How To Use A Rangefinder Camera

Rangefinder cameras are wonderful film cameras that can produce quality photos with a unique method. A unique method that makes using them different from any other camera, including modern cameras such as DSLRs. It takes some skill and time with a rangefinder camera in order to be able to use one masterfully.

Why A Rangefinder Camera is Different?

How To Use A Rangefinder Camera

Image by Alex Borland | Public Domain

One of the first things that most people notice about rangefinder cameras is that the viewfinders are designed to be used with both eyes open instead of just one. Viewing your image with both eyes allows for a lot of benefits such as brighter images, more viewing range, and better positioning of the camera. The viewfinder is just the start though.

Traditional rangefinder cameras are works of film art. Unlike mass-produced digital cameras or even mass-produced DSLRs, rangefinder cameras are all invented then crafted with great care to detail. They are often considered works of art. Models are well thought through and have unique features. That also often leads to each model having its own unique quirks. Quirky cameras are often what allow artists to create masterpieces.

Function wise a rangefinder camera works by having a rangefinder display in a viewfinder that does not look through the lens like most cameras do. The rangefinder display in the viewer shows you what objects the camera’s lens are able to see. As you focus the lens, the image becomes clearer and you are able to determine the distance that the subject is from the camera.

This is a very simple explanation of a complex process. A person who is very technical and well-skilled with cameras might be able to figure out the basics of a rangefinder camera and produce great photos. It doesn’t mean that they will have a mastery of that camera any time soon. So how do you use one of these cameras? Let’s take a look.

How To Shoot With A Rangefinder Camera?

Shooting with a rangefinder camera in some ways similar to shooting with a traditional camera. If you have mastered those skills, you are already aware of some of the basics. Converting those skills to snapping shots with a rangefinder camera is half the work, the rest is made up of a set of specific skills that are best learned through practice. We will cover each of those skills here.

Shooting With Both Eyes, Not One

One of the first things that you need to learn to do is shoot with both of your eyes open. At first, this may sound easy but in practice, it can be much more difficult than it sounds. Doing other activities that are normally associated with one eye being closed such as shooting, will help with this but the only way to truly master the concept is through trial and error.

It is not necessary to shoot with both eyes all the time when using a rangefinder but it will get you much higher quality photos as you get a better view and are able to see more and through that better aim the camera.

After mastering the use of shooting with both eyes open some professionals like to split their eyes into different purposes. For example, one eye might be for putting the image together while the other is used to observe what is around and make sure that nothing is going to ruin the shot.

Manually Focusing The Camera

Manually focusing a camera may take a little more time upfront and this has lead to rangefinder cameras getting a bad rep. A manual focus lens though allows you to quickly adjust the focus and in the case of a rangefinder camera, quickly adjust the focus for how far away an object is. This is where we are going to talk about the key feature of the rangefinder camera, the range finding.

With a rangefinder camera, if you know how far away an object is, you simply adjust the lens’ manually focus lens to the marker for the distance of the object. For example, if an object is five feet away and you want to focus on it, adjust the camera’s distance to the five-foot mark. Also make sure to adjust the f-stop to your desired setting. Once this is done you can continue shooting at that five-foot point without having to adjust the focus of your camera.

If you don’t know the range of an object, you simply need to take the camera and point it at the object. As it is pointed at the object you adjust the manual focus until the rangefinder box in the viewfinder is on the subject and clear. At the point where the object is clear and in the central point of the camera you will know you have found the right distance. You can then take a look at the lens’ setting to see how far away the object is.

As you can see this will make the initial part of using a rangefinder manual focus camera a little more lengthy but once you have the focus dialed in, you will not have to worry about the time it takes the auto focus to adjust.

A Different Point of View

With a rangefinder camera you are going to get a much different point of view through the viewfinder. Instead of being limited to just what the lens sees, you are going to have a wide-angle view. This wide-angle view and the ability to see the background behind the picture will help you to be better able to frame your shots and take into account the whole composition of the photo.

After getting used to shooting this way, many people find this very helpful as they are able to get unique viewpoints and possibly adjust their photos to get an image from a point of view they hadn’t considered before. A point of view that they wouldn’t have easily considered with a traditional camera.

Benefits of a Rangefinder Camera

Before we go we wanted to leave you with some of the benefits of a rangefinder camera so that you know why someone might use them. We have already mentioned some of them above so we are going to focus on the ones that we haven’t mentioned.

A Quieter Shooting Experience

The lenses on a rangefinder camera are not directly connected to the viewfinder, which means they are able to work without a mirror and some of the other mechanical parts that other cameras have. This results in a quieter shooting experience. When photographing an event this can be quite beneficial.

Less Shaking of the Camera

The mechanical parts in a camera can sometimes result in shaking when a photo is taken. Because the camera doesn’t have the same mechanical parts that a traditional camera does, there is less movement when a photo is taken so the shake is reduced. The smaller and lighter body size also helps the user to better control the camera.

Viewfinder 24/7

On a traditional camera the viewfinder normally experiences a brief blackout when a photo is taken. That means that you can’t see through the viewfinder at the exact moment the photo is captured. You may not know if something is wrong with the photo. The viewfinder of a rangefinder camera allows you to continue to view out the viewfinder without any momentary blackness because the viewfinder isn’t directly connected to the lens.

Lots of Options

Over the years a lot of different companies have come out with rangefinder cameras. You have quite a few options to choose from, not only in branding but also in what features, what kind of lenses, and what body styles you want. Most photographers are able to find an option that they like.

The vast majority of rangefinder cameras are traditional film cameras that take wonderful shots. While it may take some time to get used to the unique experience that they provide, many people latch onto them and don’t want to go back to shooting with a traditional camera. If you want to progress beyond these basics there are a number of online courses or courses at local photography schools that you can consult.

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