October 31, 2017 / By Trevor Lee / In Camera Reviews,Photo Lab Blog

How does the $200 Canon Canonet compare to a $5,000 Leica Rangefinder?

Leica Rangefinders are some of the most desirable film cameras of all time. They’re made well, look amazing, and produce beautiful results, but naturally that all comes with a cost – they aren’t cheap. That’s where the Canon Canonet QL17 comes in. Dubbed “the poor man’s Leica,” the Canonet embodies a lot of what is so appealing about Leica Rangefinders but at a fraction of the cost.

Leica vs. Canonet photo comparison

Leica vs. Canonet – A side by side comparison and photo examples between the Leica M.P. and Canonet QL17 GIII.

 

What is a rangefinder? It’s a camera with a range-finding focusing mechanism that shows two images enabling the photographer to measure the subject distance and take photographs that are in sharp focus.

 

Both are great cameras; it just depends on what you’re looking for and what your budget will allow. So if you’re trying to decide whether to spring for a Leica or get the most out of a Canonet, we’ve put together a caparison to help with your decision.

1. Cost

Let’s get it out of the way: the Canon Canonet QL17 GIII is cheap. You can usually buy them for well under $200, and since the Canonet has a fixed lens, that means you get both a camera body and a lens at that low cost. When purchasing a Leica there is a lot more to consider. Leica has made many rangefinders over the years and has a wide selection of lenses. Depending on what model you’re looking to buy, used Leica bodies start (at the low end) around $500, and brand new bodies can get all the way up to $4,500—not including a lens. Leica glass can range from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars.  While there is a major price difference between the Canonet and the Leica, the extra cost comes with value. But considering how inexpensive the Canonet really is, it’s a really good camera.

 

2. Versatility

Overall, Leica is a much more versatile camera. Unlike the Canonet’s fixed 40mm f/1.7 lens, Leica rangefinders have interchangeable lenses. Most Leica’s have in-camera light meters which are much more precise than the Canonet’s external light meter which is located on the front of the lens and can be confused by backlit scenes. When it comes to viewfinders Leica also has the Canonet beat. Leica rangefinder viewfinders are much larger and brighter than the Canonet’s, making them easier to compose and focus quickly. Leica rangefinders have a max shutter speed of 1/1000 which is one stop faster than the Canonet’s 1/500th. Lastly, Leicas can use modern day batteries while Canonet’s are older and use Mercury based batteries. Since Mercury batteries aren’t made anymore, you need to use a modern day 1.5-volt Alkaline battery which can affect the light meter a little bit.

The Canonet does have a few advantages over Leicas though. The Canonet is much smaller making it a great for travel and everyday shooting. With its quick load feature, it’s much faster and easier to load than a Leica as well. The Canonet’s 40mm f/1.7 lens is also a leaf shutter. This means it can flash sync at all of its shutter speeds, unlike the Leica’s 1/60th or below.

3. Quality

The Canonet wins hands down when it comes to affordability, but pales in comparison to the versatility of Leica Rangefinders. While totally subjective, the great equalizer of these two cameras is the quality of images they produce. Yes, when it comes to building quality, Leica definitely has the Canonet beat but when it comes to the quality of the images they produce it’s much closer. Despite being a cheap fixed lens camera, the Canonet produces incredibility sharp images. Since it has a max aperture of f/1.7 it’s also great in low light situations and produces very pleasant bokeh. Of course, you also get incredible image quality with Leica—even better—when considering all the high-end lenses they offer.

 


Photo Comparison

But instead of us telling you about it, you can see for yourself! Here’s a side by side comparison between a Leica M.P. and a Canonet QL17 GIII

Leica vs. Canonet Color Comparison
Portra 160 shot at box speed and used an external light meter – all the same exposures.  Leica MP + 35mm f/2 Summicron which is roughly a 7k combo vs. Canon Canonet QL17 GIII which cost $135.00
Leica vs. Canonet Black and White Comparison
Leica MP + 40mm f/2 Summicron with Tri-X 400 vs the Cannot with HP5 400.  This test we shot at box speed and used the camera light meters.
Leica vs. Canonet Color Comparison Leica vs. Canonet Black and White Comparison

Comparison of Kodak Tri-X vs. Ilford HP5


Conclusion

When it comes down to it, it’s crazy we’re comparing a $5,000 camera to a $200 camera. Obviously, a Leica is a better camera, but it also shows how great the Canonet is. If a Leica is out of the question budget wise, a Canonet is an extremely good alternative that performs well out of its price range.

