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Whither Rangefinder Renaissance?
Old 08-06-2004   #1
Huck Finn
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Question Whither Rangefinder Renaissance?

Just a year ago the rangefinder buyer had the choice of 3 different major manufacturers all producing mechanical RF cameras in 35mm format. In addition, a fourth (Rollei) was producing new M-mount lenses for use on a re-badged body, adapted from one of the big three. This same manufacturer (Cosina/Voigtlander) was producing 3 different RF models - one of them in 3 different mounts. Also available was the Nikon limited edition, millenium rangefinder.

Today we are left once again with Leica as the only company actively producing mechanical RF cameras. The Konica Hexar RF had a 4-year run. A year after its buy-out/merger with Minolta, rumors of a successor RF have faded. For all the ballyhoo, the Voigtlander Bessa R2 had only a 2-year run. The other CV RF models have been discontinued as well. Although there has been no official announcement from Rollei, the demise of the Bessa R2 suggests that there will be no more of the Rollei version either - just a year and a half after it hit the market. (Almost irrelevant since major errors in marketing /pricing meant that this camera never really got off the ground; only 2 of the 3 lenses initially announced for the lens line were ever produced.) The Nikon S3 limited edition was just that - a limited edition. It did not spark any further rangefinder activity at Nikon.

While we are all eagerly anticipating a Bessa R3, is any of this reason for concern to the rangefinder fan? Was the niche market even smaller than we might have thought?

Last edited by Huck Finn : 08-06-2004 at 03:36.
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Old 08-06-2004   #2
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What about the RD-1?

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Old 08-06-2004   #3
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I suspect that Photokina will tell a lot as to the size and demography of this niche. With the warning from Stephen Gandy that the pricing of the R2 seems to be a thing of the past, perhaps the message is that the real competition in this lower price range is not the Leica, but the digicam. As successful as we assume Cosina has been with their offerings, perhaps they feel that they are better capable to compete directly with Leica than digital wizardry. I think this is a sad thought, but worth considering.

In addition to Leica and Cosina we do have to keep Hasselblad/Fuji in mind with their dual format offering. Also we may want to keep out eyes on the Nikon FM3a. Not a rangefinder, but the only higher quality manual SLR offered. Well, I guess there are Leica and Contax offerings in this market too, but I suspect these SLRs share the same potential fate of our rangefinders.
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Old 08-06-2004   #4
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considering that for so many years leica was the only (new camera) game in town, i think rf cameras have held on admirably.
it was the old fixed lens rf that brought many of us here and the used market for the older interchangable lens cameras.
i certainly hope cosina stays in the game and offers us (hope) new cameras for years to come.
like film, i think rf cameras will be around for many years.

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Re: Whither Rangefinder Renaissance?
Old 08-06-2004   #5
GeneW
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Re: Whither Rangefinder Renaissance?

Quote:
Originally posted by Huck Finn
While we are all eagerly anticipating a Bessa R3, is any of this reason for concern to the rangefinder fan? Was the niche market even smaller than we might have thought?
Good question and I suspect you're right, there are reasons for concern. Aside from new and used Leicas (and other classic RF's) and collectible 60's & 70's fixed-lens RF's, where's the market?

The world's gone digital. The RF film niche is small and likely getting smaller every day. I hope Cosina can sustain a market for the Bessa line -- a very creative and welcome innovation. Rollei doomed itself from the get-go with high pricing for what is essentially an R2 body. I don't expect to see any more Rollei RF's. Even the Bessa R2 is not cheap. If the Bessa R3 takes a big price jump, who's going to buy? Well some of us, but we're already dedicated. Will it attract new young photographers most of whom will see it as an expensive retro technology? A handful maybe.

Rennaissance? I don't think so. Just a brief blip of excitement that has not attracted much market share.

Digital RF? I have doubts. Too expensive and the crop factor of the APS sensor size strips the wideangleness from your existing lenses. By way of contrast, I can purchase a small pocketable Canon S60 with a pretty sharp little 28-105mm equiv zoom. Not a true RF but with a few tricks it can be used like one. And the S60 is very affordable.

I really enjoy RF film photography, but I have few hopes for a true revival on a scale large enough to sustain many new products.

Am I being too pessimistic?

