Rangefinder questions (specific to older Leica M's and screwmounts)

Discussion in 'Collector's Corner' started by Antithesis, Dec 18, 2009.

  1. Antithesis

    Antithesis No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    For my next trip, I was thinking I want to shoot film and maybe use a rangefinder. I've lugged around a full digital kit with pro lenses and everything, and I feel like it starts to get in the way and can unmotivate me to lug it all around to take pictures. So, that has led me to rangefinders. Also, the place I'm going is Peru and I will be going in the rainy season. That means that there will be a lot of dampness going on, and would require me to either shoot film or bring weather-sealed bodies and lenses, and I really don't feel like lugging a bunch of heavy glass around. Not to mention, I need to rebuy my camera kit, and a film camera and lenses will cost quite a bit less.

    I'm yet undecided on bodies, but as of now I'm very interested in the Voigtlander Bessa R, but I'm concerned about the plastic body and possible shutter issues. I do, however, like the internal meter and the plethora of available lenses. The bright viewfinder would be a huge bonus as well. I really want to go with screwmount lenses specifically for the voigtlanders as well as old Canon rangefinder lenses.

    The other option is to find a well loved (read: heavily used) Leica M3 with a screwmount adapter for a couple hundred more and not have to worry about it breaking down in the middle of Machu Picchu. The obvious concern would be the lack of a meter, which is something I've always been reliant on. I would probably get a meter for it and train myself the exact settings required for different light and eventually stop using it. I'm aware that bright sunlight is 1/125th at f16, but that doesn't help me in the shade or in a dark building.

    The other options are a Leica screwmount body, though I've heard the finders are horrible and they are pretty clunky, or maybe a Canon P (but that even gets me almost into the M3 territory), and I still need a meter for both.

    So, my main questions are, what would you do in my shoes? Also, for those that don't use a meter, how long does it take to be able to 'wing it' in tricky light?

    Thanks and sorry for the novel.
     
  2. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    I think the Bessa-R, the original model, uses the shutter and film advance systems from the Cosina-made Nikon FM-10. I own a Bessa-R, but am unfamiliar with the FM-10 and its record for reliability. Of course, a simple,lightweight R-body could be duplicated with not too much space taken up, and perhaps cameraquest.com has a few other body options. I would e-mail Stephen Gandy and ask him about Bessa series reliability--his site has sold more Bessas than any other in the USA. I think the chances are that a new Bessa R-series would make it to Peru and back with all components intact. A kit with a wide, semi-wide, normal, and 75mm could be carried in a fanny pack, the lenses are so,so compact. I have the 35/1.7,50/1.5,70/2.5; I think the 35/1.7 is discontinued now. All quite good lenses,and very small.

    The reliability of a new Bessa-R is probably as good as a 30 year-old M3, unless the M3 has been recently cleaned,lubed,and adjusted by a *competent* and "proficient* Leica repairman. I think a cheap-looking Bessa-R series would draw less attention. I read at Machu Pichu they are now charging a steep admission price for "professional cameras" and tripods. leica III series cameras are, well, old designs; the last were made in the early 1960's IMMSMC: I would prefer the ease of use of the Bessa over a III-series thread-mount Leica. I, in fact, bought the Bessa R for its advantages over such a camera. Thread mount lenses are more-adaptable,as you know,than M-mount lenses. I would take 2 cameras to Peru.

    I started shooting B&W as a kid, going only by the Kodak film sheet lighting diagrams; there are a lot of "old" guideline books and pamphlets listing exposures for all sorts of lighting conditions. There is also the old X-factor system; Beginning at Sunny 16, when clouds come out, it's + 1x; heavier clouds +2x, heavy overcast +3,and so on, right down to Moonlight Full Moon at I think +19x. Fred Picker (?) I think has a web page devoted to a similar EV system. if you did a bit of practicing, and shot color negative film, you could be getting good exposures within a month or two; with slide film, I think you'd need more experience to get the exposures "pegged" properly.
     
  3. Antithesis

    Antithesis No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I'll probably be using mostly color and B&W negative film because I know it can be pushed and also have exposure compensation done at a lab, making perfect exposure slightly less important.

