Nikon F75 Project – Part 4 – The SLR viewfinder, fundamentally flawed and entirely outdated…?

The biggest issue I have is with the concept of the SLR is the viewfinder. It seems to me that the technology around the SLR viewfinder was flawed from day one, and has now been functionally superseded by electronic viewfinders. Yet despite this, many people still favour the experience – proven of course by the fact that Nikon and Canon’s top flight cameras are still SLRs. I don’t really like the SLR viewfinder, and shooting the Nikon F75 has reminded me of this fact.

The flawed SLR

The concept of any camera that gives a view through the lens is flawed by the nature of the lens’s aperture. The issue is, as soon as you stop down the aperture, less light is let through. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but the technology that gets around this problem in SLRs is based on innovation that dates back from the 1950s, 60s and 70s – and short of improvements in speed of function, most of which have come at the expense of good haptic experience – the technology hasn’t really advanced since

The basic principle of modern SLRs is based on framing and focusing at the widest aperture. When a smaller aperture is selected, the camera will automatically stop the lens down the moment before the shutter is fired. Built in meters deal with this issue by knowing the set aperture on the and compensating for it when giving a reading.

The impact of this on the user of the SLR is that whilst the view through the lens is largely accurate in terms of framing (at least in SLRs with 100% viewfinders) depth of field isn’t. On SLRs that have them, depth of field preview buttons allow the user to see the impact of the chosen aperture, but of course this comes along with the corresponding darkening of the view through the finder.

The mirrorless solution

Modern mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders make a much better argument for a through-the-lens view. For a start, they show the impact of the chosen aperture on/in the screen without the image darkening. Stopping down the aperture lets through less light, but mirrorless cameras up gain on the sensor to compensate. In low light, this does mean that noise can become visible on the screen, but to my mind at least, the compromise is much less significant. Electronic viewfinders are also able to show much more useful information such as how the image will be exposed, live in the viewfinder. In short, the view though a mirrorless camera is pretty much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience, whereas the view through an SLR isn’t.

The offset viewfinder

I’m sure there’ll be many regular readers scratching their heads at this point. I’m a point & shoot and rangefinder photographer; my camera viewfinders are so far from providing a wysiwyg experience, how can I possibly be critical of the SLR for this issue? As I talk about in this post from a little while back, I really enjoy not seeing what I’m going to get in the camera.

Rangefinder cameras only give an idea of framing, everything else is achieved through use of your imagination. You have to imagine what the impact of using the lens wide open stopped down will be. You make the decision based on the image you see in your head, not the one through the viewfinder. As I talk about in that post, I find SLR viewfinders distracting from the mental image that I prefer to take advantage of when shooting. The wide open lens view sort of imposes itself onto that part of my imagination, and I don’t really like it.

Snow day with the family

When taking the above photo with my Nikon F75, the wide open aperture of the lens made it difficult to see the cathedral in the background. To make my decision about what aperture I wanted to shoot at I found myself having to mentally override what the viewfinder was telling me. With a rangefinder I would have relied entirely on my minds eye, and if I’d been shooting a mirrorless camera I’d have had the view shown to me exactly as the photo would have turned out. The half way house SLR with its clunky and archaic DOF preview button just did it work for me…

You can catch up with the rest of the posts in this series here

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68 thoughts on “Nikon F75 Project – Part 4 – The SLR viewfinder, fundamentally flawed and entirely outdated…?”

  1. The F75 is respectfully not the best example of an SLR Viewfinder, personally I think the Nikon F4 is, in my limited experience..

    Moreover, I prefer to see a true image through the camera viewfinder not a digitised version, I personally don’t believe it does the eyes any good and I cannot stand mirrorless digital cameras anyway..for my style of photography anyway.

  2. I entirely disagree with the premise of this article, I much prefer seeing through a proper viewfinder, and depth of field preview is absolutely fine for gauging depth of field prior to the shot for me. If you want electronic viewfinders you might as well be done with it and shoot with digital. I love the simplicity and minimalism of film cameras, the last thing I want is a battery draining TV screen in my viewfinder, with all the distracting clutter that goes with it. If you want to see what a real cavernous viewfinder looks like, try an OM1 if you haven’t already, now that’s a viewfinder. I’m also fine with the SLR mirror design, it’s a tried and tested method that just works, I’ve had enough of digital electronic viewfinders to last me a lifetime, I use them if I have to but given the choice, no thanks.

