It’s finally happened. Took a few months, but I finally sunk some major dough on a camera body and lens, and it very nearly eclipses the total amount of money I’ve spent on camera equipment since I started in 2009.
My history with rangefinders:
First of all, the Minolta Hi-matic 9, which wasn’t at all a bad camera, but my copy had a problem with the shutter only firing about 50% of the time. Then, there was the Petri 2.8 Color-corrected Super, which handling-wise wasn’t too bad, but with an annoying self-timer lever that I wanted to break off…also it was badly infested with fungus. Interestingly enough, I mentioned the Canon P back then, so I guess I was already on my to wanting a good Canon rangefinder. I suppose I’ll also mention the Olympus Trip 35 which is a great little AE camera with zone focusing, and one I used quite a lot last semester for photo projects.
On the mirrorless film body food chain, if you start from the bottom, you have the point & shoots (though some, like the Olympus Stylus series are considered quite good), followed by zone-focusing viewfinder cameras like the Trip 35 or XA2, then all manner of fixed-lens true rangefinder cameras from Canon, Minolta, Olympus, Yashica, and others. These are where the true value lies as there are plenty of great quality cameras out there for bargain prices. I bought that Hi-matic 9 for $25, the most I’d spent for a camera up to that point, and as recently as December I came across a Yashica Electro 35 also for $25 (sadly I was completely broke at the time and didn’t buy it). At the top of the food chain, is of course all the Leicas…$5000 new for a body alone, and probably $1200 for a beat up M3 with a lens, more than I can afford, and the gulf between the Leicas and a good fixed-lens Japanese rangefinder has me continuously asking the question, starting at 50 times the price, are you really getting 50 times the camera, 50 times the image quality? That question is especially relevant in my class right now, because our resident Leica guy sold the lens he had and now owns the exact same lens that I do (it’s in worse condition and he paid more for it).
My local camera store just put out a handful of vintage M39 Leica screw mount lenses, of which I snagged a Leitz 5cm Summarit f/1.5 (you convinced me, Mark). I then immediately started shopping around for a body. I’ve been doing my research for a while, and ultimately chose the Canon 7, though I also considered the P and VI-L models. There are a lot of these coming out of Japan right now so it’s the best time ever to buy one (or two?) of these great old cameras, a body can be had for under $100 if you’re patient. It’s a great camera, and has all the modern features: integrated rangefinder/viewfinder, thumb winder, swing open door with SLR-style film loading (which Leica will never adopt, it seems), and a selenium light meter (which still works and appears to be accurate). And it’s a solidly-built hunk of brass, not at all unworthy of carrying a well-made Leitz lens (and that lens is a beast, weighing more than the body).
So I think I’ve found the perfect middle-of-the-road price point for me to get into rangefinders without having pay more than I did for my last car, yet still having the ability to shoot a wide variety of Leica glass (the older and more affordable kind), plus lenses from many different manufacturers if I want them. There are even modern lenses out there from Cosina/Voigtlander, and this just came out as well. I’m going to have to save up quite a bit but man, I do so want a brand new Jupiter 3+ kind of badly…
So how is shooting the Canon 7? Pretty nice. Despite its reputation of not being as well-made as the Canon P, to me it feels extremely solid. It has the same style thumb lever as my AE-1 in that it can be moved out from the body a good ways without locking, which can take a bit of getting used to, but aids in rapid winding situations as my thumb fits in between the body and the lever. The strap lugs seem a bit oddly placed, and from what I’ve read the camera only balances correctly when sporting the f/0.95 dream lens. The shutter is definitely quieter and smoother than any of my SLR shutters, and I expect sharper handheld shots down to 1/8sec. The light meter works and appears to be relatively accurate, though I would prefer something that reads through the lens, but for that I’d need a much more modern (and expensive) camera.
Considering that I bought the camera for the purpose of mounting Leitz screw mount lenses, I should be talking more about that lens. It has a bit of a bad reputation for being really soft wide open, but then again that might be because Leitz had them optimized for f/2.8 (I hear they can be modified). I’ve seen pictures around here and there, and it seems like the lens has the potential to give just stunning bokeh wide open. It’s not something I’ve really obsessed about in the past, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far, especially for black & white, where the lower contrast does not prove a hindrance. And being a lens that was made in 1953, it definitely doesn’t have the multicoating, flare resistance, contrast, and look of modern lenses. For color work, I’m not convinced, but then I’m not doing a lot of color work; that said, a low contrast lens like this could work great taming the wild colors of films like Ektar and Velvia 100, and right now I’m testing that assumption by shooting some Ektar.
But that said, I’m happy with the results I’ve had so far in black & white. The lens is plenty sharp stopped down, and contrast is good as well.
Edit: OK guys, I’d better own up…mere hours after posting this, it developed a problem with the shutter speed/ASA dial, to the point where it no longer changes shutter speeds now. I tried taking it to my local camera store, but they don’t have the parts to fix it, so unfortunately I had to contact the seller. Per the money-back guarantee I would still have had to pay shipping back to Japan, we came to an agreement and I was refunded the price minus shipping costs but kept the camera. I’m going to donate it to my local camera store as a parts machine. So much for trying to get a good deal on this one. Looks like it’s back to the hunt…