 

Leica vs. Canonet Color Comparison | Leica vs. Canonet Black and White Comparison


 

Now that you know the comparison between the Canon Canonet and Leica Rangefinder, see our analysis of Rangefinder vs SLR Cameras.

11 responses to “How does the $200 Canon Canonet compare to a $5,000 Leica Rangefinder?”

  1. Cool! Can you think of a pair of medium-format cameras you could compare this way?

  2. Joshua Hertel says:

    Great article! Also, happy to see you have great taste in cafes. Yay for Bear Coast Coffee!

  3. Fantastic article…I haven’t been considering rangefinders yet, but you’ve provided a great resource! My photography budget is definitely a concern, so I’d be more likely to go with the Canonet… I’m also concerned with direct availability, and in my area, that the Canonet would be simpler to find. I’ve been building a solid collection of analog cameras and so far, my best finds have come from yard sales (I’m in Wisconsin USA). I have an awesome Pentax K1000 & a Minolta SRT-101 that came w a bunch of lenses (still parsing what’s the best among that collection!) I’m happy to see a solid resource for rangefinders when I’m ready for that! Thanks!! :)))

  4. Bob Nuttmann says:

    Leicas are expensive because they are made in Germany in limited quantities and because of “market” pricing. Kinda like Porsche 911’s. I would love to have an M6 or M10 with 35mm, 50mm, & 135mm. I don’t have any Leica cameras. I do have an old Voightlander Prominent that was given to me by my Dad 50 years ago. It is a nice piece of jewelry & takes pretty good pictures still.

    My experience though is that you can get very high quality film cameras that are much better quality both construction and results than a Canonet at similar money. For example an Olympus OM2n with 50mm f1.8. You can easily get one of those in great condition under $200. I also really like Minolta 600si cameras. The last one I bought for $35 with a 28-80mm zoom. It works well. I have several very high quality lenses I bought at low prices and this camera is nearly as modern as a new Nikon DSLR, but uses film. The results from the Oly or the Minolta will be much closer to the Leica. Very likely indistinguishable from the Leica.

    But frankly I still might get a Leica one of these days or a Nikon D850. If I get a Leica I think I would like an M6 with 50mm f2.

  5. R.M. Block says:

    Why were different films used in the black-and-white comparison pictures ? Don’t think that makes it easy to compare .

  6. Michael McBroom says:

    I’ve seen a couple of one-shot comparisons between the Canon QL17 GIII and a Leica before and they showed much the same results — virtually identical images. Yours reinforce this, although it appears the Canon was having a tougher time with lens flare. Might that have been because you had a hood for the Leitz lens, but not for the Canon? One problem when shooting with a rangefinder is you can’t see when this is happening. With an SLR, you will. I will often hold out a hand to block the sun and reduce flare when this occurs, but that’s kinda hard to do — or to know when to do it and at what angle to hold your hand — when shooting with a rangefinder. All the more reason to use a hood.

    Anyway, to me the result is a virtual dead heat. Which I like cuz I own a couple of the Canon QL-17 GIIIs but no Leica rangefinders.

    And thanks for giving me a dose of homesickness with all those lovely beach scenics (I lived in SoCal for 24 years). Gotta get out that way again some day soon. And maybe while I’m there, I’ll be dropping off rolls of film for you guys to develop, cuz I still shoot film — Portra, slide and B&W — and I love it.

    • I’ve got a canonet ql 17 a 28 and a Leica m6.
      I’d have to say the images are quite different in my experience, not massively, but certainly noticeably.
      The main kicker for me though is usability and versatility and why I bit the bullet to get an m6 (a few years ago now mind and I’d struggle to find one at the sameness price). I find the canonets such a fiddle to use, the viewfinders are so poor compared to the m6 and of course they’re not really manual (certainly not the 28).
      Of course it’s up to the individual to find what works best for them but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t at least try a Leica if you enjoy the rangefinder experience.

  7. Alicia Hanson says:

    Great Article! I just purchased a Canonet QL19 and I am hoping the quality is comparable to the QL17 🙂

  8. Chris Hobel says:

    I grabbed 2 low light MONSTERS—Yashica Lynx 14 and 14e w Yashinon 45mm f1.4 lens- Fully mechanical.

  9. DOUGLAS INGRAM says:

    Great little comparison and timely, too, especially as I’ve been pouring over all kinds of information to shortlist my rangefinder shopping list. Always loved Leica, but really can’t afford it as the lenses keep adding up! Anyway, wouldn’t a more air comparison have been between a Leica and a Canon P or VI rather than the Canonet? Coincidentally, I recently saw Take’s video with you and recognized his photo right away!