Voigtlander Bessa

My circa 1940 Voigtländer Bessa, a medium-format folding camera, sits on prominent display in my office. It’s been in that spot the entire six years or so I’ve owned it, making it one of my earliest old-camera purchases. It came to me with a hazy lens that I have been meaning to try to clean up. This is partially why I display it in my office – I thought that seeing it every day would remind me to do the job.

Clearly, I need to find better ways to remind myself to do things.

I finally took the lens assembly apart not long ago and gently cleaned the glass as best I could. My efforts improved, but did not entirely correct, the problem. I’ve seen challenged lenses return unblemished results, so I loaded my last roll of size 120 Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and fired off all eight frames one evening.

As this was just a test roll, I stayed close to home. This tree is in my front yard. I used the pop-up viewfinder on the top plate for all these shots, and learned that the closer I was to my subject the worse the parallax error. When I framed this, the bottom of the tree trunk was at the bottom edge of the viewfinder.


But I was happy that the slight haze that remained on the lens seemed not to matter. These images are plenty crisp and full of detail.

For Sale

I made one long shot, of my neighbors’ homes and cars. (The mound of dirt and the mixed pavement are from the massive sewer project going on in my neighborhood.) I wish I had sprung for plus-sized scans, because I’d like to blow this image up and see if at full resolution I can read the nameplate on the car’s trunk lid.


My Bessa is the entry-level model of its time with a Gauthier shutter and a 110 mm f/4.5 Voigtar lens. While the better lens/shutter combinations available on this camera are more desirable to collectors, as you can see this low-spec combination returned fine results. I’ve read that this lens is best at f/11, f/16, and f/22, but in the fading evening light I shot f/5.6 or f/8 at 1/100 sec and am not disappointed in the sharpness and contrast in these photos.

I had fun; I’ll shoot this camera again. Knowing me, it’ll be another six years before I get around to it!

I had far less fun with a folding Kodak Tourist. It was just a dreadful camera. Check out the photos.


11 responses to “An evening in the front yard with a 70-year-old camera”

  1. reretro Avatar

    it- and your photographs- are beautiful.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thank you so much! This version of the Bessa is probably the least expensive one to come by.

  2. ryoko861 Avatar

    I hope you got paid for the real estate advertising! :)
    That’s fantastic for a 70 year old camera! I mean it takes just as nice a shot as just about any instamatic! And it’s cool looking too! I’d display that baby proudly!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Heh, the house sold and there’s somebody in it now. I oughta get commission!

  3. Mike Avatar

    Those 6×9 negatives are always astounding, even with the simplest lenses.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I sure wish more places scanned the entire 6×9. These look like 4×6 scans to me.

  4. Ted Kappes Avatar

    Wonderful photos. I don’t know if it is just me, however I think Neopan gets the vintage look better than any of the current b&w films.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I like Neopan. It’s the first modern b/w I shot and I just keep going back to it.

  5. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    I really like the bokeh in the background of the shot of the tree. As usual, I started wondering about the lens. When I looked at the photo of the camera, I thought it said the focal length was 11 mm! I thought WOW! I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before! Then I read down and saw it was 110 mm. Aw. :) I’m always surprised how well you do with blurring the depth of field. I’m so used to thinking you have to creep down the ladder below f/2.0 to get that kind of result, but you seem to manage it so easily. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      Bokeh is just a function of depth of field. I’m quite sure I couldn’t get bokeh with this lens in a close up situation, but here, when the background is all the way across the street, it’s not that hard! Bear in mind that in medium format, the focal lengths we’re used to in 35 mm don’t apply. In medium format, a 50 mm lens is considered wide angle!

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        I never read far enough into the textbook to pick that last bit up. :D

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