Camera Reviews

Voigtländer Vito II

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.

Voigtländer Vito II

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.

Voigtländer Vito II

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.

Voigtländer Vito II

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.

Military cemetery

I loved the shadows on this family plot marker. What an unusual last name.

Dark

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.

Christ Church Cathedral

I moved in close enough to the Lacy Building that it’s hard to see its facade’s curvature.

Lacy Building entrance

I’m not wild about the composition of this photo but I do love all the details.

Columbia Club

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.

North United Methodist

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.

Scotty's Brewhouse in West Lafayette

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.

Golf course trees

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.

You're looking smarter than ever

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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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14 thoughts on “Voigtländer Vito II

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I remember going over to a girlfriends house in the early 70’s when I was starting my photo career, and seeing a bunch of slides being projected by her uncle, and they were all beautifully done: solid, deep, and contrasty color, edge to edge sharpness, etc. The guy was one of those photo hobbiests we all knew back in the day, before we started calling them “prosumers”, or “pro-ams”. Anyway, I though he was going to show me his Leica/Nikon/Canon and all his lenses at the end of his show; and what he showed me was one of these folding, high-end 35mm rangefinder type cameras, it was either one of these Voigtlanders, or a Retina. A was floored, to say the least, being ‘uneducated’ enough in my career to think that it took a lot of expensive stuff to get the best results. Have to say, it really made me lust after one of those folders. The idea of carrying around in your pocket is really a plus…

    • I’ve seen photos taken with cameras like this that blow me away. Mine didn’t blow me away so much, but perhaps after a CLA and a little more practice with it, I’ll get there!

  2. Pingback: Voigtländer Vito II (1951) – Mike Eckman dot Com

  3. -N- says:

    If you think about it, using PS and LR to adjust images is exactly what you could do if you had your own darkroom. Also, you are right about the faster film in a camera with limited exposure controls. Sunny 16 and smaller apertures always help me out in these situations, and you got some really nice images. I am finally getting used to RF focusing – it’s hard for me at times – and am interested to see how well I did with my new-to-me Contax IIIa – both for focus, meter accuracy, and Sunny 16! Luckily, I can guestimate distances pretty accurately, along with exposure – unless I am delusional because of a film’s latitude!

    • It’s true, Ps is the modern darkroom. But I so much prefer to get it right in the camera!

      I’ve learned the hard way to use ISO 100-ish film in cameras like these so I am not always shooting at minimum aperture and maximum shutter speed.

      I’d be lost with these old cameras were it not for the great latitude films have today.

      • -N- says:

        I agree about the 100 iso films in older cameras – some of them are great! And film latitude. But, like you, I find I like getting things as near perfect on the film to begin with, but I do always up the contrast – maybe it’s just my old eyes!

  4. Ed says:

    Nice stuff Jim, I really do like these old folders. I have a few Voigtlanders and find them all to be great shooters. Your review has me itching to get one of them out again!

  5. The Vito II predates the Rollei 35 by over a decade. Except for the viewfinder, I find that Voigtlander nailed it on the design. The separate step to tension the shutter is one becomes natural after couple of rolls of film. Best of all, for daylight use, the 50mm f/3.5 Skopar punches above its weight.

    • The viewfinder is tiny, isn’t it. I liked the lens better with b/w film than I did with color, but in its day wasn’t everybody shooting b/w in these anyway?

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