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Taking the Plunge? Which RF to start with
Old 11-28-2018   #1
mgpsmith
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Taking the Plunge? Which RF to start with

I'm a technically-minded amateur, almost entirely shoot 35mm, mostly B/W. My process focuses on the viewfinder and film development. I've stuck to Kentmere or Fomapan 100 for the past +/- 500 feet of film and so am starting to get a sense of these films. Most "printing" is done via scanning. I don't manipulate the scanned image.

I have a range of old Nikon SLRs and a couple of "inexpensive" non-SLRs (Kodak Signet 35, Voigtlander VitoII). Each has its own charms. I have found that my feelings about what I "see" depends on the instrument; creative vision juices seem to come from different boxes. I've found myself most comfortable with a plain pentaprism F using an old LunaPro to guide exposure choice. A 50 or 35mm f/2 lenses are my prime lenses; I sometimes use a 20 or 24mm, rarely mount a telephoto, and almost never use zoom (although a 35-105 on F3 body is a good travel kit).

The VitoII came to me recently, it has been a pleasure to use but has some limitations. It's a good pocket camera. More important it has me now thinking of a nice RF. If I go this route, I want a premium instrument but one in "good user" condition. Preferably budget $1k (or less) but would stretch to $2-2500 for exactly "the right thing," body/lens/(accessories) complete. Leica and Nikon RFs hold the most conceptual interest for me - Don't need a collection of lenses, just one nice prime (35 or 50).

IF I make this move, I'd like comments from users about handling, pro/con of "obvious choices," etc... At this point I think I want to hear ownership/user comparative evaluation of the Nikon RFs and as they compare to an M3/4/5.

thanks
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Old 11-28-2018   #2
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Welcome mgpsmith.

It seems a good question to me, and you have dealt with the key issues.

I would suggest avoiding the M3 simply because it doesn't really do wides so well. M2 or one of the various M4 variants seems to me to make most sense however you will be hard pressed to get a Leica lens and camera in your otherwise generous budget.

Good luck, and welcome aboard.
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Old 11-28-2018   #3
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You'll get a bunch of suggestions in this thread. Your options for a premium rangefinder in the $1-2k are plenty. Most camera suggestions will probably be Leica M2 & M4. People here have a soft spot for Voigtländer lenses as a cheaper option to Leica.

It all depends on what you need. I would suggest looking at the differences between the Leica M bodies. Some have hot shoes, built in lightmeters, quick loading etc. – other don't.
You can't go wrong with any camera/lens combo really.

I shoot a Leica M4-P with a 35mm Summicon V4 90% of the time and I have no plans getting rid of either.
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Old 11-28-2018   #4
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Just don't get anything other than Leica. Not that the others aren't of good, but you'd have to use a Leica first to truly understand its pros and cons and appreciate all the other options out there. Otherwise you'd be constantly under the temptation to "upgrade" to a Leica - people will keep lecturing you how unique and superior a Leica and the Leica experience is until you succumb - although in reality it might not always fit your need best.
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Old 11-28-2018   #5
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Buck the trend: Get anything other than a Leica. You're already familiar with Nikons; a Leica will focus the wrong way and drive you batty. Besides, its you that makes the picture, not the camera.
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Old 11-28-2018   #6
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I suggest M6 or M7 with a lens 35 or 50 , both Voigtlander or Leica are good options.

If you can do without light meter one of the M4 is a valid option, there are versions but I'm not familiar with these cameras other members can better suggest.

robert
PS: a second hand Leica can be sold in case you do not like the RF experience without losing too much money, just in case
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Old 11-28-2018   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by css9450 View Post
Buck the trend: Get anything other than a Leica. [...]
USD 1,000 or less —— what about a Voigtländer Prominent II + lenses?
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Old 11-28-2018   #8
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thanks so far for the suggestions.

Light meter isn't so much a necessity or even desirable for this adventure - I once thought it was but my experiences in the past several months with the F have revealed a certain freedom by not having a built-in meter - albeit at the cost of more "wasted frames."

I am doing my best to be open-minded about this as I evaluate my choices. My history with Nikon equipment of course has me interested in the S2/3/4/SP, but following the responses I've seen so far I can see that I will have to find and handle an M4 (at the minimum) before making any decisions.

And, I'm not limited to considering those two brands -

Retained value/resale is of secondary importance, and mostly to defend my purchase vs. spousal critique....

