Voigtlander Bessa L Review
I borrowed this camera from a friend a while back and shot a few rolls through it.
The first thing I notice when handling the camera is its apparent cheap construction. The camera, when compared to another in the Bessa lineup like the R4m/a is cheap. It is made mostly from plastic. It is much lighter than other 35mm cameras. Part of this is due to its lack of a viewfinder of any sort but is mostly attributed to its construction. The frame of the camera is metal, everything else, including the rear door, is plastic.
The Bessa-L is a LTM or Leica Thread Mount camera, it lacks a viewfinder or any other means of framing. On the version I used there was a Voigtlander Heliar 15mm F4.5 with the corresponding external viewfinder. I believe this camera was made for this lens or its even wider counterpart, the 12mm F5.6. The extreme depth of field of these ultra-wide-angle lenses allow for a lot of errors in focusing; the user does not have to be precise.
The camera is the most basic of cameras, shutter wind lever, shutter speed dial, shutter button, ISO dial. The aperture is controlled on the lens. There is also a cold shoe on the top of the camera for accessory finders, which you will need to frame your images correctly. There is a PC sync on the side of the camera if you would like to use a flash, which, if this method is chosen, you will be using the accessory shoe and thus will not be able to use an external viewfinder. Underneath and to the left of the accessory shoe is the meter. The meter is a simple right arrow, dot, left arrow, which is through the lens. I have found the meter itself to be very accurate. The ISO is set around the rewind knob, ISO from 25 to 1600 with no exposure compensation. There is also a self-timer on the front of the camera.
In use, the camera largely operates like a point and shoot. With this lens set to f16, everything from infinity to 0.3 meters is in focus. Even at the lenses widest aperture, everything from infinity to just under a meter is in focus. It is very easy to burn through a roll of film with this camera without even changing the focus on the lens. The only problem with shooting a camera with a lens this wide is holding. If you are not careful, your finger will be in the shots if they are too close to the lens, which has happened to me before.
Shutter speeds range from B all the way up to 1/2000th of a second, and a 1/125th flash sync. The shutter itself is a vertically traveling metal shutter. The shutter level doubles as the on/off switch. When it is pulled out with the thumb it turns the camera on, with it fully closed the shutter will not fire. I love this feature of the Bessa L. The shutter is fully mechanical, the battery is only used to power the meter.
I have very few, if any, complaints about this camera. The only reason I do not look for one for myself is that it does not match my shooting style. I much prefer the more precise focus and framing of a rangefinder or SLR camera. This camera, however, is perfect for the snap shooter or someone who shoots from the hip. The Bessa T is a similar camera to this except it has a rangefinder and a Leica M mount.
I took out the camera to run through a roll of Provia 100f, my favorite film. The last time I had used the camera was over a year ago, so I figured a refresher was in order. In practice, the camera is a simple one, with so few options that it operates like a point and shoot. Most of the time, I had the camera at F16, which puts everything from infinity to under one meter in focus. I did try to shoot some closer photos at wide open, with almost all of them sharp. The only reason the resulting photos are not crisp is my scanning method. On a light table they look nice.
While I think the idea of a shutter wind lever as the on/off is a good idea, in practice I did not like it. I would go to take a photo and forget to pull it out a bit. The meter is in a good spot and easy to read except in direct sun, I would have to cover it with my hand's shadow. The meter is accurate enough to shoot slide film.
One other issue is the battery compartment, the cover/holder is plastic and will just pop out if not tightened properly. If over or under tightened, boom, falls right out. These two issues were the only ones that I did not like about the camera. I'd suggest this camera to someone looking for an ultra-wide camera that operates as close to a point and shoot as you can get.