Konica Hexar RF Review: A Forgotten Gem
Konica Hexar RF Rangefinder Camera Review: A Forgotten Gem
Konica Hexar RF Review: A Forgotten Gem
A High-End Alternative to Leica M7
When I was researching for my first Leica camera, I briefly considered the Konica Hexar but ultimately found it to be too expensive compared to the Leica M6, which was priced around USD1100 to 1500 at the time. It was an easy decision for me to opt for the red dot instead of a Japanese-made film camera. However, after a decade, I revisited the Konica Hexar RF because it is comparatively more affordable than other Leica cameras. As a Leica Noctilux user, I always look for the fastest rangefinder available to achieve the desired bokeh effect and blur out unwanted subjects and backgrounds in urban environments like Hong Kong. The Hexar RF’s fast rangefinder and ease of use became appealing to me.
I also appreciate the convenience of having a camera that can handle everything from film loading and advancing to rewinding the film back into the canister. This makes shooting more enjoyable as I can focus on the shot rather than worrying about the technicalities. The camera is powered by two CR2 batteries, which could be seen as a drawback for some since it may be difficult to find repair services unless a donor body is available. However, I prefer to worry less and shoot more, and the Hexar RF allows me to do just that.
Design and Features
The Konica Hexar RF rangefinder camera is a high-end alternative to the Leica and Zeiss Ikon rangefinder cameras. It was introduced in 1999 but only on the market for four years. It is an entirely electronic camera that utilises a rangefinder system for focusing. Its viewfinder is notably bright and clear, boasting a magnification of 0.6x that accommodates those who wear glasses and those who prefer wide-angle lenses. The viewfinder also displays framelines for 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, and 90mm lenses, making it an ideal option for a wide range of photographic genres.
Constructed from high-quality materials and featuring a titanium body with a durable black finish, the camera boasts a classic, minimalist design reminiscent of the Leica M-series cameras. However, the finish on the Hexar RF may be prone to chipping, though it is still more resilient than the paint on the Hasselblad Xpan. While the camera is not particularly quiet, it does possess a unique motorised film advance system capable of shooting up to 2.5 frames per second. Additionally, the camera feels distinctive in the hand due to its grippy neoprene surfaces that make it easy to hold onto.
One of the standout features of the Hexar RF is its built-in light meter, which uses a centre-weighted system to produce accurate exposures across a wide range of lighting conditions. This metering system is even precise enough to work well for colour slide film. Another unique feature of the camera is its Aperture Priority (AE) and Aperture Priority with Exposure Lock (AEL) modes. These modes are particularly useful for situations where I need to lock in an exposure reading and then compose the shot without worrying about changing lighting conditions throwing off my exposure values. Unlike the Leica M7, the AEL function is activated by half-pressing the shutter while full press is used for AE.
Shutter Speed and Speed Dial
For those who enjoy shooting at wide open, this camera is an absolute game-changer. It offers a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000, which is two stops faster than the 1/1000 found on any Leica camera, albeit with a louder shutter sound. The control arrangement is also thoughtfully designed. The shutter speed dial is situated at the back right corner, allowing you to change it without having to readjust your grip on the camera. Your thumb can easily turn the dial, while your index finger can switch the camera on via a shutter release coaxial switch.
Loading the Hexar RF is a straightforward process that involves pulling the film leader to the designated red mark and closing the back of the camera. Once closed, pressing the shutter release will advance the film to frame 1. In the event of a loading issue, the camera’s counter will flash to indicate a problem. Film counter is a digital display on the top left corner whenever you switch on the camera.
Metering and Exposures Compensation
When using manual mode, adjust the shutter speed to align the blinking and solid readings. The shutter speed scale ranges from 1/4000 to 1/4, and an indicator with a +/- sign appears when exposure compensation is activated. The recommended or actual shutter speed in AE mode is displayed on a vertical scale found on the left side of the viewfinder. It’s also easy to modify the exposure compensation by turning the main dial, which offers precise and well-placed clicks with each turn. However, any shutter speed slower than 1/4 cannot be displayed in the viewfinder.
With a roll of 135 film that has 36 exposures, the camera can extract approximately 37 pictures. Once the roll reaches the end, the camera will automatically rewind (although it’s possible to interrupt this by turning the camera off). Alternatively, you can use the rewind button, which has a nub on the strap buckle, to manually rewind the film. The camera will pause briefly before pulling the film leader in.
Battery Usage and Checker
The camera’s single LCD display shows both the frame counter and battery indicator, which remains visible at all times. With a single set of batteries, the camera can last for around 120 rolls of film. It’s important to note that the camera will automatically enter sleep mode after 10 minutes of inactivity. Despite showing a low battery warning, the camera can still shoot a full roll of 36 frames. This impressive battery life is due to the use of two CR2 lithium batteries. Personally, I prefer using a rechargeable CR2 battery, which can be used with my Hasselblad Xpan, Instax Square, and Fujifilm Klasse S cameras.
Comparison to Zeiss Ikon and Leica M7
The Konica Hexar RF is a popular rangefinder camera that is often compared to the Zeiss Ikon and Leica M7, both of which also offer AE mode. While the Zeiss Ikon and Leica M7 are excellent cameras in their own right, they are also significantly more expensive than the Hexar RF. Although the Hexar RF’s viewfinder is not as large as those on the other two cameras, it is still bright and spacious enough for most photographers. That being said, some might argue that the Zeiss Ikon boasts the best viewfinder with super clear and bright optics and well-illuminated framelines.
When it comes to features, the Hexar RF holds its own against the Zeiss Ikon and Leica M7. In fact, it offers some unique advantages such as a motorised film advance system, which is not present on the other two cameras. Additionally, the Hexar RF’s fastest shutter speed of 1/4000 is two stops faster than the Leica M7 and one stop faster than the Zeiss Ikon, making it an appealing option for photographers who need to shoot quickly.
In early models of the camera, rangefinder alignment could be problematic and would often become misaligned. One way to distinguish between early and late models is to check for the presence of a lens release guard. Late models have a guard surrounding the lens release button. Fortunately, this issue can be resolved either by a professional repairman equipped with the appropriate tools or by attempting the repair oneself. In contrast, the Leica M7 is fully electronic and may prove to be costly or even impossible to repair due to the need for specialised spare parts or circuit board replacement. In case the film was not loaded correctly with the canister in its proper position, there is a possibility of light leaks occurring.
This camera does not support TTL flash, so if you plan on using it with a flash, it’s important to keep this limitation in mind.
The Hexar RF is a unique camera that offers several features not found on Leica rangefinder cameras (except Leica M7), including the aperture priority mode and the motorised film advance system. While it may not have the same prestige as the Zeiss Ikon or Leica M7 that features a much brighter and easy focusing patch, the Hexar RF is still a highly desirable camera that is well worth considering for any film photographer or film beginner. In these days, I think the Hexar RF is an underrated ultimate film rangefinder camera that we can find in the market. It is a pretty loud camera if you want to do street candid shots without disturbing your subject, Leica camera will be quieter to do so. Overall handling is great and it is not just my backup film camera but my daily camera whenever I need that extra 2 stops with my Noctilux and the autonomy to simply just snap and go without thinking too much about controls.