I have come to the conclusion that I am a sucker for retro cameras, plain and simple and so I had to bring up a discussion on what is probably the most tempting of all “classic” camera styles – the rangefinder.
Like many of you out there, the ultimate camera to own on the top of my wish list was a Leica, but even when one passed through my hands with the money in my pocket, I could not bring myself to close the deal. This does not mean that I don’t like or think that they are not worth their money, I admit for a time I may have felt they were over priced, but having picked up an M3 and M7 last week, I realized again just how smooth and positive the engineering is within these marvelous machines that warrants a large part of their price.
No the problem was not the price, but rather carrying that much camera with me wherever I go.
You see, I love the quiet precision of a rangefinder and so I have spent many years seeking a rangefinder camera that would give me the same experience as the Leica’s that tempted me but that would leave me with not heartache were it to get damaged while it was on me, or worse still, be stolen.
Working in a used camera shop and being exposed to many collectors and other knowledgeable people in the trade, I was educated – over time – in the existence of Leica copies from the U.S.S.R. such as the Zorki or Fed’s. One of our regular customers in the store brought in a Fed 2 for me to look at one day and in a moment of over-eagerness and deaf ears to his warnings of its rather cruder workings than the more prestigious Leica’s or Contax’s I parted with my cash and set out that weekend to photograph the “perfect moments” that elude many of us.
It did not take long to become disillusioned with the wanna be and though I carried it everywhere I seldom pulled it out. It would still be a while before I truly appreciated the easier film loading of the Fed than the early screw mount Leica’s and by the time I did, I had parted ways with my first rangefinder.
Time passed and soon I found myself with a Canonet QL25 in my camera bag. I cannot recall how I got it or why, but I recall how it fast became a favourite of mine except for it’s size and comparatively slow aperture of f/2.5, so when a QL28 came along in it’s smaller body than my QL25, I snapped it up before you could blink.
This camera, despite it’s more plastic build than the Fed, was smoother to use and soon led to the sale of my bigger QL25. For some time I was content until she arrive, the second generation Canonet QL19… with a 45mm f/1.9 and the body size of the QL28 we were a match made in heaven. My Canonet and I travelled everywhere together, snapping in silence at scenes that would have been lost in seconds were I to pull out my SLR. I shot some of my most loved images on that camera, and it was only a year or two before we were joined by the Canonet GIII-17, the last of the little Canon Rangefinders.
For a time I walked around shooting one body on colour neg film and the other on black & white, taking them almost everywhere… in fact I felt like a part of me was missing when I did not have at least one unit with me.
Now a few years on and perhaps you are asking, where are they now. The answer, I still have them, but in the last few years it appears that the supply of these little wonders are drying up and along with them the parts here at home which posses the old Leica problem. What’s that? Well, although a Canonet isn’t priced like a Leica, I don’t think I can bare to loose one of them when I’m seeing more Leica’s than Canonets.
Guess I will never win… unless… maybe a Voigtlander Bessa R would do!