The Hexar RF Rangefinder Camera - New Old Stock
I had an opportunity to buy an absolutely brand new, still in box, found in the back of a camera store’s inventory shelves, Hexar RF Rangefinder kit from none other than Dante Stella (great photographer and great technical insight writer into film and digital cameras).
I put a series of unboxing photographs up in a series on Flickr.
For some, this was the last state-of-the-art film based Rangefinder ever made (debatable). Sure, Zeiss has its Ikon which it still makes. There’s the ever lusty Leica M7 and Leica MP (all mechanical) but this one by Konica is intriguing and more “state of the art” for a couple of reasons. First, it is a motorized rangefinder: the built in motor automatically advances film at single frame mode or 2.5 frames a second, all in a body that is pretty much the same size as a manual wind Ikon or M7. Second, it has a fairly advanced (for its time) automatic exposure mode that is pretty spot on for a centre weighted light meter. Third, it has an amazing battery life, shooting up to 140 rolls on two CR2 batteries.
The only thing it’s missing is TTL auto exposure for flash, which no rangefinder had in 1998 when the Hexar was developed (Leica came out with their M6 TTL a few months later, and the electronic shutter M7, introduced in 2002 had TTL as well).
The Konica has an interesting history and life, surrounded by some mystery, surrounded by some failed dreams. The industry was taken by surprise when they rolled the camera out in 1998, just as digital cameras were being born and pretty much everyone (Konica included) were solidly entrenched in SLRs and point and shoots. (sidenote: since then, Nikon has done some interesting things - in 2000, they rolled out a replica of their old 1950s rangefinders with their Nikon S3 and followed that up with an uber-limited edition replica of their Nikon SP rangefinder, but both were throwbacks to 1950s era technology).
The Hexar RF went on sale in 1999, and was available in limited quantities until it was unceremoniously (and silently) discontinued in 2003. Konica also developed some great optics to go with the Hexar RF, and also silently killed production of those lenses in 2003 as well. Had a lot to do with the company merging with Minolta, but still, the way the camera died is pretty sad. The Hexanon optics are (as some people claim) better than Zeiss or Voigtlander optics, and darned close to Summicron level quality, at 1/4 the price (back then). Because of that, today minty Hexanon lenses (which all fit Leica M cameras) are fetching hefty prices, often on par (or maybe 20% lower) than similar used Leica Summicrons.
A Gem Mint Ten Hexar
I just couldn’t pass this up. I saw that Dante Stella had a “new old stock” Hexar kit for sale, and I had to jump on it. Apparently it was found on a back shelf at a camera store during inventory (or something like that); it is at least 10 years old, and was never opened (until Dante opened it for some photos, and for me to give it a quick test before shipping). It is absolutely new, and the only signs of age are ever slight discolouration on some of the rubberized grip material and on the viewfinder’s rubber parts.
I bought this camera intending to use it. A lot. I have a very good quality Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 MC M-Mount lens that has been itching to find a new camera to be attached to. But once it arrived, man… I was kind of freaked out to turn the camera from “new” to “used” by putting some film and batteries in.
But I did. I’ll do everything I can to keep this camera “gem mint ten” (a phrase from one of my favourite old time late nite informercial guys) but I am using the camera.
In use, it is fantastic.
My rangefinder experience is this: a very old, very manual Leica IIIf; maybe a total of 10 hours using borrowed M7s, M6s and M9s. That’s it. But I always loved the process involved in rangefinders, still have a (albeit sentimental) love for film, and I love the preciousness of film photography we’ve lost with “hey, I can shoot 1400 frames!” digital photography and 16gb SD cards.
Using a rangefinder, even a rangefinder with automatic exposure modes forces me to get back to something I used to know about photography - how to judge light and shoot accordingly. Sure, I could shoot this in AE or AEL mode (and I have), but I am also getting back to my own lost knowledge of making good, educated guesses on exposure (manually matching shutter speed + aperture to my film’s ISO for the lighting conditions I’m shooting in). I do admit cheating - setting up shutter speed and aperture, then confirming how close I am via the camera’s built in light meter reading on the left side of the view finder - but I’m gratified to see I’m already getting close to what the camera’s reading electronically, and there’s something really satisfying about that (lost in today’s auto exposure by default digital cameras).
I’ll have a lot more on this camera in the next few months. For now, here’s a few more photos from the unboxing. You can see the entire series up on flickr.
First glimpse of the camera in its box.
After unpacking and photographizing, I upt all the pieces back in the nice silk box.
Beautifully made camera. Feels fantastic in the hand.