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Voigtlander Bessa L
The Minimalist's Simple Black Box


I am always thinking to make joke, in lending my Voigtlander Bessa L without attached accessory viewfinder, to friends used to DC/DSLR operation with LCD preview. Oops ....

Voigtlander Bessa L was introduced in Jan 1999, but was discontinued in May 2003. In talking about the term, classic or antique cameras, it may not be very accurate. However, it may be also quite closely tided with such terms for some facts that we should take into account. Newly designed Leica screw mount compatible cameras has been disappeared from the market for decades, no matter from Leica or third parties. At the turning of 20th into 21st century, the release of Bessa L to the market is still a surprise to many photographers used to old Leicas or compatibles.

It is made by the Japanese manufacturer, Cosina, but marketed under the brandname Voigtlander, a name originally founded in German that also disappeared from the market since 70's.

From the camera botton plate, see the label 'Voigtlander' and 'Germany' in very smart and outstanding white colour, and the text 'Made in Japan' in comparatively low profile embossed black. It explained why Bessa L was marketing in Cosina's official website as 'Nostaglic' when it was released.

Inside And Outside

It can serve as a cheap backup option for photographers used to screw mounted Leicas. On the other hand, it is an attractive deal for new members to experience Leica screw mounted stuff by paying just a fraction of the cost, that is much more affordable.

From the eyes of an outsider, apparently Bessa L has one hole less than a normal camera, which has one hole on lens for lighting coming in, and another hole on viewfinder for photograher to see the scene and control the focus before talking the shot. To be more specific, in some old rangefinder (RF), even separate windows are used for confirm the captured view (viewfinder) and focus control (rangefinder). So, Bessa L just looks like a light tighted box after the lens is mounted. That is very strange from the perspective of modern photography equipment. Actually, such design is not without reason. In RF cameras, film exposure and viewing are on different path. When using lens of different focal length, photographer need to attach accessory viewfinder anyway, although the original rangefinder window for focusing is working. Removing this viewfinder/rangefinder makes Bessa L look slimer, lighter, minialistic, and at the same time reducing the manufacturing cost.

For focusing on Bessa L, photographer need to guess the distance with subject, and then manually set the focus on lens, which accuracy is in contrast to the focusing mechanism in RF and SLR. This camera is originally designed for wides or even super wides shooting, combining with such depth of fields of those lens, it will work great with this old fashioned guestimate scale focusing.

Personal Experience

After some research on the web, I definitely fall in love with it. It is like revisiting photography of the old days, when control mechanism is limited. The design is so simple and back to basics, no more, no less. Guess focusing is one. 'Blind shooting' is the second. No built-in viewfinder somehow encourages someone to shoot off-finder, unless attaching the addtional accessory viewfinder onto it. It is further faciliated because of its LED indicator lights of TTL meter are located on the top of the camera, that can be seen easily even holding the camera at waist level. That is very convenient for street photography.

After buying the Bessa L from ebay, I felt its size really more compact than my expectation, when holding on hand. I tried to mount the Pre-Soviet made Jupiter 8 (50mm / F2) but eventually found that it is still a bit difficult to control in terms of the focusing due to the comparatively short depth of field, and also the angle of coverage of the lens. Subsequently, I acquired Voigtlander's Color Skopar Classic (35mm / F2.5). I also sometimes use it with the Pre-Soviet made KMZ universal finder, which is a Zeiss Ikon clone.

There are different kinds of comments on the web, about the easy scratching on the camera top plate, shutter jam (I never experienced), etc. I will say, it is not a perfect camera, but a simple, compact and basic camera, if you wish to try something different after feeling tired of fully automated modern photographic equipment. It is a lovely street photography tool.

Looking into the postive side, the imperfect Bessa L is only the beginning of the story, and it is one of the steps, Cosina continue to develop and produce more mature models later.

About The Camera

The camera shown in this webpage is Voigtlander Bessa L, with Color Skopar Classic (35mm / F2.5) and KMZ Universal Finder attached.

  • The shutter speed supports 1/200 - 1 sec & Bulb setting.
  • A cold shoe and PC-type sync socket are provided to attaching external flash unit.
  • For TTL light meter, it supports ISO film speed from 25 - 1600.
  • Shutter release cable can be used, and self-timer is provided
  • Shutter release is locked when film advance lever is not in ready position.

Test shot taken by Color Skopar Classic, 35mm F/2.5

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