In the world of photography, analog cameras have retained a timeless appeal, but when choosing an analog camera there are many choices to make. This way you can not only choose between different film formats (35mm and 120mm) and between different brands, each with their own unique properties, but also between an SLR and a rangefinder camera. The difference between the two types of cameras and their way of photographing is big. That is why in this blog we take a closer look at the differences between these two analog cameras. We explain the difference between an analog SLR and a rangefinder camera, how they work and what the advantages and disadvantages are. This way you can make a good decision about which type of film camera best suits your analog photography needs.
What is an analog SLR camera and how does it work?
An SLR (Single Lens Reflex) analog camera is a type of camera that uses a single lens to both compose the image and take the photo. This means that the photographer looks through the lens to see the subject as it will appear in the final photo. The optical system in an SLR camera includes a movable mirror that reflects light from the lens to the viewfinder (the Reflex). When taking a photo, the mirror flips up, allowing light to fall directly onto the film or image sensor. Adjusting the focus works by adjusting the lens settings, after which you can immediately see through the lens whether the image is sharp. As soon as you press the shutter button, the mirror folds away so that the light is no longer projected to the viewfinder (your eye), but to the film to take a photo. However, this mirror is also the disadvantage of the SLR camera. The system requires some space, which means that an SLR camera is often somewhat ‘thicker’ compared to a rangefinder camera and the mechanism is sensitive to wear, which can cause it to become less precise over time. This risk increases if you frequently change lenses, which may cause more dust and other dirt to enter the camera. In addition, folding the mirror away makes an audible sound, making it easier to notice that you are taking a photo. This is an annoying side effect, especially in street photography.
Despite these disadvantages, the SLR has become the most popular type of analog camera. The benefits of what you see is what you photograph and the great control over settings such as shutter speed, aperture and focus make these cameras popular with both amateurs and professional photographers. It is not without reason that it was mainly the DSLR cameras (Digital Single Lens Reflex) that were made after the transition from film to digital, where the film roll was replaced by a digital sensor that converts the light into a digital photo. Due to the popularity of this type of camera, many have been sold and a wide range of different brands is still available second-hand. This not only gives you plenty of choice in cameras, but often also in different types of lenses, accessories and repair options. The SLR camera is also made for all film formats, from 35mm to 120 film.
Well-known analog SLR cameras
In the world of SLR cameras, so many different models have been created over the past 100 years that it is impossible to name all the well-known and popular cameras. In analogue photography, cameras from the 80s and 90s are particularly popular at this moment, including the Canon AE-1, Minolta X700 and the Nikon F3 as well-known 35mm film cameras. In the medium format film camera, popular models include the Mamiya 645 and Pentax 6×7. For those who are less looking for that 1980s look (on image and the camera itself), you can also opt for newer cameras. Because (analog) SLRs were made until well after 2000. For example, the Canon EOS-1V and the Nikon F6 are well-known SLR cameras that are much more similar to current DSLRs (in appearance) and are also equipped with all kinds of technical gadgets for an optimal photo.
What is an analog rangefinder camera and how does it work?
A rangefinder camera is a type of camera that uses a separate viewfinder to frame the image, apart from the lens used to take the actual photo. In a rangefinder camera, the image is framed through an optical window, while a secondary lens actually captures the photo. This means the viewfinder and the lens are not directly aligned, which can cause the photo as it is captured may differ from what you see yourself through the viewfinder. This is also called the parallax effect. The viewfinder is a separate lens system within the camera. So you do not look through the camera lens, as with the (D)SLR camera, but through a different second lens. Focusing works by looking into the viewfinder and moving a second (projected) image until both images overlap exactly. You are then ‘in focus’. This system can be very awkward at first, but once you understand how it works it can be very pleasant, especially with ‘zone focusing’. Zone focusing is a technique often used in situations where speed and convenience are essential. With this technique, you set the camera’s focus to a specific distance or a specific area, instead of focusing on a specific subject. To do this, you must clearly understand the scale on the lens, which often contains different distance indications. This technique allows you as a photographer to respond quickly to changing situations.
A rangefinder camera does not have a mirror like an SLR camera. This also makes the camera more compact, lighter in weight and virtually silent during photography. Together with the zone-focusing technology, this ensures that you can take photos quickly and unobtrusively, making the rangefinder camera especially popular with photographers involved in street photography. A disadvantage is that this type of analog camera is much less popular than the SLR and therefore sold much less. This results in a smaller selection and more expensive cameras when looking for a secondhand. In addition, most rangefinder cameras are only made for 35mm film, although there are a few 120mm film models as well. The advantage of a 120mm rangefinder camera is the ergonomics are extra emphasized. These are often significantly more compact (flatter) than their SLR counterparts.
Well-known analog rangefinder cameras
If you are looking for an analog rangefinder camera, you will almost automatically choose the Leica brand. The Leica rangefinder cameras are almost all popular models, from the M3 to the iconic M6. This last one, the Leica M6, has been re-released and is one of the few analog rangefinders that is still for sale new! But Voigtländer is also a well-known manufacturer of rangefinder cameras and has made cameras for Fuji, Zeiss and under its own name. Nikon, Contax and Hasselblad have also made rangefinder cameras and, despite their lower popularity, often still have an active fan base.
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