    1. My preference for digital is still the RF to be fair – though when I need versatility, the a7rii is the choice I have made… though I don’t really like it. For me, like you, simplicity is key – have a read

  3. Horses for courses, It’s just what suites you best. I am a SLR guy at heart and have trouble with rangefinders.

  4. Digital is brilliant….but it has its limitations. Severe cold and it will not function….just as a smartphone will not function….I’m talking -25°c and below as in Donetsk in winter. I am sure that quite like the modern electronic car, the electonic digital camera will have many of the same shortcomings… is after all built to a budget. With regard to the viewfinders……I am like many a fan of the WYSWYG school…..aka as What you see is what you get. I have used rangefinders for many years….and come a cropper on several occassions as the rangefinder was out of focus/alignment. I have never had this problem with any of my 35mms. My vote for the clearest viewfinders go to the New Canon F1 and the Contax 139Q respectively, both superb. A digital viewfinder is a recipe for disaster…….I know that I have been through two Canon G7’s in as many years….on one of them the lcd screen went totally blank, and on the other it went white lines……ok I had a regular viewfinder but if I had only the digital back? The F75 is a great camera loaded with options…..but the F80 is a few dollars more and a seriously good piece of kit…..I stlll enjoy using mine…even though it is too modern for me, it does everything and does it perfectly…..only drawback is flashsync speed….but if you want that go a few dollars more and pick up the more pro orientated F100

    1. I do think I might “upgrade” to the f80 when I am finished on this little path with the 75… A lot of people have mentioned it since I started these posts

      1. I realize this a pretty old post, but if you haven’t already tried the N80, I would say it doesn’t really a great viewfinder. Not compared to my beloved FE. Or the F100. N80’s viewfinder is small, similar to those on crop sensor DSLR’s, and lacks any good indication of when things come into focus. The diopter adjuster is very rudimentary, a slide button with 4 discreet positions, neither of which seems quite right. I have excellent vision (thank goodness, for now) and I find it difficult to focus with N80. And without being able to very clearly see what’s in focus and what’s not, the SLR’s viewfinder loses much of its allure. I think I had an early experience in my youth when someone had let me hold their full frame Canon DSLR with a good fast lens; when I looked through the viewfinder I was amazed how great the view was, it felt like looking through an excellent piece of optics. Like a good telescope or something like that. I’ve seen been comparing every camera to that benchmark in my memory (which, for all I know; may be captured with rose coloured glasses of an young impressionable person). The modern full frame DSLRs have excellent finders and the Nikon FE/FE2/F100 do as well. Though it seems that the finder quality comes at a price or the hefty large camera body. As for the mirrorless EVF, I would have agreed with you 3 months ago before I tried my first FUJI XT2. Everything I’ve ever read about the Fuji EVF sounded like a major step forward in technology and the experience. So much information in one little screen. Focus peaking, the horizontal focus scale with DOF range on it, the histogram. It all sounds good on. But once I started to actually use it; I realized that what I love most about the camera is the clarity of the optical viewfinder with a very certain feeling of when things are in focus and what exactly is in focus. And the EVF’s pixelated little computer screen is simply no comparison to a good quality optical viewfinder. So despite all the supposed advantages of the mirrorless EVF, I’m switching back to my Nikon. I guess it’s all about the experience of (process of) photography that we are used to and find most pleasing and rewarding. It’s a lifelong search of perfection 🙂

  5. It’s swings and roundabouts. For the current fad of wide aperture photography the reflex finder is pretty much ideal. You see exactly what the lens sees, without relying on the accuracy of mechanical rangefinders. Through an RF or Galilean finder everything looks in focus, which is ideal for street photography at f8 or above where it’s all about arranging moving objects to create a composition, but for bokeh (I’ll never learn to love the term) which requires nailing a sliver of focus, and seeing “optically” the SLR has a lot going for it. No lag, no tired eyes from long days looking at an EVF or screen.

