Anyone using these classics?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by Shawn Rahman, Sep 11, 2008.

  1. Shawn Rahman

    Shawn Rahman Subscriber

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    Flipping through a book on classic cameras, I thought the following four cameras looked pretty interesting. Lately I've been feeling this need to try out very old 35s.

    If anyone has experience and advice on them, I'd greatly appreciate it - especially regarding quality, quirks, and usability. Alternative suggestions are welcome, of course!

    Thanks!

    1. Voigtlander Vito B
    2. Agfa Super Silette
    3. Contessa LKE
    4. Voigtlander Vitessa
     
  2. nemo999

    nemo999 Member

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    I have personal experience of a Vito C and Agfa Silette (I think the "Super " Silette had a rangefinder). This type of 1950s camera is very well made but deeply unfashionable and therefore offers an awful lot of picture-takling ability for the money (£5 and up from a charity store, £40 to £50 from a dealer). Lens performance is likely to be as good as any of the type (mainly 4-element Tessar-type lenses), exposure meters if present may not work accurately if at all, chances of getting an example with a sticky shutter are high (CLA is easy but will cost as much as or more than the camera, self-timer in particular likely to stick). The Vitessa is a different case, more costly, more complex with its folding design and plunger film wind, quite fascinating in a quirky way, very good to use if working well but more complexity means more to go wrong and a more costly CLA. Note that Vito B will not wind or fire without film.

    Any of these 4 would be good to experiment with, a Vito C would be cheaper and easier to find than a B and as good if not better, Kodak Retinettes/Retinas also worth a look. Within their limitations, these cameras can deliver very high-quality images.
     
  3. Jack Lusted

    Jack Lusted Member

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    I have an Agfa Super Silette that I bought out of curiosity for about £5. It's actually quite a nice little camera with a reasonably decent lens. To be honest its handling is not great with quite a long throw to the lever wind and the shutter release does not quite feel as comfortable as it might. The range-finder is fine and easy to use and the metering in my example is still accurate! CLA for my camera was a very gentle puff of WD40 (shock - horror) to free up the self timer and sweeten the action of the shutter speed and aperture rings.
    All in all I'm very pleased with my £5 worth - it's much much better than I thought it would be.
     
  4. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I have a Vito B I bought new in 1959, and the Voigtlander range finder to go with it, the camera cost just over £20,more than a weeks pay for many people in those days, I cant remember how much the range finder was probably £4-5. I still have the leather case for the camera and range finder, and the hood, all are still mint, amazingly I still have the boxes and instructions, I haven't used it in more than twenty years I had almost forgotten I had it, I'm going to put a roll of Velvia 100 in it and shoot it this weekend, and see if it has learned anything in forty nine years.
     
  5. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I used to have a Vitessa-L with the 50/2 Ultron--probably the nicest 50mm lens I've ever owned for 35mm.
     
  6. Adrian D

    Adrian D Member

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    2 out of four!

    Lovely to hear these cameras being mentioned. In the winter of 1982 my father and I walked through the snow to a local chemists shop to buy my first "good" camera (I was 12)- an old Agfa Super Silette with a lens hood, a uv filter and a yellow filter. It cost £15.

    I used it for years, and still have it. It still works fine. I probably didn't realise it in those early years, but it was a great way to learn about the basics of 35mm photography, and if you are just getting into the game, I'd recommend seeking one out to try. The lens (as has been mentioned) is very good, especially if stopped down a little- I still have some of my first 16x12" enlargements I made with it, and the quality is remarkable (made with a zenith "suitcase" enlarger as I recall, anyone remember those?)

    Strangely enough, only last week I found a Silette in a charity shop for £7, in slightly better condition than my old Super, how could I resist? The assistant said, "It must be your lucky day, I've just reduced this from £10!!" It came with a seperate rangefinder and a Gossen Sixtry meter, all working, I couldn't believe it. There's a trial roll of Tri-X in it as we speak. The leaf shutter (a Compur Rapid) has an incredibly sweet and quiet release, much nicer and smoother than the one on my Super Silette (a Prontor, I think), although this could be as much to do with a potential need for a service as much as anything else. These cameras even have a PC flash synch socket!

    A few years on saw me working weekends in a local camera shop, where I had the chance to purchase a secondhand Vitessa. This too, was a joy to use though I didn't keep it long as it broke down twice, the complexity of its wind-on and shutter mechanism was probably its downfall. It had the F2 Ultron, an excellent lens by any standard. I remember putting a few rolls of Fuji Velvia through it and was amazed by the quality of the results.

    At school in the mid 80's (a keen photographer even then) I used to get a bit of ribbing on trips out for using such "old fashioned" cameras, but when my friends photos from their 110 cartridge cameras and Konica Pops came back from the chemists even they could see the difference.