Gene
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Old 08-06-2004   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by backalley photo
considering that for so many years leica was the only (new camera) game in town, i think rf cameras have held on admirably.
it was the old fixed lens rf that brought many of us here and the used market for the older interchangable lens cameras.
i certainly hope cosina stays in the game and offers us (hope) new cameras for years to come.
like film, i think rf cameras will be around for many years.

joe
Yes, Joe, it was rediscovering my old Canonet that brought me back into FR photography with a new appreciation of it. But those old fixed lens rangefinders are now at least 20 years old - many 30-40 years old. As well built as they were compared to today's plastic cameras, they were never built to professional standards. As many of them break & are discarded, they will become increasingly rare if the supply is not replenished. They will not be there to stimulate an interest in the RF concept among a new generation of camera buffs. Thank goodness the Leicas will still be there.

It concerns me that Cosina has discontinued the Bessa R2 after only 2 years of production; 2 years is not the normal run for a new camera model. If the R3 is an AE version, why not keep both available as they did with the R & the R2? I can only assume that either sales of the R2 have declined sharply or that there is little or no profit margin in them at the current price. (Maybe part of the reason why the Rollei was priced so much higher?) The apparent exit of Konica & Rollei from this market supports the idea that limited/declining sales are the issue (although both had serious marketing gaffes). If profit margin is the issue, Cosina can't very well turn around & increase the price substantially on an item it has been selling for less. The only thing they can do is to throw some new bells & whistles on it to justify a price increase.

I think that it was Dante Stella who suggested some time ago that the Bessa may have been a "loss leader" all along. Sometimes there are benefits that don't show up in the bottom line. Prior to their entry into the rangefinder market, who ever associated the Cosina name with quality cameras & lenses? Frankly, Cosina equalled crap in the SLR domain. Or more recently it equalled bargain, plastic alternatives like the FM 10 - a good entry level camera for the student on a limited budget.

So, it may be that Cosina has accomplished its objective & has improved its reputation, while revitalizing the Voigtlander name as well. That alone may have been worth whatever it cost them. They may now be positioned to introduce products that are perceived to be higher quality, accompanied by a higher price tag.
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Old 08-06-2004   #7
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Gene is right. Whether we like it or not, and personally I do not see it as an issue, mainstream photography, amateur and professional, is fast going digital.
The technology is improving daily, and at each step it creates the capability to bite off another area of application. There are already digital backs for MF cameras and there will some day be digital-only MF cameras. They will gradually come down in price as the R&D is amortized. Large format will probably use scanning backs, at least so far as we can see as yet.
Film is going to die out, slowly, maybe, but it will. There are still a few people making daguerreotypes, and all strength to them, but that does not mean that daguerreotypes are still "alive" as a current photographic medium.
There is, of course, a real need for a "RF type" camera. This need is best served, so far, in the digital medium by advanced point and shoot cameras, that offer manual control and use an optical viewfinder, at least as an alternative way to frame the shots. The RD1 looks like a first step towards a true digital RF, but has a number of shortfalls and unnecessary features:
- combining the M-mount with an APS frame size is inappropriate for RF work, which tends to favour the WA end of focal lengths. We either want a whole new series of lenses ( expensive ) to cover the APS format, starting around 8mm rectilinear (equivalent to about 12mm for 35mm format) or we want a full frame sensor. A compromise, the best (or worst) of both worlds would be a 1.3x crop factor with existing M-mount lenses, or a new range of lenses.
- We do not need "digital filters" or dummy exposure modes. We want to set the shutter speed and/or aperture and have the option of manual or auto exposure setting.
- There will be a market for both auto and manual focusing. My ideal digital RF would have the choice.
- The RD1 is too big, so far as I can see from the pictures. My ideal DRF would be about the size of a Leica CL.
Just my 2 cents, John
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Last edited by JohnL : 08-06-2004 at 07:26.
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Old 08-06-2004   #8
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I don't mind digital at all. Film or a digi sensor, it's all the same to me: a medium to capture a shot. The 6mp sensors might have a cropping factor but I don't care: my wonderful Rokkor-M 40/2 will turn into a 60mm, and my CV 25/4 will become a 38mm. At last I'll be able to use my Jupiter-12 35/2; it'll be my "new" 50mm.

I was looking for years for a camera that was smaller than my Eos, nicer to work with, with manual settings, and a good lens range. When I found the Bessa range I was sold.
Now I shoot so much film that I don't have enough time to scan it all. For me a digital Bessa with manual settings would be bliss. I'd probably shoot just as much as now but I'll save me about 50-60 euros on film and about the same amount on developing... each month!
I'm not even calculating my own time for scanning but it would be near 3 or 4 working days.
My wife would be so pleased too if I would have shots right away instead of having to wait for months before I have scanned them.

