Back in 2011, I was getting more and more into rangefinder cameras and through an interesting network channel, found out about a rare rangefinder available as new old stock. It was the Konica Hexar RF Rangefinder kit with a 50mm f2 Hexanon lens and flash. It was on the back shelf at a camera store that was closing down.
I bought the kit.
The Hexar RF was considered the last state of the art film-based rangefinder ever made, and what people hoped the Leica M7 would have been when that camera was introduced in 2002. The Hexar RF has a motorized film advance. It can shoot at 2.5 frames a second. It has an automatic exposure mode with a built in centre-weighted light meter. It is an “M Mount” camera, meaning it can use any lens designed to work with the Leica M system. The battery life is also fantastic, with the ability to shoot 140 rolls of film on just two CR2 batteries.
It is missing TTL auto exposure for the flash, which, to be fair, no rangefinder on the planet had in 1998 when the Hexar RF was developed. It was a year or two later when Leica introduced the M6 TTL, and the M7, which came out in 2002, also had TTL auto exposure.
Hexar RF Rangefinder Story
The Konica has an interesting history and life, surrounded by some mystery, surrounded by some failed dreams. The industry was taken by surprise when Konica 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.
Some have speculated that Konica’s introduction of the Hexar RF inspired Nikon to roll out a replica of their Nikon S3 rangefinder camera in 2000, and the crazy limited edition Nikon SP rangefinder re-make in 2002. One big difference is that the Nikon re-makes are reproductions of 1950s era rangefinders. The Konica Hexar RF is a modern (by 1998 standards) camera.
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.
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.
I ended up only putting one roll of film through it. Then I removed the batteries and boxed it all back up.
Why Use a Film Rangefinder?
Using a rangefinder, even a rangefinder with automatic exposure modes forces one to get back to something many photographers used to know: how to judge light and shoot accordingly.
Using a film camera also forces photographers to really think about the scene and circumstance they are shooting, since the frames you can take is a small finite number.
There’s also the mystery involved… did the photos turn out? Did I capture the scene as I intended? Was my exposure okay? Won’t know until the film is developed!
Plus I’ll be honest: there’s still nothing quite like film for rendition of an image capture. Some digital cameras try their best to replicate the grain and noise and depth of film captures, but there’s always that kind of sense of “digital wash” over them all.