Voigtländer Vitoret DR

This is a late 1960s rangefinder camera from the German firm of Voigtländer – who were owned by the Carl Zeiss Stiftung. This camera very much resembles my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE although it has fewer features.

The camera itself has the name Voigtländer on it in a couple of places but the instruction sheet (a large, single piece of folded paper and in no way a booklet) is clearly titled Zeiss Ikon Voigtländer. Although the Carl Zeiss Stiftung had a controlling interest in Voigtländer since the 1950s, it was only in the late 1960s that Carl Zeiss amalgamated Zeiss Ikon and Voigtländer into one manufacturer.

  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Prontor 300
  • speeds: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/300
  • flash: PC socket, X synch
  • film size: 35 mm

The name of this camera – Vitoret – indicates that it is a derivative of the folding Vito camera of the late 1940s. The Vito range developed over 20 years or so into a range of quite sophisticated cameras – Vito B, and Vitomatic in the 1950s, Vito C, CLR and Vito Automatic in the 1960s. The D part of the name indicates a light meter – I do not know what the D stands for as the German for a light meter is Belichtungsmesser or Lichtmeter. The R indicates a built-in rangefinder.

The body is made from die-cat aluminium alloy and the top and bottom plates appear to be made from aluminium sheet. The body is covered with black leatherette and the edge of the camera are painted gloss black. The opening back is made from pressed steel and is also covered with black leatherette. The camera measures 125 by 88 by 70 mm. It weighs 538 g. This is the late model Vitoret DR with square corners – there was an earlier model with a more rounded look. The Vitoret range was introduced in about 1963 with the Vitoret D. The version with square corners was introduced in 1966 and seems to have been continued up until Zeiss Ikon ceased production in 1972. The general appearance is very similar to the Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE.

The top plate is sparse – at least compared to most SLR cameras. On the far right is a knob for controlling the light meter. This is not a coupled meter and you need to manually transfer the setting to the shutter and aperture. This meter is a selenium meter so it has no need of a battery – there is a disadvantage to selenium meters in old cameras as the selenium sensor can deteriorate over time if left exposed to light but if the camera is stored in its case or a dark cupboard that is unlikely to be a problem. On my camera, the meter is completely dead, which is likely to be a problem with the electronics rather than the selenium sensor.

To use the meter, you first need to set the film speed using the inner perspex disc. This can be set between 12 DIN/12 ASA and 36 DIN/3200 ASA. Having set the film speed, you now turn the outer ring to move the red pointer in the light meter window until it is superimposed on the meter’s white needle. You then read off the aperture (black numbers) and shutter speed (white numbers) combination that suits you. The meter was made for Voigtländer by Bewi who made meters for a number of German camera makers as well as for theirselves.

Central on the top plate is a Barnack accessory shoe – no electrical contacts so a cold shoe. Just to the right of this accessory shoe, near the rear of the top plate, is a small (3mm diameter) chromed button. This is the release button to allow the film to be rewound. It is necessary to keep this button depressed the whole time that you are rewinding the film.

Left of the accessory shoe is the maker’s and model name embossed in the metal. On the far left of the top plate is the rewind crank – this is the ubiquitous small folding crank. As well as rewinding the film, this crank lifts up to facilitate inserting and removing the film cassettes.

On the back of the top plate, towards the left, is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 20 by 14 mm and incorporates the rangefinder eyepiece. There are bright lines, 14 by 9 mm, bounding the image area. As this is not an SLR, there is no focus screen. The image is tinted pink. In the centre of the image is a pale green diamond – this is the rangefinder spot. The pink image and green spot makes the rangefinder easy to use. Just below the the top plate, on the right, is the film advance lever. This moves through 225º to advance the film by one frame but this can also be achieved with several short movements.

On the front of the top plate is a rectangular chrome bezel which measures 83 by 20 mm. On the right of this bezel is the viewfinder window. This measures 25 by 15 mm. Centrally, there is a black rectangle with a clear diamond. This is the rangefinder window. The centre of this diamond window is 30 mm from the centre of the viewfinder window. The larger this distance, the more sensitive the rangefinder will be. 30 mm is quite respectable. On the far left of the chrome bezel is the knobbly light meter sensor window.

