Gear review // The Rangefinder Camera Jonathan Eastland

Give me a rangefinder and I'm a happy man, says Jonathan Eastland, who argues they still can't be beaten for candid shots. And you don't necessarily have to spend a fortune to buy one, thanks to a healthy supply of used Soviet models. Just beware the "No Name Contax".
 (c) Jonathan Eastland

(c) Jonathan Eastland

In the seven years my online image archive has been running, only a couple of complaints have arisen about the quality of my prints; one because the color didn't match the buyer's memories of an event some 20 years past, and the other because there was evidence of film grain - in a print 3m wide. Yet a high proportion of orders are placed for images made on film, and it seems that some sense of nostalgia for a bygone aesthetic is the key to triggering a purchase.

Therefore, I've concluded there is plenty of mileage left in shooting film, especially for the kind of images for which one type of camera still excels. If you're photographing the human condition and discretion is paramount, a rangefinder is still the best option.

For this kind of work, we need shutters that work without delay. Snap focus features on a compact digital may be a useful compromise towards reducing shutter lag, but this is still a long way from perfect, and the DSLR is just too damn big and noisy.

But there are further aspects to shooting with a film camera that are too often ignored. While there's a lot of forum chatter about how old glass performs on digital, little is ever said about the sublime experience of loading a roll of film and getting high on the fragrance of polyester and gelatin.

There is no substitute for the clarity of a sophisticated optical viewfinder found in a modern rangefinder, and there are no half-dead batteries to worry about, no pockets full of hefty replacements, no missed frames because a storage card is full, no stopping every few seconds to check that what you shot is what you wanted.

With film, you have to wait. With film, even when you missed the shot, there may be a pleasant surprise in store at the other end of the roll. But you won't know any of this - and therefore need not be concerned by it - until the lab coughs up the processed result.


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