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So... whatís a Nikon RF like to use?
Old 04-20-2019   #1
gavinlg
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So... whatís a Nikon RF like to use?

Iíve long thought the SP is one of the most beautiful cameras around, but what are the s3 and SP like to use in real life?

As far as I can tell the aperture ring moves with the focussing of the lens - is this annoying in use? Is the RF patch on the re-issue models usable in low light? Is using the focussing wheel fiddly? Any other comments on handling?

Iím a 35 and 50 shooter and Iím feeling the pull of an s3 2000 with the millennium 50 and the 35 f1.8 but it's hard to tell what they shoot like without having access to one.

Letís hear it!
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Old 04-20-2019   #2
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Never owned a re-issue, but owned and used an original S3 and several S2 over a two year period. Light and compact, easy travel cameras, but the rangefinder patch on the S3 was a bit more "diluted" or "faded," even after cleaning the mirrors. Useable, but not as much fun to use as the S2. My understanding is that the S3 has a non-tinted viewfinder, which results in a less contrasty rangefinder patch. I think the same is true for the re-issue model. You either love it or hate it, I suppose.

Handled an old SP once but the patch was faded to the point of uselessness. Nikon rangefinder guys will tell you that most of them can be cleaned up.

Absolutely loved the focusing wheel, whether it be Nikon or Contax. Don't have to use it, but it allows one-handed shooting once the aperture and shutter speed is set.

No longer have any Nikon rangefinders. Fun shooting experience though. The reissue models seem like a good value these days.

Good luck on your decision.
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Old 04-20-2019   #3
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What are the S3 and SP like to use in real life? Fun, but not as user friendly as a Leica.

In terms of low light focusing, its not great (even the reissues). No doubt about it, Leica is way ahead there.

The aperture ring rotating with the lens when setting the aperture is a hassle until you learn the trick of holding the focus wheel in position with one finger to stop the lens from rotating. Then its easy. That's the main benefit of the focus wheel actually as you don't need to use the focus wheel to focus, unless you're using the oddball 2.5cm F4 lens which can only be focused using the focus wheel because it doesn't have a barrel you can grip and turn by hand.

If you want to try out a Nikon RF to see what its like, I'd recommend finding a Nikon S2 and 50mm lens (either the f1.4 or f2). Much cheaper and just as cool as an SP.
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Old 04-20-2019   #4
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Sometimes we just have to scratch an itch, so to speak. I had to do that with Leica, beginning in 2004. In 2012 I bought a 3.5cm f/2.5 Nikkor and an Amedeo adaptor and just loved the way that lens drew. After that, I got an S2, an SP and a collection of lenses from 21mm up to 135mm. The SP was one of my favorite cameras EVER and I wish I didn't sell it but I was in a pretty dire place so the Nikon RF gear had to go.
If I knew in 2004 what I know now, I would have gone with Nikon RF and not bought into Leica. The handling of the Nikons, the quality of their optics and also the affordability of a top shelf system I loved. For the cost of a used Leica M4 with a single used lens you can amass a pair of Nikon RFs and every common lens: 2.8cm, 3.5cm, 5cm, 10.5cm and 135cm. I added the 21mm Voigtlander and it is a fantastic optic in its own right. In my opinion, the NIkon RF system is just about perfect. I stick with my Leica M4 due to the sentimentality of it connecting me to my work as a combat photographer, that's all.

