How exactly does the rangefinder work on the Leica?

The viewfinder of a camera is the photographer's window to the world. With the help of the rangefinder, the Leica can be used to check the image section, its composition and its depth of field. This is an important component that we will write about in detail here.

Rangefinder - how the Leica works

The fact that the rangefinder is a central part of the Leica M is even expressed in its name, because that's exactly what the extra letter stands for. At the time of its launch, the Leica M was one of the first rangefinder cameras, and today it is one of the few that still sells well. Basically, not much has changed in the way the Leica rangefinder is built and functions since the first Leica M in the 1950s.

Mechanically, the rangefinder is a compact rangefinder is a compact component that is connected to the lens by a small lever inside the camera. Here, the distance to the object is measured through the viewfinder, not through the lens as with an SLR camera. In combination with an appropriate lens, the rangefinder, also known as a Rangefinder enables manual focusing with millimeter precision.

In detail, the rangefinder consists of two viewfinder windows whose respective images are superimposed by a mirror system in the camera's viewfinder eyepiece. The resulting image is in turn linked to the camera's distance setting. To focus, both images must be congruently superimposed, which is achieved by turning the focus ring on the lens.

Advantages of the rangefinder

Technically, the biggest difference between a rangefinder camera and the very popular SLR cameras is that here the distance to the object is measured through the viewfinder and not through the lens as in SLR cameras. This makes the accuracy of these cameras is is much higher than that of an SLR, especially at short focal lengths.

Another important advantage of cameras equipped with a rangefinder is that they are particularly good at dealing with available light, which is also known as available light is the term used. The Leica's bright, high-contrast viewfinders allow sharp, well-composed photos even in difficult lighting conditions. Particularly low-light lenses in SLR cameras darken the viewfinder considerably. This means that the Leica can do without a flash even in places where an SLR camera without artificial lighting would be in the dark.

And the rangefinder also makes a real difference in terms of feel when taking pictures. Photographers appreciate that the Leica M's rangefinder system makes it easy and intuitive to use after an initial learning phase. They can concentrate on the main thing - their image - and turn their very own subjective image idea into a photograph.

The various illuminated frames that can be superimposed to show the field of view of the lens in question make it easy to observe the surroundings while taking the photo. Even when The view of the subject is maintained even when the shutter is released, which offers additional freedom and more spontaneous reaction options to what is happening.. Not least because of its rangefinder, the Leica M has for decades been one of the most popular cameras in the field of street photography, where a great deal of spontaneity and quick responsiveness are required.

Closer, faster, better?

The rangefinder of the Leica M brings with it some peculiarities in the behavior of photographers working with the camera. For example, they have to get much closer to the subject, because shots taken from a long distance are more difficult due to the difficult to compose and get in focus due to the smaller image detail in the rangefinder. This creates a different interaction of the photographer with his subject; he becomes part of the scene he is documenting and does not remain its observer.

This different way of photographing with the Leica M requires practice, and failed attempts have already deterred one or two photography enthusiasts from experimenting with a rangefinder camera. If you want to see exactly what the photo will look like

If you want to see exactly what the photo will look like, you might be better off with a modern digital camera. Here, an electronic viewfinder is used to simulate the exact exposure of the photo.

Problems with the rangefinder

Despite many advantages and staunch advocates, a rangefinder camera like the Leica is of course not always the best choice in every situation. Manual focusing, for example, proves difficult when you or the subject you are photographing are moving quickly. To work without autofocus, you need a moment to focus before taking the picture. Moving objects often simply don't allow enough time to react here. Even at telephoto, shooting with a rangefinder camera can be a headache, because if the subject is too far away, accurate focusing is just too difficult at some point. At longer focal lengths, the part of the viewfinder that displays the actual image can become very small, making accurate focusing difficult. However, a viewfinder magnifier, which is offered by manufacturers as an additional part, helps against this and facilitates focusing.

Another problem with rangefinder cameras is the so-called "parallax effect." Since the image is not seen directly through the lens and it has a small distance to the optics, there is a shift from the viewfinder image to the later photo. The parallax effect is most noticeable in close-up photos. In addition, the rangefinder can become minimally misaligned, which then results in blurring of more distant subjects. This error can be readjusted at home, for which numerous videos on the Internet provide instructions. However, such an adjustment is millimeter work that requires not only expertise, but also the finest instinct and can be left to the experts. At the Leica factory, for example, problems with the rangefinder can be professionally corrected.

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