    Mirrorless has changed things somewhat, but I still find it a hamstrung model, essentially a lens with a computer on the back interpreting data to a visual readout. Practical, but utterly without nuance. For film era comparisons, it’s a straight choice between RFs for deep focus and wider lenses, and SLRs for shallow focus and longer focal lengths. Both can be adapted for the opposite use – I sometimes use a 28mm 3.5 on an SLR and zone focus, but it’s generally horses for courses. A problem with most DSLRs is they’ve evolved around full frame, heavy duty, professional body types, and relegated crop frame compact DSLRs to beginners ranges (cheap), or wildlife (not cheap and heavy). Another issue is finders are optimised for AF, and remove the accuracy and feel of manual focusing.

    1. I agree with all of what you say (as usual really)! I quite like shallow dof/wide open photography with an RF – I guess I like making a rod for my back…

      1. That’s why finding the perfect camera or lens is fun, but a wild goose chase. Professionally we require a camera that solves problems for ourselves and a client. Personally, we often like cameras with issues we have to negotiate to get the shot. Sometimes those issues become unbearable and we look elsewhere, other times their slow or roundabout way of working is something we respond to. Applying objective criteria to machines with no agreed standard of efficiency, output and pleasure of use is impossible, basically. All we can do is try to explain why we like one camera more than another.

        1. I couldn’t agree more! As for the explaining, I like to think that’s why a lot of people get something out of what I post – I know I’m not right universally, but I also hope that’s what makes my thoughts interesting. God only knows I’ve read enough content on enough blogs from people just writing what they think others want to read…
          I suspect this particular post will go down in my memory as one where very few agreed with me … But so be it 🙂

  6. A personal opinion from me. Despite all the logical positives a digital viewfinder has, using one is just one step too far removed from the scene for me. It makes photography child’s play and I grudgingly feel put out of a job.

  7. Nice write-up and photo. As often happens when I read this BLOG, it got me thinking about recent experience as I venture further back and away from the barbarism of modern technological advance.

    I have recently been using early Zorki SLRs. They are based on the Barnack Leica models, but modified to function as SLR. While they present typical Soveit Era, Russian build quality, they also present a sort of unique melding of rangefinder and SLR photo experience. The MIR 37mm 2.8 lens I use most frequently on the Zorkis also seems to throw in an element of the view camera experience: compose and focus with lens wide open, then turn the preset ring to the selected aperture for the photograph, and shoot. While the MIR 37mm is fairly large, the Industar 50mm 3.5 lenses can almost be called “pancake” and when in use do not make the cameras that much larger than the Barnack they are modeled after.

    It is kind of funny, the viewfinders/screens are not very bright on these cameras and I initially experienced some disappointment and frustration with results; but then, I remembered something I had read related to view camera focusing: focus your full attention on the focus screen glass, rather than the object as it appears on the glass, and my experience improved. It was/is a hard thing for me to differentiate philosophically, and may be nothing more than a mental stunt, but it worked……..for me. There you have it, rangefinder, SLR, and view camera combined into one roughly hewn, but reliable camera. They can still be had at fairly low price. Get one. They are hugely entertaining. Something you can really become absorbed in as you hunt for photographs………….That is the purpose?, Isn’t it?

    1. Yes, indeed it is! I did really want to get myself an early Pentacon/Contax F for s similarly simple experience, though I have just picked up an early exa mount zoom lens, so I might go that road instead.

    2. Wayne, if you are really shooting with a Zorki badged slr, then you will have what will be the rarest Soviet 35mm camera in the world, or it is a fake. :D) Zorki never produced an slr; similarly Zenit isn’t known for rangefinder models. What you are really describing is the little Zenit that first made an appearance in the early to mid-1950’s; I’ve got a Zenit-C with f3.5/50 Industar 50. Historically, it is indeed based on the original Zorki body style which was a copy of the Leica IId, with the innards modified to take an slr reflex cage.