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Old 04-20-2019   #5
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It's such a personal decision that you really need to handle the cameras before deciding. Perhaps a seller will let you return a camera if you don't like it. I love Nikkor lenses, but I hate the focusing wheel / ergonomics on Nikon and Contax rangefinders. Others love the ergonomics. Fortunately Nikkor lenses were also made with Leica mounts. That is the way I have gone - Leica M2 with some Nikkor glass.
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Old 04-20-2019   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jonmanjiro View Post

If you want to try out a Nikon RF to see what its like, I'd recommend finding a Nikon S2 and 50mm lens (either the f1.4 or f2). Much cheaper and just as cool as an SP.
I have owned and used S2, S3, S3 reissue, and SP fairly extensively, and the above is exactly what I would recommend to someone in your position. S2 nicer than the S3, and S3 reissue, for reasons others have mentioned. I regret selling my S2, but not my S3 reissue. Buy a nice S2, and if you find you like it, the world will always let you spend vastly more money on an SP reissue. If you donít like it, there is no reason to think you would have liked a reissue any more. I have a nice original SP which I doubt I would sell, and would love a reissue SP, just (irrationally) for the black paint, but they have become a bit spendy.
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Old 04-20-2019   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gavinlg View Post
it's hard to tell what they shoot like without having access to one.

Letís hear it!

Backwards from Leica! Focus and aperture. This always throws me off. Otherwise, really fun!


Quote:
Originally Posted by jonmanjiro View Post
If you want to try out a Nikon RF to see what its like, I'd recommend finding a Nikon S2 and 50mm lens (either the f1.4 or f2). Much cheaper and just as cool as an SP.

This! After reading and seeing Jon and other Nikon rangefinder users posts here on RFF I jumped on the chance to get one. I have an S2, and a 50 and a 35 that I shoot on it, and have really enjoyed this kit and the images I get from from it. The one thing that was a little disappointing was when the 35, a FSU J-12, put a nice big scratch near the mount of my S2


A couple shots from the S2


From the 5cm f1.4 Nikkor:






From the 35mm f2.8 J-12:


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Old 04-20-2019   #8
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Never used the SP or S3, but do love using my S2. As mentioned above, I like the focus wheel for my wider lenses, 21mm, 35mm, 50mm, makes fine tuning focus simple, but it doesn't really work on the 85mm and 135mm (not with my S2 anyway).

The focus patch on my S2 has plenty of contrast for me, and I love the viewfinder.

The Nikon S2 feels different than the Leica M cameras, but that's not a bad thing, just a different thing. I like shooting both. YMMV.

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Old 04-20-2019   #9
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Lol, had to be one person saying “just get a Leica”

The Nikon SP is a phenomenal camera and lenses are barr none.

The only thing Leica has over Nikon is an increased price to play.

The 35/1.8 can be a tad hard to find affordable, just watch out for “cheap” ones as they often will have separation or those “Elmarit Bubbles” a reissue would be a solid bet.

The Millennium Nikkor is something I wanted but never grabbed. The 50/1.4 and 50/2.0 are great lenses. You can also find the VC 50/2.5 really affordabley!

I would not hesitate to buy new VC lenses 35/2.5 and 50/2.5
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Old 04-20-2019   #10
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I grew up with a wide range of cameras, but my camera was a Nikkormat FTn. For me the S2 was like going back home, I loved it. I moved from Leica Ms to my S2 because the glass moved the right way. I happen to used Nikon SLRs for stuff longer than 50mm.

You can focus, shoot, and wind all with one hand. I loved my Leicas and my Bessas for what they brought, but Nikon S2 just felt more a part of me.

If you grew up in an F or an F2 odds are you will see what I mean.

Your mileage may vary, but your fun won't!

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Old 04-20-2019   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by B-9 View Post

I would not hesitate to buy new VC lenses 35/2.5 and 50/2.5
I might eventually sell my VC 35/2.5. I eventually bought a Nikkor 35/2.5 and a Jupiter-12 and use them most often; I always sort of figured using modern lenses on vintage cameras defeats the purpose of having the vintage camera.... If I want "modern", I could just use my N90S!

By the way, its worth mentioning that you don't actually have to use the focus wheel if you don't want to. The longer-than-50mm lenses probably won't turn with the wheel anyway, and even some stiff wides (like my J-12) won't turn with the wheel either. So I just skip it. (I don't shoot 50mm very often)
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Old 04-20-2019   #12
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The best, best, BEST things about these cameras is the viewfinder. 1:1 with a 50mm lens. You can shoot both eyes open like an M3 and have the VF lines imposed on the world. Like a 1960's style head's up display. It is a brilliant feature that the camera world has left behind. They are silky smooth to operate and feel great in the hand.

