Voigtlander Vito B & BL
Vito B (BL details lower down)
This is a very nice camera from the 1950s (1956 for this camera). It is well designed and well made – no plastic (at least not visibly) and the pressings and millings are neatly finished. It is a pleasure to look at and to hold.
- lens: Color-Skopar
- focal length: 50 mm
- apertures: f3.5 to f16
- focus range: 0.8 m (2.6 ft)
- lens fitting: fixed
- shutter: Prontor SVS
- speeds: 1 s to 1/300 s
- flash: PC socket
- film size: 35mm
Voigtlander’s Vito B was their first rigid 35mm camera – made in Braunschweig, Germany. It was brought out in 1954 and was a replacement for the excellent Vito II . It was discontinued about 1961. The Vito B spawned a number of other cameras – Vitomatics I and II and the BL series. These had built-in light meters and, in the case of the Vitomatic II, a coupled rangefinder. The price new in England was around £24 for the model with the Prontor SVS shutter. In 1959, a new model was brought out with a larger bright-line viewfinder. The camera is only 115 mm wide, 70mm front to back and 70 mm high. This fits well into the hand and is small enough to fit into a coat pocket. It also has a lens hood which adds a further 25 mm to its length. This is the successor to the Vito II folding camera and is both slightly smaller and slightly heavier than its predecessor but with the disadvantage for carrying that the lens does not fold away. The main structure of the camera is die cast with pressed chrome plated covers.
The film advance lever falls nicely to the thumb in use but travels well to the front of the camera which is a bit awkward in use. There is also an accessory shoe on top which is designed for a rangefinder as much as for a flash gun. There is a PC (for Prontor Compur) socket on the underside of the lens for a flash gun – the camera can synchronise for bulb flash (M) and electronic flash (X). The flash synchronising lever is also used to set the shutter delay timer (V for Vorlaufwerk) . The shutter is cocked by advancing the film – an improvement over the Vito II which had a manual cocking lever on the shutter housing. It is also an improvement over the later Vito Automatic I where the shutter release also cocked the shutter during the first part of its travel.
The lens is a 50mm Color-Skopar with a maximum aperture of f3.5. This lens is based on Zeiss Ikon’s Tessar lens – four elements, two of which are cemented together and air gaps between the others. These lenses are surprisingly good, especially if you stop the lens down to f8. Focussing is by way of the whole lens assembly so image quality is not reduced as you focus closer. The lens takes a 32 mm push fit filter or lens hood.
Focussing is either scale focussing which relies on you knowing the distance to the subject or zone focussing with two settings – o which focusses the lens to between 15 feet and infinity and ߜ which focusses the lens to between 8 and 18 feet. Both of these need the aperture to be set to f5.6 or better. Voigtländer produced a small rangefinder to fit on the accessory shoe which allowed accurate measurement of the distance but this was not coupled to the focusing and needed the user to read off the distance from the rangefinder and then set that distance on the focussing ring.
Behind the lens is a either a three speed Pronto or an eight speed Prontor-SVS shutter. There is also a shutter delay timer but on old cameras it is supposed to be a bad idea to use this – although on my 56 year old camera it works fine on fast speeds (1/100, 1/300) but not at all on any of the slower speeds. The shutter works quite well at faster speeds from 1/300 to 1/25) but is very slow indeed on the slower speeds – 1/10 second is actually above five seconds! This probably means that the shutter mechanism needs a service but I have to ask if the cost of this is warranted. I have found on other cameras that the shutter works better after it has been used a few times. When acquiring a new old camera it is worth bearing in mind that the cameras has probably been sitting unused in a drawer for the last thirty years or so.
The film chamber opens in an unusual way – first you open a small door in the base and then the back will swing open. This is designed to make inserting a film easier and works quite well but for some reason Voigtländer abandoned this on subsequent cameras. Fitting the film is extremely easy. The film sprocket holes fit over a large toothed wheel which serves to cock the shutter when the film is advanced. For this reason, an empty camera will not allow you to fire the shutter. When the film is fitted, you have to turn a toothed wheel on the underside to set the number of frames available. This number appears in a window just above the lens and shows the number of frames still available – the camera counts down from 24/36 to zero. There is also a strange prong just below the lens – this appears to be a foot so the camera will stand on a flat surface when using the shutter delay timer but no mention is made of it in the manual.
