Some thoughts on 35mm v. 50mm lens on rangefinder cameras

Minolta Hi Matic 7s w/45mm lens

This is about equipment, rather than photos.

I’ve been giving some thought to lens choice on rangefinder cameras. I’ve dipped into the topic before, but given the equipment I use, I’m finding the 50mm the lens best, meaning the lens that least gets in the way between me and the photo I’m trying to take.

I know many people like the 35mm lens, especially for street photography, and use it as their standard focal length.  That’s great if your camera has the frameline built into the viewfinder.For those of us using older equipment — such as FSU rangefinders from Fed or Zorki — using anything but a 50mm usually means an accessory viewfinder in the flash shoe.

Zorki 1 w/50mm lens and viewfinder

I actually like accessory viewfinders. They’re usually brighter and clearer than the one that’s built into the camera, and often kinder to people who wear glasses. Still, this type of set up  can be a bit awkward, especially if you need to keep your camera in a case at all. The viewfinder seems to find a way to snag on something, every time I take the camera out. I also like to keep my Voigtlander VC II light meter on the shoe of my old rangefinders.

Zorki 1 w/Jupiter 12 35mm lens

I’m a fan of wide-angle lenses. My Jupiter 12 is a fine piece of glass, and my favorite for my Canon F-1 is a 24mm lens. But there’s also the argument that a camera works best (easiest) with the lens it was designed for. The less fiddling there is to do, the better (and there’s plenty of fiddling required of a FSU rangefinder).

I also think there’s a fair amount of European urban influence in the popularity of 35mm lens. The wider focal length suits the narrower, more cramped environment of many European cities where street photography gained its fame. In the United States, our towns and cities tend to have more open streets, giving you plenty of room to step back to make things fit into a 50mm frameline.

Konica C35 w/38mm lens

This is all must, of course, if you’re talking about fixed-lens rangefinders of which I own plenty. What I like about those compact Japanese rangefinders from the 60s and 70s are their sharp lenses, built-in light meters, low price and the fact they’re so easy to use.

So until I move up into the world of Voigtlander Bessas or a Leica M (either seems unlikely for the foreseeable future) my 50s will have to carry the load.

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4 Responses to “Some thoughts on 35mm v. 50mm lens on rangefinder cameras”

  1. I’m normally a sucker for the 35mm and that suited me whilst on my Europe travels. Although I must agree, I did like the 50mm on a rangefinder I was loaned for a few weeks. That seemed to just work well.

    • And also, places getting busier and crowded make me pull out the 35mm more often. But if I know I’ll be out with a few friends, I like to arm myself with the 50mm.

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