Edit: you can really see/feel the Nikon F DNA in the design of this camera. I consider it the equal to my M3, although the M3's gearing etc. might be a little smoother, the Nikon RF's are a supurb example of Japanese industrial design. Fabulous cameras.

BTW, they share a lot of design features with the Contax RF's but the Nikon viewfinders are miles better, in my opinion.
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Old 04-20-2019   #13
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Quote:
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The best, best, BEST things about these cameras is the viewfinder. 1:1 with a 50mm lens. You can shoot both eyes open like an M3 and have the VF lines imposed on the world. Like a 190's style head's up display. It is a brilliant feature that the camera world has left behind. They are silky smooth to operate and feel great in the hand.

100% agreed. S2, for me.


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Old 04-20-2019   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gavinlg View Post
Iíve long thought the SP is one of the most beautiful cameras around, but what are the s3 and SP like to use in real life?

As far as I can tell the aperture ring moves with the focussing of the lens - is this annoying in use? Is the RF patch on the re-issue models usable in low light? Is using the focussing wheel fiddly? Any other comments on handling?

Iím a 35 and 50 shooter and Iím feeling the pull of an s3 2000 with the millennium 50 and the 35 f1.8 but it's hard to tell what they shoot like without having access to one.

Letís hear it!
I asked one well known photog why he switched from one of those re-makes from Nikon to old M3. He told me what Nikon felt like hollow tin.
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Old 04-20-2019   #15
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The SP definitely has a different feel than a Leica in the hand.

I wouldn’t call it empty tin. They’re built tough as tanks and do not often require the service other cameras do in age and use.

Very similar in feel to it’s obvious younger brother the Nikon F
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Old 04-20-2019   #16
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Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
I asked one well known photog why he switched from one of those re-makes from Nikon to old M3. He told me what Nikon felt like hollow tin.
You canít believe everything youíre told. I got to play with the reissued SP and S3 at the camera expo way back when it was in Carson, and they felt like tanks.
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Old 04-20-2019   #17
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Coming from a Kiev 4a, I found the S3 very easy to get used to and a lot more reliable. That’s saying a lot because my Kiev is pretty darn reliable in its own right.

The Nikkor 50/1.4 is the only lens I have for mine and it’s a really great lens. My only complaint is that the RF patch on mine is very faded so it’s not great in low light but it’s otherwise a great camera.
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Old 04-20-2019   #18
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No one has mentioned film loading. MUCH prefer Nikon’s removable back over bottom loading.

I’ve owned lots of Ms and Barnacks over the years and many NRF.

Prefer the 1:1 vf with fuzzy patch over the reduced mag Leica viewfinders, even with their hard-edged RF patch. Having 28/35 in a separate viewfinder (SP) is much preferable over all focal lengths being reduced mag.

Focusing direction never has affected me, never think about it.

Lenses: Sonnar goodness! Less prone to scratches and haze over similar era glass.

Well built and durable. Of all the NRF I’ve bought over the years, none ever needed CLA, they all just worked. They are basically a Nikon F, after all, well-proven workhorse for many decades.

Cheaper lenses: 35/1.8 in Leica mount is rare and pricey, not nearly so with the S mount. Ditto with others, the 50/1.4 is also quite a bit less.
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Old 04-20-2019   #19
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If the SP had a built in meter I wouldn't own any Leica. The Nikon SP is simply the best rangefinder ever made, it just lacks a bit of convenience due to the lack of internal meter.

