Five High Quality 35mm Rangefinders You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Five High Quality 35mm Rangefinders You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

2800 1575 James Tocchio

Leica too trendy for you? Sick of hearing about the Nikon SP? First, what’s wrong with you? And second, what’s wrong with me? Because I’m sick of them too! Looking for something to spark the moist tinder of my dampened interest in camera-liking, I sat down with the CP writing squad and we spent an hour arguing over our favorite lesser-known rangefinders.

The criteria; our choice rangefinders must be high quality, obscure, and for bonus points, affordable (even if they’re not exactly cheap). We discovered pretty quickly that there are plenty of amazing rangefinders that no one talks about.

Here’s a few of them.


The Yashica Electro 35 CC

At some point in our conversation about obscure rangefinders, one of the writers floated the Yashica Electro. After I’d stopped wretching, I argued that that camera is not only too common, but also too unreliable and too boring to make this list. But then someone mentioned the Yashica Electro 35 CC, and things got interesting.

Described by many camera-likers as a Yashica Electro 35 with a wide angle lens, the Yashica Electro 35 CC is nothing of the sort. It is its own camera in every respect.

Where the more common cameras in the Yashica Electro series are utterly enormous, full of unreliable electronics, and run on irritatingly obsolete batteries which require special adapters, the Yashica Electro 35 CC is tiny, more reliable, and runs on the common PX28 (4LR44) battery. I already don’t hate it. But the compact form (indeed, it’s smaller than the smallest Olympus rangefinders of the 1970s) and the quality of life improvements it offers over its chunkier brethren are just the base cake upon which we pile the whipped cream and cherries of a fun metering mode and a super-fast-and-wide lens. [I’ve noticed my metaphors are getting just a bit out of control, but I don’t want to stop. I hope you like them.]

The camera offers aperture-priority automatic shooting, and exposes film through a 35mm F/1.8 fast prime lens. The auto-exposure mode works well, even if the camera is a bit limited by its inability to shoot in full manual mode. The lens renders sharp and punchy images in all light, and works perfectly as a low-light street cam with its wide-standard field of view and its impressive light-collecting capability. All this combines to make the CC (and its even rarer variant, the CCN) an obscure rangefinder worth owning and shooting today.

Get one on eBay


The Leidolf Lordomat

Next, we have a compact, interchangeable lens, all-mechanical, 35mm film rangefinder camera made in the photographically hallowed German city of Wetzlar? But our next pick isn’t the obvious Leica M3, or any camera made by Leitz. This little gem is the Lordomat, made by Leidolf.

The Leidolf Lordomat encapsulates everything that I love about classic cameras into one tiny machine. It’s unerringly all-mechanical, and every lever, dial, switch, and knob actuates with clockwork precision. Its double stroke film advance lever is so nice, I don’t mind that I have to stroke it twice. Pressing the shutter release results in a near-silent exposure. The lens mount system is interesting and unique. The available Leidolf lenses are excellent, and since they’re coupled to the rangefinder, focusing is fast and accurate. Equally important to me, the Lordomat is an unusually small camera.

All of these facets work to make this gem of a rangefinder sparkle like few others. It’s not as refined as some other cameras from Wetzlar, Germany. But it’s certainly more interesting.

Get one on eBay


The Diax IIa

The only camera on this list that I’ve not personally used, the Diax IIa is too interesting to be disqualified simply because I’ve not held one. But, sadly, this description will be limited by the foolish truth that I’ve never bought one. Actually, wait.

Okay. I just bought one. Expect a full review within the month.

Made by the German firm Walter Voss, the Diax IIa is a visually inelegant rangefinder with a bulbous top plate that houses two separate viewfinders for various focal length lenses. The IIa of 1954 is a reconfigured Diax Ia (from 1952) that adds a rangefinder to that big, bold top plate. The lenses are coupled to the rangefinder, and focused via helicoid, and while there’s a real lack of sample shots populating the internet, I suspect the Schneider-Kreuznach lenses will perform beautifully. I’ll see for myself in a few weeks.

