M body on a budget - Bessa questions

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by nomad_., Dec 26, 2009.

  1. I currently have a IIIf with a 50mm Elmar, which I bought mainly because I wanted a 100% mechanical film camera, and because I was curious about Leica. Overall, I like the IIIf - it has a vintage charm, and feels very solid in the hand. What I'm less keen on is the squinty finder and the knob film advance. The IIIf is away for a CLA, and I got a rather used Olympus 35RC to use in the meantime - and started trying out street photography. This has been good fun, and I feel that the better finder, lever wind, and slightly wider lens (42mm) have been an advantage for this. It feels faster to use than the IIIf, and perhaps a bit more discreet (the rangefinder was faulty when I got it, and the bright lines were very dull - I fixed both of these and painted the top and bottom plates black while I was at it). While the IIIf was away for its CLA, I picked up one of those Jupiter-12 35mm f2.8 Biogon copies, and the Russian turret finder. When the Leica comes back, I plan to try some street stuff with these, and will see how I get on. However, I suspct a better finder with integrated focus patch, and a lever wind, is the way I'll want to go.
    So, there's a possibility that I'd like to get an M body some time in the future. If I had the cash, I'd probably rush out and buy a nice black paint MP and a fairly fast 35mm lens. I don't have the cash for that, however, so I've been looking at cheaper options, like a used M2, M4, or M6. These are still quite pricey, especially if a CLA is factored in, so I find myself wondering if a manual Bessa is a viable alternative (not interested in auto exposure or battery dependency for camera basic functions - built in meter is nice). Not sure yet about which particular one, but I understand it's a case of choosing the viewfinder magnification and frameline options. The R3M with the 1:1 finder interests me - curious about shooting with both eyes open, and although its widest frame line is 40mm, I gather the finder itself just about stretches to 35mm. At the moment, I don't especially feel that I want anything wider than 35mm, but that could change when I think of other subjects that I might want to shoot (landscapes, for example). Viewfinder to be determined at a later date.
    From my reading so far, I gather the earlier Bessas had some reliability issues. Are the current ones better in this regard? How much of the camera body is metal? Cosina changed from the plastic R to metal for the R2/3/4 - does that include the top and bottom plates? What's the shutter noise like compared to a Leica? Can the film advance lever be stroked in several short movements, or does it need to travel the full way to advance to the next frame? What else might I want to consider?
  2. Instead of buying "bits and pieces" of equipment just save your money, and possibly get a loan, then look for a good M2 or M4. My preference would be to stick with Leitz lenses. You can do a lot with a 50, but if your heart is set on a 35 then save some more and look for a used Summaron or Summicron. If you take this route you will have the equipment you want and it should produce good results for you. I've only used Leica so can't comment on the Bessa.
  3. Here I got a Bessa R when they first came out; maybe 9 1/2 years ago. It still works. I did align the RF once myself; it went off after some bad tumbles.

    The LED meter allows one to meter with any LTM lens. The camera has a real roller cam thus any LTM lenes will work; unlike a Russian Zorki that will not work with a stub on a 10.5mm F2.5 LTM Nikkor.

    Some super deep wideangles will not work on a Bessa R too. I use my Russian Orion-15 28mm F6 on my Bessa-R with no issues; then learned on photo.net that it will not work!

    The camera has a nice bright viewfinder; but the RF baseline is abit short. Today the consenus by most is to pass up the old Bessa R; folks worry about the finish (collector/resale); RF not staying aligned. For me it has been a nice lightweight camera body. I have a mess of old LTM lenses so it was a nice body to buy.

    The only other similar new body I have is the Epson RD-1/S digital; it taller than the old Bessa R. Here any plastic issues with my old Bessa R have not been an issue; but then I am an user and not a collector. I am not a looks over function person.

    My Leica is an old M3; a user that I have owned forever. It was a few hundred bucks long ago; the collaspable 50mm Summicron was 150. My used Noct in the late 1970's was 400 bucks. On my Epson RD-1 the lens I use the most is a 5cm F2 Nikkor; it cost 5 bucks on ebay; it was listed as an enlarging lens; I was the only bidder in a 10 day auction.