The view finder is very small being 8mm in diameter at the rear and 10×16 mm in the front. This means the view is rather smaller than real life at about two thirds but is adequate and certainly bright enough.
The pictures that this camera produces are good even by modern standards.
The Vito BL is based on the Vito B mark II – that is, the version with the larger viewfinder. There are two changes. One is the addition of a light meter to the camera. The second is these of an EV enabled shutter (I am given to understand that some Vito B cameras also had EV enabled shutters but I have never seen one). The shutter is a Prontor SVS – the same as the Vito B above.
The light meter uses a selenium cell which does not need a battery to work. Selenium light meter‘s get an undeservedly bad press predicated on their losing sensitivity over time. While this is theoretically correct, I have yet to see a selenium meter that was not still accurate, even with meters that are over 55 years old.
With the design of the meter, film speed (ISO) is set by turning a knurled knob on the back of the top plate. This moves a series of numbers into view. Each series is identified by a letter – each letter represents a different ASA/ISO or DIN rating. B is 12 DIN/12 ASA, C is 15 DIN/25 ASA, D is 18 DIN/50 ASA, E is 21 DIN/100ASA, F is 24 DIN/200 ASA and G is 27 DIN/400 ASA. For those who are not aware, films speeds double with 3 added to the DIN rating. 24 DIN is twice as fast as 21 DIN. With ASA/ISO, double the film speed has double the ASA rating. 400 ASA is twice as fast as 200 ASA.
To read the meter, turn the knob on the back until the letters representing your film speed comes into view. You then point the camera at the subject and look at the needle in the meter display. It will be sitting in either a white or a black zone. At the left edge of the zones are the EV values. The EV value adjacent to the zone the needle is in is then set on the EV range on the shutter – to do this, you have to depress a chrome lug on the left, besides the EV 2.
The EV enabled shutter has the usual shutter speed and aperture rings but they are linked by a third ring – the EV ring (EV stands for Exposure Value). When you set the EV value from the light meter, you link a range of shutter speeds to a range of apertures. You can then turn the shutter speed ring to select a combination of shutter speed and aperture but only those that give the required exposure (it is rather like P mode on a digital camera in that a respect). See three photos below. The range of EVs available are from 2 to 18. EV 2 is 2 seconds at f/3.5 and EV 18 is 1/300 seconds at f/22. A summers day in England is usually going to be about EV 14 to EV 15.
In every other aspect, this Vito BL is the same as a Vito B.
Photos from the Vito B:
7 thoughts on “Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL”
Hi John, nice review of these jewel-like little cameras. On my recently-acquired BL, the meter is the circular unit made by Bewi. I am still testing if I can trust it. If I set the exposure index (EI) to about one quarter of the EI on my Gossen Luna Pro digital, the readings are seasonably similar – sometimes. But sometimes, the selenium Bewi is way off. I have not found a zero setting or adjustment screw on the Bewi. Maybe it was set at the factory, and that is that.
I have a lovely Vito BL. What a joy. The fit and finish is as good as it gets. The 4 element f3.5 50mm Color -Skopar is one very sharp lens. My circular BEWI selenium light meter is quite interesting. Press a little button and a circular dial spins. When you let go of the button it stops at the EV reading for the combined shutter/aperture mechanism. The viewfinder is bright and a 1:1 image with an excellent frame-line. This allows you to operate the camera with both eyes open to follow the action. After you use the camera for a while, you will wonder why all cameras don’t have this feature. I only have two minor complaints. The first, my camera is made for the European market and has only meters rather than both feet and meters on the focus ring which of course must be estimated. Grŕrrr! What the heck is 1.6 meters? Is that 5 feet? In many ways the old English system is more practical. It is easier to estimate in feet which is a smaller anatomical related measurement. I am fully versed in the metric system but in some instances the previous system just makes more practical sense. The other issue is the 50mm focus length of the lens. Since, the focus has to be estimated, it would have been better to have a 45mm or a even a 40mm lens for better of depth of field. Both of these complaints, again are really minor. It is indeed a great little camera.
I use my body to estimate distances. I have the advantage to be very nearly 2 metres tall so I imagine how many of me lying down on the ground takes me to the subject. This works well and the further away the subject the greater the latitude in guesstimate. At f/5.6 or smaller, depth of field will give a sharp image.