      This little slr, it is indeed very small for a FF film 35mm slr, is a great combination of small rangefinderesque body with a surprisingly large viewfinder. The true ground glass screen, without a fresnel lens, is ground so fine that focusing is very easy, even with the f3.5 lens. In the hand, its size and body design give it the feel of an old Barnack camera, but with the advantage of slr viewing.

      1. I read that as Zenit … They had an early zenit with some sort of commemorative lens attached in LCE in town recently. I actually nearly picked it up, but the lens was stiff to the point of not useable

      2. You are correct. I get my Zenits and Zorkis messed up. I have the Zenit 1 and the Zenit C. Thank heavens I did not call it a FED. I use them both regularly for the past couple months.

        The Zenit SLRs, even the more modern versions (M42) are spectacular cameras for the money. In fact, I have one fairly modern version, Zenit ET, that includes one of the best focusing screens I have ever experienced. It does have a fresnel ring. It is hardly compact, though. It is kind of strange. Purchased just as cheaply was a like new Mamiya Sekor 55mm 1.4 in M42. They have turned out to be a stunning combination…….for about the price of a cheap date.

  8. I think the simple answer to the question, as you choose to discuss digital cameras too, is an unarguable yes. On digital, SLRs are no longer WYSIWYG because not only are they pretty crap compared to older designs, being lower magnification and/ or coverage, but also there’s a digital sensor which you can directly read from to see what the picture will look like. On film of course you need some way of seeing the picture before it hits the sensor, so an SLR is the closest you can get to seeing what the camera sees before it actually hits the film.

    This reveals an underlying problem which you hint at in the article though, which is that, at least for personal/ artistic photography, seeing what the camera sees can, paradoxically, be a hindrance to achieving the image in your mind. Ultimately I think the conclusion is that whether an SLR or viewfinder is better is actually more subjective than the technical differences and advantages suggest (e.g. being able to see the DoF is only an advantage of the SLR if you actually want to be able to DoF). Bear with me whilst I get rather abstract: If you think about the process of making a photograph as beginning with your eye (physical and imaginative) and ending with the photo itself, there has to be something in between that to actually make it—the camera. With an SLR there is physically a lot between your eye and the potential photo—the lens, the focus-screen, etc. Now this seems like an advantage—you’re seeing what the camera sees—but you could also say that you don’t want to see what the camera sees, you want to see what you see. With a rangefinder or other viewfinder camera, the only thing in between your eye and the potential photo is almost nothing at all, just the few bits of glass in the viewfinder. Now you could say, whilst less is physically getting in between the eye and the photo (the lens, mirror, etc.) there are other things such as framing, DoF, flare, which are going to get in the way in the sense that you can’t see them but they are there. Here’s the catch—in my opinion this leaves far more down to your mind and eye than the camera, and remember what we were trying to achieve when I set up this example was the best route from eye to photo. In this way I feel that, paradoxically, the direct route of the SLR (scene–>lens–>eye) is less productive than the rather messy and uncertain route of the viewfinder (scene–>viewfinder + lots of imagination–>eye). This may all be overthinking and moot but I like the idea nonetheless.

    I’ve spoken for far longer than necessary but I’ll just add that I agree with every sentiment that the F75 is certainly not the SLR to use as a benchmark. Almost any 70s/80s manual focus SLR offers close to full coverage and magnification with far less distraction in view, e.g. I love the fact my ME Super displays only shutter speed in the viewfinder, despite many bemoaning the lack of aperture indication.

    1. Yep, I’m 100% with you – did you read this? – I have better slr finders, but they don’t sit as well as other finder types for me

    2. If you like the idea of having the least possible amount of things between you and the scene you may love to use a camera with a kontur viewfinder. This viewfinder made by voigtlander is not a lens that makes you see the scene, but rather a blacked box that only makes you see the framelines with one eye, so that your mind overlaps them with what the other eye sees. It should give you kind of the experience to pack in a frame a slice of unobstructed reality. Too bad they made them only in 50mm (the 35mm written on it is referred to the film) and 35 mm, but those latter are really hard to find, thus pricey… 50 mm is not really my favorite focal length, always too long or too short, but sooner or later I will pull the trigger!