    Bessa's are louder than Leicas; so are my Zorkis; Fed and Lennigrad too.
  4. Bessa RF's are perfectly good cameras. I'm especially fond of the R2A. The VC lenses are also very good lenses. But....and here's the big but...if your heart wants a Leica, just save up the money and buy it. Until you own an M, the legend will call to you and you won't be happy with anything else. If you want to shoot a 35mm lens, and like the "classic" M's, the M2 is a good and affordable bet. I really like the M2 with the tiny Summaron attached.
    I have LTM and M Leicas. And a Bessa R2A. Personally, I think the Bessa is the more usable camera. YMMV, of course.
  5. Here I have a zoo of Russian Zorkis, a few Feds and one spring motor wind Leningrad too.
    About all were bought on ebay 9 years and more ago. Long ago a zorki, 50mm F2 Jupiter-8, case; AND shipping to the USA was only 14 to 17 bucks; most I paid in cash with 20 dollar bill.
    A repainted 1956 Black Zorki 3C I got 12 years ago for 30 bucks works well; it is what I use with a 50mm F1.2 Canon LTM instead of my M3 and Noct for club work. I have run several hundred rolls of film thru it. This body/lens is my fun kick around rig; typically used with Fuji Superia 800. 15mm VC lens is another fun toy; I got my LTM version about 10 years? ago when the first came out. When used on a Zorki; on some bodys the lens doesnt align and thus the "ears" of the lens vignet/shade the corners. This is one of the typical Russian camera issues; quality varies alot.
  6. Thanks, folks.
    Kelly, how would you say the Bessa's shutter noise compares to the likes of the Zorki? Similar? Somewhere between that and a Leica?
    Jim, yes, the legend calls to me, but the legend I want (MP) is well beyond my means for now. Until that changes, I'm willing to consider alternatives, including non-Leica.
  7. Your 3F is out for a CLA, which would make this more valuable - and if the cosmetics are decent, you could sell this and go a long way towards financing an M-2...preferably one with so-so cosmetics and good mechanical operation - then adapt your Elmar to this.
  8. That possibility is in the back of my mind, John. The IIIf is good cosmetically - chrome is very clean apart from some brassing on the outer part of the slow speed dial, and a small scratch on one of the RF bezels. Some tiny bits of the vulcanite have chipped away (near the top between the self timer lever and the lens mount, and around the post at the bottom where the baseplate hooks on - tiny bits, though). Not mint, but by no means a tatty example. Part of me wants to keep it regardless, although I do wonder how much use it would get if I had an M. Chances are that I'd hang on to it until after an M was acquired, and then sell it if it wasn't being used. On the other hand, I could keep it, and use it for whatever film isn't in the M.
    Oh, it occurs to me that another argument for a Leica rather than a Bessa is being able to use my 35mm Biogon copy with an adapter, with a view to getting something faster later. (I'm tempted by the Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 - if the quality is good, it seems to strike a good balance between size, speed and price.)
  9. STOP! Take a breath...another...again. The iiif is all you need: zone focus, etc. HCB did fine with the iiif.
  10. I'm sure he did, and I'll be using mine when it comes back from the CLA. I'm not planning on going on an M-fest in a month's time or anything, but I do want to scope out the options.
  11. if you are on a budget get an r3m and spend the money on leitz glass. a working meter speaks volumes. the shutter is of course not noiseless but you still have best of both worlds, a modern working rangefinder without the need for cla and top notch glass.
  12. For street shooting, you will want a couple of things foremost: a camera capable of framing correctly lenses in the 28-50mm range, and AE. The quiet shutter is a distant third requirement. There are 4 quality options that fit the bill: Leica M7, Zeiss Ikon, Hexar RF and Bessa R4A. The best camera of the 4 is the Zeiss Ikon, then comes the Hexar, Leica M7 comes next and Bessa R4A thereafter, The Bessa has great 28mm frames, a bit smallish 35mm frames, and tiny 50mm frames, so it is really a wide angle camera (it also has frames for 21 and 25mm). The Zeiss Ikon has the best VF, and a modern shutter, that does not fear facing the sun. The Hexar also has lots of advanced features, but it is out of production now.The Leica has the best feel, most silent shutter, but the worst VF and a cloth shutter that you need to protect. In terms of the bang for the buck and ease of use, I'd go with the R4A and a 28 or 35mm lens - get one of the small CV lenses, like the 28/3.5 or 35/2.5 Skopars, and when the day comes, when you will feel this camera is limiting your photography, you will be able to afford then the Leica M23 with 1024 megapixels and 48 bit files...