I'll continue to monitor responses as they happen.
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Old 11-28-2018   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mgpsmith View Post
thanks so far for the suggestions.
[...]
And, I'm not limited to considering those two brands -

Retained value/resale is of secondary importance, and mostly to defend my purchase vs. spousal critique....

I'll continue to monitor responses as they happen.
I've already added a third one —— my suggestion Voigtländer Prominent II + lenses is actually serious! —— She's Vito's big sister, so to say.

And since there are only a couple of lenses available, your spouse won't be too furious, I hope
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Old 11-28-2018   #10
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Minolta CLE with 40mm M-Rokkor is a nice option for around $1000 give or take for a good copy, lens included. It has metering and A mode too, which I find useful. You can always sell it too, possibly at a profit, since values have been appreciating.
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Old 11-28-2018   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by olifaunt View Post
Minolta CLE with 40mm M-Rokkor is a nice option for around $1000 give or take for a good copy, lens included. It has metering and A mode too, which I find useful. You can always sell it too, possibly at a profit, since values have been appreciating.
...also the Leica CL, all manual.
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Old 11-28-2018   #12
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There's a Zeiss Ikon currently in the RFF Classifieds. No relation to seller. The Zeiss has an excellent viewfinder.
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Old 11-28-2018   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sumarongi View Post
USD 1,000 or less —— what about a Voigtländer Prominent II + lenses?
Now that sounds like something I would buy!
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Old 11-28-2018   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lynnb View Post
There's a Zeiss Ikon currently in the RFF Classifieds. No relation to seller. The Zeiss has an excellent viewfinder.
<<< Thanks for the plug Lynn, that Ikon is mine. Back here after few years of lurking and inactivity.

My take on this (without much Zeiss endorsement ) There are few options this day and age and without going too niche these are the common RF's (that I've also have had pleasure of owning).

Bessa: pretty great budget RFs, decently made at the price. Especially loved ergonomics of mine due to sweet trigger winder I had attached to it. Cons (to me): doesn't feel like Leica.

Zeiss: made in the same factory as Bessa, but a very tangible step up from it. One of the best viewfinders indeed, roomy. If Not worrying and shooting AE is your thing than this camera is great. Pros: loved using mine, does the shooting job fantastically. Cons: still not a Leica feeling.

Konica RF: the most digital analogue rangefinder. Does crazy stuff like auto-winds the film! Pros: electronics to make your photo life more convenient. Cons:electronics, more things to break down and with manufacturer out of business where am I sending it for service to someone somewhere, ain't nobody got times for that.

Nikon S: pretty, fiddly to use. Pros: greta classic RF, character, "signature". Cons: limited lens choice compared to M mount, bit too old-school.

Leica: to me as a NON-(very)-DISCERNING shooter there's not much practical difference apart from framelines. M3 classic but limited frames for me. I have M4 and M6 and I'd keep the M4 as my last RF. It does everything and 'd choose it over M6 for its class and lack of dumb 20th century "metering" that's uselessly blinking there, harshing my mellow.
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Old 11-28-2018   #15
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Mgpsmith,

You can do a search here for threads concerning various rangefinder makes and models, and learn a great deal about rangefinders.
This page at Stephen Gandy’s Cameraquest is possibly the most comprehensive source of information you can readily access:
https://www.cameraquest.com/classics.htm

However, one thing to keep in mind when researching is that this is a forum populated by people, many of whom are fanatical lovers about rangefinders in general and sometimes their personal idiosyncratic choices in particular. People have a very real tendency to over egg the pudding when they are describing the merits of their personal choices, even though they may have had very limited experience with other choices out there. A viewfinder which might be 5-7% brighter than that on another model will often be described as “vastly better”, or “ten times as good”. A competitor’s (small) body which might be 12% taller or 6% heavier than their favorite will be described as “so big and heavy I couldn’t get on with it”. And so on.

My personal opinion, which seems very much a minority opinion here (that’s okay) is that if you stick with well maintained bodies from any of the usual suspects, Canon, Leica, Contax, Voigtländer, Nikon, etc, you can get great results and enjoy the process equally well regardless. There is no photograph I have ever taken with any of those which I could not have captured just as easily with any of the others. For getting the photo you want to get, the differences between camera makes are scant, in my experience. The differences, in terms of results, between the best and the worst rangefinders mentioned here isn’t enough to worry about, though most here would tend to disagree, I imagine. Nikon SP, Nikon S2, Leica Barnacks, Leica M, Contax II and III, etc are all great, fully capable devices, yet you will find people here labeling many choices as “almost unusable.”

