Home Camera Articles FOR SALE Orders I Buy / Wants Repairs Books Adapters
Choosing Accessory Viewfinders
If you have an interchangeable lens rangefinder or viewfinder camera, sooner or later you will want to use a lens your camera does not have a built in viewfinder for. For that, you need an accessory viewfinder. The problem is that most viewfinders are discontinued and collector's items. Choosing the best for using (not collecting) takes a bit of experience. What was a rather hit and miss scenario was made easy with Cosina Voigtlander currently marketing the largest range of accessory viewfinders ever offered by any 35mm camera manufacturer.
Whatever you buy, the image should be clear and bright. Many used finders have fogged up a bit (like their original owners). Some can be cleaned successfully, and some can't. So if it needs cleaning, insist upon a bargain price.
12, 15, 21, 25, 28, 35, 40, 50, 75, 90 Voigtlander Viewfinders
Left to Right: Top Row 40, 50 Silver, 50 Black, 75 Black, 75 Silver, 90 Black, 90 Silver -- Bottom Row 12, 15, 21, 25, 28 Metal Chrome, 28 Plastic, 28 Metal Black, 35 Metal Chrome, 35 Plastic, 35 Metal Black
Generically there are two types of Single Focal Length finders: BRIGHTLINE finders and NON-BRIGHTLINE finders. BRIGHTLINE finders have projected framelines -- the earlier finders have none. Brightlines are a later development and work better, but are more expensive (what a surprise!).
With a few exceptions, the Leitz brightlines are generally the best single focal length finders. The earlier metal Leica brightline finders usually cost at least 50% more than the later, more cheaply made, but better optical image Leica plastic brightlines. Note that only the outer body casting is metal or plastic, NOT the optics.
Until very recently, we only had choices of long discontinued finders, or expensive new Leica finders. The many recent vintage Japanese made screw mounts lenses generally have great finders, at bargain prices.
As this is written in 2003, Cosina Voigtlander offers the largest lineup of accessory viewfinders ever offered by any camera manufacturer, they are detailed on a separate page.
On the left is the Russian 20 finder. Note the mount, it rocks forward for parallax compensation. On the right is the very hard to find, and unmarked, Minolta 21 brightline made for Minolta 21/4 SLR mirror lockup lens.
the superb metal Voigtlander 28 brightline
In the center is the classic chrome Leitz 35 brightline, compared to the smaller Voigtlander metal 35 brightline. The 21, 24, and 28 Leitz brightlines look pretty much the same. The later black versions kept the same design, just changed the color and material of the housing from that cheap chrome pictured here to that ultra expensive and desirable plastic. Note the very large finder area. These were the best of the wide-angle finders until the new Voigtlander metal 28 and 35 finders were introduced. No parallax compensation.
NOTE: Canon made a series of black finders for their V and VI models which DO NOT work well on other cameras. You can spot them because they have NO parallax adjustments and they have a connecting pin in the shoe which adjust the finder for parallax as the camera is focused. While Canon did made an attachment to use these finders with other cameras, it's so rare as to be practically unobtainable.
Multifinders combine focal lengths into one finder, either by zooming or with multiple turrets. While convenient, they do not equal a good a single focal length viewfinder. Their disadvantages are larger size and weight than single focal length finders.
The 21-24-28 Leica M Zooooom Finder was introduced in June 2001. It's rather large, round, and has an estimated street price of $500. This is the FIRST ever Zoom finder for the M series. It has not proven that popular with its large size and relatively dim view. Buy the individual Voigtlander finders instead.
Leica 35-135 Finders for screw mount cameras. Sorry Leitz fans, I think the competition has you beat on this one. The field of view varies, but the image size is the same. The earlier ones have the image reversed left to right, very inconvenient.
Nikon 35-135 finders. The chrome ones are called Variframe finders, similar to the Leitz 35-135 finders. They are hard to find and very collectible. The later Varifocal Nikon finders are superb and of two types, and my favorite multi-finder. The earlier type has a lever controlled parallax adjustment. The second type has parallax adjustment dialed in around the rotating eyepiece. If your Nikon 35-135 finder has a 73 and 90 setting like the one shown, it was originally intended for a Leica (Nikon made LTM lenses in the 1950's). Nikon also made an attachment to convert the 35 field to 28. Rare, in collectible condition, it costs more than the finder!
Canon 35-135 finders are far and few between, and very collectible. Don't bother, go with the Nikon version. The Canon short and long zoom finders for the Canon V/VI series are arguably the best multi-finders EVER. They were blessed with automatic parallax compensation. A pin in the accessory shoe changes the view as you focus. Unfortunately, they fit ONLY the Canon V/VI series -- the best of which in my opinion are the L-1 and the VT-deluxe.
Off brand 35-135 or 35-200 finders are often OK, but often not. Too many kinds to list. Just take a look and see if the finder is large and clear.
Contax Multi Finders, the best are the post war 25-135 and 21-135 finders. Zeiss took a different approach. Each focal length has an individual finder, and you rotate to get what you want. These are excellent finders, but hard to find and expensive. Made for the Contax, you will have to experiment to successfully use their parallax markings on your Leica.
Russian Kiev 28-135 Finder. Post war, black, a copy of the Zeiss Contax finder. I was surprised to see that despite the so so finish, the optics give a great image. It has separate turrets for 28, 35, 50, 85, and 135. Just rotate the mounting to the desired focal length. Parallax compensation is also combined in the rotating frameline mount. A best buy in the $100 range, but often offered for less. An odd thing about these finders is that quality control can sometimes give a wider than marked frame on the 28 & 35 framelines. Pictured is the version for the Zorkis and Feds (i.e. Leica mount cameras) with the optics mounted to the LEFT of the acc shoe. If the optics are mounted to the RIGHT of the acc shoe, the finder intended for the Kiev / Contax mount cameras.
