Sunday, 19 June 2011

Taking the RD1 for a Spin around Greenwich

Doing street photography with a rangefinder is like waving a big, flashing sign around with "Smile For The Camera" written on it. I am sure rangefinders were all the hit in the 60s and 80s for street photography but today, they just stand out too much.
The best cameras for street photography are not rangefinders or rangefinder lookalikes like the X100 but small compact cameras like the Ricoh GRD. Nobody cares if you take pictures with a compact camera but as soon as it's bigger people notice it and the shutter noise does not really help either compared to the silent shutter on a compact camera.

This is a small series from my trip around Greenwich market with the R-D1, I have to say I did not enjoy it as much, having to raise the camera to my eye to take a picture just interrupts the flow and attracts a lot of attention. The pictures were not as good as they could have been with a smaller, live view capable camera.


  1. Totally agree with you. I just got my M8 back from servicing and have tried to take it on the streets but it can be a bit much, unless it is a big, crazy event. However, my GRD III does not get noticed and looks like a cell phone in my hand.

  2. You are right about the GRD III not getting noticed and live view also means you can shoot easier from the hip while still framing your pictures just fine.

    I think retro styled cameras stand out more these days because everyone and their dog have a dSLR waving around with the kit lens on it. People are not threatened much by the entry and mid level dSLRs because it's associated with tourists and not serious photographers, whereas a retro looking camera has to be more serious.

  3. While I agree with you that the GRDIII is a good camera for street photography I disagree with your opinion about the usability of a rangefinder for street photography.

    I know of a lot of photographers who do an amazing thing with their rangefinders. The large viewfinder, seeing besides the frame lines, and zone focusing are still great features for doing street photography. Many have done so in the past and still do so now like Chris Weeks, Severin Koller, Guido Steenkamp, Markus, Hartel, Yanick (Yanidel), Thorsten Overgaard, Birgit Krippner, Riccis Valladares, Frank Jackson just to mention some.

    If it takes you like 10 seconds or more to focus you will get noticed no matter what camera you use in my opinion. If you are uncomfortable with a camera I think you will get noticed.

  4. The way I see it, street photography can be done with anything from a phone to a medium format camera but in my opinion rangefinders are now outdated for this and are only used for historical reasons or to feel "cool" and retro in some ways.

    No doubt photographers still use them and take good pictures with them but I almost want to bet that they would get better pictures with a live view capable camera since you don't have to worry about frame lines but have the whole world in front of you and are more fluid while working.
    Zone focusing is as easy on the GF1 with a legacy lens as it is on a rangefinder and it's even easier and faster on the GXR or GRD III with the new Snap AF mode.

    Don't get me wrong, I love using the RD1 but this is mostly due to the fact that I can use it like a film camera with the convenience of digital. The rangefinder is a cool way to focus and frame the shots and I prefer it to the dark dSLR viewfinders but it simply does not stack up well against a decent LCD or EVF.

    I guess we have to disagree on this but for me the best tools for street photography are compact cameras like the GRD or GXR since these are smaller, quieter, less obtrusive and have the benefit of precise focus (both AF and MF) when needed and fast zone focusing capabilities.

  5. rangefinders are outdated for this and are only used for historical reasons or to feel "cool" and retro in some ways???

    i don't use a rangefinder to be cool or retro.

    one of the things you've neglected with your ode to live view is shutter-lag. both the GRD and the GXR are horrible in this regard. you can "learn" the lag, learn to anticipate, but the moment is often missed. if that is not your ultimate goal in street shooting, then i suppose it is a non-issue.

    me, i'd rather get the moment... a rangefinder gives me that.

    and, if you are comfortable with your rangefinder, you will not get noticed any more often than with the GRD. i know. i have and shoot with both.

    there are many that prefer to use and see with a rangefinder. you, like many others, do not. i think to be comfortable with a rangefinder you need a vision, rather than hoping to merely get lucky...

  6. Thanks for your comment Cam!

    While my comment was a bit tongue in cheek, afterall I also use a rangefinder. That said, I have certainly seen enough users of Leica M cameras who used them more for the cool factor than any other reason and their pictures show it.

    I use my rangefinder because it's mechanical and analogue but think it does not stand up well to tpoday's cameras. Even the shutter lag is not there on the GF1 with a legacy lens for example. The LC1 although this has a EVF and shutter lag can still get the moment if you know your equipment and this in the end is the most important aspect.

    People notice the rangefinder alone when you carry it with you because it simply stands out in between all the mobile phone cameras, small bling p&s and dSLRs.

    As for having a vision, I think this applies to any camera you use and a rangefinder is nothing that would require any more or less vision.