Is the Bessa II a worthwhile MF camera?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by roger_michel, Apr 3, 2001.

  1. I am considering the purchase of a Voigtlander Bessa II camera,
    primarily for portraits and landscapes while traveling. Can I expect
    decent quality results. I have heard mixed reviews of the two more
    common lenses (the Heliar and Skopar -- the Lanthars are obviously
    very scarce). I have also heard the rangefinders and lolly tongs
    (i.e. the struts that support the front standard and keep it parallel
    to the film plane) are generally out of kilter on most surviving
    examples, resulting in unsharp negs. Any truth to that? Can such
    faults be rectified? By whom? What should I look for in a good user
    camera? What is the price range? Is the Heliar better than the
    Skopar? Thanks!!!
  2. Rojer, have you ever had one of these cameras in your hands to play around with? The reason I am saying this, is that I was interested in getting one as a compact medium format camera from what I had read. When I got a chance to see one and get a feel for it, I lost interest in a real hurry. It is a very primitive camera. The finder is extremely tiny , and for me was very difficult to frame with or focus. The camera has no provision for double exposure prevetion,and no frame counter (have to use the window in the back). I have used an old Mamiya 6 auto folder that even cocked the shutter automatically, and has a regular counter like a modern camera would. Compared to the Mamiya folder, the Bessa II seemed 40 years older in the way it handled. My advise is to leave that camera for the collectors (who pay quite a premium price for them) and find something else to use as a compact roll film camera--maybe a fuji
  3. I'm willing to tolerate all sorts of inconvenience for a good lens, and the Voigtlander Heliar is a great lens, or at least one that has a tonality that I like. The Skopar is a Tessar type. The Apo-Lanthar is the same basic design as the Heliar with exotic glass. I don't have a Bessa II, because the 6x9 cm format isn't attractive to me at the moment, but I have a few Heliars I use with other formats.

    If you don't like the tiny finder, one option is to use an accessory finder. I have a Voigtlander Vitessa-L and use a Kontur finder when it's convenient. It means focusing with the regular finder and framing with the other, but it's something you can get used to. The Kontur finder you would use with the Bessa II would be the "35mm" finder, which is for a normal 50mm lens with the 35mm format--same aspect as 6x9 cm. Alternately, there are many other auxiliary finders you could use.
  4. Thanks for the replies!! Yes, I have handled the Bessa II and, oddly enough, it appeals to me. I should add that the camera I use the most (or, more accurately, spend the most time using) is a Deardorff 8x10 -- also a very primitive beast with few (no!) mod-cons. The sample that I saw had a new Voigtlander/Cosina 50mm (on 35mm) viewfinder that seemed perfect for the 105mm (on 6x9). What I am really interested in finding out is whether the basic design of the camera is robust enough to permit sharp negs, and whether the lens is up to the same task. It sounds like the Heliar is more than adequate for the purpose (but does it really cover wide or close to wide open)? User comments would be much appreciated. Thanks
  5. Tessar-types are known for some falloff wide open (witness all the posts on expressing surprise at this feature of their 100-year-old Zeiss lens on their new Yashica T-4's). Heliars don't have a huge image circle, but it should cover.

    Heliars perform well wide open, particularly for portraits. At wide apertures they produce something of a "stereoscopic" effect with sharp separation between the in-focus and out-of-focus parts of the image. Stopped down, they are razor sharp.

    I have 360mm/f:4.5 Heliar in barrel that I use on my 8x10" occasionally. With T-Max 100 it produces silky skin textures unlike any other lens I have. Try one on that Deardorff!
  6. I had a Bessa II which I used for a while. I finally determined that separate shutter cocking and trying to see those faint numbers in the little red window just wasn't for me. For what it's worth, the format size on my camera was actually wider than 6X9, almost 6X10. I did love the rich tonality delivered by Tri-X in this format with the Heliar lens. I bought a user grade camera for $250 on eBay, and spent another $100 for a CLA. With a slightly beat up version, you're not competing with the collectors, and the images are just as good. I'm now shooting my medium format with a Rollei TLR, and would love to be able to afford a Mamiya 7.
  7. Since nobody mentioned yet, I thought I should add that from my experience with several other makes of 6X9 folders, that the lack of film flatness over that large 3 1/4 inch span is a noticeable deterent to image quality on all these types of old folder 6X9 cameras. I had a Zeiss 6X9 with the coated Tessar, and I know the lens was very sharp because I got a few really good negs per roll. Under an 8 power lube, however, most of the negs were from slighlty soft everywhere to very soft on the corners even stopped down to f16 and used on a tripod. I had the same experience with a better quality 6X9 folder from Agfa. As long as you don't care about edge detail or blow the images up too big,(maybe 5X) the tonal range is very smooth and even from those older 6X9 cameras, and does have a nice look to it.
  8. Your remarks are exact, Andrew.
    Many problems of clearness are also caused by a bad adjustement of focus. Once calibrated, you can do yourself with a little screw-driver, Novar, Solinar, Tessar,Agnar,Apotar give better results.
  9. Andrew,

