The Best Rangefinders Under 100$!

Before SLR’s, there were Rangfinders. And in all honesty, there were a lot better than SLR’s. But then as we always want something “simpler” even if it kills the camera design, we got SLR’s. Anyhow, putting my personal opinions aside, Rangefinder cameras are made to focus based on distance. Set the distance of the subject on top of the lens and shoot. Its that simple. And to assist the photographer, some feature a parallax method where a still image in the viewfinder is to be matched to a ghost image to focus perfectly.

There are some issues with the design of rangefinders, like you’ll never really see what the lens sees as the viewfinder and the lens are not coupled with a prism like in a SLR. But the pro’s of a rangefinder outweigh its con’s. The cameras here are lighter, sleeker, smaller and a lot more stable than SLR’s. Because there is no mirror slap and most rangefinders (will be called RF from now) have a copal leaf shutter, they are virtually invisible.

Now we could talk about the GOD of RF’s, the mighty Leica but most of us won’t be able to afford one. Bodies usually cost about 1000$ (did I mention this was second hand USED ones) so you can imagine how much a new one would cost. So I would rather take you to what you and I can afford without taking out a second mortage on our houses or selling a kidney. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, top 5 rangefinders “below” 100$! And yes, we’ll keep ourselves limited to 35mm for this blog post.

No 5 : Voigtländer Vitomatic IIb

Rangefinders mean portability. No point in using a RF camera if its going to be hanging in your neck like a stupid Canon 1Dx*. The Voigtländer Vitomatic IIb is small, beautifully designed and has a built in light meter. With a f2.8 50mm lens and shutter speeds up to 1/500, this camera will not let you down. And its cheap, you can find one on the street for about 40$ or 2000INR in great condition.

* really?! A 6,500$ camera for 18 megapixel, SHAME on you canon. I am not paying money for 13 FPS

No 4 :  Fed 5c

When the Russians took over Germany after World War II, they took quite a lot of Leica technology for themselves. And then came the FEDs. The original FED’s from early production were pretty much Leica bodies with FED stamped all over them. But then the Russians continued the R&D on themselves. The Fed 5C has a built in light meter which is one of the best things about the camera. Sharp and quick it comes in Red, Blue and Yellow! Now that is fancy!

No 3 : Olympus XA

Called the travel camera for a professional photographer, this little clam shell camera has a sharp f2.8 lens which shows its true colors with slide films. Small, compact and incredibly cheap, it lets you take some amazing shots on 35mm which you never thought a small camera like that could handle.

(Thanks Nate Matos  for helping out in discussing this camera and helping me remove the XA2 from the list)

No 2 : Yashica Electro 35

If I were to choose a camera which is simple, elegant and beautifully sharp, it would be the Yashica. The electro is a aperture priority rangefinder and it will leave you speechless. One of the most popular Yashica’s ever, it has a beautiful amber coated f1.7 lens which will never fail you. Its battery is sometimes a issue with amateurs but you can easily solve that issue with LR44’s or adapters.

No 1 : Zorki 4

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Manual, beautifully designed and easy to load, the Zorki 4 blows my mind. Initially if you read about it, you might want to reconsider as there are a lot of reviews which say that the camera is unreliable or it has too many issues. Frankly I’ve not faced a single issue and I highly recommend it. The camera uses LTM (Leica Thread Mount) lenses which means that you can put on a summicron if you wanted! Cheap, sharp and extremely handsome, Zorki 4 is def worth the price of 75$!

Rangefinders are amazing cameras but need more expertise and dedication when working with them. They suffer from parallax error which sometimes leads to issues when you’re shooting something close up. Also most rangefinders are made for specific lenses and its a little tough to shoot changing lenses. But once you get the hang of a RF, then you’ll maybe not want to use a SLR. So if you can spare 100$ then just look for these cameras and you’ll not be disappointed.

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13 thoughts on “The Best Rangefinders Under 100$!

  1. Neither the Pen (of which there are many different models) or the XA2 are rangefinders.

    Why not include cameras like the Canonet Ql17 Giii? The three I own cost me a grand total of $85 for a fully manual compact rangefinder that also has an automatic mode for when I’m feeling lazy.

    The Olympus XA is another great camera that is a true rangefinder. The XA2 you mentioned uses the same chasis but lacks the adjustable f/stops and real manual focus (not scale focus). I got mine with the A11 flash for $5.

    1. Nate, thanks for the comment. Olympus Pen EP1 to Pen EM are rangefinders.The F series is half frame SLR with interchangeable lenses.

      Also the Olympus XA was the true rangefinder with manual aperture settings. XA2 is still a RF because it has three zone focusing, just no distance specific settings. But yes, I suppose XA would have been a better choice.

      1. By that logic, a Holga is a rangefinder. As are cameras like the Olympus trip, Lomo LC-A and the Polaroid Colorpack.

        While all cameras allow for adjustable focusing, there is no mechanism that will tell you how far away that subject is. Which is what defines a rangefinder camera.

        The Pen EM is a scale focus viewfinder camera, and the Pen EP1 is a digital…

  2. About Voigtlanders you might add the Color Skopar is an absolutely awesome lens, way better than the Color-Lanthar found on cheaper Voigtlanders.
    About Russian RF cameras, to my experience the best ones are the early Zorkis (copy of LeicaII) that I prefer to similar Feds. Later Zorkis do have reliability issues (shutter, light leaks, rangefinder etc.). They are all easy to repair anyway. Feds have a sharp RF cam follower that seizes on some Russian lenses, Zorkis have a more civilised follower though not quite as refined as the Leica/CV/Konica/MinoltaCLE smooth bearing.
    You could also add to the list the sweet Minolta Hi-Matic F (and G) which I find way better than the bigger Minolta RFs.
    I have already taken apart and repaired a Canonet QL17 and a (bigger) Konica that had mechanical problems. What I remember is that Canon while nice from the outside is relatively poor build quality (and their shutter priority is plain stupid) while the Konica was a nightmare. My preferred are HiMatics and Voigtlanders.

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