One year with a Voigtländer Bessa R2A rangefinder

It was heavier than I expected. I had ignored my cardinal law in purchasing a camera, “Hold it in your hands to see how it feels”. One year has gone by with me using the Bessa exclusively, and I love it.

Artist

I bought it along with a 50mm Nokton f/1.5 lens and an adapter. The camera has an M mount, whereas the lens is a screw mount, so I needed an adapter. My plan was that if I liked this enough I could get an M mount Leica lens in the future and it would fit just fine with the camera. I still plan on doing that. Perhaps a 35mm lens, but more on that later. I bought this Bessa at CameraQuest, a website that I haven’t visited since then. I never planned on buying more of this system and I never had any issues.

Awaiting summer

My early experience with a rangefinder camera was in 2006 when I borrowed a Canonet QL17 G-III from my friend Doug. At the end of that month I was hooked and understood why the rangefinder is the best camera for street photography. A sentiment expressed by many a famous street photographers of the last century. My favorite part about a rangefinder is that since I can see the frame lines, I can see the things that I’m not including in the frame. You can never do that with an SLR. That allows me to frame the shot best, especially on the street when I have only a fraction of a second to frame and shoot a photo. I don’t have to worry about focusing because I pre-focus and set a high depth-of-field. When I bring the camera to my eye, all I have to do is frame and click. And I love it when the camera goes “click”. The Bessa has a quick sharp sound that is barely noticeable as compared to the extended louder sound of the DSLR.

Another characteristic of the rangefinder is that you can see the photo at the moment of exposure, while in the SLR you just see nothing. As a result, at the beginning, my timing was a bit off with this camera, but not only did I get used to it, I started to love it. Most of the time I take a photo, I just click one frame. No second chance. So it helps to know if I got what I was going for, even though the suspense remains until I actually get the film processed.

Swinging

Over the last year I’ve put up 193 photos taken with this camera on my Flickr photostream, about 76% of all my uploaded photos for 2007. That’s not an immense number and probably would’ve been even smaller had I not made the trips to Burning Man and to India. I put up 481 photos in 2006 and 807 photos in 2005. I think the trend is down because the cost of using film has made me frugal.

I like using film because of the texture that it imparts to a photograph. I haven’t experimented a whole lot with different films, and settled quite early with Tri-X. Most of the time I push it to ISO 1600 and gives me just the right kind of contrast I like. It also helps to push the film in Portland, since most days are overcast and higher ISO films cost more ;-) Having said that, more and more manufacturers of are moving out of the 35mm film market. That trend has me thinking of digital rangefinders for the future. We’ll see how that goes.

I think I’ve spent enough time with the 50mm lens to now explore more primes. I would prefer to go wider, as that’s what I find lacking sometimes when I frame a shot. Also, I think it would help me get closer while out on the street. So, sometime this year, I’ll get a 35mm M mount lens, hopefully a Leica one. After all, that was the plan :-)

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3 thoughts on “One year with a Voigtländer Bessa R2A rangefinder

  1. Great writeup, Sam. One thing I’ve wondered about, but never asked you is how you digitize your photos? Do you scan them after having them developed? Or scan the negatives? Do you have a special scanner or fancy software?

    Also, cool that your blog supports OpenID!

  2. Thanks Caleb! I get them developed at a local store and then scan the negatives on my flatbed scanner.

    Yea, Movable Type supports OpenID. I just enabled the preference.

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