    I'm surprised the Silettes don't go for more on the secondhand market, they are still a well made, useful, rewarding and practical option if your photographic needs are not too demanding. I'm biased I suppose. I've been lucky enough to have tried almost every type of film camera of every format since, but I'll keep using the old Agfas for enjoyment as long as I can get film for them.

    Seek them out, use them, enjoy them!
     
  7. elekm

    elekm Member

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    I'll preface by saying that nearly all leaf-shutter cameras should be serviced. And it's common for the rangefinder, if there is one, to need to be adjusted.

    1. Voigtlander Vito B

    Two body styles. One with a plain Galilean finder and a later model with a Van Albada finder with framelines. Two lenses: f/2.8 and f/3.5 Color-Skopar (Tessar formula). Lens has a tendency to flare. Small body, maybe a bit too small, especially if you have large hands. It's a zone focus camera. Very good results, but you should consider using a lens shade with this camera. The frame counter is on the bottom and is a count-down type. It's too easy to accidentally knock it from its setting.

    2. Agfa Super Silette
    I think there were several different body styles, offered with several different lenses: Apotar (triplet), Solinar (Tessar-type) and Solagon (premium lens). Very nice cameras, easy to use. The Apotar and Solinar generally are front-element focusing, while the Solagon is unit focus.

    3. Contessa LKE
    The rigid-front Contessas were built on the same body shell with different top decks and slightly different Prontor shutters and Tessars. Some cameras have front-element focusing, while others have unit focusing. I like some of the earlier models, because they seem to be a bit better built with more metal and less plastic. The unit focus design requires some practice, because you have plastic ears for the aperture and focusing helical (close to the body), and it's easy to grab the wrong one when you're in a hurry.

    I can't remember the LKE model immediately. There was one model that was zone focus. The others should have rangefinders.

    The Tessar is a very nice lens. I haven't had any problems with flare. It takes 27mm screw-in filters, including the Carl Zeiss Proxar close-up accessory lenses. There is a Zeiss Ikon/Voigtlander-branded Contameter that works in conjuntion with the Proxars. I have some information about this camera and the Contameter on my site.

    4. Voigtlander Vitessa
    Have one, but it needs to be serviced.

    There are two versions: The one with the folding doors ("barn doors"), and a non-folding body.

    Very unique in styling and operation, particularly the one with the "barn doors."

    I think the Vitessas came with either the Color-Skopar or the Ultron (an outstanding lens).

    The rigid-front body has interchangeable lenses.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 12, 2008
  8. Nick Merritt

    Nick Merritt Member

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    The Vitessa is one of the most original camera designs you'll find -- quite a conversation piece. But quite well made and superb lenses (as Mike says, an f2 Ultron or Color Skopar in f2.8 or f3.5). Some models had a selenium meter. The Vitessa T is the one with interchangeable lenses -- a 50/2.8 and (I believe) 35/3.5 and 100/4.5.

    A few other cameras worth considering are folders -- the Agfa Karat 36 with 50/2 (Schneider Xenon or Rodenstock Heligon; again, I may not have these right) or Kodak Retina IIa/IIc/IIIc. The Retina IIx models have no meter; the IIIc does. The IIa and IIIc have a 50/2 Schneider Xenon while the IIc has a 50/2.8 Xenar.
     
  9. elekm

    elekm Member

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    ... and if you don't mind a folding camera, the Agfa Solinette II and Super Solinette are excellent little cameras. Just check those bellows before you load with film.
     
  10. B&Jdude

    B&Jdude Member

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    Then there is the poor man's Ikonta A, a.k.a. Daiichi Zenobia. Aneat little pocketable 120 folder, a viewfinder camera with front focus f3.5 Hesper (Tessar) lens in a Compur Rapid clone Seikosha or Daiichi shutter with ASA sync connector. I use mine with a little range finder on the accessory shoe. It takes great pictures. Most people who have one think it's too old to take good pictures and will probably give it to you.

    I love it! EuGene

    P.S. I have a Vitessa around here somewhere . . . hmmmm?
     
  11. B&Jdude

    B&Jdude Member

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    Of course . . . duh! . . . Shawn, if you wanted a 120 folder, you would have been over on the MF forum . . . don't know where my brain was parked when I started extolling the virtues of my little folder. Now I do need to find where I put that Vitessa if I am to redeem mysel!

    "Oh, Lord, won't you buy me
    a Super Silette,
    My friends all got Alpas,
    So I need a new lens."