      1. I have one sat on top of my Vito ii – I’ve had it years, but not shot with it more than once. It’s on the list for this year

  9. This is why may SLR’s and DSLR’s have a stop down button so that you can preview the D.o.F, however with experience, you can preset the aperture and focus and know that everything you need to be in focus, will be in focus.
    This is how we used to do it in the days before AF and other auto stuff which mostly just gets in the way of taking pictures
    The viewfinder serves one purpose, to frame the shot, if it does that ok then there really isn’t a problem

    1. Provided you don’t find problem – I just find other types of finder work better for me. It’s preference, little more

  10. Personally, I’ve found it was like coming home when I recently (re-)bought a Pentax K1000, my first camera when I started out years ago. I just love the immersive quality of a good clean uncluttered SLR viewfinder. I even love the clunk of the mirror. 🙂

  11. I kind of disagree to this post, my opinion is that rangefinder, slr and evf all have their own place, I may even add galilean ones without even rangefinder path. I start with the most modern one, the electronic: it is probably the best solution for when you have to get the job done: no miscalibration of focus, possibility to have eye af, overimposed infos like zebra patterns for blown highlights, preview of exposure and white balance, and much more. Small info to add: I am a digital pentax user, and having with quite a bit of legacy full frame lenses when A7 came out, I jumped in because there were no full frame digitals from pentax (if you exclude an ancient but never ending promise that fitted better to a religion than to a tech company!). Small story short I didn’t like it, at least it didn’t suit my way of shooting. The thing I hated the most was the feeling each time I used the viewfinder of having somewhone whispering in my ear continuously “you are wasting batteries, you are wasting batteries!” (I frame a lot to see what works and what not, and shoot only what I consider to be worth). But also I didn’t like the feeling of watching trough a computer monitor with too many info I didn’t really need, but also smaller things like the “strange” view of white balance corrected colours when you are bathing in a tungsten light, the dark viewfinder when shooting in bright daylight, and impossibility to frame when it’s really dark (probably this last thing changed with more modern sensors, but anyway something I could do with my older k-7). So for me dslr is simply more enjoyable also if not objectively better, but the same may be said for rangefinder (unluckily I have not yet tried one, film or digital). Now comparing slr and rangefinder on both you have to use your imagination to understand depth of field: on the former you have to imagine how less blur you’ll have, on the latter how much you will have. On paper slr is better, at least you can push a button and have a rough grainy simulation, but anyway I just explained that you can’t simplify a preference with a list of features. Here I can only admit that I never used a rangefinder, and that anyway being myself more leaning towards wide angles probably I would never find myself in a situation where the background is fully excluded from my mind by the lack of depth of field while framing. One last thing I want to add is how much I like the worst viewfinder of them all: the galilean! I have one on the rollei 35, and having everything outside of the viewfinder means that you prepare exposure and focus first, so your mind is fully concentrated and not distracted while framing!
    Sorry for the long comment Hamish, you are not the only having rants!

    1. Rants are very welcome – and you make some very good points! Especially about the simple galilean – the rollei 35 is a favourite of mine too. No distractions, just wonderfully simple photography with a wonderfully bright finder!

      1. I do love my Nikonos iii, as long as I stick to my set routine with the basics, that wonderful finder opens the world. But then again using the waist level finder on my F5 is another experience.

  12. Funny question: more or less in the same time this article went public a rumor from nikon came out saying that they will make a mirrorless with a new mount. How much your opinions have impact on the camera industry?

    1. I can see into the future! Given 5-10 years the SLR is dead, it will be a relic used by those with a preference like mine for the RF

  13. Use a Nikon F100, F3HP, or N8008 if you want a nice viewfinder. I shoot primarily in Aperture-priority anyway, and generally don’t need a DOF preview. While a RF camera is great with 35-50mm lenses, the fact that you can use a nice zoom on an SLR is where they shine, and while electronic viewfinders are good for some, I prefer to see through the lens. Favorite SLR combo – Nikon F100 with 24-50 zoom.

