 35mm focal length instead of the 50mm like on the M3.
Many people consider 35mm and 50mm to be “standard” lenses capable of being taken everywhere. This means M2 users can use both standard lenses, whereas M3 users are mostly constrained to 50mm and telephoto options.
If you plan on switching lenses or using a 35mm lens at all, the M2 might be an even better option than the M3. Plus, they’re usually cheaper.
Alternatives: Leica M4, Canon P, Voigtländer Bessa R2, Nikon S3
9. Hasselblad XPan
- Hasselblad XPan Mount
- Shutter: 8s - 1/1000s + B
- ISO range: 25 - 3200
- Released in 1998.
- 2x CR2 battery required for all operations, including shutter & light meter.
- Only compact panoramic rangefinder camera, jointly developed by Fujifilm and Hasselblad.
The XPan is the most inimitable camera that people constantly try to imitate. Instead of the usual 24x36mm format that most 35mm cameras use, the XPan is capable of producing 24x65mm negatives. This extra space lends itself to cinematic and unique perspectives.
What makes the XPan truly unique is that it does this without a swinging lens, difficult handling, or other qualifiers that panoramic cameras tend to have. The XPan handles just like a slightly-wide 35mm rangefinder. It can even take normal 24x36mm images if you feel like it.
This makes the XPan much more flexible than cameras like the Horizont or Veriwide, with modern handling
Developed jointly by Fujifilm and Hasselblad, the only true alternatives to the XPan are Fuji’s TX-1 and TX-2. Otherwise, there’s nothing else quite like the XPan, no matter how much people on the internet may gripe about it.
Alternatives: Fujifilm TX-1, Bronica ETRS w/ 135N Back
8. Leica M3
- Leica M Mount
- Shutter: 1s - 1/1000s + B
- ISO range: 6 - 200, Reminder Only
- Released in 1953.
- Fully mechanical operation, no battery required.
- First Leica M body, introduced a huge viewfinder, built-in frame lines, and the Leica M mount.
The M3 redefined what a rangefinder was. By the early 1950s, people in Japan, Germany, and even the Soviet Union had begun to copy Leica designs. The Leica thread mount was widely used by brands other than Leica, and the competition was getting stiff.
With companies like Canon, Nikon, and Zeiss Ikon breathing down their necks, Leica delivered a game-changer. All other rangefinders on the market were outdated the moment the M3 came out in 1953, and few would recover.
Sure, a lot of the collapse of the rangefinder market was due to the popularity of SLRs like the Nikon F, but Leica’s M3 showed just how far behind everyone else was. Even today, using the M3 is a remarkably modern experience.
It feels lightyears ahead of cameras like the Contax IIa, Nikon S2, and Canon II F that it competed against. Simply put your eye to the viewfinder to see the difference. It took other manufacturers years to come up with anything even close to the M3, and by then the SLR era had nearly begun.
We actually have a whole article on finding alternatives to the Leica M3, so click here to read that!
Alternatives: Canon 7s, Leica M2, Nikon SP
7. Voigtländer Bessa-R
- Leica M Mount/M39
- Shutter: 1s - 1/2000s + B
- ISO range: 25 - 3200
- Released in 1953.
- Fully mechanical operation, LR44 battery required only for light meter.
- Low-cost Leica M alternative with lightweight, plastic construction, built-in light meter, & excellent viewfinder.
The Bessa-R line was introduced in 2000 by Cosina-Voigtländer as a low-cost M mount alternative. Although prices for these have risen to near-Leica levels in the past few years, they still remain a popular option for many. That’s because they offer an ease of use that some older Leicas can’t match.
Mainly, the presence of an internal light meter makes life a lot easier. The coupled system uses 3 LEDs similarly to the Voigtländer VC or Doomo external meters. It’s a great system.
Although the Bessas can feel a bit plasticky, they’re very lightweight and quite new, meaning failures aren’t as common and service isn’t necessarily required right after purchase the way it is with, for example, an M3 from 1953.
While the Bessa-R doesn’t deliver the same build quality or sophistication as the Leica Ms, it has been a serviceable alternative to them for years. Hopefully prices stay lower than the Leicas!
