Voigtlander Bessa R3A : A User Review

With the purchase of the Bessa in early summer of last year, I’ve had several months to put it through it’s paces. It has gone through about 4 dozen rolls of film, family trips, two different lenses, the occasional groans of angst and the multiple feelings of joy. Yet, I still love this camera.

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My positive experiences with the Bessa has led me to purchase of the Voigtlander 21mm f/4 and a soon to be purchased 75mm f/2.5. One main positive is the camera’s heft. It is just a solid, dense camera; coming in at a clean 1lb. And yet if one were to look at stock photos of the Bessa on camera sites, it would come across as cheap and plastic-y via the stock image. Not at all. The body is solid metal with the film spool, shutter button and advance crank being the only items that are plastic. I think. Nonetheless, outside of the occasional battery change, this camera will last you for many years.

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Another positive is the camera’s ergonomics, it just fits into the palm, thumb, and fingers of my hand. The raised rubber grip on the back of the camera works comfortably with the palm of my hand, allowing the thumb to rest against the grip. Initially, the placement of the strap lugs were of an annoyance, yet after several uses, you realize the importance of its location; for it allows you to place your index finger on the trigger, with the lugs between your index and remaining three fingers, allowing them to wrap nicely around the camera’s body. However, the positioning of the lugs slightly below the top plate of the camera means it faces slightly skyward when hung from the straps around your neck.

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I will say that the camera’s 1:1 finder ratio really is fantastic. It’s bright, big and clear. Yet when it comes to shooting with 40mm lens, I tend to wear contacts. The 40 frame lines within the finder are inconveniently tucked into the upper corners of the viewfinder. And if your strictly a glasses wearer, you’ll have a difficult time framing your image for you’ll find yourself having to poke your eye up/down, left/right to get correct composition. Non glasses wearers, no problem. But I will say that tucked within the 40 lines is a 90 as well, and it really acts as a helpful composing tool; it’s perfectly centered with the 40. Additionally, if you’re primarily a 50mm shooter with a stock pile of Leica, Zeiss, Jupiter, Canon or Voigtlander lenses, this camera is for you. I can’t recommend it enough. You’ll be given the 50 frame lines, nice and clean with no 75 or 90 squeezed within it. And whether you wear glasses or not, you’ll be able to see the 50 lines through the viewfinder. Plus it’s obviously much larger than 0.72/0.85 finders from Leica. Just for this reason alone, I’m considering the sale of my 40/1.4 to help fund the purchase of a Zeiss 50/1.5 Sonnar. I want that ‘classic’ Zeiss ‘3D’ pop! 🙂

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Anyhow, if there’s one thing that’s still taking some getting used to, it’s the camera’s metering. I’ll admit a lot of it is user error, too. Upon further research, I’m learning that it’s a rangefinder thing as well. Previously I shot a lot in AE mode and felt I was getting 7 to 8 frames per 36 roll over exposed. Lately, to the benefit of me and learning, I’ve mainly been shooting in manual. Even then, as a predominantly b&w shooter, I’m learning to meter for the grey/mid tones within the scene and I’m having a lot more success.

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Some of the photos enclosed are from Ilford HP5 pushed to 800 and Tri-X at box speed. I believe every image was done with a B+W yellow/orange filter, too…which I highly recommend. It helps cut through haze, sharpen the image, give a bit more contrast, darken the sky, and lighten the skin tone for portraits. I have developed a few rolls in the past myself with Ilford DD-X, but I own a terrible scanner (along with a general knack for being impatient) and have an overall distrust of pharmacy photo departments.

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All these shots were developed and scanned through a company called Indie Film Lab ( http://www.indiefilmlab.com ). It’s pricey, but for special occasions, it’s worth it. There is also a lab called Little Film Lab ( http://www.littlefilmlab.com ) that’ll scan your already developed negatives on their high-end scanners at a reasonable price, which is where I send my developed b&w rolls. For those that enjoy shooting at a 50mm focal length, along with a collection of 50mm lenses and enjoy shooting film…I’d certainly give this camera consideration. For others that have never really forayed into film and liked to experience a rangefinder…I’d give this camera consideration. If anything else, this camera has temporarily shutdown my GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and constant research for new cameras. The Oly EM5 is somewhat collecting dust on the shelf (love this camera and it’s color output), but it’s not going to be replaced anytime soon with the newly released Olympus OMD EM5 Mark II.

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Well, that’s the short and sweet of it.

Cheers!