  14. Fundamentally it is the choice of the creative environment you want to work in. Individual choice, and we each might find different kits for different situations. I use reading glasses, so shooting with an LCD screens is a pain, so the Sony 5100 Hamish enjoys, or the Ricoh GR II are out. Love the playback in the EVF on mirrorless – can see it even in bright sun. But the EVF’s are a bit of a video game experience and I have gone RF. I shot SLR’s professionally for many years and like, with the correct screen and lens, being able to focus in all parts of the viewfinder, however that is not true for MF on DSLR’s. The noise of the mirror, size, and bulk of the lenses has lead me to choose RF as my favored creative space. And I crop with any gear,, and that seems to have its own war camps. I appreciate 35mmc for sharing of each person’s experience and reasoning.

  15. Different tools for different jobs. SLRs overtook Rangefinders 40-50 years ago because of the very fact that we wanted to see thru the lens and obtain more accurate framing. TONYB beat me to it…look thru an Olympus OM-1 for a beautiful optical image. Obviously you know the technical side of this subject Hamish, I’m guessing you are speaking to a more cerebral aspect of composition and pre-visualization.

    1. 100% cerebral – its a shame that there is no better solution than that which the SLR provides. The EFV will likely all but supersede it, leaving the slr behind, a relic, like the RF; used by those with an overwhelming preference

    2. Incidentally, I briefly owned an OM2 with that tiny 100mm they did – that was an awesome combo. Unfortunately I bought it for a mate and didnt shoot very much with it at all … very nice though!!

  16. Hamish, what do you want? Comparing your Leica viewfinder to using a F75? It’s comparing a Rolls Royce to a Skoda. I have in the past 30 odd years and still happily use a Nikon F3, 4 and 5 as well as a M6. They are used for their specific merits. The Nikons are great at sports etc, the Leica I use on the street etc. You are being too critical on SLR’s. We all grew up with them and therefore are familiar and uesd to their intricate values. Try a real SLR and not a low budget one and find out what they can give you in terms of feel and touch and then come back to reveal us your experiences.

    1. I want an EFV or a rangefinder…
      I have owned a lot of the Nikon slrs; fg fg20, em, fm, fm2, fm3a, fe, fe2, f, f2, f3, f4, f100, f90, f60, f65, f801, d50, d70s, d100, d300, d3 (possibly one of the best cameras I’ve ever owned, even taking into account the above post). I’ve also owned an olypmus om2, pentax sv, ifbaflex m102, 3 or 4 canons I can’t remember the names of, not to mention the Hasselblad with metered prism I had… and thats just cameras I can remember without thinking to hard. This isnt about the quality of the finder. Some of this list had better than others for sure, and the f75 isnt high in that list… This is about a simple flaw in the SLR finder that doesn’t quite fit how my brain works. It’s not even a big deal, I can get along fine with an SLR, I was shooting my f2 and 35mm pce the other day quite happily, and thats manual stop down… It’s just day to day, my preference lays else where. The f75 reminded me of that.

      1. Canon AE1m, AE1 Programme, eos 650, and I think an FP – was an FL mount anyway, I had an early 50mm 1.2 in fl mount of some sort

  17. I’m just selling my last SLR (Contax N1). Excellent view, but the whole thing is too heavy for someone with tennis elbow. I have a Leica M4-P for cold Canadian weather, and a Sony A7s (and several batteries) for warm holidays elsewhere. They all have their pluses and minuses, and I may yet get a Nikon F6 one of these days. I may also get another Mamiya 645 slr (my previous one was bullet-proof), but my tennis elbow will have to heal first.

  18. Only one (possibly impertinent) thing… I rather prefer the pictures you’ve been taking with your SLR and its fundamentally flawed and entirely outdated viewfinder 🙂

    1. I too noted that the images Hamish took with this nikon felt somewhat different, but not technically as you would expect from a different camera, rather like if they were from another person. I can’t say if they are better or worse, just slightly different.

  19. Some interesting points but look at it in practical terms, if you put a 300mm lens on an SLR you can actually focus it and use it, you can’t even put a 135mm lens on a rangefinder without a lot of help with goggles etc and you yourself are using an additional eyepiece on your 90mm are you not 😀 People seem to love rangefinders and rave about seeing outside the framelines, composing etc, it always seems funny to me that this design from the 50’s is regarded as a masterpiece – it’s flawed, but like a lot of flawed designs which aren’t practical it’s lovely to use.

