Mini Review: Voigtlander Bessa-R (Plus Rangefinder Adjustment)

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

The story starts with a promise. A promise to use a camera that’s owner no longer could. A promise to a son.

A promise of anonymity.

The camera arrived on my desk Friday. It’d been told to me that I’d been asked to test it. I wasn’t really sure what I was testing. I opened the box and there was a battered and beaten Voigtlander. I’d never used a Voigtlander camera before (unless you include the Epson digital rangefinders). As I picked it out of the box the bottom plate basically fell off. The top plate was completely worn through to the poly-carbonate (?) in some places.  I put the camera up to my eye to focus only to see that the rangefinder patch was horribly out of alignment. So much so I didn’t even know if it would be fixable.

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

I’m a school teacher, for those of you who didn’t know. I don’t routinely dismantle cameras on my desk. Although being a nerd (and a rangefinder user) I have a set of tools in my bag. Luckily, I’d seen someone do this before, albeit on a coffee shop table. I took the hot shoe clips off revealing the rangefinder screws. Well, actually only one screw of the two were remaining so lets hope infinity focus is locked in 😉

You can see the screw for adjusting the rangefinder alignment on the right side of the hot shoe. It is a case of “one of these things is not like the others.” Luckily it turned fairly easily.

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

This is one of my best friends, Jemal. He volunteered – by volunteered I mean he turned around to look at what I was doing – to be the model for my focus test. Spot on. Compared to my Leicas this adjustment was easy (probably due to the fact that it isn’t as accurate). If both screws were present, of course, this would be even better.

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

I didn’t have much of a chance to take “exciting” photos. I decided to shoot this roll quickly. I wanted to show that I was willing to use this camera.

“It isn’t a Leica, I know.”

Every camera doesn’t have to be a Leica. Even a lot of Leicas, aren’t “Leicas” anymore.

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

That said, I have never seen a Leica’s bottom plate fall off. I saw an MPs ISO dial fall off though, ha. This Bessa was being held together by this elastic band. By looking at the camera it had been used a lot. I mean, seriously a lot. My bro, Nicholas Dominic Talvola’s cameras don’t look as used as this and I’ve seen his cameras dropped out of cars and vomited on.

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.
Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

I used the camera falling apart for the first night. My wife was looking as lovely as ever during adjustments. I remember thinking a couple of things as I took this photo:

  1. The shutter sound on the Bessa is lovely to my ears. I like the double clack. I know I’m weird but I like my shutters to be not so quiet. I like to “feel” I’ve taken a photo  when I’ve taken one. This is probably part of the reason I am one of the only people who prefers the digital Leica sound to the film one. And the Bessa has a particularly nice double clack.
  2. The meter accounts for a couple of stops on either side of correct so I can easily fine tune. Sounds dumb and I’m sure the M6 does this as well but to me the way the Bessa did it was easier to use in practice.
  3. The rangefinder patch is a hell of a lot brighter than my recently CLA’d Leicas. Hmmmm………..
Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

Round two of fixes came when I returned to work the next day. So basically, the reason the bottom plate was falling off is the area around the screws had become bigger than the head of the screws that were supposed to hold it down. Since the screws are tiny it was hard to find ones that matched. I ended up pilfering some from my original X100. The screws on the bottom of the X100 fit perfectly and held the bottom plate in place. I was stoked, ha 😉

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

This is kimbab. It is kinda like a Korean sandwich. Also, it has been around a lot longer than “california rolls”.. Interesting how that works? I think there is a thesis to be written about how the idea for sushi rolls was most likely somehow derived from something like this.

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

I don’t normally take so many photos of food. It was just that I’d kinda become excited to shoot with the Bessa. It is light and easy to use. The feeling it gave me was similar to the feeling I had the first time I used the X100 (whose screws were now holding the Bessa together). I just wanted to shoot everything with that camera. I ripped through a roll with this faster than I’d done at my wedding.

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

I should have mentioned before the film here is Ilford HP5 at 3200. Matt (my buddy Matt from England AKA “endlessproof” to whom I talk to every day) if you’re reading this I’m sorry. I had to have a bit of fun with you last night when we were talking about what film this was. Don’t be mad bro 😉

A word on shooting at 3200. Because the lens – 35mm screw mount Color Skopar – isn’t particularly fast it helped to shoot at 3200. It is harder to do this on the Leica with a max shutter speed of 1/1000. The 1/2000 on the Bessa really helped shooting in the daytime.

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

On the lens:

It is certainly the best bang for buck lens I’ve used. Period. It is contrasty with little distortion and just seemed to find light. I hadn’t been as happy about scans in a long time. They reminded me of how nice the 50mm Summilux scans look and that is saying something. People here are going to think I’m nuts, but they really did look that good to me. For $300 I’m not sure a better bargain in rangefinder photography can be had. I liked it better than my 35mm Summaron that I love. No kidding. Anyone who tells you different probably feels dumb about the $3000 they just spent on a new Summilux to take photos of their coffee at Starbucks and show up to meetups to brag about to their “friends.” More on this when I review the lens on a digital body in the coming weeks.

So, all in all my first roll with the Bessa was a super fun one. I enjoyed it so much! I actually enjoyed it too much… I am now halfway through my last roll of HP5 :/ With the house and “better” things to spend my money on I probably won’t be buying film for at least the next little while. That’s the sad reality of film isn’t it? Get a lovely car to drive but no money to fill it with petrol.

Anyway, I digress. I probably should have laid off photos like this.

Voigtlander Bessa-R, 35mm Color Skopar LTM. Iksan, South Korea.

Then I would have had more film.


Iksan, June 2018.


If you have any questions about the camera feel free to write in the comments below. I love reading the comments!

For anyone who cares:

Ilford HP5 at 3200. Developed in Ilfosol 3 for 25 minutes at 26*.



11 thoughts on “Mini Review: Voigtlander Bessa-R (Plus Rangefinder Adjustment)

  1. Very nice story. That is one of the cameras on my wish list. Can’t possibly justify the cost at the moment and I have way too many other cameras to play with at the moment, maybe one day I will be tempted though.

  2. What use is a private darkroom if you don’t have film/developer to use it? Maybe you can implement a “Buy me film” button, works for other folks with coffee 😉

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