  13. This article might prove useful:
    Talks about the three "new off the shelf" M-mount cameras available today. The writer is pretty badass in my opinion.
  14. And modest, I might add. :)
  15. If you're set on getting a Leica eventually, I would skip the bessa step. Unless you decide that you're satisfied with the bessa, it's just gonna be another camaera you're gonna have to get rid of eventually and lose money over. Deals are out there to be had, M2's can be had easily for under 500, I got my M4 for 500 although it's in ugly ugly condition it works perfectly.
    I feel like lenses are a better place to compromise as you won't exactly miss it not being a Leica unless you're making prints or a resolution/sharpness fetishiest, but the camera's handling/functioning and looks will definitely be not Leica. I think if you look well enough you can easily get a good M2 + a VM 35mm combo for under a grand and another 500 will go a long ways too.
    my two cents.
  16. And modest, I might add. :)
    Good looking as well.
  17. I have a Bessa R3. No reliability problems, but the shutter noise is a big disappointment.
  18. well I think you >MUST consider: a bronica rf645(for streets,landscape,candids) that's simply great or a contax g2 set if you want a 135mm camera.......
  19. I fear the Bronica is just far too big - need to be able to drop it into my jacket pocket. Also not interested the larger format.
    I'm afraid it has to be fully manual and mechanical - no dependence on batteries other than for the meter. I know batteries will last fine, and carrying spares isn't an issue, but clockwork is the way it has to be. For good or bad, I'm not a fan of AE, and never have been.
    I feel that I'm starting to move away from the Bessa somewhat. The general run of opinion seems to be that it isn't as solid feeling as a Leica. I realise I'm comparing opinions rather than my own experience, and that I'm inferring what an M Leica feels like on the basis of my IIIf, but that's what I've got to go on at present. The shutter noise is a bit of a concern for me, even if people on the street aren't paying a blind bit of attention to it amidst all the other street noise - I'd still prefer the camera to be quiet. Not being able to use the 35mm Biogon copy in the interim is another downside.
    On balance, I think Leica is what I'm going to be going for. I readily admit that part of this is a want rather than a need. As for which Leica, I'm not sure yet. It's a balance between price and what I really want (black paint, built in meter, framelines to 35mm, maybe 28mm). Looking at completed sales on eBay, I think a bit of patience and luck will get me an M2 at a good price. An M6 would be nice, but probably a bit pricey for now. In the meantime, I'll get on with enjoying my IIIf when it comes back from its CLA.
    Thanks for the comments, everyone.
  20. Most of the earlier R cameras have probably either been fixed or died by now. You might want to try the original R if it works for your lenses. I always liked these even though the rewind lever is fragile and the shutter not the quietest. They have a nice rubberized grip on the body that my later R3A lacked.
    If you really need an M mount my R3A worked really well, but if you don't need the AE feature you might want to go to the more basic R3 or RM's. One thing to keep in mind is whether you wear glasses or not. I often wished I had bought the R2A as I couldn't see the 50mm frames totally w/ glasses on. The shutter noise on the Bessas is more metallic than the Leicas. More clanky. No one will hear it but you though and putting a half case on the camera will muffle it nicely, although you won't be able to use the case w/ a side grip. The grip makes the camera a lot more comfortable to hold, and it has an extra strap lug so that the camera doesn't hang down and dig into your back (as they all do w/o a side grip).
    A few years ago I found an M6 on the auction site at a really low price and bought it w/ the idea of reselling it. I did sell it later at a small profit, but while I had it I compared it to my Bessa R3A and what a difference in build quality. Just holding the Leica felt totally different, all the controls were smoother, the shutter quieter, etc. If you plan on shooting RF cameras it would be hard to find a better camera unless you went to the more costly M7.
  21. Here with the decade old Bessa R if I wear glasses the frame lines are easy to see. In construction work I often use safety glasses over regular glasses too; and the frame lines show up too. I was using this camera in contruction work to document construction; besides using a digital; often using a wide 15mm or 28mm; or 50mm.