Below the top plate on the front is the shutter/lens assembly. The shutter is a Prontor 300. This has a restricted range of shutter speeds: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/300 plus B. This range, restricted as it is, will be fine for the photographers attracted to this camera. Apertures are from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22 which is a very usable range. There are five blades in the iris diaphragm giving a pentagonal aperture – the effect of this on the bokeh will be seen with the test film.

The lens is a Color-Lanthar which appears to be a triplet. Its focal length is 50 mm which is usual for this type of 35mm camera. The ‘Color’ part indicates that the lens is designed for colour photography. This might be taken for granted today but the vast majority of photography in the 1960s and earlier was black and white. The ‘Lanthar’ part indicates that the lens uses glasses containing Lanthanum – a rare earth metal that gives the glass a high refractive index allowing for ‘stronger’ elements to the lens. Lanthanum glass also has low dispersion which means that the different colours of light behave the same as they pass through the lens resulting in less chromatic aberration. The use of Lanthanum improves the quality of the lens but this lens is a triplet – only three glass elements – which reduces the quality of the lens. Other triplet lenses I have used have been quite good when stopped down to ƒ/8 and I expect this lens to be the same. The test film will show for sure.

Focal range is from just short of 3.5 feet (I suspect that it is actually one metre but this is an export camera and the scale is in feet) to infinity. There are distances marked by a red dot (close to 4.5 feet), a red triangle (between 9 and 12 feet) and a red circle (short of 60 feet. These are Happy Snapper settings for portraits, groups and landscapes respectively. These are intended to be used with an aperture of ƒ/8. I can tell this aperture by setting the red circle to the focus index and looking at which aperture is against infinity on the depth of field scale – it is ƒ/8.

This depth of field scale sits between the shutter speed scale and the focus scale. It consists of two aperture scales, one either side of the focus index, with the widest aperture nearest to the index. To establish the depth of filed for your settings, you look at the focus distance against each of the aperture values that you have set. An example: you have set your aperture to ƒ/11 and you are focused at 8 feet. The two distances against ƒ/11 are 6 feet and twelve feet so everything between six and twelve feet will be in focus.

To the left of the lens is the shutter release. This is a vertical slider rather than a button. These became common in the 1960s but I have never liked them as they require a different grip on the camera. In order to attach a standard cable release there is a threaded hole on the bottom of the slider. Below the shutter release slider is a chrome PC socket for flash connection.

The base of the camera has a standard tripod socket – 1/4 inch Whitworth I would think at this age. This socket is in line with the centre of the lens. Just in front of the tripod socket is the camera serial number – 843072. All my other Voigtländer cameras lack a serial number, their place being taken by the lens serial number. This camera’s serial number is shorter than Voigtländer’s lens serial number.

Also on the base plate is the frame counter. Unlike earlier Voigtländer cameras, this frame counter counts up. Every third frame has a number, the intermediate frames being dots. The counter counts up to 36. The counter is automatically reset to -2 by opening the back.

To get inside the camera, there is a catch on the left-hand edge of the camera. To open the back, you must squeeze the top and bottom of the catch and the back will pop open. The back itself has a rather small pressure plate and a small chrome roller to keep the film against the sprocket shaft.

The film cassette goes on the left – the rewind crank holds the cassette in place and needs to be lifted to either insert or remove the cassette. The film gate is no larger than necessary and smaller than in most 35mm cameras. To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. The rôle of this is to count the sprocket holes in the film as it passes the film gate to ensure that exactly one frame is advanced each time – eight holes to one frame. The take-up spool is nice and wide – this means that the film is not curled too tightly on the take-up spool. With some cameras, a thin take-up spool means that the film will not lie flat for printing or scanning. There are four slots on take-up spool which are nice and wide and make it easy to fit a new film.

I have eventually finished my test film – Agfa Vista plus, 200 ISO – and have had the film developed by AG Photography in Birmingham. The results are quite good for a 50+ year old camera – everything is working as it should. The shutter is clearly within spec as the negatives are nicely exposed – I cannot show this on the Interweb as the scanning process compensates for poorly exposed negative but I can examine the actual negatives and they have the image density I would like them to have. The same goes for the aperture.