Alternatives: Leica M5, Canon 7s, Leica CL
6. Mamiya 6
- Rangefinder camera taking 6x6cm exposures
- Shutter: (In-Lens) 4s - 1/500s + B
- Released in 1989.
- 2x LR44 battery required for all operations, including light meter and shutter.
- Collapsible, ultra-lightweight rangefinder with 3 interchangeable lenses.
The Mamiya 6 lives a bit in the shadow of its younger 6x7 brother, but it’s a truly superb camera in its own right. There’s a reason why the 6 is on our top rangefinders & medium format camera lists, and it’s not only because of the Mamiya 7!
There are a few key differences between the 6 and the 7 that might make one a better camera than the other for you.
The 6 is square format, taking 12 6x6cm exposures on each roll. The 6 has only 3 interchangeable lenses (50mm, 75mm, 150mm) but they collapse into the body, making the 6 one of the most compact medium format cameras ever made.
The lenses are a bit slow compared to SLR lenses, but it becomes incredibly difficult to nail focus at shallow depth of field using a rangefinder, especially close-up. If you’re looking to take close-up portraits, a rangefinder camera like this is not for you.
The Mamiya 6 is likely on this list partly for its relationship to the Mamiya 7, where people are turned away by the prices of the later 6x7 model and decide to check out the cheaper 6x6 model. That being said, the 6 still offers an incredibly unique shooting experience that few other cameras can compare to.
Alternatives: Bronica RF645, Mamiya Six, Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta III, Fujica GS645
5. Contax G2
- Shutter: 4s - 1/4000s + B
- ISO range: 6 - 6400
- Released in 1996.
- 2x CR2 battery required for all operations, including shutter, autofocus, and meter.
- Hybrid AF rangefinder with top-quality construction & extremely high quality Zeiss lenses.
The G2 was the only camera on the list we had to debate, because it’s not a rangefinder in the same way a Leica M3 is. Yes, the G2 uses a triangulation system to calculate focus distance, but it’s a computer that does it rather than the human eye. You see, the G2 is the only autofocus camera on our list.
Even though it gave us some trouble, we decided to include the G2 because it’s another truly unique option in the 35mm space. No other camera can offer the same mixture of size, quality, features, and excellent glass that the G2 has. Honestly, it’s not even close.
While the passive AF system of the Contax G1 might have left a lot to be desired, the system in the G2 is much improved, as is the lens variety. The G2 is the only camera on our list capable of using a traditional zoom lens. Even though Leica and Konica made some lenses with 2 or 3 different focal lengths, the 35-70mm for Contax G can be used at any focal length.
For its unique-ness alone, the G2 deserves a spot on the list.
Alternatives: Contax G1, Konica Hexar RF, Konica Hexar AF, Contax T2, Leica Minilux
4. Yashica Electro 35
- Shutter: 30s - 1/500s + B
- ISO range: 25 - 1000
- Released in 1966.
- 4LR44 battery & adapter required for all operations, including shutter & meter.
- Spiderman camera, with fast & fixed Yashinon lens & aperture priority auto exposure.
The Yashica Electro 35 was widely popular before its use in The Amazing Spider-Man. Let’s get that out of the way now. We reviewed this un-compact compact rangefinder about a year ago and enjoyed its image quality and simple shooting style. Click here to read it.
While it’s not as compact as cameras like the Canon Canonet QL17 or Konica C35, the Electro 35’s weight makes it feel more substantial in the hand. For some people, ultra-compact cameras don’t fit the hands properly. The Electro 35 is a great choice if you have big hands.
Its aperture priority auto-exposure system makes shooting fast and simple, and its Yashinon 45mm f1.7 lens is fast and sharp.
My biggest criticism of the camera is its dim viewfinder and some notorious reliability issues, but they can often be found quite cheaply and were manufactured in large quantities. With the right battery adapter and care, an Electro 35 can be all the camera you need!
Alternatives: Yashica Lynx-14, Minolta Hi-Matic, Konica Auto S3, Rollei 35, Canon Canonet QL19
3. Olympus XA
- Shutter: 10s - 1/500s
- ISO range: 25 - 800
- Released in 1979.
- 2x LR44 battery required for all operations, including shutter & meter.
- Ultra-compact fixed-lens rangefinder designed by Yoshihisa Maitani. Introduced the clamshell design that defined Olympus compacts until the Mju-II.
Yoshihisa Maitani, designer of the Olympus PEN and OM-1, was tasked with creating a compact rangefinder camera with a fixed lens. His team’s results? The Olympus XA, which manages to pack more camera into a small package than anything else, save perhaps the Rollei 35.
What makes the XA a better user camera, in my opinion, is the reason it’s on this list; the rangefinder. Having a focusing aid and aperture priority makes the XA more user-friendly and simpler to shoot.
Not to mention the non-collapsible lens. Maitani and his team were optical geniuses to fit a 35mm f2.8 lens into such a small body. While the lens has quite a bit of light falloff towards the edges, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that it’s a very sharp lens for its size.
The only bad thing about the XA, if you can call it bad, is that the rangefinder patches tend to be quite dim these days. The rangefinder baseline is also quite short, so precision focusing isn’t very possible. These are minor issues, though, in the face of a truly excellent camera.
Alternatives: Konica C35, Olympus XA2, Rollei 35
2. Leica M6
- Leica M Mount
- Shutter: 1s - 1/1000s + B
- ISO range: 6 - 6400
- Released in 1984.
- Fully mechanical operation, 2x LR44 battery only required for light meter.
- Leica’s return-to-form, bringing internal light metering and some modern advancements to the traditional M4 frame.
After Leica’s move to Canada and the commercial failure of the M5, Leica was in dire straits. While they had put out two of their most advanced and ambitious cameras ever in the M5 and CL, their audience clamored for something classic. Luckily for them, Leica delivered.
The M6 basically took the internal light meter from the M5 and fit it into the M4’s chassis. Assumedly Leica’s partnership with Minolta was instrumental in this, as Minolta contributed considerable knowledge of how to produce electronic parts.
By combining the classic styling of earlier M’s with modern technology, the M6 proved to be the most popular Leica camera of all time. It also had a number of high-profile special editions during its almost 20-year production run.
The M6 is also one of the most hyped cameras ever made, for good reason. An internal light meter makes shooting with a Leica so much easier, and the M6 is one of the few Leicas to offer this while remaining mechanical.
Alternatives: Zeiss Ikon ZM, Leica M5, Konica Hexar RF
1. Mamiya 7
- Rangefinder camera taking 6x7cm exposures.
- Shutter: (In-Lens) 1s - 1/400s + B
- Released in 1995.
- 4LR44 battery required for all operations, including shutter & light meter.
- Ultra-lightweight rangefinder camera capturing huge 6x7cm negatives with a wide range of excellent Mamiya lenses.
The Mamiya 7 might be the most sought after medium format camera on the market. Because it was only released in 1995, there aren’t as many of them as the rest of the cameras on the list. Despite that, it has a cult following due to it being arguably the smallest camera to use the very popular 6x7 format.
Unlike the earlier Mamiya 6, the 7 does not collapse. This allows it to use the wider 6x7 negative and use a wider variety of lenses, from 43mm to 210mm. The wide angle lenses, in particular the 43mm f4.5, are regarded as some of the sharpest lenses ever made. Anecdotally, we know many people who give up large format kits for a Mamiya 7 because it’s hard to tell the difference in sharpness except at the absolute largest print size.
The Mamiya 7 might be the most extreme medium format camera ever made. It’s extremely low weight, with a huge negative and some of the best lenses ever made. Naturally, this has caused prices to increase rapidly as the film community expands. Yet, people continue to buy them because the Mamiya 7 offers a shooting experience unmatched by any other camera.
Alternatives: Fujica GM670, Mamiya 6, Plaubel Makina 67
Rangefinder cameras are often small, quiet, and discrete while offering more manual features than other cameras in their market. Based on this list, Leica is the dominant force in the rangefinder world. Their decisions have ripple effects through the entire industry, even to this day.
Using a rangefinder, though, is not for everyone. That style of focusing can be a bit tricky to master, and not being able to look directly through the lens limits the rangefinder's flexibility. Nobody is arguing that the Leica M3 is a more flexible camera than the Nikon F, though. These days, it’s not supposed to be.
That being said, some rangefinders have been driven up in price a lot more than SLRs. This is likely because fewer were made. After the release of the Nikon F, the SLR became the dominant camera type and rangefinders were relegated to niche uses, like street photography, where the small size, quiet shutters, and discrete function can be fully utilized.
If you’re looking to get into rangefinders, you don’t have to break the bank. Check out the alternatives listed below each model, or keep scrolling for some rangefinders that I think deserve more love.
Canon Canonet QL19
The Canonet line of cameras featured on our Leica M3 Alternatives article makes an appearance here as well, for the same reasons. The QL19 isn’t the most popular Canonet, but offers 90% of the functionality for a lower price tag.
If you can live without the f1.7 lens of the more-popular QL17 G-III, look out for QL19s. These lenses are extremely sharp and the shutter priority operation of the QL17 and QL19 make them very easy to use. They can even be used in full manual mode, although you lose light metering when in manual mode.
Picking a fixed lens camera instead of an interchangeable lens one can save you a lot of money without sacrificing much function. Unless you’re planning on swapping lenses quite often, a fixed lens camera like the QL19 can get the job done for you.
Some other fixed-lens rangefinders you might want to consider are the Kodak Retina IIIc & Olympus 35 SP. The Retina is an excellent folding camera with a super-sharp Schneider lens and the Olympus is one of the few 35mm cameras with a built-in spot meter!
Zorki 4K, Kiev-4, or FED
I’d kick myself if I didn’t include a Russian rangefinder, so why not include all of them? While they may not have amazing records for reliability, their low price makes them approachable & fun.
Most of these cameras were derived from German designs.. Repurposed after World War II. Zeiss Ikon and Leica plants were essentially moved to Russia and Ukraine, where the USSR attempted to recreate them on a shoestring budget. The results? Loose machining tolerances, poor quality lubricants, and a lot (millions of units sold) of fun!
Go into your experience with Soviet cameras with a grain of salt. Expecting them to match the quality of the cameras they emulate is a fool’s errand. If you’re able to find a copy with a good Jupiter lens, though, you’ll be happy with the results. Some of those lenses can keep pace with their German and Japanese counterparts.
There’s a wide variety of Leica thread mount bodies out there, so I’ll just recommend them all. If you want the fully manual process of the M2/M3 but the price scares you away, or if you want the smallest rangefinders out there, look at the Barnack Leicas.
These cameras were designed to be pocketable, with collapsible lenses and small frames. Unfortunately, the viewfinders are also quite small and difficult to use. Canon’s rangefinders at the time did a better job, even combining the viewfinder & rangefinder.
There’s something pure about shooting with a Barnack Leica. It takes some getting used to, but in the right hands a thread mount Leica is capable of world class images. Just be sure to get them serviced by a reputable technician and avoid lenses with haze in them!
No, not that one. The other one. Before the collapsible, plastic marvel that is the Mamiya 6 there was the folding, exceptional line of cameras known as the Mamiya Six. I’m using this camera to represent a few excellent folding rangefinders, like the Voigtländer Bessa, Fujica Super Six, and Konica Pearl.
These slightly older 120 cameras have coupled rangefinders and excellent fixed lenses, plus they fold up to the size of 35mm cameras! If you can find one in good condition they can be truly excellent shooters.
They’re also quite simple internally, and can likely be repaired for years to come. The most common failure points would be the shutters and bellows, both of which can be serviced/replaced by someone with enough skill.
Rangefinder cameras can be expensive, finicky, and difficult to get used to. They’re certainly not for everyone. That being said, there are some incredibly unique offerings in this segment that make it impossible to ignore.
Even aside from the allure & prestige of Leica, cameras like the Hasselblad XPan, Mamiya 7, and Contax G2 stand out from the pack with their features, unique designs, and incredible image quality.
While the rangefinder camera will never be the dominant camera type, they will always have their niche within the photographic community and a legion of loyal, die-hard users. So grab one and try a rangefinder today!