Buying a classic 35mm Rangefinder camera

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This is a short review to help anybody try and ensure they get a good deal from Ebay when seeking to purchase a piece of photo-taking nostalgia / obtain a beautifully made piece of machinery / take excellent photographs that can be superior in almost all aspects to all but the most expensive Digital photos - or all three !   

I've written this guide to help people who may have been wondering why photos from the 1970's/80's and even 90's taken with their old SLR / compact 35mm looked so much better - because they are ! The clarity, colours and resolution of these usually far exceed the quality obtainable by all except the best ( usually 35mm full frame ! ) of digital cameras. Somehow those from most compact digitals can look noisy or soft - the obvious effects of technical limitations of ; 

a) Inferior lenses showing pronounced barrel / pincushion distortion / poor resolution 

b) Excessive noise produced by the usual pixel-overcrowded tiny size light sensor or

c) Over-soft images due to use of digital noise reduction to counter the previous problem !

Anyway, after the above I assume you've figured most of this out yourself or you wouldn't be here....   The great thing about 35mm is that - as long as you have a functioning camera with a good lens then you get full-frame 35mm quality! No noisy sensors - the rest is up to you. Assuming little wear these cameras will generally take better photos now than when they were made - due to advances in film technology! As digital cameras evolve to this "benchmark" i.e. full frame 35mm sensors, look to spend about £5000 - and you still won't get the absolute equivalent of the potential top quality 35mm neg / slide.

After you've figured out the camera you fancy - check out the specifications and likely problems on the internet via a search engine - there's virtually a couple of articles / tests out there on every camera ever made !  Here's some more considerations -

Rangefinders :

Pros

Light, compact, quiet - so great for street shooting, candids etc. Generally more reliable than SLR's as no mirror box slapping around causing camera shake and further mechanical complexity. Some have very high standard optics to easily rival / exceed SLR quality. Cheap!

Cons

Unless you go for the very high end - Canons, Leicas, Nikons ( and a very few early Yashica ) etc then you will have a fixed focal length lens. Some people reckon this a bonus as it boosts their composition discipline & concentration though. Generally smaller shutter speed / film speed ranges. Less accessories  - including limited flash photography sophistication / program modes etc.

Great Ebay purchases I have made in this category ; 

Yashica - Lynx 14 / 14E ( great 1.4 lens ! electric meters - 1 to 1/500 ) - expect to pay say £20 - £30 for unrestored un serviced one with case. Possibly £50 upwards for absolutely mint example especially if serviced by the Yashica guru Mark Hama - ex yashica employee - try a web search  - he loves these and all Yashica cameras. 

Yashica Lynx 1000 ( 1.8 lens up to 1 to 1/1000th - yes 1/1000th !) Another great camera - so quiet and selenium meter so's you don't need batteries ! Picked up a virtual mint one of these - except for sticky shutter - which loosened up after around 60 operations and now fine on all - for around £15 !

Yashica MG1 - F2.8 lens this time - but really nice - usually black finish and really sharp pics on the example I bought for £7.50 - a bit large but very good too ! Well recommended to take some really good pics for say £10 - £15 for very good example..  

Minolta Hi-matic series - excellent lens and build F1.8 six elements & also sophisticated metering system - inside the filter ring diameter so no exposure compensation needed with this one. A new addition to my collection ( 7s version )  but looking forward to verifying it's excellent reputation as soon as it stops raining in the U.K. !      

Beware of some serious problems though - repairs are by no means outside the scope of the amateur - check out a search for the "the Yashica guy" via a search engine for more details re what can and can't be repaired on yashicas. I did get my Lynx 14 fully serviced and adjusted & shutter fixed and new battery cover and battery - for around $140 all in - including shipping back and from the USA - not bad for 5 days work eh ? However Mr Hama was not impressed at my bungled attempt which luckily left the camera repairable...stupid to try it for this money methinks. I am left with a virtually mint 40 year old camera which should be fine for another - 40 ? - unlike me !!   

Questions to ask before buying -  

Does the light meter work ?

Is the lens clear of fungus / dust / scratches  ? ( some dust / light cleaning marks may be expected - but make sure your seller is honest and open about the extent of it )

Does the shutter seem to fire approximately correctly at all speeds ? ( you may want to ask about the self-timer but with some makes - apparently Yashica being one it may be playing with fire to ask they try this out - dislodging of dirt / debris may gum up the other shutter speeds so unless it's a dealbreaker I would be careful with this request !) 

Do the aperture blades shut down as they should ? Check through F stop range if possible.

Cosmetic condition ?  Photo's on advert please ?    

Light seals - do they work ? Have they put a film though it recently ? ( If these are gone / sticky etc no big deal - they are so simple to replace - even I've done it ! ) Check a Ebay / internet search there's a great guy by the name of Jon Goodman in Dallas - and I've now replaced these on 5 camera's from ONE of his kits ! brilliant & easy - comes with instructions and Jon's great guide on this. 

Batteries - if needed - does it come with some - beware of  - "don't know if it works as I don't have any" ... or "untested" etc - unless it's clearly advertised as being spares / repair. Where can you get some from to test it ?  Check the internet for the originals and modern replacements for old illegal (!)Mercury batteries. Thank heavens these cameras were soldered with good old fashioned lead solder though or the odds are they wouldn't be working now !

Finally, if you are willing to risk buying an untested model or insufficient info is given by the seller perhaps due to their lack of knowledge -check if they accept returns if the item doesn't prove operational.

So here's wishing you good luck and good hunting - and most of all good photo's as a result !!

 

cheers

Andy

  Llandaff street - taken on Yashica Lynx 14 - Fuji 200 film 2007

  Yashica Lynx 1000  - Sandford Lock Oxford - 200 iso Fuji Neg

                                                - Easter 2007

 Minolta Hi-matic 7s - excellent lens build - F1.8 six elements

-  will post some pics when  tested ! 

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