    This is the advantage of SLR viewfinders for me, is the ability to use longer and shorter focal lengths which are always going to be represented, and I think there are a fair few artists using SLR’s to great effect and are OK with the viewfinder experience, Salgado for example uses a Canon and seems to get pretty good results!

    As the resolution of digital viewfinders improves I agree with you they will become the standard, I like the fact you can zoom in and you’re focussed right on the sensor. The choice is going to be really do you want to see how something is going to look while you are shooting it? or do you want to imagine what the end result will be? Both have their drawbacks and positives. No doubt we’ll be able to apply Lightroom presets live in camera soon, probably on the Sony A10, if they can fit another button on the body for it.

    1. The rangefinder is very flawed – more than the SLR, I’d argue, I just prefer the flaws. The focal length issue almost goes without saying … and you certainly wouldn’t get me shooting a visoflex! I guess the advantage I have comes down to a lack of interest in shooting extreme focal lengths.
      As for an A10 with more buttons… I can’t think of much worse. That said, the buttons on the A9 are very much better laid out than those on the A7rii

  20. I completed my transition from Nikon SLR cameras to Leica M in 2001. I realized the photographers I admired & the work they were producing were made with the unobtrusive rangefinder, rather than the SLR’s I was using. As long as I stayed with either the 50mm or 35mm focal length, the Leica fit my needs. But, here is my quibble with the rangefinder’s viewfinder. When I tried any lens wider than 35mm, I personally found it very difficult to produce consistent work. I tried them all: 28, 24, 21, etc. I found I needed to actually see the impact of the wider lenses as I composed a shot. Slip-on aux. viewfinders just didn’t work. Only a SLR w/a 100% viewfinder would work for me; I needed to see the actual field of view & the distortion. Since, at this point in my photography, these lenses play little or no part in my work, I don’t use them. If I found a need, I’d get a Nikon F2 w/a eyelevel finder and a proper viewing screen.
    But, this is only my experience and others will get different results.

    1. Your last sentence sums it up. I find myself quite happy with a slot in finder – they make for a freeing experience for me

  21. Hamish, I’ve always wanted to use the word “clickbait” and you’ve done a grand job with this post. :D) The truth of the matter is that we are all different in our needs and requirements for a camera. Your propensity for Leica rangefinders is well known and you’ve given your reasons, but this hasn’t stopped you from using or experimenting with others when the need and occasion arises.

    I’m guessing that there is a difference between film and digital slr viewing because in the latter case the v/f image is invariably smaller in a digital slr than its FF film counterpart. This must surely be the case with both 4/3rds and APS-C dslr cameras. I owned two 4/3rds, an Olympus E-500 and a Panasonic LC10, and in both cases viewing was abysmal, even with the Olympus 20% magnifier, and accurate manual focusing was nigh on impossible with either camera. At the time I did look through a friend’s Canon 20D, and this was no better. The day must surely come when the resolution of the best EVF’s will make using one a far better experience than an slr because without significant increases in the size of the mirror, screen and pentaprism we’ve come about as far as we can with the size constraints of cameras.

    You mentioned having an Exakta mount zoom lens and thus you may be contemplating an Exa/Exakta body. To better inform your choice, you may find this site interesting.

    I’d recommend you try and handle any model first, to assess if the v/f experience is for you. The brighter fresnel lens screens for the Varex/RTL models are plastic, but I’ve found the duller proper ground glass screens sharper and easier to focus despite being less bright. You can’t change screens or v/f on the lesser Exa models. The last Exakta model, the RTL, is a re-badged Praktica, probably a VCL2, with some cosmetic external changes. This camera will take original Exakta lenses with the body aperture release button, but unfortunately for shutter tripping as on original Exaktas, you will need a spacer pin to connect to the shutter release on the left side of the pentaprism housing. Unless they come with a camera body, they are extremely rare today.

