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.
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
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This is Voigtlander’s answer to Zeiss Ikon’s Contaflex range and Kodak’s Retina reflex range. It was developed sometime after the Zeiss Ikon and Kodak models and this allowed Voigtlander to learn from its competitors’ mistakes. The most obvious lesson learnt is that the entire lens assembly is detachable rather than just the front element as in the Contaflex range. The main advantage is that better quality lenses can be added. It also has the advantage that you can access both the mirror and the focussing screen and so can keep them clean. This is a major fault with the Contaflexes as after fifty years of use there is a build up of dirt which can be very annoying when looking through the viewfinder – although, to be fair, I don’t suppose Zeiss Ikon were thinking about a fifty year life span for their cameras.
This is a very heavy camera – significantly more heavy than a Contaflex Super. It is similar to the Contaflex Super. It has a coupled light meter with match-needles in the viewfinder. Moving the match needle also moves the aperture ring – the shutter speed must be set first. This can only be set to a value within the current exposure range. If the shutter speed is already set to an unacceptable value (as in moving from the shade into bright sunshine) it is not possible to align the match needles. This can be overridden by a lever on the lower right of the shutter housing.
The shutter is a Synchro-Compur – the same as on a Contaflex Super. The speed range is 1 second to 1/500th second and B. The lens is a Voigtlander Color-Skopar 1:2.8 50mm lens made in 1961 (going by the serial number). These are superb lenses and are Voigtlander’s version of a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar. Focussing is from 3.5 feet to infinity.
A nice innovation is a couple of red pointers that move apart or together as the aperture is changed. These mark out the depth of field on the focussing scale. Focussing is by the whole lens assembly moving rather than just the front element so image quality should be maintained throughout the focussing range.
I have run one film through this camera, and, alas, there is light leaking into the back from three different places – without replacing all the light seals, this camera is useless. I have now replaced the light seals but I have yet to test it with another film.
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Not a lot I can say about this camera. It is mid-range amateur – well above the Box Brownie and well below the likes of the Contaflex. The standard of manufacture is what you would expect of Zeiss Ikon – solid, heavy, works well – perhaps a bit over-engineered. It was not cheap – the version with the Novar lens cost £29/7/- (in old money or £29.35 in new money). Given the average working man’s weekly wage was £9 in 1957, this equates to around £1,500 in 2013 values.
This particular Contina is a model Ic although that was never Zeiss Ikon’s designation. It is distinguished from other Continas by 1) not being a folding camera and 2) not having a built-in exposure meter. I also have an article on a Cortina IIa.
The viewfinder is a Galilean finder with bright-lines. I find this awkward to use after using either an SLR or a camera with a crude frame finder as the finder shows much more than the image area. It is necessary to remember to compose entirely within the bright-liners. The finder is reasonably large and easy to use while wearing spectacles.
The top plate is uncluttered – the rewind knob, film type reminder, accessory shoe and combined film advance/frame counter/shutter release is all that is there. The whole frame counter/shutter release assembly is depressed when the shutter is fired and it is possible to fire the shutter when setting the frame counter to zero (I did!).
On the front of the camera is a satin-chrome bezel with the lens sitting centrally. The shutter is a Prontor SVS leaf shutter by Gauthier and uses exposure value settings. With this system, you read an exposure value from a light meter (from 3 to 18) which sets a combination of shutter speed and aperture. It is then possible to move the shutter speed ring to the desired shutter speed and the aperture will adjust itself to keep the exposure correct – or move the aperture ring and the shutter speed will adjust automatically. It is not possible to move away from a “correct” speed/aperture combination without depressing the EV button. This works in much the same way as the ‘program’ mode on a modern digital camera. People either love or hate this system – I am the only person I know whom loves it – but it was in general use for many years so must have had general support.
There is what, at first sight, appears to be a second, useless range of shutter speeds. These are in green and cannot be set. “Then why have them?”, I hear you ask. Well, there is a reason. In the case that the EV value is low, the usable speed/aperture combinations allowed will be small. For an EV of 3, the speed/aperture combination is 1 second at f2.8 – and that is it. If you want a smaller aperture, say f8, you read the necessary shutter speed of the green range opposite f8 (in this case eight seconds). Now adjust the EV setting so that f8 is against the B setting on the speed ring. This sets the aperture to f8 and allows the photographer to keep the shutter depressed for eight seconds. Clearly, a tripod and shutter release cable are required for this, and the shutter speed is only as good as the photographer times it, but when you realise that the shutter manufacturers worked to a 20% margin on shutter speeds, timing the exposure to between seven and nine seconds will be fine and we should all be able to time that accurately.
