Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review of the Voigtlander Bessa R3a After 6 Years

Since 2005 I've been using the Cosina-Voigtlander series of cameras and lenses. When I first learned about rangefinder photography I started with the flimsy Bessa L. Several months later I moved to the underwhelming Bessa R and then onto the Bessa R3a. During that time I have owned or shot with R2a, R3m, and R4m but only the R3a, after 6 years, is still with me. Sometimes I wonder why.

Over our long relationship together I could use it for weeks and think that the R3a would be the only camera I would ever need. Then inspecting those negatives the next month I regret not leaving the camera on the shelf in favor of a Leica body.

For your information and entertainment I've compiled a simple list of my personal Voigtlander Bessa R3a likes and dislikes.

- The accurate meter. Exposure on TriX, Reala, Velvia and even Kodachrome (RIP) is impossibly perfect.

- Aperture priority mode. It's permanently set on my camera because it's accurate and quickens my shooting. With A mode on, one of my three technical details is removed. I set the aperture and then the only part I need to dial-in is the focus.
- 40mm framelines. One of my favorite lenses is the Nokton 40mm f1.4 and it's nice to have accurate framing.
- Normal swinging back door film loading. Doesn't require use of my mouth to load a new roll of film, unlike the Leica M2 or M3.
- Manual frame-selector. I like the having control over what frame-lines show up. It's a small innovation that makes the camera cheaper and gives me more control.

- Rewind knob. It always slips out of my fingers when I am rewinding the film. I mean it in the most literal sense possible -- 'always'.
- Rangefinder came unaligned. When I received my R3a from cameraquest, it the rangefinder was misaligned. I had it repaired locally because it would have cost too much for shipping to and from the dealer even if repairs were free. Plus there was no guarantee that it the alignment wouldn't come unraveled again in the journey back to me.
- Short EBL (effective base length) I have trouble getting a focused shot with the Nokton 40mm f1.4 at f1.4. It's easier on an M body.
- Requires a battery to operate. I realize that if it wasn't for batteries I wouldn't have it's fabulous A mode and meter but this is means the R3a can't join me solo on adventures. I require a backup body because I can't depend on batteries to take my pictures.
- 40mm framelines hard to see. While wearing glasses I can't see the framelines. If I jam the camera against my face and look around the window I can almost see some of the lines.
Lug placement: The lugs are mounted in the front of the camera. That means the top of the camera will obnoxiously poke into you and the lens faces straight up! It becomes even more obnoxious when using an external viewfinder -- it will jab your ribs while you walk. Stupid!

- The finicky shutter system. There are two enormous issues with the shutter system. The first is that it jams periodically. Sometimes I can fix it by poking around with my finger and sometimes it has to go the shop. The second is that when the battery begins to run out the curtains don't open properly. It's difficult to notice when it's happening because the battery isn't low enough to trigger the warning (1 and 2000 blinking at the same time) and partially moving curtain sounds like a frame is being exposed. The only indicator that there's a problem is when the negatives are developed. "Oh. I see there are dozens of blank frames. Time to change my batteries in five weeks ago."

I wouldn't ever buy or recommend a Bessa R2a, R3a, or R4a. I don't want to use a camera that out of 20 rolls has half of a roll completely unexposed. That's not good enough. A camera that works pretty well for 97.5% of the time is not useful to me. Sadly, the R3a is demoted to a last resort backup. For 25-30% more money I could get a used Leica M2, M3, M4-2, or M4-p and, though they are not without their own issues, that's what I would recommend to most anyone.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Prices of Cosina-Voigtlander Viewfinders at CameraQuest from 2006 to 2011

Just like the price of lenses, viewfinders are on a steady increase. I've recorded data from 2006 until now and compiled it into this neat and mostly-organized spreadsheet.

All of the information has been taken from Stephen Gandy's website: (albeit different versions).

How to read the data:
- numbers highlighted in pink means the price has risen since its last recording
- numbers highlighted in green means the price has decreased since its last recording
- data from October 2009 was unavailable and so it was not included
- this is not a complete list of viewfinders (eg the 15-35mm zoom multifinder is absent)

Prices of Cosina-Voigtlander Lenses at CameraQuest from 2006 to 2011

Prices of Cosina-Voigtlander equipment has been rising since I started tracking it several years ago. I've put together this detailed list of the cost of lenses from October 2006 until 2011 as they appear/appeared on Stephen Gandy's website, .

How to read the data:
- numbers highlighted in pink means the price has risen since the last time it was in stock
- numbers highlighted in green means the price has decreased since the last time it was in stock
- the price of the 75mm f2.5 didn't change but because it now included the viewfinder I considered that as good as a decrease
- data from October 2009 was unavailable and so it was not included
- this is not a complete list of lenses (eg the 35mm Pancake first version and 50mm f2 Heliar are absent).

My observations on the data:
- Since 2006, the 50mm f2.5 Sokpar has increased a stomping 107% from $289 to $599. This is the largest percent increase on the board.
- The 50mm f1.5 Nokton ASPH is in a hair-splitting second place going up 106% to $699.
- The lens that seems to gain the most ribbing for its unstoppable increases, the 28mm f3.5 Skopar, gained a meager 103%, rising to $579, before it sold out in 2010.
- In terms of US dollars gained, the fattest pig is the 35mm f1.2 Nokton ASPH (chrome version) that increased $476 before the final sucker purchased that last one. Wait? "Sucker"? Investor! I'm an idiot for not paying attention to my own data analysis! If that lens continues to gain value like this in a few decades the 300 people that own chrome noktons can buy Europe back from China