    After 10 years there is some wear on the bottom plates front corners; it wore through as white; thus some type of plastic. The same type of wear is on my Ridgid, Craftsman and Skill power drills too; thus I never lost any sleep over the plastic issue. I suppose to appear *cool* it would be better it is was brass showing through. There is also some white plastic showing after a decade by the rewind crank top and back panel corner; and top plate to the right of the wind crank.

    The chassis of the Bessa R stems from the lessor econ Nikon FM10 bodies made by Cosina for Nikon. Based on actual usage; its about like an econo modern camera like a non F Nikon. The useage of plastic is probaly real troublesome for a collector; since looks matter. A well worn Bessa that has some white spots on the corners will never *fly* compared to a brassed on M or III series..

    The main issue I see with a Bessa R is that RF can go out of wack if it takes a hard bump; or if one places a giant flash and stesses the hot shoe. ( the RF calibration is under the hot shoe). .The R has polycarbonate plates; the later R2 has a metal; I think magnesium skin and an M mount instead of a LTM ; plus the self timer was dropped. The R2 is slightly larger since it has different skins. From what I have read the R series uses the same shutters; thus if the R is considered crap; all others are too. The Bessa R has a brighter finder than ae Leica M series.Compared to a M2 the body weights about 6 oz less. In a way it is a poor mans Leica CL. If ones worries are about the robustness of a Bessa R shutter; then just avoid the entire Bessa R series; since it is the same shutter.
  22. A bit off topic but here's a homemade video overview of the Bessa R2A...short of handling one in person this video goes a long way in showing its functionality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7DacaMogjs
    Best of luck!
  23. Narrowing down to Leica, it would seem that an M2 or one of the varieties of M4 tend to sell for prices within my budget (about £500, give or take), M2s sometimes a bit less. M4s often seem to be offered at high prices and don't sell. From what I can gather (from CameraQuest), the internal construction of the original M4 is similar to the M2, while the M4-2 and M4-P have less adjustable bits, and are based more on the idea that parts are either in tolerance or not.
    For servicing and adjustment, what are the implications for the later M4s? If wear is an issue, are replacement internal parts still available? Or is it a case of them lasting well, with key things like shutter mechanism still adjustable? To put it another way, is an M2 or original M4 a better prospect for servicing because more of it is adjustable, and thus reduces the potential need to track down replacement parts?
    Two things that attract me to the M4 over the M2 are the auto-resetting frame counter and the better likelihood of getting a black one. I gather only early original M4s were black paint, the rest being black chrome. What's the deal with the black chrome finish? What's underneath it? Steve Gandy at CameraQuest doesn't seem to like it - says it looks a bit grotty when it wears. I think the other main differences worthy of note are the the crank rewind, introduction of a faster loading method, and the non-standard flash sync sockets on the M2. I'm not too bothered about having a crank rewind, and I don't use flash, but does the faster loading method make much difference? I seem to manage okay with the IIIf, but I'd have to say that it's a bit of a fiddle, and I wouldn't object to something faster and/or easier. On a similar note, does the opening back door on an M help when using a separate take-up spool? Is M loading still a step up from the IIIf?
  24. Loading an M is easier than loading a Barnack Leica, but is still a PITA compared to pretty much any other 35mm camera in the world. At least you don't have to cut the film leader to load the film.
    I prefer the M3 over the M2 or M4 (or any other Leica M camera) for it's viewfinder. The original black ones are rare and pricey, but you can pick up a functional, user-grade camera cheap, and paint it whichever color you like. I found a black re-painted double-stroke M3 for sale the other day for $800.
    The black M6 cameras are starting to come down in price now, the shops around here are selling decent M6 TTL cameras for around $1000. An M2/M3 can be had for quite a bit less if you shop around.