The lens is a Zeiss Ikon Pantar f2.8, 45mm lens. This is a triplet (three pieces of glass) rather than the Tessar’s tetraplet structure, that focuses from about three feet to infinity (the nearest marked distance is four feet, but the lens moves well beyond that).
This lens has the usual Happy Snapper settings – with this lens it is f8 and around twenty feet (both marked in red) which gives a depth of field of from nine feet to infinity. If the lens is set to its smallest aperture (f22), the depth of field is from less than four feet to infinity. As with all lenses, the largest and smallest apertures are best left alone and the lens will work best stopped down two or three stops – f5.6 and f8 in this case.
Film is rewound using a small knob on the left. When this is turned to rewind then film, it automatically raises itself so it is above the level of the top plate. When you have finished rewinding the film, you need to turn this knob one turm anti-clockwise to lower the knob again. The only other thing to note is that this camera has a PC flash connector and can synchronise for bulb (M) or electronic (X) flash. There is also a setting (V) for delayed action shutter release.
In use, the camera operates much as you might expect from Zeiss Ikon. I have large hands and the camera is a bit small – the edge of the shutter housing is where I would like my fingers to be and the shutter release is a little too close to the right-hand edge of the camera. I suppose this is unavoidable when making a small camera and it is far from the worst camera that I have, ergonomically speaking.
Some example pictures from this camera (note: these were scanned with my Canon flatbed film scanner – not the best scanner).
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This camera is unlike my other Zeiss Ikon cameras in that it was aimed at the middle of the amateur market – above the box Brownie brigade but below the Contaflex, Ikoflex, Ikonta market. The Tenax I came out in 1938 (actually started retailing in early 1939) just after the Tenax II. They are both named after the Goerz Tenaxes of 1909 and 1921 (Goerz being one of the camera companies that merged to form Zeiss Ikon in 1926). You will frequently see these described as being made from 1930 to 1941, but that is due to a misprint in McKeowns and the correct dates are 1939 to 1941. WWII meant that production was curtailed fairly soon after the launch and so these are fairly rare cameras. My specimen is probably produced for the German home market rather than a British version as Zeiss Ikon usually produced British and American versions of their cameras with the distance scale marked in feet. This camera has the distance scale in metres and, also, has the catch for the back marked Z and A (zu and auf – close and open) rather than in English. Liberated by a British soldier in 1944/5, perhaps.
It is very small – just 110mm wide and 65mm tall and only 45mm thick. This is not a folding camera but has a lens of 35mm focal length. The camera uses such a short focal length lens because it produces a negative that is 24mm square – the ‘normal’ lens for any camera is the diagonal of the negative (or sensor for digital cameras). For its size, it is remarkably heavy. It is made of die cast aluminium and brass. The brass is bright plated, but the way the plating has worn off the brass on the top plate and shutter fascia I suspect the plating is nickel. My specimen is “well loved” – it has obviously been well used over a great deal of time. Much of the textured leatherette on the front has worn smooth and significant plating has worn off .
It is an unusual camera in many ways. There is no wind-on knob or lever on the top – the film is wound on using a combination film advance and shutter cocking lever that is pressed by the index finger of the left hand. This film advance will move the film on one frame (24 mm) each time it is pressed and this is interlocked to the shutter release preventing wasted film. The shutter release is on the front of the camera on the shutter as was becoming very unfashionable at the time this camera was designed. It does, though, make the camera easy to use – if the shutter release was on the top plate as was becoming normal in the late 1930s, it would be hard to place the user’s finger on it with such a small camera. The shutter contains a double exposure lock – you cannot take a picture without winding on nor wind on without taking a picture.
The controls on the front are hard to use. Apart from the stiffening we might expect on a camera that is 72 years old, the parts are quite small and my fingers quite large. The aperture adjuster is very stiff and, even when holding the lens, the focus changes more than the aperture does. This is probably telling me to open the front and get some clock oil in there.
