Voigtlander R4A Rangefinder

DollarsHankering for a Leica, but don’t have Leica cash in your pocket… Consider a Voigtlander rangefinder for that HCB experience on a budget! Despite the decidedly German heritage, Voigtlanders are now made in Japan.

The Japanese make some very stylish and single minded cameras vs some of the current crop from Europe. Consider the latest brand whoring cheap shot from Hasselblad – the Lunar. Strong words to express strong disappointment…

A Sony Nex-7 with some very expensive window dressing. And plain ugly. This is the kind of camera I would expect to see hanging off Paris Hilton’s shoulder. Compare this to the courageous styling and technology cameras like the Olympus OM and Fuji X100 brought to the market.

And then there is the new Nikon DF which is creating a buzz for having classic F3 lines. A bit chunky and clunky for me, but at least they have had a crack…

Photographers are generally aesthetically minded and appreciate great style. Style should be classic, and appeal well past the purchase date of a camera. The Hassleblad Lunar is just a mess.

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So let’s move on to the Voigtlander R4A

What a great camera. Hefty metal body. Classic German good looks manufactured in Japan. This is the affordable version of the classic Leica. It is certainly in the same rangefinder family, but has it’s own, more angular look. I personally prefer the Voigtlanders with the silver metal trim, but the solid black is still very attractive, and most people’s preference.

A solid black is almost always more stealthy for street photography.

Voigtlander rangefinders come in a few different versions.

What is a Rangefinder? Click here for more info.

Buying Guide

There are

R2M and R2A – framelines 35/50/75/90 – Leica M Mount

R3M and R3A – framelines 40/50/75/90 – Leica M Mount

R4M and R4A – framelines 21/25/28/35/50 – Leica M Mount

Hmmm, so for those who don’t really understand rangefinder techie talk, you can find out more here.

Voigtlanders can take any lens with a Leica “M” mount – Voigtlander, Zeiss, and Leica lenses. If it is a screw mount, you just need to buy an adapter.

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What is the difference between an R4M and a R4A? The M stands for “Manual” Version – there is a light meter but shutter and aperture needs to be set manually. The great news is that even if the battery runs out, the mechanical shutter still works to take photos, albiet without a light meter.

The A stands for “Aperture Priority” Version – the camera has an electronic shutter which can work in Aperture Priority mode. You pick the aperture speed, and the camera pics the shutter speed to suit light conditions.

I got my hands on an R4A – which seems to be the pick of the bunch with a wide range of framelines, and suitability for wide angle photgography. The most likely lens I would pop on the R4A is a 35mm, but the flex to go to either the 21mm lens or 50mm lens is quite welcome. Carrying around an extra couple of lenses is easy with a rangefinder. They are small and light. Most of them will fit in a pocket!

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Film speed is set manually, using the shutter speed dial. This is important if you want to pull or push your film. The shutter speed is well lit in the viewfinder, and under or overexposed shots show up clearly with warning lights. The light meter has not let me down yet.

Everything on the Voigtlander R4A screams reliability and quality. I can’t find one bit of plastic on the body. Everything from the shutter button, frameline selector, to the film rewind lever are all reassurring, black metal parts. Suprisingly heavier than you imagine when you pick it up, it is still lighter than most of the SLRs in the cupboard.

The ergonomics are great – the parts of the body you normally grip are coated in a sticky rubber which makes it easy to handle the smaller sized camera with confidence despite having lobster hands.

I have had a hankering to purchase a Leica M7 for some time. Everytime I get close, I think about the R4A and realise I should be spending my money on a decent lens, rather than a body that does the same thing. Having handled an M6 and the R4A, I think the Voigtlander is slightly more compact than the Leica. All Voigtlander R series rangefinders also have a standard film loading process vs the unique Leica method – which I have never actually tried.

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With a film camera there is only the image, the lens, and the film. The body only holds the lens in place for the film. Once the shutter opens, there is only void space between the lens and film. So long as the camera’s light meter and shutter speed are accurate, lenses and film make a bigger difference. Digital camera bodies are different, as the sensor is an intrinsic part of the body compared to film.

The only real down side is that it is not a Leica. There is a bit of mystique around Leicas that is not present with the Voigtlander. I would still pick a Voigtlander as being the value for money option with the same lens on both cameras. Leica lenses are “the stuff” but I am unsure of how big a difference the Leica body would make?

You might want to think about getting a Zeiss 35m lens for a Voigtlander camera. Just to see if there is a difference in quality? Zeiss also have a nice RF body which has been discontinued – the Ikon.  A bit on the largish side, but a nice camera.

Pros and Cons for Street Photography

Pros

  • Rangefinders are the “classic” street photographer’s camera. You will look cool to other photographers “in the know”. Shallow, I know, but meh – cool matters.
  • Unimposing. You can point a 35mm rangefinder, in particular, at most people without upsetting them. Most look like point and shoots…
  • Quiet. No big ass mirror slap. No vibrations from the mirror can give slightly sharper results.
  • Compact. Smaller bodies, much, much smaller lenses than other camera systems. Light, easy to carry around.
  • More awareness of what is about to walk into / out of frame due to the viewfinder.

Cons

  • No Autofocus.
  • Decent rangefinders are expensive. Don’t believe me? then look up Leicas on Ebay!
  • Lack of availability of second hand lenses and bodies vs SLR systems.

If you are thinking about the Voigltander, seriously consider a half case. There is no good reason I can think of to get one, other than you can look style up totally like a 1943 war correspondent.

This guy has near everything Voigltander on his 1998 styled dial up website. I have bought stuff from him, and he is very reliable and knowledgeable. In Australia, you might like to start with Mainline Photo.

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