The Weakness of Rangefinder

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A rangefinder camera like the Leica M is technically just another camera that can be used to shoot like any other camera. As much as people always praised about how great a rangefinder camera is, there are a few things that rangefinder cameras are not excel in.

  • What you see is not exactly what you get
    As the optical viewfinder is off axis from the lens, hence there will be parallax error. In the viewfinder, only the estimated frameline is shown, which as the name implied, is estimated. Parallax error gets worse when you are shooting at closer distance. I guess this is why most rangefinder lenses has minimum focusing distance of 0.5 to 0.7m or so to avoid the problem.
  • Shooting macro
    As mentioned previously, rangefinder is not good in close focusing, hence making it tricky to use for macro work. However, there are macro lenses built for rangefinder (choices are very limited though) with additional viewfinder attachment. I haven’t tried it personally so I can’t comment on how effective it is.
  • Shooting through fences / obstacles
    As rangefinder utilize the alignment of lens and rangefinder window to estimate distance and focusing, when you are shooting through some obstacles such as fences or holes on the wall, you will run into issue whereby you can see your subject in your optical viewfinder, but the rangefinder window was blocked by the wall or fences, hence you will not be able to align the focus patch and focus with the rangefinder.
  • Focusing on repeative pattern
    Since rangefinder focusing is to align the double image in the focus patch, when you are shooting subject with repeative pattern such as leaves and branches, you will have a hard time figuring out which is which and hence unable to get focus easily.
  • Getting the starburst
    Viewing through the optical viewfinder alone is hard to determine whether you have managed to position your camera in the right angle to create the starburst or sunburst effect due to the parallax error. So in order to do this kind of creative shot some guesstimation or trial and error is required.
  • Shooting telephoto and wide angle
    Rangefinder’s viewfinder usually can accomodate lenses range from 28mm up to 135mm. For anything wider or longer there will be no frame line shown in the optical viewfinder. This is due to the optical viewfinder is not viewing through the lens like SLR/DSLR. When shooting wide angle, external optical viewfinder will be required to get the estimated frame. These finders can be attached to the hotshoe, and one will need to frame via the external optical viewfinder while focus through the built in optical viewfinder, since this is where the rangefinder located. For telephoto focal length such as 90mm to 135mm, although frameline is shown in the optical viewfinder, the frame is rather small and hence to focus accurately becomes trickier. Most will resort to adding additional magnifying eye piece to the finder in order to magnify what you see in the optical viewfinder, hence results in better focus accuracy.

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These are some of the major challenges one will be facing when using a rangefinder camera. All these problems cannot really be mitigated, but one can make use of the depth of field scale on the lens by estimating your focusing distance and try to get the shot, or try to work around with the aid of other accessories and so on. For the Leica M Type 240, these problems can be overcome via live view or the optional electronic viewfinder.

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One may think that with so much limitation why one still prefer to shoot with rangefinder. I wonder too. Anyway, there are chances where these limitation will not affect much on your photography style, and probably the joy of shooting with one has outweight the frustration of using one. End of the day, use a camera that you are comfortable with and keep shooting. You will get to know the camera better the more you shoot and hence able to overcome the limitation and achieve more as time goes by. Hope this short post gave you some idea about the downside of rangefinder. Together with some of the previous posts on the advantage of using a rangefinder, I hope these posts will assist you in deciding whether rangefinder is your cup of tea. Till then.

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