Your Guide to Buying a Rangefinder vs. SLR Camera

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Your Guide to Buying a Rangefinder vs. SLR Camera

Two of the most common types of cameras amongst consumers are rangefinders and SLRs. Each type has attractive features and functionality, but they differ in terms of what they can offer to professional photographers and hobbyists alike. Anybody who is considering buying a new camera must consider what they need from their photography equipment before deciding whether to opt for a rangefinder or an SLR.

The Technical Differences Between Rangefinder and SLR Cameras

Before looking at the main selling points of each type of camera, it is important to examine the technical differences between them. Perhaps the most important difference in terms of the operation of each type of camera lies in the viewfinders. In rangefinder cameras the viewfinder is positioned to the side of the lens, meaning that the viewed image is never exactly the same as the final photograph. With single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, however, the viewing and focusing of images is done through the lens, so all pictures that are taken are exact reproductions of what can be seen in the viewfinder.

The technology that allows this to happen is a reflex mirror that redirects external light to the viewfinder. Rangefinder cameras have no mirror box and, as a result, are typically smaller and lighter than SLR cameras. The classic rangefinder design involves manual focusing using a coincidence range finding mechanism. Two split images are overlaid on top of one another in the viewfinder, and by adjusting the focus ring, they gradually converge into one image in sharp focus. An alternative system found in many modern rangefinder cameras uses electronic technology to automatically focus the lens. Autofocus technology is commonly found in SLR cameras, and they also allow very detailed manual focus control.

It is important to point out that the offset positioning of the viewfinder from the lens in rangefinder cameras often brings about parallax errors, meaning that a photograph does not accurately represent a subject from the angle displayed in the viewfinder. This problem is particularly obvious with close-up shots, meaning that rangefinders are often not the best choice for people who specialise in macro photography. Since SLR cameras do not face the same issues with parallax errors, they are capable of macro as well as long range photography.

Different Types of Rangefinder Cameras

There have been many different brands and models of rangefinder cameras available since they were first introduced to consumers in around 1916, with the original technology dating back to the late 19th century. Most take 35mm film although there are other models that are designed for use with different film types. Modern consumers now have the additional option of purchasing a digital rangefinder camera. There is not a large range to choose from, however, and what is available is often much more expensive than the alternatives.

Digital rangefinder cameras must not only compete with similar models that use film, but also digital SLRs. Unlike those cameras, digital rangefinders often lack advanced features such as face recognition and the ability to record video. Many consumers opt for film rangefinders, and fixed lens versions can be very inexpensive to buy. There are also models with interchangeable lenses, of which there are many different types, although zoom lenses for rangefinder cameras are very rare.

Different Types of SLR Cameras

As with rangefinders, SLR cameras have a long history. They were first commercially available in the 1920s and steadily grew in popularity over the decades. Models that used 35mm film were by far the most common and remained so until the introduction of digital SLRs. There is still a demand for film SLR cameras, both 35mm models and those that use other film formats. There are several brands to choose from as there are with digital SLRs.

All SLR cameras from every manufacturer share some common characteristics, such as through-the-lens focusing and metering. A dedicated electronic flash offering extra control is another typical feature. SLR cameras are generally very versatile pieces of equipment, and there are many different interchangeable lenses that can be used with them, including extremely long lenses and fisheye lenses. In addition, when lens filters are used, the effects can be seen directly on the viewfinder, which is an advantage not shared by rangefinder cameras.

Rangefinder vs. SLR Camera User Experience

One of the most important considerations when deciding whether to buy a rangefinder or an SLR is how easy each camera type is to use. In general, SLRs have more features than rangefinders. While this can be very important to professional photographers and serious enthusiasts, it can be intimidating for casual users. A feature such as video recording, which is found in many digital SLRs, will not be missed by many rangefinder owners who like to focus their attention on still photography. The extra technology found in SLR cameras can also mean that they cost more to run in terms of battery usage.

Many people like the fact that rangefinder cameras tend to be smaller and lighter than SLRs due to there being no need for a mirror box to be installed within the camera casing. The exchangeable lenses are also usually much smaller and lighter. These two factors combined mean that rangefinders are much less cumbersome than SLRs, the latter often requiring a large case to carry the camera and all of the additional equipment that is required.

In terms of actually taking photographs, each type of camera has its advantages and disadvantages. The mirror mechanism and through-the-lens technology of SLR cameras allow precision photography, with the image seen in the viewfinder representing exactly how the finished photograph will look. This technology has some unfortunate consequences, however. The mirror mechanism can be slow and noisy, and its operation means that the viewfinder image is blacked out as photographs are taken. Rangefinder cameras, on the other hand, offer almost no shutter lag, and they are quiet to operate. Aside from the issue of the offset viewfinder offering a slightly different perspective to the photographer's own view, the other disadvantage of using a rangefinder is that the range finding mechanism can become misaligned and, as a result, needs to be regularly recalibrated.

Rangefinder vs. SLR Camera Photography Types

Although both rangefinders and SLR cameras are used by professional photographers as well as hobbyists, they are each ideally suited to different styles of photography. The superiority of SLR cameras in terms of focal length and the lack of parallax errors mean that they are better for close-up photography. It could also be argued that they are a better choice for taking long-range images due to the wide variety of zoom lenses that are available. By contrast, rangefinder cameras cannot use telephoto lenses above 135mm, meaning that for distance work where a subject that is far away has to be in focus, such as in nature photography, they are not the ideal solution.

The fact that rangefinder cameras are small, fast, and quiet means that they are often used by photographers when capturing portraits. The unobtrusive nature of these cameras is also an advantage in street photography, in contrast with larger SLR cameras and lenses that often draw attention. Furthermore, the viewfinder in a rangefinder camera will display more of a scene than will appear in a finished photograph, allowing photographers to plan action shots in great detail. Rangefinders have excellent wide-angle lens options, meaning that they are also a good choice for landscape photography. In general, there is more of a requirement to compose shots with a rangefinder than with an SLR, meaning that they present a good opportunity for photographers to develop their skills.

Buying a Rangefinder or SLR on eBay

Whether buyers are looking for a rangefinder or an SLR, there are many models available to purchase on eBay. Initially selecting the option of All Categories on the homepage of the website will bring up further options, from which the category of Cameras & Photography can be clicked. The sub-menu of All Categories within the Camera & Photography menu should then be selected. The next selection should be Film Photography, and then Film Cameras. This will display a wide selection of film cameras for sale, but rangefinders or SLRs specifically can be displayed by selecting the relevant options from the Type menu on the left of the page.

It is a similar process to find digital rangefinders or SLR cameras. Within the Camera & Photography menu, there is an option for Digital Cameras. Clicking on this menu will display all of the various types of digital cameras for sale, but within the Type menu to the left of the page, there is an option for digital rangefinders, as well as for digital SLRs, to narrow the search down to these specific camera types.


Rangefinders and SLR cameras offer classic designs and functionality, and as a result, they are still popular today. In addition, there are technologically advanced digital models available. There is a huge selection of rangefinders and SLRs to view and buy on eBay, meaning that fans of these cameras will always be able to find a device to suit their needs. Each type of camera holds advantages over the other, meaning that potential buyers must thoroughly evaluate both options before making a final purchasing decision.

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