    1. Maybe I should have called it “4 reasons SLRs are rubbish, you won’t believe number 3!” 😉
      Indeed, and I think thing that’s a little lost in my slightly baity post is that what I am talking about is quite subtle prefernce in the contaxt of a series of posts about trying a specific SLR. It’s very interesting reading peoples reactions though.
      I think it’s exakta mount – it might be alpa, I haven’t looked at it properly yet, it was in a box of stuff. It has the shutter button extension though. I did have an exa at one point – little thing with a wlf, I might go down that road again, just for cost… though the lens is massive, so it might look a little silly.

    2. I’ve got an Exa 1c and critical focusing is not very…possible. Especially if you put somehthing wider than 50mm on it. There is a built-in loupe, but you have to bring it right to your eye to use it (negating the point of the WLF) and even then, only the centre of the loupe is actually in focus. I just rely on a smallish aperture and the DoF markings on the lens barrel.

  22. An N75 was my main camera for years after the rear door latches of my F80 snapped. The N75 had a truly terrible viewfinder by comparison. I had a 100% failure rate when I tried to focus manually. I could never get the diopter adjustment to suit me. Everything looked blurry all the time.

    On the good side I had a 100% success rate on auto-focus in Sports mode, exceptionally accurate metering in all conditions including flash-fill and the ability to operate with VR style lenses. With a battery grip and Sigma 24-120mm lens the F75 was a reliable shooter as I saved up for an F6.

    No problems with the F6 with manual focus although for subjects that don’t move much I prefer my F3. I recently tried my son’s FE2 with a Nikon 50mm f/1.2. That would be my recommendation for manual focus shooting.

    1. That’s another rant I’ve been known to have – modern SLRs and the difficulty in focusing with old manual lenses. I put a Katzeye screen into my d700, but it still wasn’t as good for manual focusing…

  23. An experienced driver can use any car.
    An experienced photographer can make a picture with any camera.
    It’s looking,seeing , light and lenses.
    Get experience.

    1. Good tip – though this perspective comes from quite a wealth of experience. A good driver can drive any car, but it doesn’t stop said driver having a preference as to which he feels handles better for his particular style of driving…

  24. Hamash, pick up an OM-1 and shoot with it for a couple of weeks. I have been shooting mine for 32 years and I can say it is the only SLR I really enjoy using. It is just as much of a joy as my M3. Digital SLRs are dinosaurs just waiting to go extinct.

      1. If you do borrow an OM body try to get hold of the 85mm f2. I believe it’s basically a sonnar design, minus focus shift. 85mm works very well on an SLR. It’s made for you.

  25. Congrats Hamish, I completely subscrive to your views. They are also the reasons why I became converted to rangefinders. Very bravely written article, if I may say so, I particularly liked this sentence “Rangefinder cameras only give an idea of framing, everything else is achieved through use of your imagination.” This is a wonderfuly poetic definition of a rangefinder camera.

  26. Clearly a contentious issue! I personally haven’t had much of an issue with SLR viewfinders – I tend to either be shooting at a distance where I can be pretty sure whatever I want in frame will be covered by hyperfocal distance, or I’m choosing a big aperture to isolate the background. I do sometimes want to check the background and use the exposure preview button, but these often seem like a design afterthought (it’s probably the poorest bit of design on the Canon A-1, for example) and once the viewfinder has dimmed to F/8 or so, it’s tricky to see whether what you want is in focus, anyway. It’s interesting you highlight how this is implemented on mirrorless cameras – my Fuji gives a preview of DoF (and all automatic settings) on the half-press and this is so easy, I find I check it a lot more than I would with an SLR.

    On the whole, though, my shooting style is quite often dependent on precise placing of lines or other compositional elements and because of that, which makes parallax error very frustrating. I find rangefinders to be an uncomfortable halfway house, lacking the precision of an SLR or the convenience of a compact. It’s a shame, because I really like the engineering and feel of them, but I rarely want to shoot with mine.

    1. Contentious indeed, thank’s for the interesting response, Ken, this is the sort of interesting response I wanted.
      Interestingly, I don’t find to much difficulty framing with my RF, but then I also don’t find any issue straightening in LR, so perhaps don’t worry to much about it when it does go wrong, either…

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