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Voigtlander Bessa Leica Mount Cameras Made in Japan by Cosina in partnership with Voigtlander, the many modern Voigtlander Leica Screw Mount and Leica M mount bodies offer inexpensive and often unique options into entering the world of Leica rangefinder photography.

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Detailed amateur Bessa R review
Old 03-20-2008   #1
Cat Face
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Detailed amateur Bessa R review

Hello everyone! You may have seen my previous thread where I promised a review of the Bessa R. In this first post I will provide pictures of the Bessa for people who are wondering on how it compares to other cameras.



This is a Zenit 12XP, a very heavy a bulky full metal camera, The Bessa's shaped grippy back is such an improvment on the Zenit



We then have the Praktica BC 1, which is, in actual fact, a mini-SLR. There isn't a lot of difference between the two cameras a you can see but the Bessa is just a tad more subtle with its smaller lens and flat top (this has also attracted some attention, though)



This is the Bessa compared to a Canon Powershot A530 (my tiny silver SLR! Haha!!) despite the Bessa being light it doesn't feel like a toy.

This is a size comparision between all the cameras

I may edit, or double post, when I type more of this review. It will also be updated when I get results from a roll back.
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Old 03-20-2008   #2
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Ergonomics, Appearance and first impressions of Usability

Firstly some more pictures to help illustrate my points.









My first impressions of the Bessa is that from a far away vantage point, it is fairly inconspicuous as all one can see at the front is a few windows and 'Bessa R'. To the passer by this would mean nothing and for this reason I feel no need to black out the labels at all.

At the top we see the actual fancy logo but I don't often get 9ft passers by who can see the top of my camera with ease. Another good thing about the Bessa is the strap, its fairly well supported, nice and small so the camera doesn't wander far - but, most importantly, it is unbranded.

Compare this to my 400D which basically screams: STEAL ME STEAL ME
Or my Zenit that just stands out in a crowd.

--

As far as ergonomics go - the camera doesn't instantly feel nice coming from a small sized DSLR, but somewhat more appealing coming from your standard uncomfortable manual film SLR. The real joy of it comes from the fact that it has a moulded rubbery back, this feels great in my hands for long periods of time.

--

As far as Usability and design goes, I quite like this camera. The shutter speed dial is easy to turn, and you lift it up to change your film speed. All nice and easy, setting the film speed, lift up the shutter speed dial and turn - easy.

When you want to reload the camera, it is a bit tricky because my Bessa's rewind lever seems a little stiff coming up. One major downside coming from someone who is never 100% confident with loading film, is the fact there is no film speed dial to watch rotate whilst you feed on the film with the advance lever. I apparently have loaded the film properly first time round but if I ever do it wrong I won't be able to tell until it has been processed, thus wasting money.

Firing the Bessa for the first time was magic, it was light, winding on was smooth - magic stuff. Focusing is interesting coming from an SLR, you need to stop yourself looking round the viewfinder, looking through it instead, dead straight - focus on your subject, your atmosphere, compose and focus.

You should find that after an hour focusing can be very quick when working in a crowd scene full of people. What you might like doing is working on matching the focus (you have to match up two images to get the focus dead on) on ears and hair lines. This can make things very fast. I found on some scenes I needed very little adjusting of my focusing ring thus making fine tuning your focus a breeze compared to a split prism SLR focusing screen.

--

So in conclusion to my first part of the review, I am very happy with the Bessa, I just need to become more confident with the barebones of stuff like focusing methods and film reloading.

I'm open to tips!

More to come soon.
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Old 03-20-2008   #3
rover
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As you get more used to the camera think too that you can add an accessory, the side grip, that makes handling very smooth and sure. The formed back is very nice on the R as you say, but adding the grip giving you a little more in front to hang onto makes handling the camera very nice. This is a recommended accessory for any Bessa.
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Old 03-20-2008   #4
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Thankyou very much rover, you really do a great job watching this section.

Well, i'll have a look for the grip, i'm not sure how easy it'll be getting it in the UK but i'll take a gander. Thanks for reading! Updates soon!
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Old 03-20-2008   #5
kmack
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Welcome to the 'R' club.

I have found the handling of the R is much better when I am using the half case. It seems to fit my hand better. Otherwise Rovers side grip suggestion is a good one.

Save up some money for a 35mm lens, the R really shines with a 35.
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Old 03-20-2008   #6
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Thanks for the pics and review. I had one and marveled at the small size and accurate meter. Wanted to strangle the person who designed the rewind crank (probably the same person who designed the Canon AE-1 Depth of Field preview button). Grrr. And of course my rangefinder was off vertically, as so many seem to be. The shutter did me in though. It wasn't objectionably loud, but it was toy camera sounding (clack!), and the whole camera would vibrate when it fired. This type of shutter followed me to an R3A I later bought, but it was easier to put up w/ due to the R3A's AE, 1 to 1 viewfinder, real rewind crank, and other improvements. I think the Bessa R was a great start, and I am mystified why they didn't upgrade some things and continue to make it at a nice, small price. Sort of a diamond in the rough to my mind.
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Old 03-20-2008   #7
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thanks very much for the replies kmack and myoptic3

kmack - sometimes I find the 50mm too long as I do a lot of indoor work, sadly because I want to support my film habit I can't afford another lens as we speak, maybe this time next year! Currently I have a jupiter 8 black, jupiter 8 chrome, both 50mm f 2.0 and soon, I will have another black jupiter and I can always have yet another black jupiter if I decide not to sell it.