  25. Not having to trim the film leader is a plus. I'm looking at cameras with the wider finder so that I can use a 35mm lens. Since part of the reason for this is to get an integrated viewfinder and rangefinder, I don't want to have use an add-on finder, and an M3 with goggles doesn't appeal at all. UK prices for M2s and M3s seems to be about the same - £3-400 for a user, 5-600 for nicer condition, and 700+ for something considered a bit rarer or professionally refinished in black. Black M6s start around 8-900. The various M4s are sometimes around 400, but often much more expensive, and don't seem as common. Still not sure about the service/parts/adjustment aspect of the M4-2 and M4-P. That notwithstanding, I think it narrows down to either a user M2, or a tidier one. If my Olymus 35 RC paint job is anything to go by, I'm sure to devalue a user M2 even further if I paint it, and I'd want to dismantle the top plate to do it, which is a bunch of time.
  26. I have a IIIf (cla 3 years ago and receiving her back, the guy at the shop said me: "See you in 30 years!"), what a beautifull, small, noiseless, well made,... camera. But loading it is not far from a nightmare and the viewfinder is so tiny. Anyway, I love that camera and will keep her forever. As lenses I started with the 50/3.5 Elmar and a 50/2 Summitar. Later looking for wider point of view and because of limited budget I went for the VC SnapShot Skopar 25/4, of course with external viewfinder. Nice lens!!!
    Later, looking to wider point of view, I bid for a Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5... that came with a Bessa L "around it". What a cheap, plastic made camera... but so easy to load... with external control of the lightmeter...
    And finaly, I discover that I was using more the ugly plastic japanese toy in place of the lovely german beauty. Shame on me ;-) easyness wins.
    Now, I'm using a Bessa T anniversary model that I was lucky to find at good deal. That's the good compromise. Because of metal dials it's no more plastic toy, her grey paint is beautifull, the inboard rangefinder great for using all lens (even and mainly the VC 90mm),... It's my favorite everyday camera.
    But I still love so much the IIIf... strange
  27. Reply from left field.....what about a Canon 7, V or P LTM body ?
    Somewhere between a Bessa and a Leica in quality, with a wide base RF, back loading, coupled RF and Finder. Price for a good working body should not be much more than a Bessa, and MUCH less than a Leica M. Canon bodies hold their value so when (if) you want to move to a Leica M, you can sell the Canon body for what you paid for it. I would be surprised if you have to pay more than $400 US (~275 Euro) for body that has had a recent CLA.
  28. Jean, I know what you mean about the 30 years thing. When I got my IIIf, I did some partial disassembly and lubricated some parts. They really are built to last, and that's a big attraction.
    The Canons are interesting, Ross, but seem to be a bit rare in the UK. Quite a few at attractive prices on eBay (£300-350, generally), but in the US, and geenrally a little the worse for wear. By the time I imported one and paid for a CLA and repairs, I think I'm getting close to decent M2 prices. And still no M mount. By contrast, there's plenty of Leica to choose from in the UK/Europe.
  29. I've used the Oly 35RC, Leica IIIa, and Leica Ms. My favorite, beyond a doubt, is the M series. The viewfinder is bright and clear, quality of construction is superb, as are the results. Olympus is very nifty and compact but I love the Leica optics. The LTM or "Barnack Leicas" certainly have their charms, and they are very compact. Have you thought of buying a 35mm lens and separate viewfinder by Voigtländer? Quite easy to get the hang of and your IIIf will feel like a whole new camera.
  30. I quite like the little Olympus - very compact and easy to shoot one-handed (I have it on a wrist strap). I tend to agree about the optics. Although I haven't done a side-by-side comparison, the Olympus hasn't produced anything of note in terms of image quality, while the (1953) 50mm f3.5 Elmar surprised me with its sharpness and contrast. I ordered a Russian 35mm Biogon copy and turret finder just before my IIIf went in for its CLA - they've arrived, but the camera isn't back yet. I'll be giving them a whirl as soon as I can. I bought the Olympus to use while the IIIf was away, and then went out and tried street photography for the first time. I think I realised that I prefer a lever wind, and an integrated view/rangefinder. At the moment, I'm not sure if I'll get along with the IIIf for this. Another reason for considering an M is pairing it with a faster lens - the Cosina Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 is tempting if its optically good. Nice and small.