My first two images are test of the rangefinder. In the first image, I have focused using the rangefinder on the nearest silver knob with the aperture wide open. That is in focus and the rest of the image is not. The silver knob was close to the closest focus distance for this lens (3.5 feet).

This next picture is using the rangefinder to focus on something a bit further away. Again, the subject is in focus and the rest is not, which is good.

This next image is the Strait in Lincoln a dull day. Image contrast is good as is focus.

The chapter house at Lincoln cathedral, covered in scaffolding for repairs. This is looking west and has caused a small amount of flare. Otherwise, I am pleased with this image.

While enjoying a cup of coffee with Bestbeloved in Caffè Nero in Lincoln, I tried this camera hand-held indoors. To get a good exposure, I used a fairly long shutter speed. I was able to hold then camera steady enough for there to be no visible camera shake, but I doubt I could enlarge the picture much above what it is here.

The last image is of Bestbeloved looking at gulls through her binoculars (which is what she can usually be found to be doing). This is in Scarborough and was taken in light rain. The lens has good micro-contrast and good colour rendition in quite poor light.

Overall, I am impressed with this camera. The lens is a triplet but performs well enough. It was made by one of the foremost camera makers of the 20th century so it should be good but its was towards the end of German hegemony in this industry and the Germans were finding out that they could not compete with the Japanese. Zeiss Ikon and Voigtländer started making down to a price rather than up to a standard. The Japanese, of course, managed to build down to a price whilst also building up to a standard.

Voigtlander Vitomatic IICS

Another derivation of the Vito B from Voigtlander – the last of the Vito B line.

I already have a Voigtlander Vitomatic II which in turn is based on the Voigtlander Vito B camera. This camera is from the same stable. I now have four Vito B derivatives as the Vito BL is a precursor of the Vitomatic cameras. This first photograph shows my four Vito B derived cameras. They are very similar – they share the same basic body casting – but vary in many details. The Vito B was the first old camera I bought and is still a very special camera to me.P1030956

P1030957

lens:  Color-Skopar
focal length:  50 mm
apertures: f/2.8 to f/22
focus range: 3.5 feet
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor 500 SLK-V
speeds: 1 second to 1/500 second
flash: hot shoe plus PC connector
film size: 35 mm

P1030971

This CS model has a more modern looking bezel around the viewfinder, rangefinder and meter sensor than the earlier Vito B range but is otherwise much the same as the earlier cameras.

Description:

I will give a simple description concentrating on the differences introduced with this model.

The top of the camera has a translucent dome on the right-hand end which has two functions. Its primary function is as a battery holder for the light meter which his clearly a CdS meter rather than a selenium meter in the earlier Vitomatic II. The battery is a PX 625 button battery which is a banned mercury battery. Modern alternatives are available but will affect the light meter as the voltage will be slightly too high. The secondary purpose is the translucence which provides light to enable the user to see the meter needle in the viewfinder.

P1030958

At the other end of the top is the rewind crank. The earlier Vitomatics (and Vito B, Vito BL) had a rewind knob – this has been replaced with a fold-out crank as has become usual. This has an idiosyncrasity in that in order to fold-out the crank, it is necessary to flick a serrated lever on the end of the camera below the rewind crank. In the older Vito series, this caused the rewind knob to pop up. Now it causes the crank to pop up – the user still needs to unfold it.

In the centre of the top is the accessory shoe. This now has electrical contacts for a flash gun so is a hot shoe. This camera also retains the ability to use off-camera flash with a PC connector on the left-hand end above the serrated lever for the rewind crank. The viewfinder eyepiece on the back of the camera is nice and large and has clear bright-lines for framing the picture. These have secondary lines to allow for parallax in close-focus photographs.

In the centre of the viewfinder image is the rangefinder spot. This is decidedly orange (achieved by using gold-plated mirrors instead of silvered mirrors) and quite easy to see but is a bit on the small side. The split-image rangefinder spot has high contrast making it easy to align the images (Note:  while writing this article, the rangefinder has stopped working. The linkage between the focus ring on the lens  and the rangefinder mechanism in the top plate has become de-linked in some way. I shall not attempt a repair as the camera is otherwise excellent).