The only case i've seen available in the UK will cost about £50, more than third of what I payed for the body and it only fits a Bessa R and a pancake. Oh well, I can always sit and wait!

myoptic3 - Sadly I don't know if the rangefinders off or not! Oh and I really do agree with you on that rewind crank, you wouldn't believe how much I want to see a wheel rotate.

I don't find the shutter too satisfying, after using loud film SLRs for a few months I got to love a loud slap and a vibration shooting through my hands, I don't feel satisfied with the Bessa in that sense.. I supppooooose it'll pay off if I ever go street shooting.

---

Remember! More opinions to come as I get to the end of a roll and get it processed!
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Old 03-20-2008   #8
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One major downside coming from someone who is never 100% confident with loading film, is the fact there is no film speed dial to watch rotate whilst you feed on the film with the advance lever. I apparently have loaded the film properly first time round but if I ever do it wrong I won't be able to tell until it has been processed, thus wasting money.

If you watch the red dot in the center of the rewind lever you will see it rotate about a quarter turn as you wind the film on.

Regards
Steve
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Old 03-20-2008   #9
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Oh wow! Thanks for this! Brilliant!

You know a lot more than both the manual I got from the web and the manager at jessops! (One of our town's film heads)
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Old 03-20-2008   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cat Face View Post
thanks very much for the replies kmack and myoptic3

kmack - sometimes I find the 50mm too long as I do a lot of indoor work, sadly because I want to support my film habit I can't afford another lens as we speak, maybe this time next year! Currently I have a jupiter 8 black, jupiter 8 chrome, both 50mm f 2.0 and soon, I will have another black jupiter and I can always have yet another black jupiter if I decide not to sell it.

The only case i've seen available in the UK will cost about 50, more than third of what I payed for the body and it only fits a Bessa R and a pancake. Oh well, I can always sit and wait!

myoptic3 - Sadly I don't know if the rangefinders off or not! Oh and I really do agree with you on that rewind crank, you wouldn't believe how much I want to see a wheel rotate.

I don't find the shutter too satisfying, after using loud film SLRs for a few months I got to love a loud slap and a vibration shooting through my hands, I don't feel satisfied with the Bessa in that sense.. I supppooooose it'll pay off if I ever go street shooting.

---

Remember! More opinions to come as I get to the end of a roll and get it processed!
If you can find a Cosina SLR case (for the CT1, CT1G etc) they do a reasonable job with the Bessa R. It is a tight fit, but does help handling and deadens the shutter sound.
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Old 03-20-2008   #11
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Oh I see, thanks

I've tried my Zenit's case, and my praktica - its mainly finding something with the tripod screw in the right place.
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Old 03-22-2008   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by myoptic3 View Post
The shutter did me in though. It wasn't objectionably loud, but it was toy camera sounding (clack!), and the whole camera would vibrate when it fired.
I don't think we at RFF have done anything like as much as we could to analyze, evaluate, fetishize and aestheticize shutter sounds. We should upload example recordings and critique them like we do with lenses. It would be very helpful to be able to associate knowledgeable members' comments directly with the sounds. All too often one has to know what a certain camera sounds like to understand a comment. And even if I've heard a camera before it doesn't mean I remember the sound.
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Old 03-22-2008   #13
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Outstanding info. Thanks much.
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Old 04-01-2008   #14
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Oh no problem, agman!

Right guys, a bit of an update coming up. You'll call me a fool but i've bought another Bessa R, at a bargin price which I just couldn't pass up, I now have a chrome body on the way so I will post comparision shots in the next few days if it arrives safe.

Not decided which i'll keep, probably chrome considering all my other cameras are black.
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Old 04-01-2008   #15
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Glad you are liking it! I'm new here as I bought a R4 last saturday and, as a first impression, I am very very pleased with the feel and handling of the camera. Just the strap lugs are on the wrong place causing an unbalance if you hang the camera around your neck.

It does not have a cheap, plasticky feeling to it that I was fearing.

I shot 2 rolls B&Win the weekend and all exposures are good, but not all sharp due to my own fault.

In short: I am happy with the buy so far!

I especially enjoyed the delayed satisfaction of picking up the film at the lab and checking the negatives in the car ... No instant digital satisfaction that you can zap through and delete as you wish. All 36 negatives are there to stay.

Regards,

DJ
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Old 04-02-2008   #16
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I'm equally glad that you're happy!

Yes, it is a nice feeling camera, the feeling that tops it for me is a good small all metal SLR, but I could always buy a better Bessa for that feeling. Oh, and the whole digital to film is also a wonderful feeling, like you say, you feel like you own something substantial.

--

On that note this review may have to pause for a little while longer as my computer's boot file has just been corrupted meaning I am without a system that can handle my photo collection/lost my complete digital collection.
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Old 04-02-2008   #17
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Quote:
On that note this review may have to pause for a little while longer as my computer's boot file has just been corrupted meaning I am without a system that can handle my photo collection/lost my complete digital collection.
I'm sorry for that, but at least you have a film camera, and as denkrahm said: All 36 negatives are there to stay
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Old 04-02-2008   #18
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The Bessa R looks really nice so worn... Like a real workhorse, nothing fancy but does the job fine.
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Old 04-02-2008   #19
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Sypderman, oh yes.. I suppose! I just love the mix, give me a digital camera for sports, family events, holding down the shutter, testing exposure; makes me go all a flutter - give me my bessa, my praktica, my whatever film camera for me - its my baby and i'll be forced to shoot with it every week now, should be back onto a mix of digital and film in lets say.. two weeks

histrocist - you won't like the one i've just bought then, just got a chrome bessa R with box manual and case, I like black better but this chrome is better value for money so i'll probably sell my black as I cannot justify a backup body. I'll miss it, all battered up makes it less of a target, too
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