These are descriptions of my growing collection of old film cameras together with my experience of using them. The descriptions are entirely based on a particular camera that I have before me rather than just on Interweb research.
Voigtlander Vitomatic II
This is an update of the excellent Voigtländer Vito B. The Vito B spawned several cameras – the Vitomatics I and II and the Vito BL. This is the automatic update as opposed to the more manual Vito BL. The Vitomatic II has a coupled light meter and a coupled rangefinder added and a new shutter mechanism (the Prontor SLK-V made by Gauthier) which is needed to make use of the light meter.
Voigtlander also made independent rangefinders which were less handy in use. The lens is still a Color-Skopar 50mm lens but now it is f2.8 rather than f3.5 (this might just be the items I have – I have no idea as to the options that were available regarding lenses for either the Vito B or the Vitomatic II).
The size of the two cameras (Vito B and Vitomatic II – I am going to be comparing the two throughout this posting) is the same except the height. I have a version I Vito B with a small viewfinder. The later version II had a larger viewfinder and is also higher than the version I. So the Vito B (II) is the same size as the Vitomatic II. The layout of the top plate differs as the Vitomatic II has an exposure meter window but is otherwise the same. The front of the camera is also different as the Vitomatic II has both an exposure meter and a rangefinder window both of which are missing on the Vito B.
There is one more change that is immediately apparent – the frame counter on the Vito B is a small window above the shutter housing with an adjusting wheel below the shutter housing. With the Vitomatic II, the frame counter is on the base plate and has a small adjusting wheel beside the counter window.
The presence of both the rangefinder mechanism and the light meter means that the SLK-V shutter/lens housing on the Vitomatic II is significantly larger than the SVS housing on the Vito B. The SLK-V shutter is Voigtlander’s adaptation of the standard SLK shutter – this is a light meter coupled shutter. (Both Voigtlander and Prontor were subsidiaries of Zeiss Ikon at this time.) The Vitomatic II is also significantly heavier – something that could not be avoided with the improved specification. So, in use, the Vitomatic II still fits nicely in the hand but is much more tiring to hold for a period of time. Using the ever-ready case and hanging the camera around your neck would obviate this but I like to hold the camera in my hand – it is more discrete and faster to use.
The coupledlight meter is simplicity itself to use. It is of the match needle type with the needles in the window on the top plate. This is adjusted by turning the forward most knurled wheel on the shutter housing. When the two needles are superimposed, the camera is set for a correct shutter speed/ aperture combination. This can be varied in one stop steps by turning the rearmost knurled wheel. Moving this wheel alters the speed/aperture settings but keeps them in the correct range for a viable exposure. It is a bit like the P setting on a modern digital camera. The only drawback to this system is that the meter needles are not shown in the viewfinder so you need to lower the camera and look at the top plate while setting the exposure.
The viewfinder is a reverse-Galilean finder with a large (much larger than the Vito B) eye-piece with bright lines including parallax adjustment. The coupled rangefinder is also simple to use – this time it is accessed through the viewfinder. The rangefinder presents the user with a bright spot in the centre of the viewfinder with two separate images. The user turns the focussing ring (the smaller, forward most knurled ring) until the two images are superimposed – the lens is then correctly focussed for the part of the image in the centre spot. This is made easier by the user choosing a strong vertical to focus on.
The film chamber is accessed the same way as on a Vito B – a small portion of the base-plate is unlocked and lowered and then the back swings open. This is very secure in use and the type of accident I occasionally have with my Vito II where the catch on the back can accidentally open while the camera is in use is not possible. The one downside is that changing films while standing in the street is cumbersome – but far from impossible.
I now have a Vitomatic I as well. This is the same as the Vitomatic II but without the coupled rangefinder. I do not miss having a rangefinder as I find guessing distances works just fine – at f5.6 and smaller, the depth of field is enough to cover any slight discrepancy in the guess.
There are also “a” and “b” versions of both Vitomatics – I and II. The “a” versions have the light meter scale mirrored in the viewfinder and the “b” versions have aperture and shutter speed mirrored in the viewfinder.
Vitomatic II in use.
This is a fairly simple camera to use. The light meter is not TTL so in use it is much the same as a hand-held meter. The advantage over a hand-held meter is that aligning the match needles in the light meter window sets a usable combination of speed and aperture. It is then simple to turn the inner ring on the shutter housing to set either a specific aperture or a specific speed according to the photographer’s needs. The shutter then selects corresponding speed/aperture to maintain correct exposure. As this is not TTL, you do not need to fumble with the controls at eye level. If you want to use exposure compensation you merely turn the exposure control as many stops either side of standard as you need. As this control basically adjusts the aperture, it is possible to over/under expose by a fraction of a stop. It is worth noting that the aperture is infinitely variable between f2.8 and f22 while the shutter speed is restricted to click-stops – it is not possible to set a speed between1/125 and 1/300, for instance. If you try, you will get either 1/125 or 1/300 depending on the exact position of the cam inside the shutter mechanism.
This camera inherits scale focussing from the Vito B complete with two Happy Snapper settings of 3.25m and 10m (roughly) at f5.6. These settings make street photography very easy. I often keep the camera set to 1/125 and smaller than f5.6 and the focus on the distant (10m) happy snapper setting – giving everything between 4.25m and infinity in focus.
For more critical work, there is the rangefinder. This uses gold “silvering” of the half-silvered mirrors giving orange images in the centre of the viewfinder which are clearly seperated from the main image. As with most rangefinders, turning the focussing knob moves one of the images – focus being achieved when the two images are exactly superimposed.
If the lens is nearly focussed, this is quick and easy. The downside is that focussing from one end of the scale to the other cannot be achieved in one motion but in use I am not finding this a problem.
Last comment – this is a heavy camera – particularly for its compact size – but this aids stability in use.
Waterloo Station, London
Busker, City Square, Lincoln
Lincoln university across Brayford Pool, Lincoln
Folk buskers, Lincoln
Please share this article if you enjoyed reading it: