The weekend before last my friends at Montreal’s Leica Boutique asked me to do a brief write up for the newsletter on the new Voigtlander 3 medium format folding rangefinder as a tool for street photography… something I was quite happy to do in return for a roll of film and, as it happened, lunch at Jean Talon market :-) I don’t think it is even available yet here in the UK so it was a privilege indeed.. I have permission to reproduce the review here… Now ‘peripatetic‘ is not a word in particularly common use… I even looked it up just to reassure myself I had understood correctly… and in this context it might be appropriate but I did note the synonyms of vagrant & vagabond…. so maybe Daniel is trying to tell me something….
Anyway, the review:
“It would be hard to dislike this camera. With its uniquely retro flavour, it offers prodigious quality in either 6×6 or 6×7 from a package that, when folded, takes up less room in a bag or pocket than an M6 with a 35mm or 50mm lens! Mechanically, it is a lovely thing. The folding mechanism has no slop in it and both focus and aperture rings are smooth and precise in operation. Physically, it fits well in the hand, although a slightly chunkier grip would be nice. (The thin body can only accommodate a ‘finger tip’ grip when the lens is open.) The lugs for a strap are on the left-hand end of the body only, so with a strap it hangs portrait fashion around your neck… not a problem as such, just different. A wrist strap would work really well with this camera but, with no lug on the right side of the body, you’d have to rig something using the tripod socket.
Handling took a bit of getting used to. With the bellows extended, the focus and aperture rings fall further outboard from the body than I’m used to, and the aperture ring is very ‘skinny’ with no tab (the focus ring is tabbed however). I fumbled a few initial shots as a result, but it’s simply a case of getting used to it and before too long, I reckon it’d be almost as quick to use as my Leica MP. I found the lack of feedback from the shutter release disconcerting at first. The shutter itself is practically silent and being located in the lens rather than the body, there is no vibration transmitted through the grip of fingers on the body. For one or two frames I wasn’t sure if the shutter had fired, it is that muted. Although it felt weird to begin with, this is merely a case of becoming familiar with the camera.
Being used to the ‘qualitative’ style of meter à la M6 that just gives you an indication of how far each side of an ideal exposure you are by means of a couple of LED arrows, I wasn’t too keen on the meter display of the Bessa III. The Voigtlander presents actual shutter speeds in the viewfinder; the one selected and a recommended speed that flashes. It means you have to read the numbers to understand how your selected exposure relates to the meter. I did not find it intuitive at all and instead found myself figuring out in my head what the shutter speed/aperture should be based on film speed and ambient lighting. It is probably a very personal thing and I imagine I would get used to it. I suppose really the intention is that you just leave it on aperture-priority auto. The meter itself is consistent and accurate.
The quiet nature plus the vintage style will make the Bessa III great for street photography. It is entirely unintimidating and even attracts the interest of folk who may find themselves in its field of view. This is a terrific camera to take on a short city break where you want something that is easy to carry/stow while exploring. The biggest plus of all is its ability to simply and routinely dish up the fabulous quality of medium format, an increasingly rare thing in a mostly digital world. The Voigtlander Bessa III is not perfect, yet I can easily forgive it all the things I don’t like simply because of what it is. I want one :-)”
So there you have it. I really did love using this camera. The lighting conditions on the day I used it were hideous… high sun with a lot of glare from the humidity yet the combination of the excellent transmission qualities of the lens (probably a fujinon in disguise…) and film (Kodak 160 NC) coped brilliantly with the contrasty conditions and captured some super shadow detail. If I could make any changes to the camera it would be to put a mechanical detent on the shutter button just to give a little positive feedback and stick a meter in along the lines of that on my Leica MP. The meter fitted is not really suited to pure manual photography as it only really works in one stop increments… hopeless, but then with an accurate aperture priority mode then I guess the makers figured why would anyone want to work exclusively in manual mode…..? For me I have just developed my style around a purely manual camera… the MP. I could adjust.. It’s a fab travel camera, I’d even be inclined to take it on my next big bike trip despite having just 12 exposures per roll in 6×6 mode. I did not include any techy details as you can read all about that on the German Voigtlander site here.
My favourite picture of the day is this one… instinctive street photography and the colours, or lack of, work well with that limo. As Daniel put it “… young Rene Levesque at the right has just stepped out from 1958.”
Perhaps a short history lesson for my non-Quebec readership… Rene Levesque was the founder of the Parti Québécois political party, and 23rd Premier of Quebec… but before 1960 he was a journalist/reporter… and he looked exactly like that photo… Street photography is my mainstay and this camera is beautifully suited to it.
I have been thinking an awful lot recently about why I am so stuck on film in this mostly digital world.. and I think I finally have the words to be able to articulate it.. it’s not a lecture, merely an expression of what it means for me personally.. but I’ll save it for later this week, I figure you have enough to read for one day :-)
p.s a late update, useful critiscm of the above in the comments below concerning use of filters and lens hood.. there is an optional lens good and the lens is threaded for 58mm dia filters. Full details in the user manual here.