Olympus PEN EE (half frame)

Olympus PEN EE (half frame)
Olympus PEN EE (Marque 2)

I have been keeping half an eye out for a PEN for some time and this one came up on Ebay.  It is the second marque EE made in March 1966 (the date of manufacture can be found by removing the film pressure plate.  There is a two digit code there.  The first digit is the year, the second digit is the month.  The code on mine is 63 which could be 1966 or 1976 but the EE was only made until 1966 so the manufacture year must be 1966).  This is my third Olympus camera, the others being a Trip and an OM10.

The camera is surprisingly heavy – it has an all-metal construction with the main body being cast from aluminium alloy.  The EE (Electric Eye) can be distinguished from other PEN cameras by the ring of the exposure meter around the lens.  The camera is small – 105 mm by 65 mm and 45 mm thick.  There are two strap lugs and the camera comes with a plastic wrist strap.  It also comes with a leatherette bag which is a very tight fit.  I think mine might have shrunk. The price was £25-5-0 in old British Money or £26.25 in modern British money. This equates to £848 in 2020 values.
Olympus PEN EE (half frame)
Rear view
The shutter is a Copal shutter with two speeds – 1/30 and 1/250.  Normally, the camera uses the 1/250 shutter speed, the 1/30 being reserved for flash use.  There is a manual over-ride of sorts in as when you attach a flash gun, you need to set the aperture  according to the guide number of the flash.  This sets the shutter speed to 1/30 and disables the automatic exposure system.  You can use this without the flash for use in poor light.  1/30 for a shutter speed might seem a bit on the slow side for a hand held camera but the focal length of the lens is 28 mm and the recommended slowest shutter speed for 35 mm photographer is the reciprocal of the focal length so the minimum speed here is 1/28 .
The lens is a D. Zuiko 28mm f3.5 lens.  The ‘D’ prefix indicates that there are four elements (pieces of glass) in the lens.  This suggests that this is a Tessar copy.  The standard lens for a camera is taken to be the diagonal of the negative (or sensor for digital cameras).  The negative is 18 mm by 24 mm so the diagonal (using Pythagoras’s Theorem) is 30 mm.  This means that a standard lens for this camera will be 30 mm so the 28 mm lens is very slightly wide angle.  This lens takes two different filter sizes.  The smaller filter size is 22.5 mm and the filter fits over the lens but inside the exposure meter sensor.  My PEN has a UV filter in this place.  The lens also takes larger, 43.5 mm filters which fit over the exposure meter sensor which means that the camera automatically takes account of light adsorption by the filter.
Olympus PEN EE (half frame)
Vertical viewfinder
The viewfinder is a bit strange at first use.  It is vertical (portrait format) rather than the more usual horizontal (landscape format) viewfinders on other cameras.  This is because the camera is a half-frame camera – only half a normal frame of film is exposed at one time.  This means that the pictures are vertical in the roll of film.  This doesn’t really matter – it just means you have to turn the camera on to its side for landscapes rather than for portraits.  In use, it really doesn’t matter.

This camera is very easy to use.  It is small enough to use entirely one handed – ideal for street photography – the shutter release and wind-on wheel both falling naturally under the fore-finger and thumb respectively, even with my large hands.  The wrist strap keeps the camera near enough tom the hand that it can be picked up one handed.  Being a one-handed camera, turning the camera for landscape is so easy.  Once the film is loaded, there are no setting to make – or, indeed, possible.  This is strictly a point and shoot camera.

The following is an advert for this camera from the 1971/2 Wallace Heaton catalogue:

Pen 1972 016.jpg


I now have a test film from this camera developed and scanned.  Here are the results.  At this size (4″ by 3″) they look OK.  They do not bear enlarging much above this size.  To be fair to Olympus, the market this camera was aimed at would have been happy with 4×3 prints (this camera dates from the mid-1960s) and relatively small prints is all that was on offer as a matter of course.

These pictures were taken in Bamburgh in Northumbria.

Olympus PEN EE (half frame)
Olympus PEN EE (half frame)
Olympus PEN EE (half frame)

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

This is a fairly simple compact camera along the lines of Zeiss Ikon’s other Ikonta derivatives, the Contina family.  It is small enough to fit comfortably in one hand – 115mm wide by 85mm tall by 35 mm thick (75 mm thick including the lens).  It takes 35 mm film in standard cassettes.  The Contessa range was made from 1960 until 1971 and the Contessa LKE was made from 1963 to 1965.  The name “Contessa” is a look-back to the companies that made up Zeiss Ikon in 1926 – one of which was Contessa Nettel.  This camera owes nothing to that make of camera and nothing to Contessa Nettel’s designer, Dr Nagel. The price of this camera was £53-16-9 in old British money or £53.83 in modern British money. This equates to around £1,738 in 2020 values.

