What I Learned Switching from Mirrorless to a Rangefinder

Going from a state-of-the-art mirrorless system to a range finder system will be considered a backward move by many. On paper, you’re giving up a lot in return for little upside. In reality, though, the story is a lot more complicated.

You can read my thoughts on my recent switch to a Leica system here. To be fair, I haven’t switched systems in the traditional sense, since I still own all of my mirrorless equipment—there’s still a time and place where that just makes sense. Having an arsenal of many options ensures you’ll always have the right tool for the job.

Still, the Leica is my primary shooter. Here’s what I learned switching from mirrorless to a rangefinder.

Composition

Because the viewfinder of a rangefinder camera is fixed and does not communicate with the lens or the electronics, you’re limited to a single field of view. What you get to help are frame lines representing the focal length of the lens you’ve chosen.

This is certainly a unique aspect of shooting with a rangefinder, and I find it has both pros and cons.

There are certain scenes where it’s beneficial to have the perspective to see what falls outside of the frame, especially with moving subjects that you’re waiting to enter the frame. On the other hand, there are times where this can become distracting; when all you want to focus on is what the result will look like, and you don’t necessary care about all the extra data that falls outside of the image.

Spray and Pray

This is an idea one of my good friends recently engrained in my mind when discussing some cryptocurrency investment strategies (this deserves its own discussion for another time…), but it holds equally true for modern digital cameras.

I can’t even count the number of articles, tutorials, and blog posts that recommend shooting more frames to increase your likelihood of keepers. While this makes sense in certain situations, such as when you’re working the scene with street photography, I prefer the photos I make when I’ve put thought and care into the photographic process.

A rangefinder slows you down, helping you capture more deliberate photos. No spray and pray.

Self-Doubt

This next lesson may not apply to everyone, especially those with less than perfect vision. Coming from a DSLR and Mirrorless system where you can preview focus through the viewfinder/EVF, it can be quite tricky to know if you’ve nailed down focus via the rangefinder mechanism.

When I think back on the times I’ve gone out with my Leica M, there are many times where I snap a photo and immediately doubt whether or not I nailed critical focus. The majority of the time my focus is perfect, but until you get used to the focus patch in all lighting situations, it’s easy to doubt yourself and think you missed focus.

This is easily addressed with a digital rangefinder camera because you can verify on the rear LCD, but ultimately, this is either a skill you learn over time or a minor issue that comes with the territory for film rangefinders.

Closing Thoughts

Trust the process. What it all boils down to is the vision you as a photographer have for the image. Different scenarios will call for different tools, and for my style of shooting, the rangefinder currently fills that role. Things change and so will my photographic style, and the result could indeed call for a more efficient and work-oriented rig; for the time being, I’m enjoying this flashback from the past and learning about the craft.


About the author: Faisal Yaqub is a photographer based in San Francisco, CA. When he’s not behind the camera, he works on the Growth team at Slack as a Software Engineer. To see more of his work, visit his website or give him a follow on Instagram. This post was also published here.

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