Voigtländer Avus - is it any good?

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Top-Cat, Jan 27, 2013.

  1. Top-Cat

    Top-Cat Member

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    So I just won an auction on a fully functional Voigtländer Avus Anastigmat 9X12 135/6.8 with Compur shutter.

    According to the ad it seems to be slightly battered with part of the ground glass missing in one corner, but otherwise fully functional.

    Now my experience with film is mostly 35mm and some medium format with a Mamiya ProTL set as well as having used a few 6X6 Voigtländer folding cameras, but no large format.

    So I ask, as rookie in large format photography - how is the Voigtländer Avus?

    According to camerapedia it seems to be a mid-range camera from sometime between 1915 and 1930, but do anyone here have any experience using it or anything similar? Is it anything like the Speed Graphic for example? Is it like something in between the Graphic and Linhof? Or is it more like just using a large format version of the Perkeo?

    Thanks
     
  2. tony lockerbie

    tony lockerbie Subscriber

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    Never laid hands on an Avus, but Voigtlander didn't make bad cameras, especially in the old days. Condition will be the killer, so look carefully at the bellows and also check the lens for cloudiness and fungus. The lens will give quite acceptable results, but low in contrast...may be a bit of a project!
     
  3. GregW

    GregW Member

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    I love mine. I have a roll film back so I can shoot anything from 2X2 to 6x9. I also shoot 9x12 fomapan 100 with it. The manual is online so you can read about it. Supposedly the lenses that fit the bergheil will also fit the avus but without the adapter used on the bergheil. You can also do macro with it and you might also try macro with the front element removed.
    greg
     
  4. Renato Tonelli

    Renato Tonelli Subscriber

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    Same here. I have a Rada 6x9 adapter - I didn't know about 2x2. The sheet film holders are not easy to come by. Enjoy.
     
  5. GregW

    GregW Member

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    Renato,
    Sorry, I meant 2 1/4 x 2 1/4, My Suydam adapter came with three "masks" that drop in under the film carriage. 2 1/4 x 2 1/4, 6 x 9cm and 2 1/4 x 1 5/8.
    greg
     
  6. ChuckP

    ChuckP Subscriber

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    What lens do you have? The Voigtlander tessar version is the Solinar. I'm not sure what lens is f6.8. I use the Zeiss Maximar. It can definitely produce very good prints to 11x14. And I'm sure bigger but never tried. All my cameras came with lenses that were hazy. The Zeiss tessar is easy to take apart and clean. My only Voigtlander experience is with a Solinar on a cheaper 9x12 Vag. The lens was cloudy but I couldn't get it apart with the tools on hand. Zeiss tessar was much easier. You can still get 9x12 film but you will need the proper holders with film inserts. These can be hard to find and costly. I would recommend not buying a 9x12 camera to use with sheet film unless it's sold with holders (including film inserts) or the proper roll back. If you are looking for a display camera that's another matter. I use my cameras off and on and like the look of the uncoated lenses in contrasty light.
     
  7. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I think that's a typo for "Skopar", right? (Not sure, but I think "Solinar" was an Agfa lens.) All the Avi I've seen have had Skopar lenses---I'm not sure if they ever came with the triplet lenses or if that was just for the lower-end, and in hindsight unfortunately-named, Vag.

    Fortunately, the Voigtlaender holder proportions seem to be the most common ones. Kodak/Nagel holders will also work (their combination film/plate holders, which have a built-in spring-loaded pressure plate instead of a separate film sheath, are the best holders of the plate-camera era IMHO). I've been gradually accumulating 9x12 holders in that standard for some years and haven't really had too much trouble finding them. Sometimes they come with a camera attached, and that's how you end up with a cabinet full of plate cameras.

    The Avus itself is a perfectly good camera---it's a dark box and you stick a lens on one side and a film holder on the other, and as long as the bellows is intact all should be well. The Skopar lens is a good design, they were quite well made, but they're around 90 years old at this point and have had lots of time to get scratched or foggy, for the shutter to get broken or sticky, and so on. But I've never heard of an f/6.8 Skopar, and I wonder if the lens has been replaced with something else. When you get the camera, post the fine print around the lens and someone will undoubtedly know what it is.

    It shoots basically like any other large-format camera---focus on the ground glass, swap in the film holder, pull the darkslide, cock and shoot, then realize you forgot to stop down and have to start over---but has some of the feel of a medium-format folder, in a vague way that I can't really put my finger on. You could scale focus instead of using the ground glass, but there's no DOF scale and the focus scale is kind of a fiddly little thing, so I think it would take some getting used to (I've never done much of it).