This camera has a coupled light meter and a coupled rangefinder.  Both of these are visible in the viewfinder which makes using the camera easy.  The rangefinder if the usual double image in an orange spot in the middle of the field of view.  Turning the focussing ring on the end of the lens moves one image – focus is achieved when the two images are superimposed.  A nice touch is the addition of two prominent plastic lugs on the side of the focussing ring which makes it easy to find it by feel while looking through the viewfinder.   The light meter in the viewfinder is not so easy to see.  It is at the top of the viewfinder in the middle and if this part of the viewfinder is against a bright sky, it disappears completely.  Originally, I found it much easier to use the other light meter view on the top of the camera but with practice the display in the viewfinder is easier to use.  When setting the exposure, it is possible to set either the shutter speed or the aperture and then adjust the other until the meter needle centres in the window.  It is much easier to preset the shutter speed as this is merely a knurled ring – the aperture ring has two plastic lugs much as the focussing ring has and it is so much easier to find the aperture ring by feel than it is the shutter speed ring.  Both the aperture value and the shutter speed are visible at the bottom of the viewfinder – this time much more clearly than the light meter is.

The lens is about as good as they come – a Carl Zeiss Tessar.  Because of the age of this camera (1960s) it is not a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar but a West German Carl Zeiss Opton Tessar.  Still a very good lens, though.  The serial number of the lens indicates it was made between 1965 and 1969.  As this camera was only in production until 1965, my specimen must be one of the last to be built in 1965.  The focal length is 50mm with a maximum aperture of f2.8 – so this is a vary fast lens – stopped down to f8, it is going to be superb.  The shutter is a Gautier Prontor 500 LK leaf shutter which is a meter-coupled Prontor with a maximum speed of 1/500 (about as fast as any leaf shutter ever will be).  The one thing that I miss on most modern lenses is the depth of field scale that was ubiquitous on lenses of this era and is present here.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

The accessory shoe is a hot shoe for flash connection and there is no PC connector for cold shoe flashes (an adapter was available as an added extra to allow cold shoe flashes to be connected).  These is a frame counter around the shutter release and a window that can be moved to indicate the type of film being used.  The options are Black and white, Neg, Flash, Sun, Artificial light.

The viewfinder is central and large enough even for spectacle wearers.  There are bright-lines in the file of view with parallax marks for framing close-ups.  The film advance is a lever of the top right as was now usual for 35mm cameras.  The film rewind, however, is underneath – a lever that pops out when the rewind button is pressed.  There are no strap lugs on this camera which means it is sensible to use the every-ready case but I like to carry cameras in my pocket, so I will end up one day dropping this one.  The only other thing of note is the presence of a tripod bush in the centre of the bottom plate.

After running one roll of film through this camera, I was very pleased with this camera.  It is easy to use, fits in my jacket pocket and is a suitable camera to use as a walk-around camera (i.e. one I take with me when I am not particularly wanting to take photographs but prefer to have a camera to hand just in case).  It is not obtrusive and I have found it to be excellent for street photography.

18 September 2012:  

In the five months that I have owned this camera, this camera has grown on me.  My hands have now learnt where the controls are so I no longer have to look and think.  This probably happens quite quickly if you only use one camera but I have several that I use frequently. 

The exposure indicator is clear in the viewfinder – the arrow for the shutter speed less so.  The exposure indicator is repeated on the top plate but this is not really useful.

I have a tendency to carry cameras in my pocket and that generates two problems with this camera.  Firstly, the shutter release gets accidentally pressed.  This is easily cured by not winding the film on until immediately before pressing the shutter release.  The second problem is that the delayed action lever gets moved which means that it takes a while to take the next picture.  This is made worse by the fact that the delayed action mechanism does not work very well any more.  It grinds its way through the nominal eight seconds with numerous pauses that necessitate manual assistance.   

The rangefinder is reasonably clear in use but as I take mainly landscapes, I keep the camera focussed on the hyper-focal distance (which at f8 is twenty feet).

I really like the recessed rewind lever on the base.  This is a good two centimetres long – much longer than the rewind lever on most 35 mm cameras.  It is easy to use and fairly fast.

The only really awkward part of using this camera is setting the film speed.  As I only set this rarely (I generally use APX100 film so I only reset the film speed when I use a different film) it is not a problem.

Sample pictures:

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Spurn ex-lighthouse now water tower


Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Staithes harbour

Olympus Trip 35

Olympus Trip 35
Olympus Trip 35
These were extremely popular, simple cameras made between 1967 and 1984.  My particular specimen was made in April 1982. In 1970, Wallace Heaton (a photographic retailer in London) was offering this camera for £34-14-0.
The camera is small – 215mm by 170mm by 160mm – and is quite light by film camera standards.  Controls are minimal.  The user must set the film speed – ASA only, no DIN – and focus the camera.  So, not quite a point-and-shoot camera but very close to.  The ASA settings are from ASA 25 to ASA 400.
There is a light meter around the lens and the camera selects both shutter speed and aperture to suit the light levels.  There are two shutter speeds – 1/40 and 1/200.  1/40 is rather slow with most cameras but the Zuiko lens has a focal length of 40mm 1/40 is about as slow as the camera can go without evidence of camera shake.  This also presupposes that the pictures will not be enlarged much above 5×7.  Of course, there is a tripod socket so in poor light you can always attach the camera to a tripod – the shutter release is threaded for a standard cable release.  If there is insufficient light to take a picture, a red flag comes up inside the viewfinder and the shutter is locked.  This also has the added benefit of preventing you taking a roll of film with the lens cap on (don’t laugh – some of us have done that with other cameras).
Available apertures are f2.8 to f22.  While the camera usually selects these, it is possible to select them manually for when using flash.  If you do, the shutter speed is set to 1/40.  For the flash, there is both a hot-shoe connection and a PC socket.  The actual aperture is square, so this camera is not going to produce particularly attractive bokeh (this is the only negative thing I have to say about this camera).
The viewfinder is quite small and has bright lines to outline the image area.  There are also smaller bright lines to show the image area when taking head-and-shoulders portraits.
The lens is a Zuiko 40mm lens of a Tessar type – four elements in three groups.  Focussing is essentially zone focussing with settings for:
1) head and shoulders
2) small groups
3) large groups
4) landscapes
If this is not accurate enough for you, then under the lens is a dual focussing scale in feet and metres.  This goes from three feet to infinity.
Olympus Trip 35
Inside the Olympus Trip 35
Finally, there are lugs on the sides for a neck strap and the camera comes with a wrist strap – more useful for a camera of this size.

When I bought this camera, the light seals had degenerated to a black sticky mass.  It is extremely easy to replace these with thin self-adhesive foam.

The following is an advert for this camera from the 1971/2 Wallace Heaton catalogue:

Trip 1972 015.jpg

Trip AF 50

In time the excellent Trip 35 was replaced with a cheaper to make and more automatic camera – the Trip AF 50.  This is a plastic camera with a built in flash and auto-focus.  It is a well made camera but not in the same class as the original Trip 35 to which it owes nothing but the name.

Olympus Trip 35
Olympus Trip AF 50

Dacora Digna

Dacora Digna
Dacora Digna
This is a very cheap camera from the mid 1950s.  It takes 120 film (12 negatives to a roll) which was more-or-less standard for amateur photographers at the time.  The Digna came in several versions and my example is, apparently, close to the top of the range.  The camera is fairly small for a medium format camera – 130mm wide, 90 mm tall and 70mm thick when closed – and also relatively light.
The camera has to be opened before use, but not by extending bellows.  You turn the lens very slightly clockwise and the lens pops out on a spring.  The shutter on my example is a Gauthier Vario leaf shutter – 1/25, 1/75 and 1/200 seconds and B.  As I say, this is the upmarket version so I dread to think what the lower end of the range had for a shutter.  The lens is a Subito f4.5 75mm lens – a make I have never heard of before.  As I have no intention of putting a roll of film through this camera, I shall never know how good the lens is (or not).  The lens focusses from 3.5 to infinity (I assume that is in feet as 3.5 meters would not be very usable as a near focus.  There are two Happy Snapper settings both at f10 – nine feet and around thirty feet.  At the nine feet setting, the depth of field is from seven feet to fifteen feet, and and the thirty feet setting the depth of field is fifteen feet to infinity.  Those two happy snapper settings are going to be quite useful.  The snap-shotter can keep the focus at the near Happy Snapper setting continually if he usually takes shots of people and at the far setting if he usually takes shots of landscapes.
To open the camera, the back comes away completely – no expensive hinge on the side away from the catch!  There seems to be very little holding the back in place, but it is quite secure.  The spool carrier for the new film hinges out for ease of loading, and the take-up spool carrier is partially hinged.  For a cheap camera, this is very good and easy to use.  When the back is removed, the mechanism for the pop-out lens is exposed – it is not at all sophisticated or complex so no worries about damaging it.  In fact, I was easily able to apply a few drops of clock oil to the moving parts and thus allowed the mechanism to work as if new
The finish is very poor.  It would seem to be nickel plated mild steel and aluminium. The main body seems to be die-cast aluminium with just the top plate and back being mild steel.  There is rust coming through the nickel plated portions and there is no evidence of anodising on the aluminium and it was rather corroded on my example.  There is the normal red window on the back to view the frame numbers and there is no blanking mechanism so the film could become fogged eventually if the camera is left in the light.
I am unable to say how the camera feels in use as I am not going to actually use it.   However, it fits in the hand very well and is ergonomically designed – the viewfinder and shutter release are both where you would want them to be.  In fact, the basic design is fine, it is just the poor standard of manufacture that lets this camera down.

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.

I now have a second Vitomatic – the  Vitomatic II CS  from 1967.

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.
e70bb-img_0661The 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 coupled light 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.

Sample Pictures:

Waterloo Station, London


Busker, City Square, Lincoln


Lincoln university across Brayford Pool, Lincoln


Folk buskers, Lincoln

Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex

Zeiss Ikon IkoflexZeiss Ikon IkoflexZeiss 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.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex
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.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex
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):
Ikoflex1939 008

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

Voigtlander Vito B & BL

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito 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 rangefinderThe 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.

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

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.

Vito BL:

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.

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

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.

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

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.

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

EV set to 11 – 1/60 second and f/5.6

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

EV set to 11 – 1/200 second and f/3.5


Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

EV set to 11 – 1/4 second and f/22

Photos from the Vito B:

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BLVoigtlander Vito B and Vito BLVoigtlander Vito B and Vito BL


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