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35 mm Rangefinders & Viewfinders  

The entire idea of Rangefinders is accurate focus. The longer the RangeFinder Base and the larger the Image Magnification size, the longer the Effective Base Length.

RF x IM = EBL

The longer the EBL, the greater the Rangefinder and focus accuracy. 

The longer and faster the lens,  the more important EBL becomes for accurate focus. If you are having trouble getting consistent focus with the 75/1.4 or 50/1 on your M6, you might want to try a M3 (or the M6/M7/MP .85)  for increased focusing accuracy.  

Trivia question:  What were the largest optical rangefinders ever made?


CameraQuest's All Time Best  Interchangeable Lens 35mm Rangefinder/Viewfinders

                 Rating Criteria:  #1 Focusing Accuracy  # 2 Rangefinder & Viewfinder Brightness # 3 Framelines

                            Camera / Framelines                                                                                          RF Baselength x Magnification = EBL,   EBL Vs M3

# 1 2003 Leica MP 2003 and M7 best in 2003 Leica improved the MP and M7 finders by reducing flare and ghosting with the addition of  a condenser which was removed with the M4-2.  Whether you choose the .58, .72, or .85 viewfinder versions, these are considered by many long time Leica  shooters as the best 35mm RF/VF ever made.  Leica is offering a finder upgrade for older M7 and M6 cameras 68.5 .72 49.32 79%

# 2 M3 Most accurate RF 50/90/135 best to date for 50/1 and 75/1.4. 35 usable w/o separate VF with special "eyes" 35's, later M3's have depth of field notches in finder

68.5

.91

62.33

100%

# 3 M2 Elegant Simplicity   35/50/90  There is a lot to be said for the M2's clean uncluttered finder, later M2's have depth of field notches in finder

68.5

.72

49.32

79%

# 4 M4, M5, earlier M4-2   35/50/90/135  Older RF design which does not have the rangefinder flare problem of later M's

68.5

.72

49.32

79%

# 5  M6J 35/50/90/135  Expensive $9000 Special Edition.  Strangely no 75 frame for the 75/1.4,   which needs the extra accuracy

68.85

.85

58.52

94%

# 6 later M4-2's, M4-P    35/50/90/135  M4-2's were modified about half way through production  with a cheapened finder design which gives increased rangefinder patch flare, something all later M's also have

68.5

.72

49.32

79%

#7 M6/M6 TTL .72    28/35/50/75/90/135 Cluttered VF, 28 frameline is useless for glasses wearers.    More finder modifications were necessary to add the M6 TTL metering, which increased the occasional rangefinder patch flare. 

69.25

.72

49.86

80%

# 8 Leica M6 .58 TTL 28/35/50/75/90  Easier to see outside edges of framelines for glasses wearers.   Although a brighter finder than the Konica RF, does not have a 135 frame.  Less than 2/3 the focusing accuracy of the M3, 80% of the focusing accuracy of the .72 Leica M finder.  Leica had 47 years to bring this finder out after the M3, did it one year after Hexar RF. 69.25 .58 40.16 64.4%
# 9 New 1998 M6 w/.85 Magnification,  M6 .85 TTL  35/50/75/90/135 Practically as accurate as the M3 finder!!!   35 frame hard to see, unfortunately seems to be more prone to RF whiteout than .72 finder, get Leica MP upgrade for this finder. 69.53 .85 59.1 95%

# 10 Minolta CLE 28/40/90 Very bright VF/RF, the best built in  28 frameline,  not as accurate as Leica  M's with shorter RF base

49.6

.58

28.76

46%

# 11 Voigtlander Bessa R / R2 / R2C / R2S Although a small RF baselength, the super bright finder, brightlines, and RF patch push it to # 11, above some notable cameras.  The 1st time a non Leica 35 has equaled the Leica M's finder, brightline, and RF patch brightness !! it only took 47 years !!  Although the R and R2 share the same RF/VF, subtle improvements were made to the R2.  Overall  brighter, more pleasing finder than the Konica Hexar RF. 37 .68 25.16 40%
# 12  Konica Hexar RF 28/35/50/75/90/135 Cluttered VF with LEDs along left hand edge of finder,  28 easily visible with glasses, a near copy of the Leica M6 finder but brightlines and overall finder  not quite as bright.  68.5 .6 41.10 66%

# 13 Canon 7sZ/7s/7   35/50/85/105/135 ranked above Nikon SP due to RF/ VF  brightness, but not nearly so good as the finders ranked above it.