    I recently purchased a Bessa II that needed some adjustment. I can't say much about the lens or camera yet, but I too found the camera appealing. I think that serious experience with a view-camera helps with any medium-format photography, and especially when using a camera like the Bessa II. The reason for my response is that I sent my camera to a repair service that I would like to recommend: W.W. Umbach, Z-V Service, 1410 Seafarer Drive, Box 754, Oriental, NC 28571 Telephone (252) 249-2576. I saw an advertisement for this service in Shutterbug, so I called to discuss what my camera needed. I was impressed by Mr. Umbach's knowledge. Best wishes.
  10. I have a Bessa II with a Skopar, and yes, you can get very decent quality results. But I think you should go better with a Fuji MF Rangefinder if you want constant high quality. Or even better a Mamiya 7. As you say, the problem is the front standard. The next problem is the film flatness. The small rangefinder.

    If you want a folder, I would prefer a simple one, like an Agfa Isolette II/III (with the Color Solinar = Tessar type) with uncoupled RF. Or maybe a Voigtlaender Perkeo II (very, very small) with the Color Skopar. You can have a lot of fun with these. But for daily work I would not use them.

    I disagree with michel le mandat, I think Heliar, Skopar, Lanthar, Tessar are better the a Novar, Agnar or Apotar. The Solinar is a very good Tessar clone.
  11. Sorry -- Michel le mandat
    I didn't read exactly. I agree full with your post. Richard.
  12. Compared to Zeiss Super Ikonta C with Tessar 105/f3.5, Bessa II with Heliar is far less desirable. Although in theory, Heliar is suppoedly a better formula.
    It is said that Bessa II's Heliar does the focusing by moving the wjole lens (changing lens to film distance) while Tessar moves the distance between the elements of the lens, with lens to film distance unchanged. It is also said that Heliar has a rounder point response that gives better tonaity though the resolution is lower. This contributes to better performance in portraiture. Bessa II has has the viewfinder combined with the range finder, unlike Zeiss Super Ikonta C, which has one winder for virewfinder, anda another smaller winder for rangefinder.
    While I can't argue with these theoretical facts, I find when it comes to the picture delivered, Super Ikonta C is far better than the Bessa II. I talked to a camera repairer friend about this, his comment is that, through all he had seen, Bessa II had very bad engineering quality, consistently.
    As far as the arguement on the focusing acuracy of the folding cameras, that's a totally rubish. Folding cameras would not have worst focusing accuracy than any field camera or worst than any Graflex Super Speed: they are the same in this sense.
  13. I have owned several Bessa I and Bessa II cameras with Skopars and Heliars. In no case did the camera actually deliver the results that it should have. With great big enlargements, central images were not sharp. I am speaking of 30x40 inch enlargements but even at 16x20 they just did not deliver where they should.--I understand this has to do with the instability of the lens mount/front standard and this is easy to beleive if you inspect how the lens comes into place when the camera is opened. I have found that Zeiss 6x9 Ikontas are better in this regards but not too good for close focusing because unit focusing has its limitations. But, for scenics etc, where the camera is used at infinity or anywhere from 15 feet for that matter, there is no problem at all.

    May I make a suggestion?? Rolling 120 film onto 620 spools is quick and easy and Kodak Medalist II cameras are just excellent. The much touted Ektar lens is in fact very sharp. And you can buy them for very moderate amounts of money. Of course, Fuji 6x9 cameras are as good as they get but more costly.

    But here is a surprise: I know it will sound wrong, but a 6x9 cm Kodak Toursist II with an f/4.5 coated Anaston lens is a remarkably able performer. The top shutter speed is only 1/200 second but that is adequate in most situations.And despite the fact that the lens is a humble three element open air design, when closed down past f/ll, which is really necessary for depth of field with 6x9cm cameras, the results are much much better than you might suspect. PLUS-- Tourist II cameras can be purchased on ebay from anywhere from $15 to $40. I keep a Tourist II in my car for grab shots and I must say that it does a very very fine job.

    I realize that this does not make the equipment-horses on this thread happy, but you really do not have to purchase state of the art equipment for scenery and for the photography most of us do.

