Film Friday: Reviewing the 60-year-old Voigtlander Bessamatic Deluxe
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Film Friday: Reviewing the 60-year-old Voigtlander Bessamatic Deluxe

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Madeleina Schwantes, writing for 35MMC, has written a review of the Voigtlander Bessamatic Deluxe, a German-made leaf-shuttered SLR camera released in 1962.

The Bessamatic Deluxe was a successor to the original Bessamatic, released three years earlier, and added a few new features to improve the user experience, including the ability to view the lens’ settings from directly inside the viewfinder. The solid, two-pound SLR uses a Voigtländer’s F. Deckel DKL lens mount and lacks a ‘quick-release’ mirror, meaning the mirror had to be lowered down by winding the film before each shot.

The camera used a unique system to show the current settings directly inside the viewfinder.

It features a split-image viewfinder and unique focus indicators on the lens that uses two red arrows to show the focusing distance in both meters and feet. It also uses a rather unique shooting workflow in that you must effectively choose your aperture first when shooting. Then, if you want to change your shutter speed, the aperture will automatically adjust with it. As explained by Schwantes:

‘You can turn the ring to adjust the shutter speed, but the aperture will always change with it. Here is an example: You choose f/5.6 and the speed sits at 1/125. You can now turn the shutter speed to 1/250 and the aperture will automatically move to f/4.’

As you may expect, this workflow made for quite a unique shooting experience, but once familiar with it Schwantes found it an enjoyable experience and actually appreciated that once you had your initial settings in place, you effectively have every possible aperture/shutter speed combination you can use with the turn of a dial.

With the focus ring in this position any object in a distance between 1.2 and 3 meters will be sharp

One of the few downfalls of the Bessamatic Deluxe was its Selenium light meter, which didn’t require batteries. While convenient when new, the mechanism tends to become less accurate over time, especially when constantly exposed to light. Schwantes notes that Voigtlander did include a built-in screw to adjust the meter, but says it’s nearly impossible to reach without professional assistance, so her in-camera metering was less accurate than she would’ve liked.

Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe / 90 mm / Kodak Gold 200

While admitting it comes with a sentimental bias, Schwantes says she ‘appreciates [Bessamatic Deluxe’s] quirks,’ saying:

‘The pictures come out clean and sharp and there is just something about that heavy, silver body that makes is feel so reliable. There is a good variety of lenses available and most of them are surprisingly small. One particularly interesting one is the Voigtländer Zoomar (36–82mm) which was the first ever zoom lens for 35mm cameras. It is not that easy to find and can be quite expensive, but I absolutely love using it, despite it being very heavy. Here are some pictures I took with that lens.’

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