Get one on eBay


The Minolta V2

I had to have a Minolta on this list. I’m a fan, you know? The other writers and I discussed the common Minolta models, like the fantastic Super A or the even more popular Minolta 35. But these cameras’ relative ubiquity struck them from the list. Instead, I’ve chosen the Minolta V2, a quirky rangefinder that I’ve been shooting for the past few months in preparation for a review.

The Minolta V2 has a very specific set of features that make it unique and interesting, packed into a body that squanders that interest. It’s a plain camera, looking blandly similar to the hundreds of other rangefinders made during the 1950s and 1960s. But it’s better than most of them (at least, on paper).

The heart of the machine is a stunningly fast, all-mechanical leaf shutter. With a maximum speed of 1/2000th of a second, the Minolta V2 contained the fastest leaf shutter ever installed in a consumer camera when it debuted in 1958. Its owner’s manual boasted that it was the only camera capable of rendering blur-free speedboats traveling at full throttle. True or not, it’s a fun claim.

Mounted in front of this amazing leaf shutter is an exceptionally capable Rokkor lens. With a focal length of 45mm and a fast maximum aperture of F/2, it’s a perfect do-it-all lens. Images made through this glass are sharp at all apertures, with no light falloff and no chromatic aberration. It’s an uncommonly excellent lens, especially considering its 1958 vintage. If the V2 sounds interesting, buy one now, or wait until my review goes live in a few days. You’ll probably want one after that.

Get one on eBay


The last word in this list comes from the mind of Mike Eckman. Mike’s name may be familiar to some of you, but if it’s not, it should be. He’s the titular figure behind MikeEckman.com, a site that’s overflowing with information on classic cameras. His reviews are incredibly deep dives into the machines we all love (and some that you may never have heard of). If you’ve not yet visited his site, take a look. His pick for an obscure rangefinder doesn’t disappoint. I’ll let him introduce it.

Mike’s Pick – the Clarus MS-35

This is the Clarus MS-35 (full review here), made between the years of 1946 and 1952 in Minneapolis, Minnesota by the Clarus Camera Manufacturing Company. This was the first and only camera ever designed by the Clarus company. Due to infrastructure damage and political upheaval in Germany, camera and lens production came to a halt after World War II, and there was a desperate appetite all over the world for new photographic gear. Established American companies such as Kodak, Wollensak, and ANSCO attempted to fill the void by rushing new and exciting lenses and cameras to market.

Clarus was a new company that attempted to fill the void of a “Leica style” 35mm rangefinder camera with an interchangeable screw lens mount, focal plane shutter, and flash synchronization. The camera had an attractive fully machined all-metal body, top 1/1000 shutter speed, and a comfortable design that placed all of the camera’s controls in easy reach on the top plate. Available for it was a selection of wide angle 35mm to telephoto 101mm Wollensak triplets. On paper, the Clarus went toe to toe with the finest German rangefinders, and with a price of just over $120, it was less than half the cost of it’s primary competition. Of course, being made by a company with no experience making cameras, and built in a country that lacked trained precision engineers, the camera proved to be an unreliable mess. Clarus continually tweaked and updated the design of the camera in the years after it’s release in an attempt to resolve its issues, but its reputation for poor quality and its high price (for an American-made camera) doomed it. Once supplies of German cameras resumed, the demand for cameras like the Clarus MS-35 bottomed out, and in 1952 was discontinued.

Despite its short production run and generally poor reputation, the Clarus remains a fascinating example of the brief period of time when the United States was the top of the camera world. In the hands, the Clarus MS-35 has a solid and robust feel, the ergonomics are quite good, and when working, the shutter gives a satisfying snick as it fires. The Wollensak triplet lenses are quite good and offer incredible value compared to much more expensive five- and six-element lenses produced by other companies. These cameras aren’t exactly rare, but they’re not common. With a generally low selling price, a working Clarus MS-35 is a worthy addition to any rangefinder collection.


