Several of my camera-collecting and -blogging friends have Voigtländer Vito IIs and get outstanding photographs with them. So I was pretty darned happy when one was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.
I have a warm spot in my heart for little 35mm folding cameras like this. Closed, they slip into a coat pocket. Open, they offer strong optics. On the Vito II, those optics are the 50mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar, of four elements in three groups, with a blue-tinted coating. That lens is backed with one of a few different shutters. Mine features the Prontor-S, with speeds of 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/300 sec., plus bulb. I’ve seen Vito IIs with Compur-Rapid shutters with a top speed of 1/500 sec.
It’s the Vito II because when it was introduced in 1949, it replaced a similar, prewar camera called Vito. Both cameras take 35mm film, but the earlier Vito apparently could use the film on simple rolls, whereas the Vito II could take only the 35mm cartridges we know today. Vito IIs were made well into the 1950s with some running changes. Later Vito IIs, for example, came with an accessory shoe on the top plate.
It’s not obvious how to open the Vito II. Press the button on the camera’s bottom, and the door springs open. To close the Vito II, press the two tabs inside the door and push the door until it latches.
The Vito II works much like any other 35mm folder: wind, set aperture and shutter speed (guess exposure or use a meter), cock the shutter, frame, guess at subject distance and set the focus ring accordingly, press the button. In case it’s not obvious, the button is on the door.
The Vito II locks the shutter against accidental double exposure, but you can override it by lifting the lever to the right of the viewfinder on the camera’s back. This feature also prevents the camera from firing when there’s no film inside, but you can work around it should you come upon one and wish to see if it works: open the back and turn the toothed shaft until it stops. Then you can cock the shutter and press the button.
I’ve shot a couple other Voigtländers: the Bessa (review here) and the Vitoret LR (review here). Other capable small folders I’ve reviewed are all Kodak Retinas: the Retina Ia (here), the Retina IIa (here), and the Retina IIc (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I tested the Vito II with one of my last, precious rolls of Kodak Plus-X. I used a metering app on my iPhone to gauge light. The Vito II came along back in August when my older son and I spent an evening together before he headed off to Purdue for his freshman year. We walked through Crown Hill Cemetery, past the military graves.
I loved the shadows on this family plot marker. What an unusual last name.
We had dinner and a walk on Monument Circle. Christ Church Cathedral is the only building on the Circle that does not have a curved front.
I moved in close enough to the Lacy Building that it’s hard to see its facade’s curvature.
I’m not wild about the composition of this photo but I do love all the details.
All of the test roll’s photos came out slightly overexposed. A quick hit of the Auto Levels command in Photoshop Elements fixed that, sometimes at the cost of making grain more pronounced. It is clear that my Vito II could use a good CLA to get its shutter right. One great thing about such a simple camera: there’s little mystery about what’s wrong.
The Vito II’s tiny viewfinder made it hard for me to line up shots well, so many of my photos came out at wacky angles. Fortunately, Photoshop Elements offers tools that let me correct that, too.
Finally, several shots on the roll came out fuzzy, a couple times because of camera shake but more often thanks to misguessed focus. Needing to guess focus and exposure keeps me from shooting cameras like this more often. I prefer the precision of my 35mm SLRs. But I want to use my 35mm folders more. They’re wonderful little cameras.
So I decided to try again, right away, but this time shoot Sunny 16 and set focus for wide depth of field. The Vito II’s focusing ring includes ∇ and O symbols to help with this. ∇ is for nearer shots, about 8 to 16 feet away, and O is for shots beyond 16 feet — when using slower films and apertures of f/5.6 or narrower.
So I loaded some Kodak Gold 200. I immediately regretted choosing ISO 200 film on a camera with no 1/200 sec. shutter speed as it complicated my Sunny 16 calculations. But I guessed okay enough through the whole roll. This is North United Methodist Church on North Meridian Street.
I went out to visit my older son after he was all settled in at Purdue, and we went to Scotty’s Brewhouse for dinner. I’m especially happy with this shot, as I guessed everything about it and it turned out all right.
How many times have I shot these three trees on the golf course behind my home? They are always an interesting subject. But like many photos on this roll, it required considerable Photoshop tweaking of levels and contrast and brightness to bring out the details.
I carried the Vito II everywhere for a few weeks. I needed some new jeans, so I stopped at Penney’s one morning. (Does calling it Penney’s show my age?) I ended up buying a pair of Levi’s 501s. I haven’t had a pair of those since I was in my 20s.
To see more from this camera, check out my Voigtländer Vito II gallery.
I think I did all right — not great, but all right — with Sunny 16 and the camera’s easy focusing marks. Photoshop corrected my exposure sins, which fortunately were minor. I’ll have to play more with this technique. I’d also like to get this Vito II CLA’d for better performance. It was an enjoyable little shooter, and I know it’s capable of great things.