Tag: Bessa

CCR Review 70 – Voigtländer Bessa

CCR Review 70 – Voigtländer Bessa

When it comes to folding cameras, not all cameras are created equal. Many are simply box cameras dressed up with some bellows, while others have full on rangefinders and exposure control. While the Voigtländer Bessa is not top dog, it certainly is a little more usable than a simple box. The Bessa is a step up from a simple box but lacks a rangefinder to couple the manual focus. Couple this with a solid lens, with a full range of aperture and shutter speeds, makes this a solid choice if you’re looking for a folder. The Bessa is a long line of folding cameras that began in 1929 and lasted until 1949 with several changes over the course of product manufacture. This particular model dates between 1935 and 1937. It came into my collection through my Uncle Harvey, brother-in-law to my mother, it belonged to his father who used it well into the 1950s before switching to motion picture film to capture family memories. Special thanks to Uncle Harvey for trusting me with a family camera.

CCR Review 70 - Voigtlander Bessa

  • Make: Voigtländer
  • Model: Bessa
  • Type: Folder
  • Format: Medium, 120/620, 6×4.5/6×9
  • Lens: Fixed, Voigtländer Anastigmat Voigtar 1:4,5 F=11cm
  • Year of Manufacture: 1935-1937

CCR Review 70 - Voigtlander Bessa

CCR Review 70 - Voigtlander Bessa

The Good
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past reviews is that age doesn’t always mean poor performance. In fact, I’ve had successfully quality images from cameras far older than the Bessa. And the Bessa certainly delivers, the Voigtar lens, based on the Anastigmat design, provides quality sharp images at any aperture, I mostly shot these at f/11 or f/8, the reason will come in the next paragraph. While not exactly the fastest lens on the block at only f/4.5 I only found this to be a problem once and only because I was shooting the film at ASA-50. When it comes to handling, the Bessa is a decent shooter. Probably top on my list is that there’s a shutter release on the lens door, makes it nice and easy to shoot either landscape or portrait. By default the camera shoots in the big and beautiful 6×9 format and produces fantastic images as such, the 11cm (110mm) lens is perfect for the format with no vignetting or fall-off in any corner. But you will only get eight frames per roll. However, you can add a mask to the camera and use the second frame counter window and produce 6×4.5 format images that double the number of exposures per roll to 16. Of course, you need to add a mask to the camera, a mask I don’t have but can be produced I have yet to create such a mask. And finally, the camera is designed to accept both 120 and 620 film rolls, while less of an issue today such compatibility between Kodak Films and everyone else certainly helped the average photographer.

CCR Review 70 - Voigtlander Bessa

CCR Review 70 - Voigtlander Bessa

The Bad
The Bessas are old cameras, with the earliest models being 88 years old and the youngest dating to 68, not exactly spring chickens. I was lucky that this particular camera is in great working shape. The first thing is that the bellows can get damaged. While some might let in just a bit of light and give a distressed look to the images, others might leak like a sieve and ruin any film run through the camera. Lenses haze over, shutter stick, so if you are looking at one, try and sort out the general shooting capacity of the camera before purchase. Let’s move on, there are two serious issues and two minor issues I have with this particular camera. The first and most severe in my mind is the film winder. Being a dual 120/620, it’s a pretty substantial piece of metal, and I found that it chewed through the plastic take up reel. Thankfully I was able to run through the eight frames before it stopped advancing and I was able to extract the film with a change bag. But for future use, I’ll probably want to stick to either a 120 or 620 spool that is metal. The second issue I have with the camera I eluded to in the previous paragraph, and that has to do with focus. The camera is a manual focus lens without a rangefinder, so you have to give a rough guess on the focus or use an external rangefinder, realising this I made a point to shoot mostly to infinity and stop it down to at least f/11 to get a decent depth of field. The only shot I made at f/8, I missed focus by a touch. If I take this camera out again, I’ll be sure to pack the external rangefinder; it worked great with the Pony 135. The two remaining issues are minor, first is that the lens is uncoated, so you only want to shoot black & white film through the camera to get decent results. And secondly, the shutter speed maxes out at 1/125 of a second. So you don’t want to go shooting Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5+ through the camera unless you plan on seriously pulling the film in development and exposure.

CCR Review 70 - Voigtlander Bessa

CCR Review 70 - Voigtlander Bessa

The Lowdown
When it comes to folding cameras this one, despite the issue with focusing, is a real winner. Certainly would be a good choice if you frequent World War II reenactments, even if it’s just a prop but kudos if you use it to shoot. And if you do find a camera in good working order, it certainly won’t let you down. If you do shoot with the camera, remember when this camera came out Ilford had just released HP (the great-grand daddy of HP5+) and rated at ASA-160. You’ll mostly want to stick to Ilford FP4+, Kodak TMax 100, Ilford Pan F+, Fomapan 100, Ultrafine Xtreme 100, or Rollei RPX 25 to get the best results out of this camera. And the best part is shutter speeds are perfect for Sunny-16 style metering (1/125 to 1/25) and if you’re lucky enough you might even find one with an original metal reel inside. Just remember to save the reel or simply remind you lab to return it.