By the way - it's the Leica that focuses backwards IMO .
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Old 04-20-2019   #20
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I got my first rangefinder in 1972, a Nikon S with 50mm f2.0 but mostly used Nikon F until 1990 when I got my first Leica M. These days I mostly use a Leica IIIc but I recently acquired a Nikon SP with a good finder and it's a great camera. Be careful, my first Nikon SP cost a lot and has a very faint RF patch. I like them all but have found the Leicas work well for me with 50mm and wider, I never got comfortable using longer lens's with Leica, even on my M6 .85. The Nikon SP works well, for me, with longer glass. I have the 135mm and want to get the 105mm. Great Cameras. Everybody needs one. Joe
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Old 04-20-2019   #21
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Yes the 1:1 vf makes a big difference with longer focal lengths.
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Old 04-23-2019   #22
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Thanks for all the responses - a common sort of theme seems to be to dip my toe in with an s2 which I think is sound advice. I'll be on the lookout for one with a proven focus patch.

The SP 2005 will have to wait a bit
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Old 04-24-2019   #23
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I found Leica M viewfinders easier to focus even in low light
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Old 04-24-2019   #24
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The rangefinder spot of the old Nikons often needs cleaning. A very simple job on the S2.


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Old 04-24-2019   #25
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Just acquired my (3rd) S3 2000, the viewfinder is brighter than my vintage SP, but just a smidge. The extra frame lines don’t bother me now as much as I remember from the previous two that I owned about ten years ago...
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Old 04-24-2019   #26
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Each system has its advantages & quirks as well-described by previous posters.


Not too much to add, but will try to share my perspective. I have & use both vintage & reissue Nikon RFs (plus the CV Bessa R2S) along w/Leica Ms & screw-mount Leicas. I also use Zeiss Ikon Contax RFs (actually started out on them as my 1st interchangeable lens system RF), so I see the Nikon RFs as simply the final, updated in Japan, iteration of that line of RFs.


Because I do a lot of low-light shooting, Leica Ms are my go-to RF system (along w/Sony E-mount), but I like to shoot my Nikon & Contax RFs (& weirder systems like Kodak Ektra & Bell & Howell Foton) as a change of pace.
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Old 04-24-2019   #27
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I’ve owned the S2 , the S3 reissue and SP original and reissue

S2 - can’t go wrong - wonderful camera nice RF patch
S3 - was harder for me to focus w the patch - not as contrasts as the SP’s or S2
SP - coolest looking camera ever - dual viewfinder is ok - I tend to use the main only even when shooting wide
Focus wheel - great to shoot one handed and like they said - effective to hold and change aperture
I tend to set and forget so don’t change aperture too often when out

Great cameras for 35-50, ok for 85. The viewfinder frame gets pretty small on the SP when you go higher
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Old 04-24-2019   #28
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I much prefer the SP to the Contax IIa that I used to shoot. The 1:1 finder is excellent, and superb lenses are available for very reasonable cost.
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Old 04-25-2019   #29
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Old 04-25-2019   #30
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I have an s2. I love/hate it.
The viewfinder is excellent. Lever film advance is nice. It is well built, reliable, but not a "tank" as others have suggested. The outer shell is fairly thin and can dent easily. Very reliable shutter once adjusted.
However the inner helicoid/outer bayonet mount is a total pain in the ass. The absolute worst thing anyone could have copied. And i hate hate hate the focus wheel. It is sharp, my middle finger rests on it if my index is on the shutter release. And if my finger is on it, it blocks me from focusing the lens normally with my left hand.

The 50mm 1.4 lens is poor at 1.4, ok at f2, excellent at 2.8 and down. The 85 f2 is a tank but a good performer. The 35mm f2.5 is excellent.
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Old 04-25-2019   #31
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Quote:
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Never owned a re-issue, but owned and used an original S3 and several S2 over a two year period. Light and compact, easy travel cameras, but the rangefinder patch on the S3 was a bit more "diluted" or "faded," even after cleaning the mirrors. Useable, but not as much fun to use as the S2. My understanding is that the S3 has a non-tinted viewfinder, which results in a less contrasty rangefinder patch. I think the same is true for the re-issue model. You either love it or hate it, I suppose.