To open the camera to load a film or removed an exposed film, the circular button on the base has to be turned a quarter turn and then slid to one side. This allows the base and back to be removed in one piece. This is supposed to make loading the camera easier, but I find the take-up spool is liable to drop out as is the cassette of film. This operation is made much easier by using a table top, but in the field, table tops can be hard to find. The take-up spool I have is a later Contax plastic spool. The original Tenax I spool was die-cast metal.
The shutter is a Compur leaf shutter with speeds 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/256, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300 seconds as well as B. The aperture can range from f3.5 to f22 which is a good range for most photography. There is a Happy Snapper setting of between f5.6 and f8 and a distance of 6 metres signified by red dots.
The lens is a Novar Anastigmat 35mm lens which is only 11mm across. Focussing range is from 1 metre to infinity – at the Happy Snapper setting, from 3 metres to infinity should be in focus.
The mechanism was not particularly free running so I took the bull by the horns and took the top plate off. Inside is fairly simple – not a lot for me to damage. I have applied clock oil to all the pivots and linkages and the mechanism is working much better now.
Because this camera is idiosyncratic it takes a bit of getting used to. The viewfinder is a standard size for the time but almost impossible to use wearing my glasses. This is a point I find with most pre-1960 cameras. The shutter release is not quite where my finger expects it to be but once I have started taking pictures it is fine.
The film advance is taking more getting used to – it is on the ‘wrong’ side of the camera and is a plunger rather than a knob or lever. Again, once I am using the camera it is fine. In fact, the combination of the two levers on either side of the lens means you can take a couple of pictures per second which is not bad on an entirely manual camera. Zeiss Ikon claimed it was capable of four frames per second but that would require a camera in smoother condition than mine and more nimble fingers than I have available.
The hardest part to use is the diaphragm setting. It involves turning the centre of the lens mount – I suspect that the designer had smaller fingers than I have. I am quite enjoying using this camera – it is definitely a pocket camera – compact and reasonably light (not compared to digital point-and-shoot cameras, but compared to metal film cameras in general). I suspect that if the second world war had not happened just after this camera was designed, the two lever system of shutter release and film winder would have become normal.
This particular camera is suffering from ‘Zeiss bumps’. This is common on older Zeiss Ikon cameras and appears as small (two to four mm) bumps under the leatherette. My Tenax has four large (four mm) bumps and two small (two mm) bumps. These are caused by the rivets holding the components together reacting with the glue holding the leatherette on forming a local deposit of what I assume to be oxides. They only occur on the back of my camera.
I could probably ‘cure’ this by removing the leatherette and cleaning the metal beneath and replacing the leatherette but I suspect I would do more harm than good. The frame of the front element of the viewfinder is stamped ’24×24′ and ‘3.5 cm’ – the first indicating the image size and the second the film size.
The shutter is covered by Zeiss Ikon’s own fascia. This hides the shutter serial number which would help to date this particular camera. However, the body serial number is J78039. This partly dates the camera as pre-1945 production was in three tranches each of 10,000 cameras. The first tranche (1938-9) has serial number letters H, the second tranche J and the third tranche M. So my camera dates from the second tranche which means it was made after 1938-9 and before 1945. After 1945, eastern Zeiss Ikon continued with the production of the Tenax I, initially exactly the same as the wartime version and then with a Tessar lens. However, this later production did not have serial numbers starting with a letter.
Some pictures taken with this Tenax I (not Photoshopped at all). These pictures suffer from light bleed from the light areas into the darker areas. It has been suggested to me that this is due to the poor quality glass that Zeiss Ikon had available during WWII.
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Voigtlander’s Vito range of cameras are 35mm cameras aimed at serious amateurs. They date from the 1940s to the 1960s and pre-date the SLR concept. As was normal for the time, they come with several options of lenses and shutters.
Initially, the Vito range were folding cameras that were small enough when closed to easily fit into a pocket. My example is a mid-dated Vito II – the Vito II model went through a number of revisions with minor details being changed with each revision. There was one major revision which gave rise to the Vito IIa. I also have an original Vito I. A comparison of my Vito cameras can be seen here.