All Photos Taken In The Distillery District, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Voigtländer Bessa – Voigtländer Anastigmat Voigtar 1:4,5 F=11cm – Ultrafine Xtreme 100 @ ASA-50
Blazinal (1+50) 9:00 @ 20C

CCR Review 66 – Voigtländer Bessa R2M

CCR Review 66 – Voigtländer Bessa R2M

As someone who learned photography on a rangefinder, I have a soft spot for the style of camera. And as a student of history, being able to shoot on a camera made by the oldest photography companies in the world (sort of) is even better. Taking both these facts, the Bessa R2M is a joy of a camera. Joy in the sense that it is a very accessible camera, pretty much if you can shoot any film camera you can use this one, and without the gnashing of teeth that might come with a German rangefinder camera. Now as you may (or may not) know that Voigtlanders aren’t Voigtlanders anymore, the camera bodies are produced by Cosina. While some might take this as a slight, these are still fantastic cameras that live up to the historical name that they bear. Special thanks to John Meadows for loaning out his baby for this review.

CCR Review 66 - Voigtlander Bessa R2M

The Dirt

  • Make: Cosina
  • Model: Voigtländer Bessa R2M
  • Type: Rangefinder
  • Format: 135 (35mm), 24x36mm
  • Lens: Interchangeable, Leica M-Mount
  • Year of Manufacture: 2006+

CCR Review 66 - Voigtlander Bessa R2M

CCR Review 66 - Voigtlander Bessa R2M

The Good
The R2M begs to be used, I mean I’ve shot a roll of film through it, it almost calls out for me to take it out for one more round. It fits well in hand, easy to load with standard open back film loading, a quick short film advance allows for reasonably fast shooting. And it isn’t too heavy so great as a carry around, travel, or photo walk camera. While it does have a meter, you have to set the exposure yourself. There is the R2A which has aperture priority auto-exposure. But if you’ve shot with a Nikon FM2, you’ll be able to navigate the R2M just fine. The meter display is in the viewfinder and gives good feedback with 2, 1, and 0.5 stops over and under exposed plus a circle to indicate a correct exposure and the meter is dead on accurate. The viewfinder is bright, and the focus assist square is clear, I never missed focus on any of my shots, even close up. The biggest challenge with rangefinders is composition because the viewfinder is offset from the lens. The R2M has built in composition guides to reduce parallax errors and help with image framing as you can adjust these lines based on the lens you have mounted. A selector switch allows for 35, 50, 75, and 90 lenses with the 35 and 90 focal lengths grouped, but it is easy to tell them apart. The thing that makes the camera shine is the fact that it has a Leica M-Mount. They produced two other in Bessa line that has a Contax RF mount (Like my Contax IIIa) and a Nikon S-Mount. But by including the M-Mount, they open up the camera to a wide range of lenses from several top optical manufacturers.

CCR Review 66 - Voigtlander Bessa R2M

CCR Review 66 - Voigtlander Bessa R2M

The Bad
If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while now, you’ll know that I can have a hard time finding fault in cameras, but I have yet to find a camera that is perfect. And while the R2M comes close there are a few things that I can’t ignore. While the viewfinder is excellent, I do take issue with a couple of things. First is the meter display, I’m not sure if it has to do with my glasses, or the environment I was in, but the metering display seemed to get lost in the frame on occasion, and I had to do some unusual tilting of my head to find it again. The second is the lack of a diopter, so if the ‘lost’ meter is because of my glasses I have no built-in way to adjust the viewfinder lens so that I can use it without my glasses. And finally there is the price, now this isn’t a Leica, so it doesn’t carry the same price tag. And you can pick up a camera and Voigtländer branded lens for around 1,500$ new. However, when you start to expand your lenses even under the Voigtländer brand, you’ll start to see prices climb. And if you want to go to other brands like Leica or Carl Zeiss you’ll start to feel the burn in your wallet. Of course, you can get some inexpensive options from Lomography if you’re into that. There is the used market as well, but even with those, M-Mount lenses hold their value.

CCR Review 66 - Voigtlander Bessa R2M

CCR Review 66 - Voigtlander Bessa R2M

The Lowdown
I’m glad I got a chance to try this camera out. I looked at getting one a while back now, and I’m somewhat glad I didn’t. The R2M and the other models in the line are dangerous cameras to own because they will become a bit of a money pit, and I’m talking about expanding your lens collection. It is, however, a great camera if you stick with one or two lenses that you can find on the used market. And the sad part is that they are rare finds on the used market. They are a great option to get a body only if you’ve become disillusioned with your Leica M series cameras but want to keep your lenses, or as a backup to a Leica body and you don’t want to drop the cash for a second. And while I may not plan on buying one, these cameras are worth a second look if you have a hankering for a Leica.

All Photos Taken In Unionville, Ontario, Canada
Voigtländer Bessa R2M – Voigtländer Heliar Classic 50mm f2 – ORWO UN54+ @ ASA-100
Kodak HC-110 Dil. H 7:30 @ 20C