Useful Photography Tip #179: Why Shooting Landscapes With a Rangefinder Can Really Suck

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Medium Format and film rangefinders in particular seem like such a perfect package for going about and shooting landscape photos, right? Or if not, maybe you’ll want to tote along your Leica! But before you do that, you should note that that’s probably a really bad idea if you want to do things right. With digital, this can be easier because getting details in the highlights or shadows is as simple as moving a slider. If you’ve got burning and dodging skills that can be used in the darkroom, then you’ll also not really have a problem when it comes to printmaking. However, if you’re trying your hardest to get it right in camera, then you’re going to be working with a tripod, ND filters, and Graduated NDs.

And that’s where this all becomes a bad idea.

With a mirrorless camera that has an EVF or with a DSLR, you’ll be able to see exactly where the ND filter is covering in the scene. In most situations, photographers position graduated ND filters over the sky and expose for the shadows. But if you’re doing that with a rangefinder, you’re not going to be able to see what’s happening through the lens unless you’re using one of the newer Leica cameras with an EVF. So instead what’s going to happen is you’re going to put the graduated ND filter on in front of the lens and you’re not going to be 100% totally sure how much coverage you’re getting. You can make a guesstimate but that is as great as you’re going to do.

Instead, I tend to want to reach for SLR cameras and mirrorless cameras that have an EVF. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot a great landscape photo with a rangefinder. It’s just much tougher.