A New Old Camera

For the last little while I have been keeping my ear to the grindstone in the hopes that I could pick up a used (film) rangefinder camera. Fortunately, during my Vancouver trip this summer I spotted one on Craigslist. Perhaps a little back story is in order-

I want a Leica. An M3 to be exact. Trouble is, they are difficult to find in Germany and near impossible to find in Canada. Sure, they do pop up on Ebay now and then. The other trouble with the M3 is that they are expensive. Really expensive. Instead of investing in camera magnificence, I went and had a kid. Did I make the right choice? Time will tell. One thing is for certain though, an M3 will not draw on my couch with a red crayon. So there’s that. On the flipside an M3 will not look up at me and tell me she loves me. I’ll just know she does.

But if I cant have a Leica right now, what are the other options? Can I settle on a lesser model like my wife did? Answer- yes. Turns out there were a number of different rangefinder cameras produced by different manufacturers. I looked at the popular Yashica Electro but while it looks like a fantastic camera, the deal breaker for me was the lack of a full manual (mechanical) operation. One of the things I was looking for was the ability to operate without battery or electronics of any kind. No meter, no power, no fuss.

Enter the Canonet series. Canon produced a series of these…..WAIT, rather than go on a long spiel about the history just go to Wikipedia like I did.

The short strokes are these- the most sought after version of the Canonet seems to be the QL17. So called because it has an f1.7 lens. Serviced, these cameras fetch a decent price on the used market ($100+). I had watched a few auctions on Ebay and determined that the they ended up selling for a little more money than they were worth so I decided to keep an eye on Craigslist. (Hey Germany, why not embrace Craigslist?). I found an ad in Vancouver.

The model in question was a QL19 featuring an f1.9 lens. Figure out the naming convention? They also make a QL28. You can go ahead and guess the lens on that one.

With an asking price of $30 I figured it was worth a look. I wasn’t expecting a pristine copy of the 40+ year old camera but I did want one I could use for more than bookcase clogging. I decided ahead of time that if the camera was at least basically functional I would take a gamble. After all I had just lost more than that on a single hand of Blackjack in Vegas (Note to my wife- no I didn’t sweetie. I sat back and watched all the other guys play. Like we talked about.)

So, like all Craigslist transactions, we met at a Tim Horton’s to ensure that there would be at least 10 police officers present in case it was a scam. A quick survey of the camera revealed that it had been used a fair bit. Also dropped at least once but the dent was on the body and the lens seemed to be fine. There were a few other idiosyncracies- the winding lever would stick a little although it appeared intermittent. Overall though it seemed to be functional. I offered $20 and he accepted. Oh, and he threw in the original leather case and strap. I have no idea about the market value but the geek in me wanted the case.

Thinking ahead I had brought a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 B&W with me so I started shooting immediately after the money was handed over. Knowing full well that the internal meter on the Canonet would be worn out I armed myself with the Sunny 16 Rule and set off into downtown Vancouver. Here was the initial result-

It worked. Of course I had no idea of that at the time but I did finish the roll that afternoon and eagerly processed it that evening so I could scan the negatives first thing in the morning (they dried while I slept). Here are a few selects from the rest of that first roll-


















So that’s how I found my new camera. Not only do I love it, it cost approximately 1/50th of what an M3 would set me back. I still want a Leica though. Don’t worry M3, you will be mine.

Next time I’ll outline why I like the rangefinder so much. There are a few reasons. You’re probably on the edge of your seat. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “A New Old Camera

  1. Adam & Allan – First off let me say that I really enjoy the show. The witty banter is great. Secondly, the recent discussions about film photography and processing have rekindled an interest I first picked up in the 8th grade several decades ago. I believe in episode 85 Allan mentioned scanning the processed negatives for digital archiving/processing. I was wondering if you guys could discuss in an upcoming episode what specs a good scanner for the purpose of scanning negatives and transparencies i.e. slides would have. Looking forward to listenting to what you come up with. Keep up the good work, eh!

  2. Thanks Bob. I just bought a scanner yesterday as a matter of fact. Went with the epson V500. I’ll outline the reasons on the show.

    I’ve done a fair bit of experimenting with guerilla methods, macro lenses etc. In the end scanning seems to be the best solution for now.

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