59

.8

47.2*

75%*

# 14 Nikon SP   28/35/50/85/105/135 The earliest 6 frame finder, easy to see 28/35, noticeably dimmer finder than Leica M series

58

1.0

58*

93%*

# 15 Leica CL  40/50/90 not bad for a little camera

31.5

.6

18.9

30%

# 16 Leica IIIg: 50/90 Parallax corrected frames only for  50/90;   it does these framelines exceptionally well,  A great shooter. 39 1.5 58.5* 94%

# 17 Nikon S2, S3, S4, Canon P, Canon V & L series, Yashica YFGood but not Great Finders

      .
# 18 Russian Fed or Zorki COMBINED RF/VF  Their workmanship and reliability can leave a lot to be desired, but strangely enough the various combined RF/VF of the later Feds and Zorkies can be good --  more useful than the non-IIIg screw mount Leicas 1.1
# 19 Leica II  to IIIf Small squinty finders, but good RF accuracy and still very usable with  built in 50 VF 39 1.5 58.5* 94%*

* Please note Asterisk Marked EBL% cameras do NOT HAVE the M's super bright RF spots combined with BOTH split image focusing and Super Imposed RF focusing--and therefore would focus less accurately than M's having the same EBL. EBL is very important, but doesn't tell everything.


RF brightness also affects accuracy. The brighter the RF image, the easier and quicker the focusing. For example, while the Nikon SP has a longer EBL than the Canon 7sZ, the Canon's RF spot is much brighter and easier to focus than the Nikon--although not as bright as the Leica M's or CLE.

Rangefinder images with BOTH superimposed AND split images are more accurate than superimposed images alone because the human eye can focus split images VERY easily. Unfortunately, only the Leica M's, CL, CLE, Hexar RF, Rollei RF, Voigtlander Bessa R, R2, R2A, and R3A  have this feature. According to Modern Photography, with some people this accuracy increase may be as much as 5 times!

What am I talking about? OK, take one of these cameras and focus on the proverbial telephone pole. Notice the two images INSIDE the rangefinder spot. Notice the two images go together or apart inside the rangefinder spot--that is the superimposed image which most rangefinders have. But look again AT THE OUTSIDE EDGES of the rangefinder spot. As you focus, you can also match up the telephone pole to the OUTSIDE EDGES of the rangefinder spot--that is the split image capability.

Another factor in viewfinders is the size of the finder. Larger is better. The smaller the finder, the more of a feeling you get of looking through a tunnel. For instance, the 35 frame on the Canon 7/7s series are more easily seen by glasses wearers than the 35 frames on the M6

M4-P/M6/M6J RF Note: Most sources list the M4-P/M6 RF baselength as being identical to the previous M's (68.5). Noted Leica Repair Technician Sherry Krauter pointed out in her Leica Viewfinder article of the 2nd Quarter of 1995, that their baselength is actually 69.25, and that of the M6J is 68.85. I was able to confirm the 69.25 figure in Gunter Osterloh's excellent and recommended (by me) Leica M: The Advanced School of Photography. I have been able to confirm the M6J figures in the M6J brochure. Marc Small pointed out Sherry's article to me.

M4-2, M4-P/M6/M6J RF Note:    About halfway through M4-2 production, the rangefinder was simplified (translated that cheapened) by removing a few parts.  The result was a RF patch which was less bright than before, and which could "fade" out to almost nothing under some lighting conditions.  The matter was made worse with the M6.  Metering modifications resulted in even more RF flare.  As a result, the earlier M3, M2, and M4 finders are rated here above the M6.    Apparently more modifications were made in the M6 to accommodate the meter, with the results of more flare under some lighting conditions.

What does all of this RF/EBL stuff mean? Not Much if you don't care. But if you want the best pics you can make, knowing your camera will help. In the end, all that matters is finding a camera you like and taking pictures you like.  


Rangefinder Framelines seldom show what you get on the film!    

As lenses are focused from near to far,  the angle of view actually increases.   While this change is slight with a 21 lens,  it increases substantially for a 135 lens.    A few rangefinder cameras correct the problem with variable frameline size as you focus, including most Polaroid film pack cameras and the Konica IIIM.   

The Leica M's  solution are   framelines showing the slide mount area at the lens's  closest focus   distance.    This is another way of saying you  get more on the film at infinity than is showing in your viewfinder -- making sure your film  gets  AT LEAST  what you see in the frameline.  If you print full frame, the area can be substantially more.   Knob wind screw mount Leica's took a different approach, showing the viewfinder area with the lens focused at ten feet.    

Trivia Answer: The largest optical rangefinders ever made aimed  the huge 18 inch guns of  the largest battleships ever made,  the Japanese Battleships Yamato and Musashi.     Naturally they were made by Nippon Kagaku,  today known as Nikon.   


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Revised: August 07, 2006 Copyright  1998-2006  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.