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’s 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 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 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 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 incredibly 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.

Leica M.P. vs Canonet QL17 GIII Photo Comparison

Portra 160 at box speed

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 $5,000 combo vs. Canon Canonet QL17 GIII which cost $135.00

Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160
Canonet – B Portra 160
Leica MP – B Portra 160

Black & White Photo Comparison

Leica MP + 40mm f/2 Summicron with Tri-X 400 vs the Cannot with HP5 400.  In this test, we shot at box speed and used the camera light meters.

Leica MP - Tri-X 400
Canonet - HP5 400
Leica MP - Tri-X 400
Canonet - HP5 400
Leica MP - Tri-X 400
Canonet - HP5 400
Leica MP - Tri-X 400
Canonet - HP5 400


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.

Kodak Tri-X 400 vs. Ilford HP5 400 film canisters iconKodak Tri-X 400 is known for its classic grain structure, a great contrast with deep blacks and pure whites, while Ilford HP5 PLUS 400 has less contrast with a subtle grain and very pleasant tones. View the Kodak Tri-X vs. Ilford HP5 Post

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

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.  In 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
34 replies on “How does the $200 Canon Canonet compare to a $5,000 Leica Rangefinder?”

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!! :)))

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.

Your Voightlander Prominent is the best camera you’ve ever had and will take the best shots. Once upon a time, my father gave me a Smena 8 for my 10th birthday.
Take care of yourself and loved ones.

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

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.

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!

Been shooting Canon since the 1970’s. I just recently picked up a Canonet G-III QL as a lark and was pleasantly surprised. Physically, despite its small size, the camera is extremely solid. Just shot a test roll of Ilford FP4 and sent in to the Darkroom for processing. I used an external light meter (Pentax Digital Spotmeter) as opposed to camera’s meter. Shots were nice and crisp, very sharp. Scanning the negatives also gave very good results. No complaints here.

PS I lived in San Clemente for seven years, but this was before I got back into film. Wish I knew about y’all back then…I would have gone back to film sooner!

Did you leave the sunhood on the Leica for this comparison? And if so was the Canonet shot without one? It seems some of the lens flares and shadow tones could be accounted to this if so. But still point well made! Canonet for the win in my book!

Thank you. A very interesting article. To be honest, I much prefer the colours from the Canonet over the Leica! A valid point made by another poster about being able to get an Olympus OM-2 with a 50mm f1.8 lens for the same, or less money. They are in a different league to the Canonet and of course give you access to the HUGE range of superb and freely available Zuiko lenses, which are a small fraction of the Leica ones.

Have a Canonet 35mm for sale along with a synclite super flash gun, bulbs and a Norwood super director light meter. Have no idea of what this is worth. Would like to know and if there is any interest, feel free to contact me at [email protected]. Please put “Canonet” in the subject line.

Buy the leica if you want to make money on the investment. If you care about the shots use anything, just learn some technique.

I bought a QL17 very cheaply – with broken glass on the viewfinder window. I simply bought the even cheaper 2.8 version and swapped the glass. It has seen service as backup for my Leica in low light music photography and the almost silent shutter means it is usable when even the Leica is too loud.
Also it is nice to use in situations when the Leica would be at risk from accident or theft.

Nice comparison!
The Leica lenses at their wide open settings will have less distortion and chroma than the Canon would.
However at F 5.6,F8,etc.,it would be a very close match.
The Canon would probably not have the number of mechanical cycles that a Leica would.
Leica is built much,much better for a purpose.
The Canon is a great camera for the price and the results would make most people very happy.
Both are marvellous cameras in their own right!

I know the Leica fans won’t agree but I actually prefer the colour on the canonet pictures. the reds and oranges just pop a tiny bit more and in terms of image quality there’s nothing really in it on these pictures. for a $50-$120 camera those pictures are astounding. I think if you’re a professional photographer – in much the same way a professional musician can make a poorer instrument sound good – you can compose and take great pictures with almost anything. Id buy one of these canonets in a heartbeat if I didn’t already have 4 cameras and in process of downsizing!