The sequence of changes in the Vito II were:
1950 Shutter release bar became shutter release button, holder for an accessory shoe added
1951 Film take-up spool is fixed and rewind knob is telescopic
1954 Accessory shoe fitted (rather than provision for one) Compur shutter available
1955 Film advance now a lever, larger viewfinder (Vito IIa)
So my Vito II is a 1954 version although the lens serial number shows the lens was made in 1953.
So, a basic description. The camera easily fits in a hand (my hand at any road), being 125mm long, 75mm high and 40mm thick when closed. The lens standard is opened by a recessed button on the base – the cover is hinged on the side and the lens comes forward and locks in position. This action is spring loaded but on my camera the spring is not strong enough to fully open the camera. When new, it may well have been fully automatic opening. To close the camera again, two buttons have to be pressed simultaneously and the cover pushed into place.
The lens on my Vito II is a Voigtlander Color-Skopar 50mm which is Voigtlander’s version of a Zeiss Ikon Tessar. This lens has a very good reputation. It focusses down to 3.5 feet – this camera uses front cell focussing which is not quite as good as moving the whole lens top focus but this only matters for close to work and for landscapes is fine. The results are excellent. The focussing scale has two Happy Snapper settings – “o” which is the hyperfocal setting for f5.6 and “V” which the hyperfocal setting at f16. When the focus is set to “o” and the aperture to f5.6, the depth of field extends from 15 feet to infinity and when set to “V” and the aperture to f16, the depth of field extends from 5.5 feet to infinity. The lens serial number dates this lens to 1953 although the camera was made in 1954.
The lens has a slight but definite purple tinge to it which suggests that it is a coated lens but if it is, it is still, unfortunately, susceptible to flare. Using this camera, it is necessary to remember the advice my father gave me as a child – always keep the sun behind you.
The aperture range is f3.5 to f16. The shutter is the cheaper Pronto leaf shutter made by Gauthier and offers four speeds – 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/200 seconds as well a B. There is also a delay action timer which delays the shutter release by about ten seconds. This is very difficult to use as the setting lever is very close to the struts holding the lens in place.
This camera is old enough to need manual cocking of the shutter. The actual shutter release is on the shutter housing but it is actuated by a button on top of the lens cover – there is also a cable release socket at this position. The camera has two safety devices – first, the shutter will not fire if the film has not been wound on so no double exposures and secondly, the winding knob will only move the film on one frame without the shutter being fired. This last can be over-ridden so a part-used film can be rewound into the cassette and then refitted and would on to the next unexposed frame at a later date. This allows the photographer to change between types of film while on a shoot without wasting film.
The last thing to mention regarding the shutter is the presence of a PC (Prontor Compur) flash connector. There is no selector to choose between bulb or electronic flash and on the model I have (Pronto shutter) it is for F synchronisation only – i.e. the flash will fire when the shutter is nearly fully open which is intended for fast flash bulbs. With Synchro-Compur and Prontor SV shutters, you would have X and M synchronisation available. Both the film advance and film rewind are by way of a large milled knob – one on each end on the top plate. The back of the camera fastens with a not entirely satisfactory catch. When the camera is in the ever-ready case, this will not matter but I tend to carry this camera in my pocket and I have had the back unfasten itself.
The viewfinder is a Galilean type and is rather small. Wearing spectacles as I do, I find it very hard to use as I cannot get my eye near enough to the eyepiece. The only other thing worth noting is that this camera has feet. This is common on cameras of this era (40s and 50s) and the feet take the form of small metal projections on the base plate and the lens door. These enable the camera to be set down on a suitable surface so that self-portraits can be done using the delayed action timer.
18 September 2012:
This is now a favourite camera with only a few niggles. The first is its age – around sixty years old. My concern for its age revolve around the bellows. These are made from some sort of oiled/lacquered cloth and eventually they will start leaking light. I am not sure if I should tackle this by leaving the lens extended all the time and so ensuring that any small leak there might be will leave a significant mark on the film, or whether I should leave the camera closed unless I am actually taking a picture and so hastening then point at which then light starts leaking in.
The other main niggle is the position of the shutter release button. When holding the camera, my finger does not naturally fall on the release button and I find my finger searching for it – not exactly helping to ‘hit’ the decisive moment.