    Of course, prestige has its rewards. But should you have to pay so much for it?

  14. Over the weekend, I amassed five Bessa II cameras and tested them all. It was immediately apparent that NONE of them could produce negs with all-over sharpness. I then used a piece of ground glass to check and see if the problem was with the front standard, lens mount, or anything else forward of the film. ALL BUT ONE PRODUCED SHARP RESULTS ON THE GROUND GLASS (and the one that didn't was "fixed" by gently bending the lens mount, although I certainly have no confidence in the permanence of this fix!!!). I then turned my attention to the film pressure plate, and discovered that EVERY camera had flatness problems in this area. The springs used by Voigtlander (without going into a lot of detail) are not mounted in the best way, and are too flimsy to boot. I found that through tedious (and I mean tedious!!) adjustment, I was able to true all the film plates. This produced acceptible negatives on all of the cameras. In the course of my work, I also discovered an important trick for getting the best results with these cameras. I discovered that when you advance the film, it is initially quite taut and flat. After a while, however, due to the operation of forces beyond my comprehension, a little slackness can develop, resulting in film unflatness. The trick is to wind on after shooting about halfway to the next frame. Then complete the winding on process just before shooting. This assures maximum film tautness. I also recommend against leaving film in the camera for a long time. Serious kinks develop that will certainly have adverse effects on flatness. If film is left in camera, I recommend winding on TWO frames before shooting. Needless to say, the "trick" I have described is very fiddly. Not many will have the patience for it. However, you really can get tremendous improvement just by truing your pressure plate. Every Bessa II owner should make this minor adjustment. P.S. The Heliar is such a wonderful portrait lens!! I see what you mean about the "stereoscopic effect." And the creamy skin tones (at least in mono) -- amazing!!! Now, does anyone know where filters for the Bessa II can be obtained?
  15. I have a Bessa I with Color-Skopar and, maybe because I always leave it set at f/16, at the hyperfocal distance, I find all results VERY sharp indeed. 6x9 folders are just about the largest size you can fit in a pocket, well, OK, the Ikonta D is larger but no film available in that size now.

    Use a Componon-S lens on your enlarger and you will be happy enough, and I speak as a former 8x10 shooter.

    Now, as to portraits, I cannot say. Many say the Heliar gives "silkier" or better tones, don't know, haven't used it.

    The advantage of the Bessa I with Color-Skopar is, same lens as on the II, but lower cost [probably $120 - $150], because the front standard does NOT move. Scale focusing [or not, when, as I do, you leave it at the hyperfocal distance].

    Also, there are only 8 shots per roll on 6x9, so I typically will shoot up a roll within 20 minutes, so there are no long delays for the film to get slack, as some here have reported.

    I use Ilford delta 100, but develop in D-76 for the old time look; of course Ilford ID-11 is made for this film and may do even better, can't say.

    I always leave the shutter at 1/100 and then if weather is sunny, develop N, if cloudy bright, +1; if cloudy, +2, if cloudy dark, +3; and of course if sunny in snow or sandy beach, -1. I use 1 = 33% more time, which is pretty extreme, but works for me. f/16 with shutter = ISO is "Sunny Sixteen"; to do as I do, ALWAYS that way, regardless of the weather, I call "Sonneman's Sweet Sixteen" rule.

    The other advantage of shooting this way: because the camera controls--including focus--are almost always left untouched--the ONLY thing to concentrate on is the PHOTO .. which IS, after all, the point, right? Now, on my version, the viewfinder is quite cloudy, but the lens is clear, so that's annoying, but the results as great, so I have not yet sent it off for cleaning.

    Anyway, good fortune. The Color Skopar is MUCH better than the Novar on Ikonta, however, even a battered $40 plain vanilla Ikonta [not Super] will perform quite well; the large neg covers many sins. I prefer coated lenses for outdoors, but have used a 6x4.5 Welta PERL [Pearl] with f/2.9 uncoated lens for indoor shots with reasonable success.

    Remember the old saying: "Most of the great photographs of history were made with lenses we would not now shake a stick at." Edward Weston used a Rapid Rectilinear that he bought for $5, that even then was made obsolete by the Anastigmats of his day. So what? Would that we were all as good photographers as EW!!

    As they said about Michael Jordan, "It's NOT the shoes!!"

    --Joe Sonneman, photographer
  16. >develop in D-76 for the old time look; of course Ilford ID-11 is made for this film and may do even better

    ID-11 = D-76
    The same formula :)
  17. Joe, I would like to use your method in using the Bessa II, i.e., hyperfocal focusing. If you use f16, what's the hyperfocal distance?

    Thanks in advance,

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