If you’re a fan of rangefinder-style cameras and would like to give their vintage forerunners a try, here’s a bunch that won’t break the bank.
Vintage cameras, especially rangefinders, are still pretty popular not only due to the sustained interest in film photography but also because they are often highly collectible items. However, that also means the most popular and coveted ones often come with a hefty price tag, putting them out of reach to most. But there are actually a lot of rangefinder cameras out there that won’t break the bank, so even if you’re a complete beginner, you won’t be intimidated by the cost. In fact, you can grab many of them off eBay for around $150!
Canon Canonet QL17 GIII
Browse film photography groups and forums long enough and you’ll come across recommendations for the Canon Canonet QL17 GIII. According to CameraQuest, this quality 35mm compact rangefinder from 1972 was a best-seller during its time for a number of great features: a sharp and fast 40mm f1.7 lens, user-selectable rangefinder focusing, and flash sync at all speeds. It actually belongs to an elite group of compact 35mm rangefinder cameras with lenses faster than f2, plus automatic exposure with manual override. Its direct competitor is the Leica CL, and is in many ways comparable to the CL save for the interchangeable lenses. If you’re lucky, you may still find this camera in good working condition on eBay for around $150.
Another compact 35mm rangefinder camera with a cult following, the Olympus XA remains a top choice for street photographers who still shoot film today. According to Camerapedia, it became the benchmark for the Olympus XA series of compact cameras with a true rangefinder focusing mechanism and aperture priority exposure system. It features a 35mm f2.8 Zuiko lens, a CdS exposure meter, and a shutter speed of 1/500 sec. As the first and finest model in the XA series, the original XA in mint condition typically commands a higher price, but occasionally, you may spot it on eBay for around $150 as well.
You can’t talk about cheap rangefinder cameras without mentioning Soviet Leica copies such as the Ukrainian FED 3. Camerapedia tells us that over two million units were produced between 1961 to 1979, so there are plenty of these manual rangefinders cameras still out there. Because of this, they are among your best bets for rangefinder cameras under $150. Several models were released, such as the FED 3b, which has a film advance lever and typically came with an Industar 26M or Industar 61 lens. As with many Soviet Era cameras, it’s important to cock the shutter first before changing the shutter speed. You can grab this from eBay for around $50 and below, or $58 for a refurbished/reskinned unit.
Another noteworthy Soviet Leica copy, the Zorki-4 was produced by Krasnogorsky Mekhanichesky Zavod (KMZ) between 1956 to 1973 with over 1.7 million copies made. Therefore, like the FED-3, you’ll find many out there for cheap. Camerapedia says it’s essentially a Zorki-3S with a self-timer, retaining all the important features of the earlier model. It comes with either a Jupiter-8 50mm f2 or an Industar-50 f3.5 lens. Interestingly, there are at least 32 types/versions of this camera, and it’s considered as the most popular of all Zorki models. As with the FED-3, you can grab a Zorki-4 for around $50 and below, although some complete sets on eBay will cost you around $100.
Last but not least is the Konica III, a fixed-lens, leaf shutter rangefinder camera introduced in 1956. Camera-wiki.org tells us that unlike the first two models which had knob advance, this model has a film wind lever. Curiously, however, it’s situated at the front instead of the top and should be pressed using the forefinger or thumb. It requires two strokes to cock the shutter and wind the film at the same time. It also features a self-timer control lever and fold-out crank for film rewind, both of which eventually became conventional. The original Konica III came with a 48mm f2 Hexanon lens and Konirapid MFX shutter with a top shutter speed of 1/500 sec. You may be able to spot a Konica III for a little under $100, but some near mint and excellent condition units on eBay are typically around $150.
As always, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for more vintage goodies like these to share with you. In the meantime, we also suggest checking out these other rangefinder film cameras we liked.
Cover photo from the eBay listing by k.mocio