Saturday, February 27, 2016

Accessory Rangefinders

Quite a few of my old cameras require the user to estimate focal distance and to set that guess manually. For the most part, I've never found that much of a hindrance to making pictures with them, particularly in good light. Once in a while, though, in dim light and in close proximity to the subject, it is nice to have one of the little accessory rangefinders to help things along.

Of the three models I own, the tiny Voigtländer rangefinder is the most elegantly designed and crafted. The view of the image is pretty clear and contrasty, and the rotational movement of the dial is very smooth. The Voigtländer's small size adds little bulk to my pocketable cameras, and the standard-sized mount fits any camera that has an accessory shoe. I acquired this rangefinder recently from a fellow in England and it required no adjustment to the image alignment.

 The vertical orientation of the Kodak rangefinder allows it to be used with cameras having tall, flip-up viewfinders, as was the case with many of the old Kodak folders. The Kodak's cast metal case has a sculpted look that harks back to the 19th Century; the round, eye-like front window seems like something Jules Verne might have dreamed up. A very nice feature of this rangefinder is a pointer and rotating circular scale that allows reading the distance setting while looking through the eyepiece. The image alignment was off when I got the rangefinder, and it proved quite a tedious job to get it working properly.

The Kodak offers a split-image view similar to what one would see through the coupled viewfinder of an Argus C3. The coincident-image featured in the other two rangefinders seems a bit easier to use, but the semi-transparent mirror coating on such instruments inevitably deteriorates over time, and the lack of image contrast becomes problematic.

The Ideal Range Finder, as it says boldly on the side of the box, was

Made in U. S. A.
Long Island City, New York

The design is fundamentally functional with a black plastic case and a screw and bolt adjustment that looks like it came from the corner hardware store. As it turns out, this rangefinder offers the brightest view of the three, and is no less accurate than the Kodak or the Voigtländer. As stated in the product note folded in the box, the original buyer got a three year guarantee which included an offer to adjust the instrument if a drop caused it to lose proper alignment. The note also indicates that the user can do the readjustment by turning the set-screw on the dial. I found that to be true, though it required clamping the metal nut with channel-lock pliers and carefully exerting considerable force with a well-fitted screwdriver to turn the adjusting screw. There is no mounting bracket to fit a camera accessory shoe, though it would be easy enough to glue one in place.


JR Smith said...

Federal, the company that made your Ideal that the same company that made Federal enlargers?

Mike said...

Wow, why didn't that occur to me? I'm sure you are correct. Now I recall seeing ads for a number of photo accessories with the Federal name.