I could opt for my usual claim to have bought my Voigtländer Vitomatic 1a on a whim but in all honesty, that would not be true. The truth is that I really like Voigtländer cameras! That doesn’t mean that I have a lot of them but what I have, I am very pleased with.
My introduction to Voigtländers came when I was about 9 or ten years old when my Junior school teacher, Mr Baldwin, brought his Voigtländerr to school with him. I cannot recall the model but I know that I was really impressed with this wonderful shiny piece of German craftsmanship, built at a time when German engineering was the epitome of quality when it came to cameras. Yes! I really am that old! Mr Baldwin had already introduced me to the joy of making contact prints along with how to build a telescope from almost nothing. Apart from one lecturer when I attended an adult college in my forties, no other teacher ever left such an impression with me.
A Little History Curtesy of Wikipedia
Voigtländer was founded in Vienna, Archduchy of Austria, in 1756, by Johann Christoph Voigtländer. Voigtländer produced mathematical instruments, precision mechanical products, optical instruments, including optical measuring instruments and opera glasses, and is the oldest name in cameras.
Voigtländer became a technology leader and the first manufacturer to introduce several new kinds of product that later became commonplace. These include the first zoom lens for 35 mm still photography (36–82mm/f2.8 Zoomar) in 1959 and the first 35 mm compact camera with built-in electronic flash (Vitrona) in 1965. As an aside you can currently expect to pay up to £400-£500 for a pristine 36–82mm/f2.8 Zoomar lens.
Since 1999, Voigtländer-branded products have been manufactured and marketed by the Japanese optics and camera company Cosina, under license.
My Voigtländer Vitomatic 1a
My camera is a second generation Vitomatic built between 1960 and 1963. It is a viewfinder camera as opposed to a rangefinder. Hence, you have to either measure the distance between the camera and subject or guess. I understand that those used to the luxury of a built-in rangefinder or even autofocus may find this daunting but for those of us that have been kicking around for more decades than I care to mention, it is not such a big deal. Once you have mastered depth of field and assuming that you have good light, this is less of a shortcoming.
The camera is built like a tank and despite it’s relatively small size, weighs in at about 900 grams. The only thing that is not metal or glass is the ever-ready case! It is totally manual and therefore needs no batteries. However, there is a selenium powered coupled exposure meter which involves aligning two needles to ascertain the correct exposure. Such luxury!
The lens is fixed and is a F2.8/50mm Color Skopar which I know from experience with other models gives good results. Apertures range from f2.8 – f22 and focusing is from 1 metre -20 metres and infinity. The shutter is a Prontor SLK-V with speeds from 1 sec. -1/500th sec and ‘B’.
A word of warning! Don’t think that the shutter doesn’t work when you first try it. Without a film loaded in the camera, the shutter release button will not work because the button is coupled with a film advance sprocket inside.
This lens has a locking ring which maintains the combination of an aperture and shutter speed which means that when you have set your exposure you can adjust speed and aperture together for the shot.
Film loading is somewhat unusual and dare I suggest slightly over engineered! There is a little lever in the base of the camera which when lifted and rotated through 90° opens a ‘door’ and the entire hinged back can then be opened. The cassette can then be inserted and threaded across into the take-up spool. The exposure counter can also be found on the base of the camera.
There is a cold shoe and a lever to the left of the lens marked X an M for setting the flash. There is a further setting marked V which when selected provides a self timer. This is remarkably quiet in operation.
In my opinion, the Voigtländer Vitomatic 1a is a beautiful piece of engineering and a testament to the highly skilled engineers that designed and built it. There really is little more to say about the camera and so all that I will leave you with is some images of the camera. As they say, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words!’