Bottom line, it’s the lenses, not the body, if you are looking for a specific quality of result.
If, on the other hand, a body’s fondle quotient is highly valued, there are probably some clear winners.

I am unconvinced there is a “best” rangefinder, though there may be a best rangefinder for you. It’s a journey, try ‘em all!
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Old 11-28-2018   #16
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Think about repair when you choose. The Leica M cameras that fit your budget (M2, M3, M4, M5) are old (40-65 years), but can all be repaired easily (though not inexpensively), at least for the near future. So can Nikon S (also old) and Voigtlander Bessas and, I presume, Zeiss Ikon (more recent, Cosina built). Beyond that, you’re in a very rarified community or completely out of luck where repairs are concerned. Keep that in mind if you are considering Leica CL, Contax, Hexar, or other modern offerings. I think the Hexar RF is the neatest system I’ve ever held, but if the electronics fail, it’s a pretty doorstop. I chose an M4 partly because it was recently CLA’d and can be again if needed—I can use it for the rest of my life. Voigtlander/Cosina, Zeiss, and Leica lenses are mostly superb, and can usually be repaired or restored easily. You’ll get lots of good advice here — just don’t forget to factor serviceability into your decision.
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Old 11-28-2018   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dpingr1 View Post
Think about repair when you choose. The Leica M cameras that fit your budget (M2, M3, M4, M5) are old (40-65 years), but can all be repaired easily (though not inexpensively), at least for the near future. So can Nikon S (also old) and Voigtlander Bessas and, I presume, Zeiss Ikon (more recent, Cosina built). Beyond that, you’re in a very rarified community or completely out of luck where repairs are concerned. Keep that in mind if you are considering Leica CL, Contax, Hexar, or other modern offerings. I think the Hexar RF is the neatest system I’ve ever held, but if the electronics fail, it’s a pretty doorstop. I chose an M4 partly because it was recently CLA’d and can be again if needed—I can use it for the rest of my life. Voigtlander/Cosina, Zeiss, and Leica lenses are mostly superb, and can usually be repaired or restored easily. You’ll get lots of good advice here — just don’t forget to factor serviceability into your decision.
<<< Exactly this! I've owned several pristine cameras image quality of which were bringing nothing but joy: Hexar, Contax G, etc. But electronics man, scary. Leica are by far most serviceable RFs and thus to me most reliable and dependable, followed by Zeiss and Bessa. If your Hexar or Contax breaks down good luck sending it other end of the world and then bitching on forums about wait times( if serviceable at all). Again, there are excellent cameras, it pains me that the wonderful image quality of 45mm and the functionality of Contax is packed into all the failable electronics.
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Old 11-28-2018   #18
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Nikon S2 with a 1.4/50 mm
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Old 11-28-2018   #19
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I really love my m2. I have a 50mm Elmar 3.5 on it today because portability is the priority today. There’s so many options for lenses that it will make your head spin. My favorite classic lens is the Collapsible 50 Cron but they are tough to find in good shape. I’m really liking the Elmar 50 3.5 for portability, but it hasn’t unseated the Cron as my favorite just yet. Summaron 35 2.8 is my favorite 35mm lens. Keep in mind that my lens selection tends to prioritize portability and use with black and white film. These may not be the best choices color.
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Old 11-28-2018   #20
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Leica M4-P.

If you don't buy a Leica now, you will eventually so just cut to the chase. It will save you time and money buying and selling other cameras so is a cost saver in the end.

My M4-P as the last film camera I bought or likely will every buy. Does exactly what I want, nothing more or less. Has less idiosyncrasies than other old cameras (some people find these charming, I find them annoying).

No foam seals to deteriorate or light meters to break or need an obscure battery that is no longer made. Lots of good older glass available.

Haven't shot mine much since I picked up an M9 and stopped doing black and white but it's there waiting if I do.
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Old 11-28-2018   #21
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I have been shooting film on and off for many years. I have recently started back up again seriously in photography with a nice digital (Fuji XT-2), but wanted to shoot film also. For 35mm I really like rangefinders (though have SLRs also), and started with a Kiev 4a, and soon after ended up with a Contax IIa. I had the Contax CLA'd (Ross Yerkes), and it is working very nicely. The Kiev needs a CLA, but I am not sure I am ready to drop the same $$ on it as the Contax.

