Rangefinder

Not Second Fiddle, A review of the Canon GIII QL 17

I've been using the Canon GIII QL17 for the past couple of months. Before that my main rangefinders was the Leica M4-2 and the Canon P. Both the Leica and the Canon P are much larger than the GIII QL17 and things I wasn't totally comfortable traveling with, mostly due to how rough I am on my gear during travel. Things get banged around and I'm not a huge fan of shooting with flashy cameras. So far the Canon GIII has been an amazing travel partner.

The Canon GIII is a very productive and solid shooter. I purchased one with a broken shutter that needed repairing and a broken meter that I can live with. The lens is a 40mm F1.7 with a very awkward 48mm diameter ring, luckily there are plenty of step up rings. Having a large aperture gives you a little bit more reach when you need it.

Unlike the Leica IIf which was my previous travel rangefinder the GIII is extremely straightforward to use. The QL (Quick Load) feature makes loading film quick and stress free. You drop the film on the plane and you can start shooting immediately, I end up getting an extra frame or two on each roll.

The camera is light but made of sturdy materials. While I don't feel that it can withstand a large fall it has been an object that has lasted many decades and works fine mechanically. I replaced the light seals when I got the camera and haven't found any other issues that need addressing.

There are a few glaring issues I find with the camera. When I first began using the camera I had a had time with framing. Unlike the simpler Leica and other rangefinders the incorporation of the light meter readings on the right hand doesn't give the photographer an intuitive frame of reference for where the image ends on the right side of the frame, it actually ends at the left most edge of the meter bar. I've gotten used to shooting with it over time but I still find myself questioning where I am in the frame.

The most problematic issue of the GIII is the lack of zone focusing on the lens. While this camera was aimed at the prosumer this is a gigantic oversight. Being able to use a rangefinder to control focus is something we can take for granted but I'd trade a rangefinder for zone focusing marks any day. With a 40mm lens and a compact package this camera benefits greatly from being able to set your focus at a hyperlocal distance and fire aware. I found myself having to memorize a few measurements and contemplated if I needed to add the zone focusing marks myself to increase the functionality of the camera. I can see how Canon tried to market this camera to a wider audience but a few extra lines of paint would have made this an even more perfect camera.

Lastly the images from the camera are great. Colors are accurate and punchy, even across different film stocks. The black and white images are sharp and contrasty and the lens doesn't bring in too much character but isn't boring as well.

One thing I'm realizing is that the images a camera takes also is affected by the ability of the camera to blend in. The GIII is as inconspicuous camera and sometimes looks more like a toy than a serious instrument. For shooting in tight settings and in close quarters taking out the GIII doesn't change the moment, like a Leica and Hasselblad do. Because of it's approachability I find it easier to take intimate shots and get closer to people.

If you're looking for a Leica alternative for a rangefinder you can't do much better than the Canon GIII QL17. It's a simple camera that has almost all the things I love in a rangefinder. More importantly, it is a camera that totally gets out of the way and allows you to just focus on capturing images and moving around as simply as possible.

How I Got a Cheap Leica

So how do you get a cheap Leica? Well you have to do two things: be patient and get lucky. 

I had wanted a Leica for a long time. Doing this camera review/manual business for multiple years I was getting a little tired of buying cameras and constantly thinking about gear. Leica's since their inception have been cameras that people lusted after and copied. They've also been used by some of the greatest photographers on the planet to shoot some of the greastest photos of all time. For me getting a Leica was a way to turn off a silly question, "maybe new gear will make you better". By most standards, there isn't anything better than a Leica. There was only one issue, I didn't want to pay Leica prices, the $$$$ of cameras. 

Adorama camera has been a place that always have good camera deals and I'd noticed they had some really questionable prices on Leica cameras, see screenshot below. The catch with these cameras were they had some functional issues, maybe the shutter was jammed or the rangefinder needed adjustement. The deals would only last minutes though, so I needed a way to figure out a way to get there first and grab it. After some googling, I stumbled across website change monitoring programs that alerted you to when a website changed. Visualping was the service I used and after some tinkering the site was aimed at the used rangefinders section on Adorama. 

Like how is this possible?

Like how is this possible?

From there it was a waiting game. I would get an alert in my inbox and check to see what had changed. On one lucky day I saw my beloved M4-2 get listed for $200, the only thing wrong was it needed a rangefinder adjustment and a missing frame selector tab. I added it to my cart, threw in a pack of T-MAX 400 and fist pumped the air. To be alive. 

The Receipt of the Crime 

The Receipt of the Crime 

The camera came a few days later and it was in great condition. The only issue was that it had some missing parts and the bottom plate was silver instead of the matching black. I called Youxin Ye to solve the missing parts issue, he forwarded me to Leica represenative in NYC who shipped me the frame selector tab from Germany. Twenty-six dollars and a week later I installed it on my camera. I later took the camera to a friend to adjust the rangefinder. 

Next was lenses, getting a Leica is one thing but the lenses are where things really get expensive. I planned on using a Jupiter 8 lens or the Japanese Summicron, Canon 50mm F1.8 Rangefinder Lens, but thought it was a bit silly to get a Leica and then cheap out on the one thing that matters, lenses. Ideally I'd like to have a 50mm but those were out of my price range (sub $500) and I focused in a 40mm Minolta Rokkor Lens that was made in Japan. While not technically a Leica lens it was an M mount lens, highly regarded and affordable. I purchased one a little more conventionally by getting a copy from Japan via Ebay. 

So has it changed me? Yeah, it has. After shooting with it for a for almost a year now I'm glad I took the plunge. I have taken some of the best images I have ever taken in the past year and have purchased the least amount of cameras also. I think my improvement has more to do with the latter though, you get better at what you put your time into. If you put your time into buying cameras you'll become an expert at that. When I stopped trying to buy cameras I started reading more about photography and giving myself goals with photography. I shot a bunch more and got better at shooting. 

You may of noticed I'm not saying much about the camera making me better, because it hasn't. Gear helps but without having a vision and a goal I'd probably be in the same place. This doesn't mean I won't stop shooting the camera but now I know it isn't everything. I just had to prove it to myself. 

*Side note: The camera is really amazing, it's the most fun thing to use and everything is in the right place. Especially the film advance which is so buttery smooth you have to feel it in person to adequately describe it. It's got some issues like the inane film loading mechanism but it's the best camera I've ever used and handled. But still, it's just a tool. Just a really really nice tool. 

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