    The lenses I am considering are the Voigtlander 21mm F4, the Canon Serenar 50mm f1.8 and probably the probably the Serenar 85mm F2 as well. Both the Canons can be had for very cheap from KEH in "UG" condition, which usually just means working-but-not-pretty. I'd also like to get a 35mm if I can afford it, but I don't know exactly how much I'll have to spend. Part of me also wants to spend the money on a good-condition Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 for the wider aperture, as I'll likely shoot on the 50 the most. I'll likely have less than a grand to spend on camera gear, so compromises will have to be made. I really want the 21mm though, as I have a huge soft-spot for ultra-wides.

    Oh, and the wifey will be shooting on a digital point and shoot. I'm just going to be taking the shots that will be mounted on the wall :)
     
  4. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    I wasn't aware how low the prices were on the older Canon RF lenses in UG condition. I was wondering if a Cosina SW-107 aka Bessa-L might be useful; no rangefinder, no viewfinder, but $150 or so on eBay, $199 brand new. Separate finder needed for various wides or ultra-wides....just a thought.

    I don't know much about the old Canon RF lenses.
     
  5. Mike_E

    Mike_E No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Man, get you some Medium Format.

    A cheap TLR or even a folder if you want convenience.

    If you spend $200 or $300 on a folder that's been CLA'd you get MF negs that you really can print for your walls, really good glass -coated even- and not only can you carry it in a coat pocket but you could get most if not all of your money back should you want to sell it when you get back. And an inexpensive hand held meter can be easily had.

    Ask Mitca100 from here home (mitica100) or get in touch with a guy that goes by Certo6 Vintage Folding Cameras

    Enjoy your trip!!
     
  6. Antithesis

    Antithesis No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I read somewhere that the little 50mm F1.8 Serenar is a great lens, but now I can't find where it was. I thought it was on cameraquest, but for the life of me I can't find the article. And at $89, I probably can't go too horribly wrong. I don't know about the 90mm, but it's pretty cheap and has a wide aperture to boot.

    I was originally looking at the L, but I don't think I could live without the finder. Also, do you find that your Bessa feels kind of cheap? The whole thing is made out of plastic on an aluminum chassis, right? And have you had any problems with finder misalignment?
     
  7. compur

    compur No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I have a Bessa R, Canon L-1 and a Leica M2. They're all fine cameras.

    I see no reason the Bessa R wouldn't fill your needs, especially if a TTL meter
    is a requirement.

    Any camera can have shutter issues including Leica and Canon.
     
  8. Antithesis

    Antithesis No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I had actually thought about medium format, but I want to be able to get film if I need it. I'm sure medium format film is pretty easy to get in Lima or Puno or one of the other big cities, but I don't want to get caught without film when I need it. Being able to shoot more than 12 or 16 negs per roll will also be helpful as I plan to shoot at least 400-500 exposures (probably more actually), and that will get unwieldy when shooting MF, not to mention expensive.

    My Dad actually just asked what I want for christmas. I might have him get me one of those Bessa R's off keh so I can play around with it before my trip and get to know it.

    Oh, and is LTM glass as legendarily sharp as M-mount glass? edit: from Leica that is. Or is it a lens by lens basis, as with other companies?
     
  9. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Well, "plastic" is what the Canon AE-1, A1,etc were made of...the top and bottom decks of those famous Canons were all made out of "plastic", which is impact resistant, and generally tougher than people might give it credit for. I think a good analogy might come from the comparison between Hasselblad 500 series bodies and the Bronica SQ series cameras; as this site's own Compur wrote not long ago, old "Japanese" medium format cameras seem to be more reliable than old "European" medium format cameras. Why? The way I see it, the Euor-concept engineering idea is tight tolerances, metal, and lubrication, combined with regular cleaning,lubricating, and tolerance adjustment. IOW, a CLA every two or three years.