A Contax is worth considering because it is of Leica quality, but perhaps a little less capable than the M3 and above, but it is also a 1/10th the cost (M3 and above). Personally I like using the rangefinder for focusing then a view finder for framing, so the framelines are not as big an issue for me. Another drawback of the Contax is it has a rotary winding mechanism vs. lever. Not too big a deal. A final issue to consider is that the Leica probably has more lenses and accessories available (but at 3-4x the cost), and is easier to get repaired.
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Old 11-28-2018   #22
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Nikon has no frame-lines. But Nikon LTM cameras are not as overpriced as Leica LTM cameras.
With Nikon LTM body, 35/50 viewfinders it opens wider choice for lenses.
Serviced LTM Nikon (after purchase) would still cost less than Leica purchased as is.
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Old 11-28-2018   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
Nikon has no frame-lines. But Nikon LTM cameras are not as overpriced as Leica LTM cameras.
With Nikon LTM body, 35/50 viewfinders it opens wider choice for lenses.
Serviced LTM Nikon (after purchase) would still cost less than Leica purchased as is.
Nikon LTM *cameras* do exist?

edit: Perhaps you mean NICCA, later YASHICA LTM cameras?
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Old 11-28-2018   #24
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I suggest you start with a lens: 50mm or 35mm Summicron. These hold their value in many ways, including the fact that they make great digital images if you later go in that direction.

I would get a newer body than an M3 or M4. Leicas break and they need maintenance. Maybe an M6, which was my last Leica film camera. You can still get a brand new Voigtlander for $1000. They aren't Leicas but are great to shoot with. As others have mentioned, the Zeiss Ikon is a great rangefinder of very recent vintage.

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Old 11-28-2018   #25
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I was in your exact situation a few years ago, so let me tell you what I did. I chose an S2 as my first “real” RF because of my familiarity with and affinity for Nikon gear. It’s a great camera. Of course, this fueled my curiosity for other RF experiences. I then tried an S3 and eventually added an SP. I tried several screw mount Leica copies and later Canon screw mount rangefinders. Then I decided to try Leica and got an M2, and just recently a IIIc. They’re all good cameras. Of them all, the one that stands out as the best photography tool is the M2. If had to keep only one camera, this would be the one.
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Old 11-28-2018   #26
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If you enjoy shooting the VitoII why not a VitoIII? Great camera and the Ultron is a very high quality lens. Finder is a bit small but usable.

The Prominent II is an interesting camera. In some ways very close to the VitoIII, in others it is very different. The Prominent II has a 1:1 viewfinder and has framelines for 35, 50 and 100mm lenses. If you shoot left eye avoid it, the positioning is bad for that. Both the VitoIII and Prominent II are very nicely built cameras.

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Old 11-28-2018   #27
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What about an Agfa Ambi Silette? The second model has strap lugs, and a large, bright viewfinder, with framelines for 35, 50 and 90mm lenses. Chris Sherlock will overhaul the shutter (he did mine).
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Old 11-28-2018   #28
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I can't comment on how the Nikon RF compares with the Leica RF because I have never owned a Nikon RF.

I have two Leica film cameras, an M3, which I really like to use, and an M6.
I originally got the M3 so I could use the 21mm Leica Super Angulon lens, but I found I was really enjoying using it with a 50mm lens.

The main reason I am posting is that I'd like to let you know about Youxin Ye who will repair and/or do a CLA on your Leica camera, if you should buy one. You may purchase an older Leica camera and you may want to have a CLA done at some point. Youxin Ye has a fantastic reputation on RFF for reasonable price and getting the camera back to you quickly, as well as quality work. I used him to do a CLA on my M3 and was very pleased with his work.

It's good to know if you do end up buying a Leica RF that is within your stated budget.
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Old 11-28-2018   #29
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I once owned a plain prism Nikon F, it's a wonderful camera to work with I only ever used the 50mm but what a wonderful, amazing & beautiful camera.

I would suggest you handle as many cameras as possible before even making a short list, I always wanted a Leica until one day I held one ... no thanks not for me

I'll stick with my Olympus OM4-T
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Old 11-28-2018   #30
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nikon s3 2000 bodies go for under $1k, and you can get a nikon or voigtlander lens to go with it for not that much. you already know what the nikon f feels like, so imagine that but with a reverse galilean viewfinder with etched framelines and a fuzzy round rangefinder spot.
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Old 11-29-2018   #31
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Do not buy a Leica M.
They are jealous cameras and will throw all your other cameras out of the bag.
They are unique. There are similar, almost, practically same or close!
Viewfinders "may" be bigger, clearer, have auto functions, lighter or heavier.
None are Leica, never will be.
Get a decent condition M4 upwards (I prefer my M3 but..) Leica lens for Leica!
If you don't bond after good usage one year, move on.

