Friday, February 13, 2015

Voigtlander Bessa II 6x9 folder/rangefinder thoughts

As I mentioned in the last post, I recently upgraded my 6x9 folder to a Voigtlander Bessa II, one with a Color-Heliar 105mm f/3.5 lens. This is pretty much the most premium folder that Voigtlander made, save for the exceedingly rare and ridiculously expensive Bessa II with a 105mm f/4.5 APO-Lanthar. The APO Lanthar is, from what I understand, a Heliar design as well but with the apochromatic correction through the use of lanthanum glass (which is radioactive, by the way).

I own a 150mm (or 15cm) APO-Lanthar and it is indeed a fabulous lens. I use it on 4x5. I think the Heliar design itself has a justified status, and the apochromatic version is just icing on the cake.

Anyway, I showed some color photographs last time, but I did some more exacting shooting last week using PanF+ film to check out the camera more thoroughly. For the curious, I developed the film in Rodinal 1:50 for 14 minutes. PanF+ really sings in Rodinal in my opinion.

First, the good - the camera is extremely small, especially folded, and just like any of the Bessa models, is probably one of the best cameras out there in terms of negative size compared to size/weight of the camera. The Bessa II, compared to my Bessa RF, is a bit bigger and chunkier, both in the thickness and overall size of the camera. The slight increase of size doesn't bother me at all, but I do miss the additional tripod mounting hole in the Bessa RF, which was strangely omitted on the II (however, the Bessa RF ships with a 3/8" mount, rather than 1/4," which is annoying).

Also in comparison to the Bessa RF, the single combined viewfinder/rangefinder is so much nicer to shoot with compared to the RF model. But it's not all good. The viewfinder eyepiece is very small and squinty, especially compared to some nicer RF cameras out there such as a Leica. I can also compare it to the much larger Linhof Technika 70, which has a massive viewfinder and gorgeous rangefinder - much superior, but at the expense of being probably 10x the size and weight of the Bessa.

Now the bad. If you read about the Bessa folders on the internet, you'll find a lot of people saying the struts aren't sturdy and the lens will generally be cocked slightly left or right, causing focus shift from one side of the photo to the other. My old Bessa RF did not have this problem at all. However, in contrast, this Bessa II seems to have a very, very slight focus shift problem from left to right. It seems to focus slightly farther away to the right side of the image. However my more exacting test with PanF+ ended up being really inconclusive on this so I could be wrong, but nevertheless, I definitely saw a bit of shift in some photos, so it might be that or possibly film slack with such a large negative. Another possible problem is the rangefinder calibration, despite just having had a CLA.

Speaking of negative size, one quirk of the Bessa folders is their negative size. Nominal 6x9 negatives aren't really 6x9 centimeters. Generally, 120 cameras shoot 56mm on the side perpendicular to the film roll, and the other side varies depending on the format (6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8, 6x8, 6x12, etc.). A true 3:2 ratio, with the short side being 56mm, should be 84mm on the long side. Instead, the Bessa is just about a full 90mm on the long side. So it ends up being a very panoramic-looking format, even with just an extra 6mm on that side. So I generally have cropped a bit of that side when shooting verticals, as I did above on these two images.

As you can see in the picture above, the Heliar lens does have gorgeous out-of-focus rendering (bokeh). This was shot at f/4. If that is your thing, this is a great camera/lens. Especially for portraiture, which is one reason I think I will use this camera more as a people/travel camera than landscapes. The other reason being that I do think this lens is as suited for landscape work as some of my other cameras, with the fixed 105mm lens - at least in my style of shooting anyway. It's a bit too long of a lens. A 50mm or 65mm lens would be nice. A modern Bessa III W (wide) with a 55mm lens - actually made by Fuji - is available, but it's only 6x7, doesn't fold, and is also really expensive. I don't consider that camera being in the same "style" or heritage as the Bessa II personally.

But speaking of the lens, it is also lower contrast than most of my lenses, even though it is coated and a bit more modern than even the older Skopar on the Bessa RF. Again, this might be really suited to portraiture.

All-in-all, I think I need more time with this camera to learn its quirks and strengths. As a travel camera, the huge negative but small camera can't be beat. I think after learning its quirks, I will enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. Purchased a Bessa II this fall, but haven't really tested it yet. Put a couple rolls of ufx400 through it, but discovered that the rangefinder is off. will probably send to certo6 in the spring. I tried to adjust but the screw is too tight. beautiful piece otherwise, but quite heavy, comparable to a Monitor 620, I think.