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At the bottom of the viewfinder image is the light meter display. This has a green area on the left, a red area on the right and a larger white area in the centre. At the moment, I do not have a suitable battery for this so the meter is not working. When the batteries arrive (ordered from The Small Battery Company) I will find out if the meter is functional and if so, how to use it. I will then update this article.

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In the bottom right of the viewfinder is a prism which allows the user to see both the aperture and shutter speed which have been set. The visible shutter speeds are limited to 1/60 to 1/500 which are printed in silver on the shutter barrel. To achieve this, the shutter speeds are offset to the left with the highest speed – 1/500 – being at the top of the shutter housing. Slower speeds are available down to 1 second which speeds are printed in bronze. These speeds are not visible in the viewfinder but that is not going to be a major problem as then user will not be using these slower speeds hand-held so they will stile visible.

In common with the other cameras in the Vito B range, the film advance lever advances the film but does not cock the shutter. The shutter is cocked by the moving film rotating a sprocket wheel above the film gate. This means that the shutter will not get cocked if there is no film in the camera leading people to falsely think that the shutter is broken.

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The lens is the Voigtlander Color-Skopar which is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Tessar four element lens. It is a very good lens. Its serial number – 7004871 – tells me the camera was made in 1967 so this is an early version of the Vitomatic II CS.

The shutter on this camera is a Prontor 500 SLK-V. The V indicates that the shutter is a special version to Voigtlander’s specification (FYI – S=syncronised for flash, L=coupled light meter, K=coupled rangefinder). I assume that a this refers to the internal linkages to the rest of the camera as outwardly the shutter is the same as non-V Prontor 500 SLK shutters. The 500 tells us the top shutter speed – there were 125 and 250 versions of the shutter made. This shutter is both light meter and rangefinder coupled so there is no need to manually transfer either exposure details or distance to the shutter once they have been read.

The shutter has a delay action lever – re on then underside of the shutter housing. Standard advice is to never use these with old cameras as they are liable to failure and can wreck an otherwise good shutter mechanism. On this camera, the delay action works well and smoothly giving a delay of about eight seconds before the shutter fires.

The shutter barrel also has a film speed setting. This is in both DIN (on the right, 15 to 30) and ASA (on the left, 25 to 800).The focus ring has three Happy Snapper settings. the first, denoted by a red dot, is for head-and-shoulder portraits and gives a focus range of nearly four feet to five feet. The second, denoted by a red triangle, is for group shots and gives a focus range of eight feet to sixteen feet. The third Happy Snapper setting is denoted by a red circle and is for landscapes with a focus range of fifteen feet to infinity (my apologies to non-British and younger readers, this camera does not do metres!). All these assume an aperture setting of f/8 which is printed in bronze on the aperture scale. If you use f/22 and the red triangle, this will give an aperture range of five and a half feet to infinity and shows an hyper-focal distance of eleven feet. Ideal for landscapes in good weather!

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The shutter release has moved from the top plate to the front of the camera and is now a slider rather than a button. At first glance, there is no provision for a cable release, but the socket for this is on the underside of the shutter release slider.

P1030965

The rest of the camera is basically the same as the rest of the Vito B series – the strange way of opening the back, for instance, by undoing a small part of the base and then the back hinges out as you might expect – see the next two photographs.

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I currently have several cameras with filom in them so I shall be delaying testing this one for a short while. When I have run the test film, I shall post the results here. I have high expectations – no Voigtlander camera has let me down yet. The big advantage of German cameras over the Japanese cameras is that the Germans never used foam light seals so light leaks are rare.

Mike Eckman has devised a system of scoring cameras for his reviews. With his permission, I am going to copy that system for my own blog. Details of how this works can be found here.

My Final WordThe Vitomatic IICS is a very well designed and made camera. It was designed and made towards the end of German photographic industry. It is visually pleasing and easy to use but the Japanese were already doing it better.
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