I find the size of the Bessa just fine. My CL is smaller and even less obtrusive, true, but sometimes it really is too small. Same for my Oly Mju; nice to have with you for snapshots but I wouldn't want to use a camera of that size for my regular photography.

All in all I would buy the RD-1 but the price still isn't right (even though Karen reported prices of about $2300 already).
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Old 08-06-2004   #9
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There are some great posts in this thread and I agree with the view that film-based rangefinder photography will continue to be a shrinking niche market. At this point I'm not in the market for new rangefinder cameras and lenses, but I have bought a fair amount of used rangefinder equipment over the past three years. The old stuff fascinates me a lot more than the new stuff. I will continue to use and enjoy these older rangefinders, even if I am part of a small "niche."

Of course, I also own SLRs and one digital camera which I use for specific purposes - they do have advantages in meeting certain needs.
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Old 08-06-2004   #10
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Don't be so glum, chums. You neglected to mention the Contax G2, Fed 5b and Yamaguchi RF (or whatever that weird little limited production Japanese RF is named).

Maybe lack of people actually understanding what an RF is will explain the low interest. Could also explain why this site hasn't taken off.

R.M.
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Old 08-06-2004   #11
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I agree - there are some terrific opinions and positions well presented in this thread.

I have spent several years buying and reselling compact rangefinders. (Much more as an enjoyable hobby and a way to finance new camera purchases as opposed to a business.)

While I find that there is more demand now than there was three and four years ago, I sense that there has been a peak in terms of pricing and interest for the compact rangefinders.

I'm selling more cameras to repeat customers than I am to new customers. I also suspect as a result that more cameras are being sold into collections and fewer are going into use. This past week I sold an Olympus DC to a gentleman who wanted it to to complete his Olympus rangefinder collection - that camera will never see another roll of film.

So maybe we're not a large market and mayber we're not a growing market, but we are an enthusiastic market and I hope companies find value in serving us. The one thing I have noticed is that people do enter the spectrum at the compact rangefinder level and most eventually progress upwards into interchangeable-lens rangefinders. Perhaps as the people who rediscovered rangedfinders during the Canonet blitz a few years ago will help sustain companies like Cosina Voighlander who take a chance on the market.

My idle thoughts.
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Old 08-06-2004   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by Retina Mania
Maybe lack of people actually understanding what an RF is will explain the low interest. Could also explain why this site hasn't taken off.R.M.
Hasn't taken off?..................... Hasn't taken off? if you look in the members area, there are almost 500 members, on a site that isn't a year old yet! New members everyday, this site is partially responsible for the RF renaissance and the rise in prices on those old cameras nobody wanted a year ago.

Todd
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Old 08-06-2004   #13
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My wife one day summed it all up: rangefinder cameras are for photography geeks.

Who else would like not to see the photographed image through the viewfinder? Who else would subject a shot to variables such as f-stops and shutterspeeds, when it's a lot easier to set a camera in program mode? Who else would worry about a silent shutter?

Only those who know why these "variables" are important: the Raaaaaaange Finders!
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Old 08-06-2004   #14
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Old 08-06-2004   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by Retina Mania
Don't be so glum, chums. R.M.
Okay, Retina Mania, I'll take your advice & cheer up. Here's my alternate, somewhat rosy scenario. . . .

The fact that the Voigtlander Bessa R2 has been discontinued does not mean that Cosina will no longer be making them for Rollei (as I had assumed above). Had there never been a modestly priced Voigtlander line, $1200 (current price for camera+lens) for a Japanese-made Rollei with Zeiss lenses that accepts other M-mount lenses would look like a heck of a deal compared to a Leica M6 or MP + 50 Elmar (two - three times the price). If Rollei sells RF cameras, Cosina makes money. Without the Bessa R2, Rollei becomes the lower-priced alternative & Cosina has raised the price for it's basic manual camera just by getting out of the market. Cosina then comes back with an AE Voigtlander Bessa R3 to compete with the M7, priced somewhere around where the Konica Hexar RF was - $1500+ for camera/lens kit (less than half the price of M7 + 50 'cron) and Voila! Choices remain although prices go up as rumors predicted.
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Last edited by Huck Finn : 08-06-2004 at 14:11.
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Old 04-15-2005   #16
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That the RF Renaissance should go electronic seems an indication that the RF camera is becoming more mainstream as opposed to being a niche product.
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