Komura 35-200 Finder These were sold with the Komura 2x Teleconverter for Leica Screw mount lenses in the 1980's. It's a nice zoom finder, if you can find one. There was also a 80-270 Komura finder which is rather mediocre.
Helios 35, 50, 85 finder, modern not so great Japanese finder made for Russian Feds, sold in UK.
Tewe finders: 35-135, 28-135, 35-200 finder, and probably other focal lengths too. I'm told of excellent quality, German made. Jem Kime writes " They made finders not only for themselves but also for other manufacturers, e.g.. MPP. This was the classic second 'spectacle' eye seen in the famous Andreas Feininger portrait of the Leica photographer. They made versions which went as wide as 28mm and as long as 200, the most common variant being 35-135.
Voigtlander Low Angle Finder
Introduced in March 2000, this finder is the first of its kind in 35mm Rangefinder history. It allows either low angle horizontal sighting of super wides, has interchangeable lenses for 15, 21, and 25 lenses, AND rotates for low level verticals ! While made for the Bessa, it should be adaptable to practically any 35mm rangefinder camera, even those coming from Germany with a name starting with L and ending in A !! Once again, Voigtlander has beat Leica at its own game, introducing an innovative product that Leica should have made decades ago.
the angle finder with its 15, 21, and 25 attachments, with a 25 finder for size comparison
Cosina's innovation continues to amaze me. This is a new product, the likes of which no other rangefinder manufacturer has EVER produced, a waist level finder for low level rangefinder shots, with attachments for the 15, 21, and 25 lenses. The rear eyepiece has a built in diopter for clear viewing, and ROTATES for even more versatility. The view is NOT reversed left to right. It's a VERY bright clear view, without brightline, with parallax compensation marks. Amazingly, either way you turn the finder to the right or left, the parallax compensation marks flip to the proper orientation. More Info
Parallax and Angle of View
Rangefinder viewfinders NEVER have the accuracy of SLR finders, especially to 100% accurate SLR finder like the Nikon F or F2. The difference between what you see in the finder and what you see on the film is generally lumped together and described as "parallax," though in fact the difference is two problems: parallax AND angle of view. Before this section makes you paranoid, for most pics, it makes little practical difference.
Parallax comes from the problem of having the lens in one place, and the viewfinder in another. The difference in viewing is small, but it does exist. When focused at infinity, the parallax difference is so small that's it can usually be ignored. The closer you focus, the more parallax comes into play. If you have ever taken a pic at 4 feet and cut off someone's head, you have met parallax. The more sophisticated cameras like the Leica M's, Nikon SP, and Canon 7/7s, and Bessa R have framelines which move as you focus, thereby providing "parallax compensation." Less expensive or older cameras either have marked parallax lines in the camera finder, or even no lines (the photog has go guess). Even if the older camera has no parallax markings in the finder, you can still have a parallax corrected view if you mount an auxiliary viewfinder in the accessory shoe that has parallax adjustments on it. With this system, you focus first, and then adjust the finder for the focused distance to set the parallax compensation. Generally finders for 50 and longer lenses have parallax compensation, while wide angle finders do not often have parallax compensation -- because the problem is usually so small with wider lenses you don't have to bother with it. The killer problem of parallax is the background. Even if your camera is absolutely correct on parallax for the focused subject distance, it's absolutely impossible for a finder to compensate for parallax at other distances. Suppose your finder shows Uncle Joe just to the left of that telephone pole behind him. It's possible your lens may be looking at the telephone pole coming out of Uncle Joe's head....and there is no way knowing it with your rangefinder because your finder can only compensate for parallax at the FOCUSED distance, not all distances.
If you want as accurate parallax compensation as possible, do test shots. On your camera / finder / lens combination, perhaps the 5 foot marking on your finder really is more like 7 feet, and the 3.5 marking is really more like 5 feet. Unless you test it out, you won't be sure.
If you are using a finder not made for your camera, small differences in camera bodies MAY give you inaccurate parallax adjustments per the markings on the finders. The key word is MAY. Before mixing finders and cameras, test out the new finder/camera combination for accurate parallax markings BEFORE you use it for important work. If the parallax adjustments are not accurate AS MARKED, just find out what distances they are accurate for and go from there. Or if you are the adventurous type, just let it fly and hope for the best.
THE OTHER PROBLEM is angle of view. Lenses actually change effective focal length as the lens is focused from near to far. In other words, your lens actually has a longer effective focal length focused close than at infinity. Strangely enough, one of the few rangefinder cameras to compensate for BOTH angle of view and parallax are the old Polaroid pack cameras, like the 450. NO interchangeable lens rangefinder (that I am aware of) compensates for both angle of view and parallax. That's right, the revered Leica M or Nikon SP finders are compromises from the word go -- with design inaccuracies resulting from the need to keep the size and cost of the camera down to reasonable levels. Interchangeable lens rangefinders generally show frame brightlines at their closest focus distance with slides. This results in infinity shots showing more on your neg than what you saw in the finder, and close-up shots which have at least what you saw in the finder. If your finder brightlines were instead optimized for the full negative at infinity, your near focus negs would not show everything you saw in your finder -- especially if some of your image is hidden by your slide mount.
Shown here is a Nikon SP mounting a Contax Zeiss 21 Biogon lens, with the Russian 20 finder in the accessory shoe. Left to right: Minolta 21, Komura 28, Leitz 35, Kontur 35, and the Russian Turret finder.
Home Camera Articles FOR SALE Orders I Buy / Wants Repairs Books Adapters
Revised: November 25, 2003 . Copyright © 1998-2003 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.