What is a 'rangefinder'?
In a number of reviews mention has been made of things like reminiscent of the old rangefinder camera? What is a rangefinder? Is there a picture of one on this site?.


Peter F...

Comments (6)

A little gadget for measuring distances by superimposing two images. The images come via mirrors which are set some distance apart (depending on the accuracy you want) and so simple triangulation gives you the distance off of the dial you turn to align the mirrors. (Also used with the German Flak's guns for instance against aircraft during the Great War of 1914-18. And perhaps on the Bofors.).

The photographic ones were/are somewhat fragile and were fitted in the accessory shoe of the camera. So you used the rangefinder, looked at the dial and turned the camera lens to focus on that distance. (This was before "hot-shoes" were thought up... ).

Later on someone had the bright idea of building the rangefinder into the camera body ad couple ing it to the rangefinder. Those cameras were (and are still) called CRF's. Even dearer camera were available with the rangefinder image as part of the viewfinder image and the lastly Leica made interchangable lenses available that couple to the rangefinders on their cameras but they were dear as every camera and lens had to be made to the same very tight specification. Have a look at the Leica M8 f'instance..

Almost every firm made a CRF just search on "classic" and cameras and you'll find them from MF 5" x 4" down to half frame and worse..

Regards, David..

Comment #1

Rangefinders aren't widely used in digital. The first that came out was the Epson RD-1 a few years ago (but is no longer being made). The second one is the Leica M8 which was announced a year ago and has been out slightly shorter time..

As the poster said above, you are looking through a viewfinder and as you move the focus ring on the lens the two images superimpose themselves to get focus. There is NO auto-focus. One of the nice things about using this sort of viewfinder is that it is bigger than the frame of the shot you are taking. This is nice because you can see what is on the edges around your shot when making decisions on how to actually frame what you want to take. Another nice thing is without a mirror to go up and down like an slr you can handhold at lower shutter speeds without camera shake. The lenses are small.

The design and construction of the Leica camera has allowed for lenses that are many decades old (and of outstanding quality) to be used..

The review of the M8 on this site does a good job of explaining some of this. Have a look..


Comment #2

David Hughes wrote:.

The photographic ones were/are somewhat fragile and were fitted inthe accessory shoe of the camera..

Here's one, though I don't think it's all that fragile:.

Image control:Zoom outZoom 100%Zoom inExpand AllOpen in new window.

Image control:Zoom outZoom 100%Zoom inExpand AllOpen in new window.

I used this with a manual focus 35mm camera in the 1970s before upgrading to a coupled-rangefinder camera.Regards,Peter..

Comment #3

Thanks for all that good information. Very interesting and informativie. I will go to the M8 review next!..

Comment #4

Have you seen the rangefinders from Naval ships? The biggest I've seen is about 20 feet wide, from a WWII gun cruiser..

I don't know if the newer M1 Abrams has one off the top of my head, but US tanks up to and including the previous generation M60 all had the same sort of rangefinders..

Now of course, they want to use lasers..

Crime Scene PhotographyA small gallery of personal work:

Comment #5

That reminds me, in the Leicas - as mentioned - you get the frame in the middle and a bit more around the edges that won't be in the shot bu - a great big "but" - you do get warning of people walking into the frame or worse..

BTW, my experience of rangefinders is/was that they are fragile. They were very easy to drop when out of the accessory shoe and fiddling around to shut the ERC after removing the lenshood, filters etc..

Regards, David.

PS and you could get very long ones that went vertically above the camera. More accurate but notwhere near as dear as a coupled rangefinder camera like (say) the Leica M2...

Comment #6

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This question was taken from a support group/message board and re-posted here so others can learn from it.


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