  31. I have been very happy with my M6 w/ .72 VF. The viewfinder is better than average, but more importantly the RF covers virtually all of the lenses I commonly use, from 28mm all the way out to 135mm. My first choice for a second or backup body is the M4-P.
  32. I know I said I wasn't planning on doing this quickly, but I just bought a spotless M2. Oops. Next thing is to get an LTM-M adapter for my Biogon copy.
    Been looking for reviews on the Voigtlander 35mm f1.4, and I'm having second thoughts on that. Most common criticisms seem to be about the bokeh and a tendency to suffer from flare. From the sample shots I've seen, the bokeh has looked okay (perhaps I'm not refined enough to know what to look for). However, there are some comparison shots here...
    About a 3rd or so of the way down, there are two shots of a mantlepiece, one with the Voigtlander, and the other with a Summicron ASPH. The barrel distortion on the Voigtlander is clear. I'm not sure that I'd be happy to pay half a grand for a lens that does that. Another thing the reviewer says is that the CV has a tendency to underexpose, and this is apparent in the various comparison shots. My feeling just now is to see how I get on with the Jupiter 12. If it isn't a dog, I might just keep using it while I save up my pennies for the 'cron.
  33. Reading your initial post I am reminded of my own story when it comes to rangefinders. I too started out with a Leica IIIf and I still use it often to this day. It's a great little machine and it has served me very well.
    There came a certain point though where I wanted a camera that was a bit more modern with a better viewfinder and the ability to take M mount lenses. A Leica was well out of my price range so I ended up going with a Bessa R3A. I have ZERO regrets and at this stage I think I'll just keep the R3A and focus on the lenses I want to buy.
    The current crop of Bessa's are very nicely made, much better than I expected. Is it a modern Leica? No...but I don't need it to be. Don't for a moment think that the Bessa is just "good enough" either. It's an excellent camera and does everything I need it to do while leaving plenty of money in my pocket for the glass I want to put in front of it.
  34. I make no bones about the fact that Leica is what I want - a new or near-mint black paint MP to be exact. Well out of my price range for now, however. The Bessa is a much cheaper way to start on the M path, and its main attractions over an early M were black paint and the built in meter, as well as being a new camera. It as a toss-up between that and an early Leica M for similar money. In the end, I got a nice looking M2 for less than the cost of a Bessa in the UK, or about the same if I include the cost of a CLA and new shutter curtains. Importing a Bessa from the US was an option, provided VAT is the only additional cost over the basic purchase price, which would make a total just a little more than the M2 with a service. For a difference in cost that amounts to servicing the Leica, I felt that a UK sourced M2 in good clean condition was the way to go - the balance between saving and compromise fell in favour of the Leica.
    Aside from the emotional appeal of the Leica, and given that an MP is still the longer term goal, the M2 is more likely to hold its value, and is also physically very close to the MP. It's meterless, has a chrome finish, different frame counter, and the older loading system, but it essentially is an MP. So, it also serves as a way to try much of the MP configuration without the large outlay.
  35. Glad you found your M2. For anyone else looking for a similar solution, don't forget the M4-P, the M5, or even the CL/CLE. After much research it looks like these are consistently the lowest priced entries to the "M" world. Although it looks like the M5 prices are actually starting to rise.

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