How Many of You Know the Blue Cellophane Rangefinder Trick?

Blue cellophane comes standard as a protective cover on your rangefinder’s viewfinder, but the blue cellophane rangefinder trick can also help you!

I’ve known about this trick for many years and thought everyone else did too. But the truth is most people do not, especially those new to photography. If you shoot with a Leica, Voigtlander, Canon, Zeiss, Zorki, Yashica, or Olympus rangefinder, then you’re in luck! Besides doing a CLA (Clean Lube Adjustment), there are better ways to make your rangefinder more visible. Older rangefinders didn’t have bright patches, or the ones they had deteriorated over time. To make them appear even brighter, there is a little trick involving blue cellophane and the viewfinder, not the rangefinder. Let’s dive into the blue cellophane rangefinder trick!

Before anyone gets any bright ideas, there are three different windows:

  • The Viewfinder (Right): where you place your eye to compose the image and see the picture in picture that a rangefinder has
  • The Rangefinder patch (Left): it is essential to let you focus.
  • The light patch (Middle): this lets light into the rangefinder, and it’s essential to help with focusing.

First off, always clean these areas; they’re super important, and you’re bound to get a fingerprint on them every now and again. Make sure you wipe it down when this happens. Next, look at the front of the camera. Then take a little bit of blue cellophane and put it against the viewfinder screen. Cut it to size. The idea behind the blue cellophane rangefinder trick is that it’s making the viewfinder slightly darker–though still not dark enough where you can’t see the scene in front of you. The marginally darker view makes the rangefinder focusing area appear much brighter. To that end, it’s easier to focus the camera when looking through the viewfinder. It won’t help all that much if the rangefinder patch is blocked or if there isn’t a lot of light, but this trick works very well otherwise. Sometimes it can be tough to line up the images correctly. That’s why lots of photographers zone focus with their rangefinders. But if you want to touch up the focusing, the cellophane trick is exactly what you need.

The blue cellophane rangefinder trick is especially useful if you purchase vintage cameras. I used to do this with Yashica cameras that I’ve owned in the past, and it also helped with Olympus rangefinders. The single best Canonnet QL17 that I’ve seen had blue cellophane on it. I’ve rarely had to do this with my Leica M6 or my CL. I also never had to do it with my Voigtlander Bessa R. It all depends on the condition the cameras are in. If your camera just came back from getting a CLA, I’d recommend not using blue cellophane. (Of course, that depends on how good a job was done.) Sometimes you may need it. Sometimes it may just be better for you to just buy another camera. The key here is to know that you’re probably going to have to replace your cellophane often.

Think of this as a band-aid to a bigger problem. But this band-aid will help you get so much further (while the metaphorical wound inside won’t fester that much). It makes me wonder why companies like Leica haven’t made alterations with blue screens for their viewfinders. There are sapphire glass screens, but that design is all about durability.