Third niggle – the viewfinder. It is small. So small I can barely use it while wearing my spectacles. This is a reverse Galilean finder – it produces a small image in the same way that a telescope does when you use it back to front. having a built-in viewfinder in a consumer camera was a fairly new idea when the Vito II was designed – Zeiss Ikon were still using folding Newtonian finders on the equivalent (Nettar and Ikonta) cameras. This viewfinder is much the same as the viewfinder in the later Vito B. It was only when the Vito B had been in production for several years that larger comfortable to use finders were introduced (as they were on the new Vito C range that eventually replaced the Vito B range.
Apart from those three niggles, I like using this camera. The rewind knob is better than a standard SLR mini lever for rewinding the film and I also like the film advance knob in place of a rapid wind lever.
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Zenit E – a 35mm film SLR from the KMZ factory in Russia.
The Zenit E is a Russian camera made in the USSR by KMZ in the town of Krasnogorsk (also made in Belarus). Soviet era cameras have a poor reputation – mostly undeserved in the West – but my Zenit E purchased in 1973 was an excellent camera. It performed well for many years with much neglect (including being dropped off a moving bus!). I now have a newer Zenit E from 1981
focal length: 58 mm
apertures: f2 to f16
focus range: 0.5 m (2.6 ft) to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1 s to 1/500 s
flash: PC socket
film size: 35mm
The camera is solid and weighty – weighing 700g. The body is made from die cast aluminium with brass base plate and top housing. The controls are well placed and accessible – they compare well with a Fed 5 where I have to fumble for the poorly placed shutter release. I have large, not very nimble, hands and I find this camera very easy to use.
The shutter offers speeds from 1/30 to 1/500 plus B which is plenty for normal use. The focal plane shuttersynchronises with the flash socket at 1/30 both for electronic flash (X) and for Bulb flash (MF).
The built in meter is a selenium meter which does not require a battery and is not TTL. It is no improvement over a hand-held meter other than you only need to carry one item. The meter is of the traditional match needle type and has settings for 13 – 28 DIN and 16 – 500 ASA (new scale, the same as ISO).
Zenits came with a Helios-44 lens with a focal length of 58mm which is normal for 35 mm film (‘normal’ means it gives the same perspective as the human eye does). The Helios-44 lens is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotor lens. This lens has an aperture range of f2 to f16 which is more than adequate for most situations. The aperture setting ring has click-stops and there is a second ring to close the aperture after focussing. – the lens does not stop down automatically when the shutter release is pressed, you have to do this manually after focussing and before touching the shutter release. This lens has an excellent reputation and is considered to be better than the Carl Zeiss Jena lens it copies – the Helios lens is multi-coated which the Biotar lens was not.
Focussing is from 0.5m to infinity. The fitting is the Pentacon M42 thread as was standard on Praktica and Pentax (and many other cameras) up to the advent of bayonet fittings in the 1970s. The focussing screen is plain ground glass with no micro-prism or split image focussing aids found on more expensive cameras. There is a printed depth of view scale on the lens barrel and a hyper-focal position marked which will give a focus range of 5m to infinity at f8.
There is an accessory shoe fitted on top of the pentaprism but it is not a “hot” shoe, flash connection being by way of a PC connector on the face of the camera.
Loading film is simple and easy. The back is hinged along one short side and the other short side is locked by a sliding catch. The rewind knob has to be pulled up to allow for the insertion of the film cassette and when pushed back in, locks the cassette in place. The film travels over the film plane, over two sprocket wheels and fits into a slot on the take up spool. Once the back is closed it is necessary to wind on two frames to place unfogged film behind the lens. At this point, you can set the film counter to zero.
Focussing is not as easy as with most manual SLRs of the period as the focussing screen is plain ground glass – no micro-prism, no split image – but it is certainly adequate.
The Helios-44 lens is very sharp and if stopped down to f8 the depth of field is more than capable of removing any defects in poor manual focusing.
When one is used to an automatic camera, it is easy to forget to manually stop down the lens before pressing the shutter release. To make focussing easier, the aperture ring has click stops at each f number but does not actually alter the aperture which remains wide open until the secondary aperture ring is turned after focussing. Once used to this camera, it becomes second nature and adds to the slowness of using this camera. I find that this slowing down to be useful as you are forced to be more considered in your actions and this leads to better pictures.
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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.
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:
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