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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Zeiss Ikon Ikoflexes are close copies of Rolleiflexes. For some reason, they do not have the good reputation of the Rolleiflexes even though they use the same lenses and shutters – both, incidentally, made by Zeiss subsidiaries.
My specimen is an Ikoflex II and has a lens serial number that dates from mid 1936 and a shutter serial number that dates from late 1936. The camera has a focussing lever rather than knob – this was changed to a knob in 1937. Together, this suggest a date for my camera of late 1936 to early 1937. My specimen has a serial number of B17187 – this is found on the base just under the tripod thread. I am told by the Zeiss Ikon Collectors group that the B serial numbers date from 1936 so I am confident that this camera body was made in 1936 although it is possible that the body, lens and shutter were put together in 1937.
The 1937 Photographic Almanac has a description of this camera and suggests that my camera – Carl Zeiss Tessar lens and Compur Rapid shutter – cost £20-10-0 and a cheaper version – Carl Zeiss Triotar lens and normal Compur shutter – cost £14-15-0. Both versions required quite a good salary to being able to afford one.
The picture lens in my camera is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar f3.5, 7.5cm focal length and the focussing lens a Terona Anastigmat also 7.5cm focal length (pre-WWII, Carl Zeiss lenses had their focal length stated in cm and after WWII in mm). This picture lens is as good as pre-war lenses get and pretty much as good as lenses get altogether. The shutter is a Compur-Rapid leaf shutter which has speeds down to 1/500 of a second. That is as fast as we go with a leaf shutter – any faster and you need a focal plane shutter ( I am told by experts that the actual top speed reached by a Compur-Rapid was nearer to 1/300 than the nominal 1/500). This shutter has neither flash synchronisation nor delayed action.
Focussing takes a bit of getting used to. You look down onto a ground glass screen and the image is reversed left-to-right. As you move the camera to refine the composition, the image moves in the opposite way to that of the camera and slight tilting of the camera will put all the verticals out of kilter. On a more positive note, the viewing screen is large and there is a magnifier to magnify the central portion for critical focussing. Focussing of the lens is carried out with a lever – this was replaced with a more conventional knob in 1937. The focussing lever is actually quite easy to use and moves across a distance quadrant which allows you to read off the depth of field at any given aperture.
The aperture control is partially hidden by the focussing lens and the f16 and f22 settings are hard to see. To offset this, the lens is a very fast lens for the time – f3.5 fully open. With a range of speed of 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250 and 1/500 seconds as well as B and T together with apertures from f3.5 to f22, this camera can cope with dull weather and bright sunshine with both slow (ISO 50) and fast (ISO 400) films. The one big drawback here is if you hold the camera too firmly (i.e. holding the front plate as well as the body) it is not possible to focus as the front plate with both lenses moves to and fro to achieve focus.
This camera is easy to use two handed. The left hand both focusses and cocks the shutter while the right hand releases the shutter release. After the picture is taken, the film needs to be wound on before the shutter can be set again. One draw back here is that the film can easily be wound on too far, there is no ‘stop’ as the film is wound on far enough – something we 35mm photographers take for granted. As well as the waist-level finder, there is also a direct vision finder. The centre of the front plate of the waist-level finder can be pushed out of the way, and the picture composed through a small hole in the rear plate. As this is direct vision, there is no reversing of the image, but it is also not possible to use this finder to focus the image.
When loading the film, the film passes over a roller that “counts” the film. When the first number appears in the red window, a small lever on the side resets the film counter to “1” and from then on, you must use the film counter and not the numbers in the red window. If you forget and use the numbers in the red window, you will get eight negatives only with large gaps between them – the series of numbers used are for 6 x 9 cm negatives. This camera takes twelve pictures on a roll of 120 film (or BII as Zeiss Ikon call it.) – each negative being 6 cm x 6 cm.
There in one tripod bush on the base (there would be no point in having two bushes on a square format camera). It is a standard 1/4 Whitworth bush. This is unusual in my 1930s Zeiss Ikon cameras which usually have a 3/8 Whitworth bush with a removable 1/4 Whitworth insert.
Really, there is no a lot more to say about this camera. It is not sophisticated (as later models in the range were) but has a good lens and a good shutter and as a result it takes excellent pictures. What more do you want from a camera?
The following is an advert from the Wallace Heaton Minitography and Cinematography catalogue from 1939 (this is a slightly updated version of the camera I have described – the focus lever has been replaced with a focus knob but otherwise the same camera):
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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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