That’s the list. Shout at us in the comments if there’s a lesser-known rangefinder you wish we’d included.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and advanced digital cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
22 comments
  • Write out one hundred times:
    “I don’t need any more rangefinder cameras”
    (-:

    Wilson

  • Interesting article, since there were a few cameras I had never heard of. I have had a renewed interest in rangefinders, since I recently had a Kodak Retina II camera restored. Those are probably too common to appear in this article.

  • Great selection of less known rangefinder! The Minolta V2 looks great and I keep it in mind, if I have a sudden rangefinder GAS attack… 😉
    Another beautiful and unknown rangefinder, coming from the former GDR/DDR is the Welta Belmira. I had one a few years ago and wrote a little review about it (https://www.lomography.com/magazine/2206-welta-belmira) A sharp Zeiss Jena 2.8/50 Tessar lens, on a beautiful metal body and a front shutter button, and a very charming and capable camera!

  • I was ecstatic to see the V2 make the list; at ~100usd for a working example, it’s an incredible bang for the buck, and the rokkor lens is surprisingly sharp. I would’ve gone crazy if the even-faster V3 made the list as well; with it’s f1.8, 1/3000th leaf shutter & built in light meter, it’s quite a machine. However, the V3 was only made for 1 year and are increasingly hard to find, and more expensive.

    PS; A V2 or V3 set @1/30th is hands down the sexiest sounding shutter I have ever heard in my life

    • I think the V2 will be the next review posted on the site here. And glad to see it’s already got some fans reading here. Thanks pal!

    • Yep the v3 is the one. I was watching a few on eBay a year or so ago, then they were gone, I blew it. And for around $170 aud too.

  • Very cool. One i like using is the Agfa Optima 1535. Tiny camera with a huge vf ,rf focus and auto exposure. Takes current batteries and looks like a mini Plaubel Makina. It has Agfa’s signature giant red shutter button and a much more sensitive/versatile meter than the Rollei 35se.

  • Great article! I always love it when underdogs get some (deserved) attention. You should also definitely check out the Zeiss Werra and Voigtländer Vitessa L(the version with the great 50/2 Ultron probably delivering the most bang per buck as underdog RF – at least in terms of finish and originality).

  • Is it just me, or does that Lordomat look an awful lot like the Akarex III?

  • Can I just mention that the ‘Braun Super Paxette’ is also a great German rangefinder! (m39 mount) All manual too! Produced in 1950’s
    http://www.cjs-classic-cameras.co.uk/paxette/sii.jpg

  • I’ve owned the Diax and the Yashica and the Clarus. Diax would be my pick to own again. Look also at the Ricoh 519 series. Fun cameras, good lenses.

  • Anything that is called Lordomat has a place in my heart. And yes.. i am sick of Leica M glamour shots on instagram. The hype of Leica and “street” w/ it´s stupid prices is not zeitgeist anymore: it´s brain washing zombie land.

  • I would like to mention our domestic camera maker Meopta and their beautiful Opema I and Opema II. Made in the ’50 with interchangeable M38 lenses.
    http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Opema

  • I’d recommend a good copy of the Kiev 4. The Jupiter 8M is a great lens.

  • Way back when, I owned a Lordomat, and frankly don’t understand the sort of adulation awarded here. It made such a dent in my memory that today I can’t think of a single reason to seriously consider buying one, other than for a collector. It does have a quite long rangefinder base, but you will see the shutter release leaver; how old fashioned is this? Today, with the internet, sourcing any of its lenses should be a little easier but when I purchased it it was with the view of getting the wide angle lens, and I never found one. So I sold it and got the far more useful Kiev 4, for which all if its lenses were readily available cheaply in the UK in the mid-1970’s.

