Rangefinder Camera vs DSLR Camera

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Updated November 9, 2022

Selecting the best digital camera means plenty of decisions. Many begin their journey by looking at the best DSLR cameras, but there are a few more options to sort through. For some perspective on two of the most common camera bodies, we’ll be looking at a rangefinder camera vs a DSLR camera below.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Using a digital camera might seem like it’s just adding extra hardware into the mix, but it’s a great way of improving your video chatting or streaming experience.
  • DSLR cameras use a mirror and prism within the camera body to provide the viewer with the lens’s view of what they are capturing.
  • DSLR cameras are better for beginners, as they are cheaper, more versatile, and have features like auto-focus.

Although rangefinders are a specific form of mirrorless device, you can read our guide on mirrorless cameras vs digital SLRs for a broader look at these categories. And if you want to browse some brand-specific options, we have a list of the best Canon DSLR cameras.

Insider Tip

DSLRs have faster shutterspeeds than rangefinders. This helps to achieve good exposure in bright lights.

A Digital Rangefinder Camera vs a DSLR Model

DSLR stands for “Digital Single Lens Reflex.” The keyword here is “Reflex” because it describes the camera’s mirror and prism mechanism. Whenever you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR, the mirror within the body reflects light, allowing you to see through the actual lens. The light then hits the prism, reflexing the image, so you see it right side up.

On the other hand, a rangefinder mechanism uses a little window in the upper corner that’s unconnected to the lens. There’s no mirror within the camera body. Instead, the view is through the small window called the rangefinder. The rangefinder is a small box within the window that allows you to focus on what you’re photographing. When you’re ready to take a photograph with a rangefinder, you have to adjust the focus to bring the image into view.

So remember that the most significant difference is in the viewing mechanism. And the results of these mechanical differences are many.

Remember that what type of camera you get primarily depends on what you photograph. We have an additional guide on DSLR vs. mirrorless cameras for astrophotography to further understand how this impacts certain styles.

Image Quality

When thinking about cameras, it’s essential to remember that choosing the correct device depends on your specific type of photography. That said, experts find rangefinder cameras to have better image quality because dispensing the mirror leads to a more steady photographing experience.

We have an additional camera for those looking to shoot video footage that compares DSLR vs a film camera.

Accuracy

In the hands of a skilled photographer, either option is highly accurate. However, DSLRs are a better bet in terms of accuracy for beginners because they allow you to have greater ease of focusing on what you’re looking at.

Rangefinders merely give you an estimate of the image you’re seeing, leaving much of the focus technique to the camera-wielder.

Vision with Filters

Looking directly through a lens filter often hinders the ability to shoot an accurate photo. So the rangefinder’s separate viewing window means you don’t see the effects of the filter. DSLR, because of the reflex mirror, means you’ll have to look through any filter you use that can cloud vision.

Depth of Field

Most DSLRs have a depth of field preview, allowing photographers better vision for things like portraits. Rangefinder typically doesn’t have this.

Lenses

As stated before, DSLRs match the view of the lens you have attached to the camera. However, DSLRs come with a much wider variety of lens attachments than rangefinders, meaning you have more options for what style of photography you can do.

Warning

Always use a lens cap with lots of light in settings. Failing to use a lens cap can permanently damage the camera.

Compactness

Because the rangefinder eschews the mirror and prism within the camera body, they are smaller and lighter. The compact design can be excellent for those who travel extensively and need to save space.

In addition, rangefinder lenses are significantly smaller than those for SLRs, saving even more space. And they also make less of a slapping noise because there’s no internal mirror movement with each photo.

STAT: Of those living in a household where the total income was 100,000 U.S. dollars or more per year, 58 percent said that they owned Canon products. (source)

Affordability

Rangefinders are considered a more vintage-style camera, meaning they are pretty pricey. It’s possible to find range finders for as cheap as $200, but many, like a Leica M model, will cost thousands.

You can also find cheaper DSLRs, but the average cost is around $400-$500.

Rangefinder Camera vs DSLR FAQs

Is there a difference between an SLR and DSLR?

In the mechanics, there is no difference. The difference is that the DSLR uses a digital sensor, whereas the SLR uses physical film to record photos.

What is the typical distance a rangefinder can shoot?

The distance for your rangefinder camera depends more on your zoom lenses than on the camera itself.

Do rangefinder cameras come with autofocus?

It's rare to find a rangefinder with an autofocus feature. While there have been models to incorporate the feature, most have a manual focus.
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