I acquired a Voigtländer Bessamatic (Deluxe) in October 2021 to add to my collection of vintage cameras. The kit included a 35mm/f3.4 Skopar X, a 50mm/f2.8 Color Skopar X and a 135mm/f4 Super Dynarex lenses. The lenses came with their cases and the camera came with the ever-ready case. I am pleased to say that having loaded the camera with a short length of Fomapan 200 from my bulk stock, that the camera and lenses behaved impeccably. The selenium cell exposure meter appears to be accurate which is surprising considering that the camera is 60 years old.
The lenses are all clean and the focusing was as smooth as silk! In truth, the camera was a joy to use once I had got used to its way of doing things. Changing lenses was simple and fast. I did get caught out a couple of times when I forgot that the camera did not employ through the lens metering!
The original Bessamatic was released in 1959 and was a fully mechanical camera and therefore required no batteries. Let’s take a look at the major specifications.
Film Type: 135 (35mm)
Lens: 50mm f/2.8 Voigtländer Color-Skopar coated 4-elements
Lens Mount: Voigtländer F. Deckel DKL Mount
Focus: 3.3 feet to Infinity
Viewfinder: Fixed SLR Pentaprism
Shutter: Synchro Compur Leaf
Speeds: B, 1 – 1/500 seconds
Exposure Meter: Coupled Selenium Cell w/ viewfinder match needle, f/stop, and shutter speed readouts
Flash Mount: Coldshoe and M and X Flash Sync
Weight: 802 grams (body only), 938 grams (w/ lens)
In 1962 a slightly altered model was released. This is unofficially known as the Bessamatic ‘Deluxe’. This is in fact the model that I have bought. There were two welcome modifications. The first was a small wheel on the top plate which allowed the exposure counter to be easily set. The second was a small module above the lens which allowed the speed and aperture settings to be transmitted into the viewfinder, along with the coupled exposure meter settings. I have included an image from wikipedia.
Two further models were to appear later. The ‘CS which sported Cds through the lens metering and the ‘M’ which was a basic model with no metering at all!
To get back to my Bessamatic Deluxe …… I have read many comments about its weight. All I will say is that, to someone like myself that regularly shoots medium format cameras, it felt light and comfortable to use. If anything, it took me a little while to get used to its compact size! It is a very high quality machine, made to very high standards. To me, Voigtländers were the epitome of German engineering when I was youngster! They were not cheap.
By today’s standards, this may not be considered high spec. but to buy the original model of this camera with the 50mm/f2.8 lens new would have cost £99.19.6d (£100!) and a further £5.10.6d (£5.50) for the ever ready case. When you consider that the average male manual worker in the UK earned under £14 a week this represented a large outlay and certainly elevated it into the ‘Semi Professional’ level.
Many reviewers refer to the Bessamatic as ‘over-engineered’ I disagree. I would simply say that it is engineered to an exceedingly high standard! The shutter is quiet. The lenses focus smoothly and all settings are precise. Everything about the camera screams quality! Focussing moves the entire lens, not just the front element.The lenses do not have a separate Depth Of Field (DOF) scale. Instead, there are two red pointers by the focus scale which move as the aperture changes and these red pointers indicate the near and far limits of the DOF for the selected aperture.
A Little About the Results
A couple of days ago, I wandered off to try out the camera and lenses. All behaved perfectly. The selenium cell exposure meter appears accurate. I deliberately relied upon it rather than use my hand held meter specifically to check it. There were no exciting subjects and to be honest I returned home in under an hour to develop the film.
I shot several images from the same viewpoints to demonstrate each of the three lenses. I am satisfied with the results. I would have liked to have developed the film in Spur HRX but had to resort to using TMAX developer as I had exposed the film at box speed rather than ISO 125 as required by Spur. In Spur, the grain of Fomapan 200 film is acceptable. In other developers, I’m not so keen on the grain produced by it.
This has only been a brief review but I hope that it conveys just how impressed I am with this camera. Is it the most highly specified camera of its era? Probably not. However, it oozes quality. Considering the age of both the camera and lenses, they look pristine. This is a common feature of Voigtländer cameras of this vintage. There is a reasonable selection of lenses available for the Bessamatic. They range from:-
35mm f3.4 Skopar x
40mm f2.0 Skopagon
50mm f2.8 Color Skopar-X
50mm f2.8 Color Lanthar
50mm f2.0 Septon
90mm f3.4 Dynarex
100mm f4.8 Dynarex
135mm f4.0 Super Dynarex
200mm f4.0 Super Dynarex
350mm f5.6 Super Dynarex
36–82mm f2.8 Zoomar
The 36-82mm f2.8 Zoomar is worthy of a special mention. It is reputed to be the first zoom lens for a 35mm camera and was made by the Zoomar Corporation of USA. Used versions do not come cheap!
In my opinion the Voigtländer Bessamatic is a high class camera and a real pleasure to use. I look forward to shooting more challenging subjects with it.