Sunday, March 07, 2021

"Rangefinder Style"

So, in my attempts to get better at street photography, I've been messing with what are called "rangefinder style" mirrorless cameras. Basically, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras have sorted themselves out into two major types: "SLR style", which have an electronic viewfinder mounted in a hump at the top, where the prism housing of a single-lens reflex camera would be, and "rangefinder style", which either put the electronic viewfinder in the upper corner of the flat-topped camera body, like old rangefinder film cameras, or dispense with it altogether and just have you compose using the main screen like a point & shoot digicam.

Now, neither variety has the market cornered on retro styling. Sony's cameras, both the "SLR" a7 family and the "rangefinder" NEX/a6xxx cameras, aren't likely to be mistaken for film cameras. Similarly, Canon's EOS M family has both styles, but other than the M6, they are decidedly unretro. The M6, on the other hand... 

"Is that a film camera?" is a common question when carrying the M6. The other key to street photography is a lens generally in the 28mm to 50mm range (in full-frame 35mm terms), with 35mm being a common compromise length. Canon's EF-M line sports a compact 22mm f/2 pancake that is lightweight, sharp, sports an aluminum barrel and manual focus ring, and is very reasonably priced for its performance. It focuses as close as six inches and I used it for a lot of my photography in the dungeon-like basement at SHOT '20.

With the 1.6x crop factor of Canon's APS-C sensor, the lens has an equivalent field of view to 35.2mm in full-frame terms, which puts it right in the sweet spot for street photography.

While only one of Canon's EOS M cameras can be described as retro, pretty much all of Fuji's X-mount cameras echo the lines of film cameras of yore.

While Fujis are heavy on the aesthetic, there is a certain practicality to them as well. The better X-mount lenses, the XF line, have actual rings to turn to adjust aperture, and shutter speed is adjusted via a dial on the top plate. This defies the convention established by Canon's EOS film cameras and since followed by just about everyone else, which has these functions controlled by twiddling multipurpose dials to change numbers on a screen or in the viewfinder.

To get your street photography on, Fuji offers the XF 23mm f/2, which is a fast-focusing lens with rugged weather-resistant construction, outstanding Fuji optics, and a price tag to match, being a full two hundred dollars more than Canon's EF-M pancake. And it's the cheaper of Fuji's two 23mm offerings, with Fuji's XF 23mm f/1.4 giving you another full stop of aperture for almost double the price...oh, and you lose the weather sealing.

If you really want to get dissed for affordable 35mm equivalent lenses, though, you have to go to Sony.

 The Hasselblad Lunar is just a Sony NEX-7 in designer clothing. This isn't entirely a bad thing, as the NEX-7 was a Very Big Deal when it dropped. It's got a 24MP APS-C sensor, which was about as many megapickles as you could get in a crop sensor back in 2011. Along with the Olympus OM-D E-M5, the NEX-7 was the first mirrorless camera to start luring pros away from DSLRs.

Because it's an NEX-7 under the titanium and carbon fiber skin, the Lunar uses the Sony E-mount lens library, and the closest thing you can get to a 35mm equivalent crop-sensor lens from Sony is the Zeiss Sonnar T* 24mm f/1.8, which is only a third of a stop brighter than the 22mm Canon or 23mm Fuji, and comes with an eye-watering $1000+ price tag.

This whole thing with the rangefinder-style cameras to learn some street photography skills is just a fun side project for me, and the Lunar is essentially a toy and not something I use for work, so there's no way I'm dropping a grand on a lens for it. Fortunately Tamron makes a well-regarded 24mm f/2.8 for a fifth of the money. Unfortunately it's intended for full-frame cameras, so it's a little on the chonky side since it has to throw a bigger image circle, but it's still small and light compared to the bazooka-like superzooms common on DSLRs these days.