Discovering the Charm of Rangefinder Cameras

Discovering the Charm of Rangefinder Cameras

As a photographer, I've always been intrigued by the old-school charm of 35mm rangefinder cameras. However, as much as I would love to try out a Leica, I'm not willing to sell a kidney to afford one. So, when I discovered a Leica clone from Canon for just $200, released in 1961, I jumped at the opportunity to give it a try.

The Canon 7 rangefinder camera may not be for everyone, but it is a fascinating piece of design that I appreciate and a fun experience to shoot with. In this post, I'll share my experience with the Canon 7, its unique features, and some similarities and differences between rangefinders and SLR cameras.

How I Found the Canon 7

I searched for a Canon rangefinder camera and considered the Canon P, the Canon L3, and the Canon VT before settling on the Canon 7. This model was one of the more available and technically equipped cameras I could find at a reasonable price. I checked eBay every day and was lucky to find an auction ending in ten minutes. I was able to purchase just the body for £75 plus postage, and it came to just over £80.

Once the camera arrived, I visited my local vintage camera shop in Manchester and purchased an affordable Industar 50mm f/2.8 lens for £30. I paid just £110 for the whole setup, and I plan to invest in at least one more lens for this camera.

Unique Features of Rangefinder Cameras

Rangefinder cameras like the Canon 7 use a set of horizontally aligned mirrors and lenses between the viewfinder window and the end to focus in a unique way compared to SLR and mirrorless cameras. When you look through the viewfinder, you see two versions of the center of your frame. You have the version that you can see objectively through the viewfinder and then a little ghostly image hovering over the center. This ghostly image is produced by the mirrors and allows you to focus in a precise manner. When you pull your focus closer or further away from you on your lens, you'll see this little ghostly image move left or right over the center of your image. Once you have that little ghostly image perfectly lined up with the center, it all looks solid, indicating that you've nailed critical focus in the center of your frame.

One downside to older rangefinder cameras is that the mirrors can become unaligned. However, to my luck, the mirrors in my Canon 7 were all perfectly in line, both vertically and horizontally, and all of my focusing so far has been bang on.

Another difference between the viewfinder of a rangefinder camera and an SLR camera is that when you look through the viewfinder of a rangefinder, the only information you have are the frame lines. There is no exposure metering or f-stop preview at the bottom. All other information you need to view from the top of the camera.

Final Thoughts

The Canon 7 was the last model series of rangefinder cameras that Canon ultimately produced before they moved their professional lineup of cameras onto SLR technology. While it may not be for everyone, the Canon 7 offers a unique shooting experience and a piece of photographic history that you won't find with modern cameras.

If you're interested in 35mm film photography or want to try something new, I highly recommend giving a rangefinder camera a try. It's a fun experience that will take you back to the golden era of photography. So, grab your rangefinder camera, load up some film, and get ready to shoot!v

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