You’re Using a Rangefinder Camera Wrong. Here’s the Best Method

If you’re considering using a rangefinder, then we’re pretty sure you’re using it incorrectly. The reason for this is simple: modern cameras and lenses encourage you to shoot with them wide open. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t shoot with your pretty rangefinder lenses wide open. But you’re not doing yourself any favors. Lucky for you, we’ve done tutorials over the years on using a rangefinder camera better. So we’re going to go through a few here.

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Using a Rangefinder Camera to the Fullest Potential

Let’s be honest, if you’re manually focusing a lens back and forth to get your subject in focus, you’re not always going to nail focus. It’s difficult! But sometimes it’s all you can do if you’re shooting with an ultra-fast aperture lens. Rangefinder cameras are meant to be used differently though. You’re supposed to stop the lens down, focus a distance away, and then fine-tune the focusing with the viewfinder. When you use it this way, you can get photos that sometimes the fastest autofocusing cameras wouldn’t be able to. This is how master street photographers have used them for years. 

Zone Focus the Camera

Here’s a quote from an article we previously did on how to zone focus a camera that was sponsored by Leica:

  • Choose a normal or wider focal length. The ideal choices are 50mm, 35mm, 28mm, and 24mm lenses. The great masters of street photography used anywhere between 50mm and 28mm lenses. Those, they said, show the world the way they see it. We’ve got a full recommendation of our favorite lenses right here. Try the Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH, the Leica 28mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH, or the Leica 35mm f2 Summicron ASPH.
  • Look at the lens. Focus it to a distance you’re comfortable being from your subject. During social distancing times, you might want to choose around six feet away. 
  • Read the distance scale. It will tell you how much of the scene will be in focus at a given aperture. Stop the lens down to where you’re comfortable.
  • Set the ISO so that your shutter speed is at least 1/50th. If you really want to stop people in motion, you’ll need at least 1/1000th.
  • As an extra tip, meter off your hand. Your hand will be close to the skin tones that you want to capture. And that will prep you for shooting the photos you envision.
  • Pay attention to the lighting around you. As it changes, you might need to adjust your exposure.

How to Zone Focus a Lens

Of course, you do not really zone focus with your camera. Instead, you’re doing it with a lens. And in the video above, we’re showing you just how to do that. This applies to more than just rangefinder cameras. Of course, zone focusing is the best way to go about using a rangefinder camera. But if you adapt those lenses onto another mirrorless camera of some sort, this is the best way to use them. 

We hope that these videos and this short tutorial helps you folks out. Please enjoy!

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.