Handled an old SP once but the patch was faded to the point of uselessness. Nikon rangefinder guys will tell you that most of them can be cleaned up.

Absolutely loved the focusing wheel, whether it be Nikon or Contax. Don't have to use it, but it allows one-handed shooting once the aperture and shutter speed is set.

No longer have any Nikon rangefinders. Fun shooting experience though. The reissue models seem like a good value these days.

Good luck on your decision.
Have tried them all at least one film each, but have settled on the SP, but I only use the 50mm lens. I don’t like using two windows for focussing and shooting. I would be happy with a S2 but since I only use the 50 mm lens I chose the SP because it looks cooler. Don’t use the S3 as the rangefinder patches are less clear.
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Old 04-25-2019   #32
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There is individual variability due to these cameras being 60+ years old, makes it iffy to conclude that all examples of a specific model behave the same.

How well individual cameras were handled/stored over the past decades is a far greater factor on viewfinder and RF clarity, when comparing identical models.

My first SP had an almost invisible RF patch but none I’ve owned since then were problematic.

As far as shutters are concerned, none of the S cameras I’ve owned have had curtain or speed issues, so I’ve never sent one out for CLA. And also the leather coverings are very robust. I’ve had SPs with foggy viewfinders but that was a simple DIY cleanup.
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Old 04-25-2019   #33
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Several years ago I got my first SP and it had a very dim RF patch. I recently got a much better SP and this brings up the a question; what causes the finder to degrade, what can be done to prevent it, preserve it? Joe
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Old 04-25-2019   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by darinwc View Post

The 50mm 1.4 lens is poor at 1.4, ok at f2, excellent at 2.8 and down. The 85 f2 is a tank but a good performer. The 35mm f2.5 is excellent.
Agreed, however, the 50mm f/1.4 has weak corners on all apertures. The 50mm f/2 has quite a lot of distortion. Look for a VC S Skopar 50mm f2.5, the best 50mm for the rangefinder Nikons. (Look above, it is mounted on my S2 above.)

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Old 04-25-2019   #35
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The Leica focusing patch is dramatically better, at least in the later M cameras.
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Old 04-25-2019   #36
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Disagree. I prefer the indistinct patch of the Nikons over the sharp rectangle of Leicas. YMMV.
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Old 06-02-2019   #37
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Disagree. I prefer the indistinct patch of the Nikons over the sharp rectangle of Leicas. YMMV.
Why? Just by your description that doesn't sound like the right choice!
With my cameras with the sharp rectangle (Leicas, Xpans) compared to the indistinct blob - Zorki, Fed, Agfa, Fuji GW690III etc - the Leicas are much faster to focus due to the contrast and being able to locate the patch instantly.

FYI just bought an S2, waiting for it to show up. So I'll see for myself how these lumps compare to Leicas.
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Old 06-02-2019   #38
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Why? Just by your description that doesn't sound like the right choice!
Sometimes our preferences are just that: Preferences. We don't always need reasons.

I've known a few people who say the sharp-edged Leica focusing patch is a distraction, whereas the indistinct Nikon patch is easy to ignore once you've set focus.
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Old 06-02-2019   #39
Steve M.
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The only way that I know to do this is to buy one on eBay or somewhere and try it out. If you buy wisely you won't lose much if you don't like it and decide to sell it. I always figured that if I lost a little on something it was like renting it at a cut rate price.
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Old 06-02-2019   #40
DMA1965
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The Nikon SP is a masterpiece. I love mine. I had Gus Lazzari restore mine and it is like brand new, even though it is from 1958. The optics are amazing. I love the unique signature of the 50 1.4 Nikkor. The lenses have very long focus throws so they are easy to focus very accurately. i put a very pale blue gel on the rangefinder window and it makes the patch pop now.
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