    Smiff
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 13, 2008
  12. lens_hacker

    lens_hacker Member

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    The Vitessa's have great lenses, but the advance mechanism and RF mechanism is poorly engineered. The RF mechanism is adjusted using three set screws that hold the mirror against a fourth one. The adjustment must be made with the top off, but must be checked putting the top back on. The viewfinder optics are in the camera top, and you just can't see through the VF without the top on. If I used mine more often, I'd cut the spare top plate up to allow for adjustment and viewing at the same time.

    The Vitessa T is a big, heavy camera that has a superb lens. Probably designed to compete with the Retina IIIS, the Kodak has parallax corrected/bright frame lines for 35/50/85/135 lenses.
     
  13. kivis

    kivis Subscriber

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    My mother in law picked up an Agfa Super Silette at a yard sale for me. Honestly it seems like a peice of junk. Real flimsy.
     
  14. Pumal

    Pumal Member

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    I'm using the Vito C. Haven't seen the results yet.
     
  15. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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  16. Jojje

    Jojje Member

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    I too read the book you mentioned last year... Resulting some purchasing from german e-bay, namely a contessa lke and two vitomatics. (The other Vitomatic - IIb - had suffered a shock during transport and the lens was useless)
    The other Vitomatic II was as new - cost me 9.90€. The postage was more than that.
    Both cameras Zeiss and Voigtländer have Tessar type lenses (Skopar in V.) which are amazingly sharp. I would forget the Lanthar-lensed versions. Ultron is too expensive. Selenium exposure meters work with accuracy - even in cold (have used them while cross-country skiing.) and the vitomatic rangefinder is life-size and very convenient to use even with eye glasses.
    I really recommend a good Vitomatic. The build quality is superb. I'd forget the Vitos without rangefinders and exposure meters. Not so convenient in use.
     
  17. mr rusty

    mr rusty Subscriber

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    I think half the fun is taking these old cameras out into the modern world and watching people take a second look. I regularly take out my Retina IIIS http://www.cameraquest.com/ret3s.htm - hewn from solid metal in a brown leather half case it just looks like a great piece of kit.

    Apart from the weight of the thing, it's no compromise though. I usually have the 28mm on it and the shots I get are some of the sharpest.

    Mine functions perfectly and looks almost like new. Its so quiet sometimes I am not even sure if the shutter has fired - but it always has! I bought it from ebay Germany a year or so back with 3 lenses and a few other bits n pieces including a contemporary leather compartment case. From the thumb mark wear on the case it has obviously been well used, and I like to think was serviced from time to time as it just works so smoothly. With film in at the moment I have this IIIS, a retina IIIc, a Kiev 4 and a Zorki 4. The Kiev and the IIIS see the most action.
     
  18. brucemuir

    brucemuir Member

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    Lens Hacker...
    I have a Vitessa with the barn doors and boy do I know about the rangefinder adjustment issue.

    I inherited mine from my dad and it had been dropped before it even had 10 rolls through it.
    It has the Color Skopar and if I'm remembering correctly it is the slower 3.5 version.
    The only damage was it knocked the rangefinder silly.

    I'm sad because it sits in drawer unused. I researched trying to adjust the rangefinder but it seems there was a special tool that you used to adjust it with the top off.

    If anyone can point me to someone who may be able to get it up and running that would be great.

    The plunger action is truly a wild feature.
     
  19. macrorie

    macrorie Member

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    I currently own a Vito B with 3.5 lens and Pronto shutter, and Vito B with 3.5 lens and Prontor shutter (speeds from 1 to 1/300th), and a Vitomatic 1. I used to own a Vito BL and a Vito II. I also shoot with a Perkeo II. Obviously, I think the Color Skopar lenses are great. If you are not used to estimating distances, then get a rangefinder for use with scale focus Vitos or get a Vitomatic model with a rangefinder. The models with the albada finders offer a huge and bright view at the cost of much more weight. The Vito B with simple Pronto shutter is very light and small. The Vitomatics are small bricks, but beautifully crafted bricks.
     
  20. elekm

    elekm Member

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    Regarding the Super Silette being a flimsy piece of junk, that's an interesting comment.

    Agfa served the middle of the market. They made good cameras for reasonable prices.

    The first Super Silette is based on the folding camera but was a rigid-lens design. The later models were based loosely on the Optima cameras. The final models had coupled selenium meters. They also had front-mounted shutter releases, which are a bit of an acquired taste.

    While I've never felt them to be on the same par as a Zeiss Ikon or a Leica, I've felt that they are decently made cameras.

    Regarding the Vitessa rangefinder, I've taken the top deck and held it backward with the eyepiece held up against the viewfinder while trying to make the adjustment. A royal pain!

    Voigtlander often did quirky things for no apparent reason.