Voigtlander Brillant "TLR" camera

This is Voigtlander’s attempt to cash in on the Rolleiflex design. As well as this cheaper model, they also produced a much more expensive model called the Superba. This camera looks exactly like a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex)  – and it is: it hs two lenses and the viewing lens is reflex; it looks via a mirror. The big difference is focussing. Rolleiflex and their cousins focus by moving the front plate (with taking lens and viewing lens) back and forth and the user focusses via a ground glass screen which is missing on this model. Here, focussing is via a helical screw thread on the taking lens.

Voigtlander Brillant, front view

This camera was produced in the early 1950s and the lens serial number dates from between 1947 and 1950 – and is probably from 1950. This camera cost, in 1952, £22/11/6 (old money) or £22.57 in decimal money. The case cost a further £2/17/9 (or £2.89). This was seriously expensive –  the UK average salary in 1950 was £100 per year which is £2.00 per week – the camera cost over ten week’s pay for an average person. For comparison, the average salary in 2016 is nearly £28,000 which would make this camera worth £5,600 today.

This camera is made from Bakelite (an early plastic) which becomes brittle with age. My camera is in very good condition with no visible cracks. The only damage I can see is one of the strap lugs has snapped off.
My usual technique with this blog in describing cameras is to start with the top plate and work my way down. Right at the top is the maker’s name ‘Voigtlander’ in Italic script. Below this in the front panel are two lenses. The top lens is the viewing lens (essentially the viewfinder) – the user looks down on the top of the camera and through this lens via a sloping mirror. There is no focussing screen and this lens is fixed (there was a more expensive version with a focussing screen).
Below the viewing lens is the shutter assembly with the taking lens. The shutter has the AGC logo telling us that this is a Gauthier shutter – in fact a Prontor II going by the range of shutter speeds.


Gauthier shutter (Prontor II)
As always with older clockwork shutters, it is necessary to cock the shutter before use. There is a lever at the top of the assembly for this purpose – the user pulls the lever down to the right (in use; to the left, in my photo of the shutter) where it stays until the shutter is fired. Just below this cocking lever is the shutter release lever. This release lever pushes down and in. Below this is a threaded socket for a standard cable release.
The shutter has two ranges of speeds operated by different parts of the shutter mechanism. The fast speeds – 1/25, 1/50, 11/100 and 1/175 seconds – are working well on my camera and seem to be close to the marked speed (test film will tell for sure). The slow speeds are usually hesitant or non-functional on old shutters. These are 1 second, 1/2, 1/5, and 1/10 seconds. These do not work  on this camera without the user forcing the cocking lever back to its normal position. In addition to the fast and slow shutter speeds, there are two more. B keeps the shutter open while the user keeps the release lever depressed (or more likely in practice, keeps the cable release depressed). T will open the shutter when the shutter release is pressed and the shutter will stay open until the shutter release is pressed a second time. B and T work well on this camera.
The taking lens is a Voigtlander Vaskar. This is Voigtlander’s cheap triplet (a Crooke’s triplet design as far as I can tell). Triplets usually perform very well if stopped down to f/8 – the test film will show for sure how well this lens performs. The focal length is 75 mm which is ‘normal’ for TLR cameras. The negative is square – nominally 6 cm per side. ‘Normal’ is the diagonal of the negative. Pythagorus gives us a diagonal of √(36+36) =  √72 = 8.5 cm so this lens is very slightly wide angle. Maximum aperture is f/4.5 (very respectable for a cheap camera in 1950) and the minimum aperture is f/16. The aperture is set by a lever on the shutter assembly on the photographer’s left. At the base of the shutter assembly is the delay action lever. As with the slow shutter speeds, these rarely work well on old cameras and the standard advice is to never try them.

Below the shutter assembly is the camera’s model name – Brillant (not Brilliant!).

 The left side of the camera has a hinged door with space inside for two filters/close up lenses. My camera has one yellow filter in place – these are a push fit on the taking lens.


Left side showing the filter compartment

The right side of the camera has various controls. The most obvious is the film winder at the top. This winds the film on between shots. he lever to the right of that releases the frame counting mechanism while winding to the first frame.The lever in the middle sets the frame counter to 1 which is displayed in the small window. Detailed instructions on how these knobs and levers work can be seen in the instruction ‘book’ on my Google Drive (one small sheet of folded paper ).


Right side showing controls

On the back there is the ubiquitous red window that medium format cameras usually have. This is covered by an internal blind to prevent the film being fogged while not in use. This is opened by a knurled ring below and to the right of the red window.  The blind has a large white cross on it to make it clear that the blind is in place. This red window is only used to position the first frame. Thereafter, the internal mechanism will move the film the right amount.
Brillant back with red window
The bottom of the camera has a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. This sits slightly proud of the  base, presumably to give enough plastic for strength. On the front edge of the base are two raised spots. Together with the raised tripod socket, these provide a stable base for the camera to sit on for long exposures or self-portraits.


Base of the camera with tripod socket and place of manufacture
The top of the camera has the viewfinder. In this style of camera, you look down into the viewfinder to compose the picture. In storage, the viewfinder folds down out of the way (see top two pictures above). To open, you lift the rear of the top piece – the other three pieces then  rise under spring power.


There is no focussing screen as there would be with a Rolleiflex (because the viewfinder is not used for focussing) – rather, you look through a large square lens via an angled mirror and through the top lens in the front. This is, basically, a giant brilliant finder. The image is very clear and bright but significantly smaller than the negative size. The image is the right way up but reversed left to right. This takes a bit of getting used to but soon becomes second nature. On the left side of the viewfinder panels is a depth of field table (referred to on the camera as a depth of focus table).

looking down the viewfinder
The front panel of the viewfinder has a fold-down section. This is to allow the camera to be used as an direct vision eye level finder. These were referred to as ‘sport’ finders as the direct view is not reversed left to right, making following motion much easier. this fold-down section is used in conjunction with a punch hole in the read panel.
The back of the camera is opened by pressing together two chrome buttons on the top of the back. The back then hinges down in one piece with the base. The new film goes in a recess in the base, held in place by a leaf spring.
inside the camera


The roll of film is a fairly snug fit in here. The film backing paper is pulled over a small roller, across the film gate, across a second small roller and into the take-up spool. On the right hand edge of the film gate is a recessed toothed wheel. This is rotated by the film moving over it and serves to measure how much film has been advanced between shots – the red window only being used for the first frame.
Film recess in the base

The take-up spool fits into a hinged carriage to make fitting easier.

raised carriage for the take-up spool


Test film to follow


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