I don’t know. I bought a Canonet largely because of this article (and several others like it). Maybe I got a bad one, but I have a hard time believing a Leica wouldn’t be better in terms of lens sharpness. I have mainly been testing the Canonet wide open at portrait distance. Its fine, but just standard, nothing special. My Olympus F.zuiko 50mm 1.8 blows the Canonet away in terms of sharpness and microcontrast, so I am confused. Just wish I could have the olympus lens in a rangefinder. I’ll probably try an Olympus 35sp… Like I say, maybe I just got a bum Canonet.

I am going to reply to my own post to set the record straight. I was wrong above. My Canonet was out of alignment so I was looking at blurry photos. I fixed the alignment and it is much better now. I would say, better than the olympus 1.8. There is not a lot between the two, but the Canon seems to have a slight edge… If you can nail the focus which is very difficult (on both the Canonet and the OM-1). Anyway, glad to report that the Canonet is, in fact, great, but you want to make sure the rangefinder is aligned. Now to run several rolls of portra through it!

You can definately see a small difference in the warmth & saturation of the Leica lens, especially in the shade areas, but they’re so close! Truly, it’s hard to justify the dollar difference when the image quality is So close… I think I’ll stick to my QL17.

Today I found a black Canonet QL17 GIII in mint condition
at a second hand shop in Stockholm, Sweden.
I could not resist the deal – the price was very good, SEK 20 = USD 3 !
Where can you find a Leica at such a low price …

Hmm… wished you used the same Black & White film to make this comparison. Otherwise, it’s apples and oranges so it’s difficult to assess.

I would love to have a Leica but I’ve spent all my PPI refund ha ha. Still, this has made me even more pleased with my QL17. There is not enough of a difference in image quality for me to justify the big difference in price. It’s certainly not £5000 of an improvement. It’s like HiFi. You’re not guaranteed a very big difference in sound quality for the very big increase in price. The law of diminishing returns is a pest 🙂

The images are too small to see any sharpness difference between the cameras, as they would become apparent when printing 20×16 and above. Also I see big differences in scanning methodology where in one photo the Canonet is more green and on the other the Leica – meaning the films where not locked into identical processing to produce comparable colors. So from the color photos we can only see the differences in processing of the scanner user – not the cameras. Finally on the B&W film, all we can see is the difference between TRI-X and stock HP5.

Here’s a users comparison:
I owned a QL17 and Leica, including the 40/2 and dozens other Leica lenses and cameras. I did test shots on Tri-x. The Canon gets soft wide open and does not focus as accurately at close-distance. Also it flares a little more than Leica lenses. Its contrast is exceptionally good for B&W film (medium / low). Its lens is excellent for any use. Its rendering is comparable to early Leica lenses made till before the 90’s. It’s bokeh is good, but tends to be a little less desirable than contemporary Leica lenses on B&W. On color its so-so.

My conclusion:
Just get a Canonet whether you have a Leica or not. They are stellar cameras. In fact get a Canonet, and a Rollei 35 too (smaller, better lens, no RF coupling). And keep one in your pocket when you don’t have space for a Leica, or you don’t want to carry $10,000 around your neck.

I have got an older version of Canonet, that with a 45mm 1:1,9 lens. I have never seen sharper lens. It is razor sharp with wonderful planar-like contrast.

Both sets of images are (objectively) close enough and both (subjectively) offer innate qualities any experienced photographer can easily work with to produce (potentially) award winning images.

Rangefinders offer sharpness at slower speeds and a smaller footprint. Both cameras accomplish this. Aside from that, there really is no Leica secret sauce some people assume. Beautifully made cameras, yes. But also a luxury item that will not improve your photography more than simply putting more thought and creativity into you photos.

It all depends on use case. My idea of a great rangefinder is something that may be slightly beat up, still works well, and won’t make me hesitate leaving on a beach towel while I jump in the ocean with my loved ones.

I’d absolutely take a free Leica if it was handed to me. But I would feel no need to buy one unless my level of disposable income was at a level akin to that of royalty. I personally would spend that money on film, test shoots, and creative concepts or travel costs.

But that’s just me.

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