THe moment I picked up a Leica M, it rested against my cheek, my eye easily
seeing the frame and Rangefinder rectangle., we bonded..
The smooth film wind, the slick shutter.
It's a tool but special.. use one to know.
Do not build up "lots" of lenses.
Wait the year!
A wide 35mm, the 50mm and if possible the 90mm.
After my year with my own M, my portfolio was 90% Leica.
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Old 11-29-2018   #32
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Leica M6 TTL: available, 'modern', repairable, rugged, relatively cheap. Zeiss-Ikon ZI, if you want the best RF viewfinder, back loading, lighter...in today's market, not necessarily cheaper than an M6.
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Old 11-29-2018   #33
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If you found the Vito II (wonderful little camera, have one too) nice, there is the option of getting an Leica screwmount, like a Leica III series (a to f) with a 50 Elmar or 35 Elmar.

Whatever you do, try to find actual cameras that you can hold and put up to your eye. The internets are fine and dandy, but real-world experience is worth a thousand words.
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Old 11-29-2018   #34
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My two cents... Nikon S2/S3 with 35/2.5 Nikkor or if you want to stretch 35/1.8 Nikkor.
Two of the best lenses money can buy!
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Old 11-29-2018   #35
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Your choices are myriad. But i will suggest (not so tongue in cheek) just cut to the chase and get a Leica you will buy one in the long run. As fly rod makers Thomas & Thomas say it's the rod you'll eventually own
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Old 11-29-2018   #36
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If a plain prism F feels good in your hand you have a few choices.

Nikon S3, SP, or S4.

They feel the same, load the same, all the stuff on the lenses turn the same way, accept an AR-1.......

Leicas are wonderful, Bessas are fun (I loved my Bessa L CV 25/4 Snapshot combo), but the Nikon F was built on the basics of the S series of cameras.

On a budget start with an S2. It has a different shutter speed control mechanism, but will also feel as good.

Start with either an F2 or F1.4 50mm Nikkor.

I move the Nikon RFs from Leica for the handling. I didn't use my SLRs enough to justify switching and found after growing up in a Nikon home that the S2 just felt like my Nikkormats and Fs.

A lot depends upon your budget.

B2 (;->
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Old 11-29-2018   #37
mgpsmith
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Followup

Thank you all for your input. I have gleaned the following:

1. I really need to hold these things, wind and click, hold it to my eye and look through it etc.... before making a choice. I see there's a guy in Stamford CT (not too far away) who deals in nice old RFs, maybe I should pay him a visit.

2. If I stick with a Nikon, Leica, or even Contax, I probably could sell it for what I put into it, assuming I don't abuse it (I don't - I still use the Nikkormat I bought in 1974). That's assuming I'd ever sell it.

3. A Nikon S2/3/4 or SP would probably be the most "natural" transition based on my affinity for the F. An M3 or M4 would be a marvelous instrument. All could be within my budget.

4. Considering all factors above, and the issue of reliability/service costs etc.., an S3 Millenium might be the most cost-effective solution in the long run.

5. Lens recommendation - right up my alley anyway.


Thank you all. For what it's worth, https://bprunesquallor.wordpress.com shows some of my more recent work.

phil
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Old 11-29-2018   #38
RObert Budding
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Skip the miniature formats - unless you plan to do a lot of low light shooting. The FUJIFILM GW690III is excellent, or go with a Mamiya 7 if you want interchangeable lenses.
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Old 11-29-2018   #39
farlymac
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What is nice about getting a Nikon S2 is, if you later want something with a meter in it, you can get a Bessa R2S. The S2 with a 50mm of most flavors (except once you go past f1.4) is well within your budget, with some left over for a 35mm.



Later on, you can get the 85mm which is a lovely lens, and has a setting on the Bessa finder, or if you need some more reach there are the 105mm and 135mm. Nikon did have a Visoflex style rig for even longer focal lengths, but unless you're a real enthusiast, it's kind of an expensive accessory, especially if you already have a nice SLR tele lens grouping. Factor in you'll need an external finder for anything other than a 50mm on the S2, where the Bessa has selectable frames for 35, 50, and 85mm.



PF
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Old 11-30-2018   #40
Sumarongi
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mgpsmith View Post
Thank you all. For what it's worth, https://bprunesquallor.wordpress.com shows some of my more recent work.

phil
Dear Phil Bernard Prunesquallor,

you (and your brother!) ought to consider the very fine French FOCA brand cameras:





http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Foca
http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Foca_Universel

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