    The newer, Japanese camera engineering designers figured out how to make cameras that use parts that can run FREELY without any lubrication needed...making cleaning,lubricating,and adjusting pretty much a non-factor. And if it calls for it, using plastic for the top deck and bottom decks--just like Canon did with the entire A-series. How well have those held up over the past 25 years? "cheap, plastic junk" is how they were described by Nikon shooters when I was a young man...and yet, the A-series went on to be hugely successful and long-lived. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Hasselblad-Bronica comparison is a good example of where the "better-made" European camera has a series of problems,especially overlapping frames, plus shutter jam-ups due to cocking/lens removal issues, which the Japanese engineers completely avoided when designing the Bronica SQ some 25 years later than Hasselblad.

    What I like about Cosina is that they have an actual "head guy" who has a vision, a lot like Olympus used to, and the way Leitz used to; one man, a real camera lover, who actually conceptualizes the designs and has a huge hand in the design parameters. And no, I have not had any trouble with the viewfinder getting misaligned--that is IMHO, a typical careless-handling result, of either drops, door-jam knocks, or body-to-body slamming. But then, I don't drop my cameras, or allow them to slam into doorjams as I wear them fashionably slung over my shoulder, as so many people do.:lol:

    I think Cosina has tried to strike a balance between the fine craftsmanship of the old Swiss watches, and the newer, Japanese time keeping industry which relies on simple electronics to do what *could* be done with complicated mechanical system that require frequent CLA, metal castings, etc. As to an aluminum chassis versus brass or magnesium: I think that entire issue is entirely irrelevant. Aluminum is light,strong, and easily machined to perfect tolerances, so it has been the chassis choice of many camera makers for a long time. A lighter-weight camera is less likely to suffer impact damage when dropped or when it clanks into another camera--Nikon F's dented the prisms of one another when two were worn; Canon's A-series sort of bounced off one another, what with all that plastic!:lol:

    The one thing I do know--the old Nikon FM could withstand heavy,soaking rain,over years of use and carrying,and its simple LED type of +/ metering that the original Bessa R used proved to be very reliable in many cameras, much more so than the old-school meters used by earlier cameras, and I think that's another example of how very simple electronics and simplified "cheap" engineering solutions (LED metering) actually ended up being better than the older more "luxury" oriented engineering solution >"match needle".
     
  10. Antithesis

    Antithesis No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    That does make sense: Japanese goods using cheaper materials to make a product that is more reliable than it's German counterpart. Yet the German counterpart seems to be more "crash" friendly (I'd much rather get rear ended in a mercedes than a honda).

    So I think I may go with the Bessa R. Do you have any suggestions on lenses that can be had for cheap to help compliment the 21mm and a 50mm?
     
  11. Mitica100

    Mitica100 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Some ideas:

    Leica Screw Mount are pretty compact and easy to work. Rugged and long lasting. I still work with a 1934 Leica IIIa and the spacing between frames is absolutely identical for the entire length of the film. But... loading it is not easy. Another plus side is the availability of lenses, some really decent ones as well. Think about a collapsible Summitar or Summicron for a 50mm normal lens, it offers you a smaller package than the M3.

    Exposure without metering is easily done by consulting a little booklet to be found on eBay here. I use one with success and it's worth every penny of the $10.00 you're going to spend on.

    The Canon RF cameras are great, sometimes I can say they're better than the Leicas. They're well built, solid feel and yet comfortable. Their range finders are clearer and of much better quality, helping with better and faster focusing.

    If you still tend to go with an M3, which to me is the ultimate 35mm RF camera, make sure you find one with the range finder clean and crisp, for they are known to peter out in time. Even so, there is a simple solution to making the focusing spot more visible. PM me if you want the 'secret'... :lol:

    Medium Format cameras can be had as well, as long as you don't want to lug around a TLR or SLR. There are smaller alternatives, such as the Zeiss Super Ikonta A1 (531/16) which is 6x4.5 format, giving you 16 exposures per roll. A little less than the 35mm but much better resolution.

    Let me know if you have any questions...l
     
  12. Mitica100

    Mitica100 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Oh, and I would take any day a Canon 50/1.8 over a Summar 50mm lens...
     

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