Konica Hexar RF (1999)

The Hexar RF is an interchangeable-lens rangefinder with automatic exposure. It uses the ‘M-mount’, originally designed by Leica. Konica beat its competitors by introducing, in 1999, the first M mount camera after the patent for this mount had lapsed. Therefore, the Hexar RF is most often judged in comparison to the Leica M6 and Leica M7. This is only to be expected when a camera enters a well-established market dominated since time immemorial by a legendary brand. In any case such comparisons are not detrimental to the Hexar RF, as it is a remarkable camera in its own right.


 Photo: Mike Funnell. Reproduced with permission.

The viewfinder of the Hexar RF is very large and bright, if a touch darker than that of the Leica. Focusing is also less precise, largely on account of the magnification ratio, which is 0.60%, against 0.72% for the Leica. Just as with the Leica viewfinder, that of the Hexar RF has frames for different focal lengths (28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 90mm, and 135mm), In addition, it is equipped with a diode scale, probably the best diode display in a rangefinder.

The Hexar RF is the only M or M39 mount rangefinder ever made with aperture priority automatic exposure. The metering range is of +1,0 EV to 18,0 EV (at 100 ISO with a lens set to f2,0). It is possible to compensate exposure by +/- 2 EV by increments of 1/3. Until the introduction of the Leica M7 in the spring of 2002, the Hexar RF was also the sole M mount rangefinder with exposure lock. Contrary to Leica rangefinders, all of which are equipped with the horizontally traveling cloth shutter, the Hexar RF has a modern metallic vertically traveling shutter. This shutter is controlled electronically and its speeds go from 16s to 1/4000s. The camera’s flash synchronization is set at 1\125s.

Another detail that sets the Hexar RF apart from all other M mount rangefinders is the camera back. The film is loaded as in a SLR, but thanks to the Hexar RF auto-loading system, film manipulations are limited to inserting the film cartridge in the compartment, placing the film flat, and closing the back. The film winding motor does the rest. Its operation is quite economical as the batteries that power it (two CR2 batteries) last for over 100 film rolls. Moreover, the camera’s film advance system is equipped with an optical detector, thanks to which the camera shoots 38 frames on a 36 frame roll. 

Konica also made its own lenses for this camera. During its introduction, the Hexar RF was accompanied by three initial Hexanon M lenses: the 28mm f2.8, the 50mm f20, and the 90mm f2.8. These first three lenses were followed by three others, the 35mm f2.0, the 50mm f1.2, and the 21-35mm f/3.4-4.0 twin-focal. The 50mm f1,2 was only available with the purchase of the Hexar RF Limited, which commemorated Konica’s 120th anniversary. These lenses are made with remarkable care and precision and are very pleasant to handle. In optical terms, they are the equals of Zeiss and Leitz. 


Photo: Mike Funnell. Reproduced with permission.

Any discussion of the Hexar RF sooner or later comes down to the famous question of the compatibility (or lack thereof) of its film to flange distance with that of Leica cameras of the same mount. Certain people, especially Leica equipment aficionados, claim that there is a slight difference between the film to flange distance of the two cameras that lead to focusing problems at full aperture and close focus. On the other hand, in the Hexar RF attention is drawn to the fact that the measured differences fit within the error margin and methodological differences. Views differ. Having done some reading on the issue, it seems to me that the differences, if any, are of a minute significance. To make a long story short: Much ado about nothing. If seeing is believing, a visit to the site of Grant Heffernan should dispel any reasonable doubt. The author has placed on it a crop of a photo of a label taken at 90cm using a Hexanon 90mm mounted on a M6 body.


"I think it's a lot of bunk. Sherry Krauter, the Leica repairperson, will tell you that matches between lenses and bodies are a catch-as-catch-can unless the lens and body are specifically calibrated for each other. And that's Leica-Leica. Arthur Kramer, the former lens guru for 'Modern Photography', would only use each of his Leica lenses with a single (calibrated) body. People have had problems matching Leica lenses to LEICA bodies. And a lot of other people would uncover slight mismatches if they looked for them. So a few people have had problems matching a particular Leica lens to a particular Konica body. So what a lot of people have done it and HAVEN'T had any problems whatsoever. 

Clue #2: the 'problem' is cultural. It's not discussed in Japan at all. It's only in the English speaking lists that it's spread around, and at that, MOSTLY by people who don't have firsthand experience.

But anyway, it's a moot point for me I haven't the slightest interest in using lenses other than Konica with the Hexar RF. I used to use Konica SLRs and I loved the Hexanon lenses. [...] I LIKE Konica. I'll use Konica lenses in preference to any of the others (M-Rokkor, Rollei, Cosina-Voigtlander, Leica) that happen to fit."                  

Mike Johnston

Former Editor-in-Chief,

Photo Techniques

The Konica Hexar RF is a professional-grade camera. It is heavy, solid and meticulously finished. The top and bottom of the body are made of titanium. It is a very high-quality camera which would have been even greater had its rangefinder been as bright and precise as that of the Leica, had its shutter been even quieter and, especially, had it been equipped a TTL flash system (it is astounding that Konica would have neglected this detail). Despite these oversights, it also has the very significant advantage of costing 1/3 the price of a new Leica M7.