    As for the Minolta V2, which debuted in 1958, the 1/2000 sec.top shutter speed is just a bit of a gimmick. Basically, the V2 is just another simple crf camera, typical of the era with a 1 sec. to 1/500 sec. shutter, and with a fast lens. The 1/1000 and 1/2000 speeds are achieved by the expedient of limiting the travel of the leaf shutter blades so they don’t open fully. This comes at, to my mind, the considerable expense of losing the capabilities of its fast lens as the widest aperture available is f4 when 1/1000 is selected and a woeful f8 with 1/2000. At the time of the V2’s launch launch, HP3 and Tri-X were rated at 200 ASA and so the 1/2000 sec would under expose by about 1.5 stops at f8 when using 1/2000, although 1/1000 was more viable and practical. Thinking of using colour film? You may as well forget it. Buyers beware: today’s prices are for collector value, as there is no doubt that the V2 adds novelty to its allegedly superb lens..

    At the moment, I can only recall one leaf shutter camera that was made in abundance and which boasted a shutter speed faster than 1/500 sec, and that is the Werra, available in a number of guises, and those fitted with the Prestor RVS shutter could deliver 1/750 sec. and usable at all apertures.

    • The V2’s top speed is perhaps a bit of a gimmick…but its top speed really isn’t the reason I’d ever recommmend it to someone. The v2 is a solid performer with a sharp f2 up to 1/500th, and I still find it pretty easy to shoot @f4 & 1/1000th, even with 200 speed color film. 1/2000th is reserved for sunny days & fast film sure, but the fact that the capability is at least there is something of a bonus; especially when you remember that it can sync a flash all the way up to that 1/2000th.

      The build quality of the V2 makes it such a joy to use; even my Canonet GIII QL looks & feels like a cheap happy-meal toy by comparison, despite costing 3x as much.

      Btw; the V3 can shoot 1/1000th wide open @f1.8, if that kind of thing is important to you 😉

      • Spencer, with a little hindsight I may have been a little too critical of the practicality of the V2’s 1/2000 sec. setting. Better to have, to look upon it as an option, albeit limited. But my comments were more directed to when the V2 was released, albeit some aspects may still apply today. Back then, colour would have been impossible as colour film was so slow, and b/w would have needed push processing. Today, with fast colour film at 400 and 800 ISO (especially) 1/2000 becomes viable, just, with 400 and a little in reserve with 800. But, as you say, this is dependent upon a sunny day in the summer months in the northern hemisphere. (Sunny 16 assumes this.) Used sensibly, within the range of its more conventional shutter speed settings, even the 1/000, and thus having its apparently excellent lens at all apertures, it seems an excellent camera.

        I’m not sure how practical being able to sync up to 1/2000 actually would be, or is. I can’t determine what sync settings the shutter has; X definitely, but possibly M as well. As I’m sure you will be aware, X is for bulbs and strobes, and the shutter speed was set deliberately slow to allow the maximum out put of a flash bulb to be utilised. Leaf shutters can be made to sync at faster speeds (M) but require special bulbs and the effective exposure is now a property of the aperture and shutter speed. 1/2000 and f8 will be a significant handicap mitigating their use with flash bulbs.

        The situation with strobes is different, but the restricted aperture could still pose problems. Strobes require the X setting because they respond so fast to the leaf shutter firing. As the actual speed of the flash itself is, in most cases, much faster than the shutter setting all the flash output is captured irrespective of the shutter speed. But the gremlin still raises its ugly head, f8, and with strobes there is another factor that needs to be considered: at full output the duration of the flash can be much slower than 1/2000 setting. So now, the camera shutter speed itself can limit the effectiveness of the flash. I know of some strobes that are as slow as 1/300 sec. on full output.

        • I have a Fujica 35EE which has an advertised 1/1000 shutter speed that is still usable at f/1.9 IIRC. Also have a Minolta 35AL that also sports a 1000 top speed with an f/2 lens. Finally, there is the Yashica M-II which also has a 1000 top speed but with an f/2.8 lens.

          Are the first two examples (and the last for that matter) using a similar practice of reducing the opening when the 1000 speed is selected?

  • Thanks for the information regarding some other leaf shutter cameras with a 1/1000 top speed. The answer to your question will be “no” if you are able to use the lenses at their maximum apertures combined with their maximum speed.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and advanced digital cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio