Rangefinder camera

A Soviet-made  rangefinder camera
A Soviet-made FED-2 rangefinder camera

A rangefinder camera is one with a rangefinder that allows the photographer to judge the focusing distance. The rangefinder shows a double image, and aligning the two images of the object focused on gauges its distance. Older cameras may display the focusing distance and require the photographer to transfer the value to the lens focusing ring. Most recent designs are coupled rangefinders - that is, the focus is adjusted both in the rangefinder and in the lens by the same control, usually a ring on the lens. In older designs the rangefinder is separate from the viewfinder; in most newer ones it appears at the center of the viewfinder.


The first rangefinder (and the name "Range Finder") was invented by Morris Schwartz and sold by his company Kalart. It was designed as an add-on to the Graflex Speed Graphic press camera: you could either send in your own Speed Graphic for modification, or send the cost of a new Speed Graphic in addition to the cost of the Range Finder and Kalart would buy the camera, add the Range Finder and ship it back to you. (Schwartz also invented several other important photographic devices, including the first flash synchronizer and a system for focussing a camera in the dark which worked on the same principle as the rangefinder.)

Rangefinder cameras were common from the 1930s to the 1970s, but the more advanced models lost ground to single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras.

The best known rangefinder cameras take 35mm film, employ focal plane shutters, and have interchangeable lenses. These are Leica screwmount (also known as M39) cameras developed for lens manufacturer Leitz Wetzlar by Oscar Barnack (which gave rise to very many imitations and derivatives), Contax cameras manufactured for Carl Zeiss Optics by camera subsidiary Zeiss-Ikon and, after Germany's defeat in World War II, produced again and then developed as the Ukrainian Kiev), Nikon S-series cameras (with design inspired by the Contax and function by the Leica), and Leica M-series cameras.

Other such cameras include the Casca (Steinheil, West Germany, 1948), Detrola 400 (USA, 1940–41), Ektra (Kodak, USA, 1941–8), Foca (OPL, France, 1947–63), Foton (Bell & Howell, USA, 1948), Opema II (Meopta, Czechoslovakia, 1955–60), Perfex (USA, 1938–49), Robot Royal (Robot-Berning, West Germany, 1955–76), and Witness (Ilford, Britain, 1953). Among the longer lasting marques, all but the Leica M succumbed in the marketplace to pressure from SLRs. The most recent in the M-series is the M7, the first of the series to feature automatic exposure and an electronic shutter; and the all-mechanical MP, an updated M6 with an M3-style rewind knob.

In the United States the dependable and cheap Argus (especially the ubiquitous C-3 "Brick") was far and away the most popular 35mm rangefinder, with millions sold.

Interchangeable-lens cameras rangefinder cameras with focal-plane shutters are greatly outnumbered by fixed-lens leaf-shutter rangefinder cameras. The most popular design in the 50's were folding designs like the Kodak Retina and the Zeiss Contessa.

In the 60's non-folding 35mm rangefinders were mass produced by many companies, mainly Japanese. Among the Japanese companies that still (2005) produce cameras, Canon, Fujica, Konica, Mamiya, Minolta, Olympus and Ricoh made cameras of this type. These camera were targeted to the amateur market. They were designed to be compact but featured some advanced features the Leicas where lacking like automatic or semi-automatic exposure. Later, they eventually failed to compete with newer compact autofocus cameras.

Starting with a camera made by the small Japanese company Yasuhara, here has been something of a revival of rangefinder cameras in the 1990s. Aside from the Leica M-series, current models include the Konica RF, Voigtlnder Bessa R2a and R3a, and Hasselblad Xpan; Zeiss has also announced a new model called the Zeiss Ikon, made by Cosina. Nikon has also produced expensive limited editions of the S3 and SP to satisfy the demands of collectors and aficionados in the 21st century. Cameras from the former Soviet Union — the Zorki and FED, based on the screwmount Leica, and the Kiev — are plentiful in the used market.

There have also been many medium-format rangefinder cameras. Recent models include the Mamiya 7, the Bronica RF645 and the Fuji G series. The Graflex Speed Graphic is a famous large-format rangefinder very popular with journalists during the 1940s.

Digital imaging technology came to the rangefinder in 2004 with the introduction of the Epson RD-1 digital rangefinder camera. Manufactured by Cosina, which also builds the current Voigtlnder cameras, the RD-1 uses Leica M-mount lenses or earlier Leica screw mount lenses with an adapter.

Pros and Cons

SLRs are usually more technically advanced than rangefinder cameras, with more system options, and have the advantage that the image is seen through the same lens through which it is photographed.

Since the user looks through a viewfinder some distance from the lens and sees an image that is slightly different from the image which will be recorded on the film, framing becomes inaccurate at close range (parallax problem). However, more advanced rangefinder cameras project a frameline into the viewfinder which corrects parallax error at all but very close imaging distances. For close-up photography, the rangefinder camera is awkward to use, as the image recorded may be significantly different from what the viewer sees. Variable zoom lenses are not available for rangefinder cameras, though a very few lenses such as the Leica Tri-Elmar or Konica Dual-Hexanon let the user select among two or three focal lengths.

Rangefinder cameras do have several advantages over SLRs in certain applications. Since there is no moving mirror, as used in SLRs, the shutter response is faster and quieter and there is no momentary blackout; also, the camera's body is slimmer and less obtrusive. The lack of a mirror also allows lenses to project deep into the camera body, and so high quality wide-angle lenses are easier to design. (The Voigtlnder 12mm lens is the widest-angle rectilinear lens in general production.) In general, lenses are smaller than their SLR equivalents. Rangefinder focusing is more accurate with standard and wide-angle lenses (whereas an SLR is more accurate with telephoto lenses). These qualities make rangefinders ideal for action-grabbing candid shots and street photography.

External Links

The following are some external links to sites with more information on specific rangefinder cameras.

ja:レンジファインダー・カメラ pl:Aparat dalmierzowy


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (https://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Art)
    • Architecture (https://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Architecture)
    • Cultures (https://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Cultures)
    • Music (https://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Music)
    • Musical Instruments (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/List_of_musical_instruments)
  • Biographies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Biographies)
  • Clipart (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Clipart)
  • Geography (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Geography)
    • Countries of the World (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Countries)
    • Maps (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Maps)
    • Flags (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Flags)
    • Continents (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Continents)
  • History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History)
    • Ancient Civilizations (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Ancient_Civilizations)
    • Industrial Revolution (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Industrial_Revolution)
    • Middle Ages (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Middle_Ages)
    • Prehistory (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Prehistory)
    • Renaissance (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Renaissance)
    • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
    • United States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/United_States)
    • Wars (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Wars)
    • World History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History_of_the_world)
  • Human Body (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Human_Body)
  • Mathematics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Mathematics)
  • Reference (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Reference)
  • Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Science)
    • Animals (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Animals)
    • Aviation (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Aviation)
    • Dinosaurs (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Dinosaurs)
    • Earth (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Earth)
    • Inventions (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Inventions)
    • Physical Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Physical_Science)
    • Plants (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Plants)
    • Scientists (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Scientists)
  • Social Studies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Social_Studies)
    • Anthropology (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Anthropology)
    • Economics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Economics)
    • Government (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Government)
    • Religion (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Religion)
    • Holidays (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Holidays)
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Solar_System)
    • Planets (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Planets)
  • Sports (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Sports)
  • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
  • Weather (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Weather)
  • US States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/US_States)


  • Home Page (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php)
  • Contact Us (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Contactus)

  • Clip Art (http://classroomclipart.com)
Personal tools