    It will come with a pack-film back; they always do. It should be possible to convert these into ground-glass backs or something, but I don't know anyone who's actually done it; everyone in the plate-camera world has a million pack holders piled in the back of a cupboard somewhere, convinced that someday a use for them will turn up. Anyway, that's what the strange hinged back with no ground glass in it is, and you might as well choose your cupboard now and put it in there. (No one ever throws them away, including me; I don't know why.)

    9x12 is actually a pretty convenient format. The cameras are fairly small, the film is cheap as sheets go (albeit with a limited choice of emulsions; Fomapan is by far the most common, though Ilford does cut 9x12, I think only for the European market), and you can contact print for a 3.5x5 frame. It's a good way to enter large format, I think. The only real unknown is the lens; if it's a dog, you'll find that out quickly.

    -NT
     
  8. ChuckP

    ChuckP Subscriber

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    Whoops. You're right Skopar not Solinar. I must have Agfa on the mind. Thanks.
     
  9. Renato Tonelli

    Renato Tonelli Subscriber

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    Greg and Nathan - thanks for posting the additional information - very useful.
     
  10. johnnyh

    johnnyh Member

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    I had an Avus (105mm lens model, the Skopar if I remember), with 6x9 rollfilm back, in the early '70s. Some photos from it are here for example.
     
  11. afrank

    afrank Member

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    Mine is a Voigtlander with a french compur 135mm. The bellows can be easily repaired because of the size, Groundglass can also be replaced in a DIY manner, i personally use a soft-green plastic sheet for super extra light focusing! The only real serious mechanical problem you could encounter is the lens itself, if the aperture ring is stuck it could be cleaned, but the shutter speed settings could prove problematic.
     
  12. Top-Cat

    Top-Cat Member

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    Finally picked it up. Considering ground glass replacement somehow. Biggest problem is getting film holders.

    Also got some Europan 200 ISO 9X12 film second hand.

    Any possibility of DIY solutions to film holders? Such as using a light proof cloth cover and insert a plate with the film mounted somehow?

    How about developing? Can I process 9X12 film with film developing chemicals as though I were developing paper (in complete darkness) in paper trays for example?
     
  13. afrank

    afrank Member

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    For the ground glass I use plastic (opaque).
    Film holders I use some off ebay, most for sure wont fit, so I created 3x L shaped aluminum "bars", to extend the thickness at back of the plate holder (glued it with super metal glue 'UHU'):
    ______ ______
    |_ _| ----> | |
    |_ _|

    I develop my sheet films in normal jobo tanks 2x at a time sometimes.
     
  14. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    What did the lens turn out to be?

    If you have something that can cut glass cleanly, it's not too hard to make a passable ground glass from the glass in a cheap picture frame. Stained-glass shops and auto shops sell abrasive "grinding compound" powders; you basically put some compound on the glass, get it wet, sandwich it between the glass to be ground and a glass scrap, and apply some elbow grease. It's kind of time-consuming but not difficult.

    I've never figured out a way to do it, but in principle anything that holds the film and fits properly on the rails should work. I suspect bending sheet metal would be the easiest way.

    That's what I do. There are sheet-film daylight tanks, but a lot of them have a reputation for uneven development. A lot of people seem to like the so-called "taco method" as well.

    -NT
     
  15. Top-Cat

    Top-Cat Member

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    On the lens itself it says:

    Voigtländer Anastigmat AVUS 13,5 cm. 1:6.8 D.R.P. 291916. No227131.

    Around the lens there's the writing:

    Voigtländer Braunschweig D.R.P. No258646 D.R.G.M.

    Compur
     
  16. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    The lens is basic but probably OK.

    I may be able to help with a good bright screen, I have 5 9x12 cameras and a good screen makes a huge difference.

    It's probable I have some adverts for that camera and lens, I'll look tomorrow.

    Ian
     
  17. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    The serial number puts it in late 1924 or early 1925, as far as I can tell. From looking at the Vade Mecum, I'm not totally clear on what type of lens it is; "Voigtlaender Anastigmat" in the interwar period seems to refer to a triplet, but there's a one-liner that describes the "Avus" lens as "a reversed Skopar type design with 4 glasses, ie a 'rasset' type design". To complicate matters, it also says that Voigtlaender appear not to have made "a 4-glass triplet" (meaning a Tessar design) until 1927, which is too late for your camera.

    So on balance I'd say the lens is likely a triplet, or just maybe an early version of the Skopar. It should work fine; you'll see some light falloff and softness in the corners of the image, especially wide open, but in the center and stopped down, a good triplet should be quite adequately sharp, and many of us like their character. Good catch!

    -NT
     
  18. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Well by 1926 the Skopar appears alongside an f6.3 Voigtar on the Avus cameras, the Voigtar is considerably cheaper and comes in two shutters the best an Ibsor.

    Ian
     
  19. Top-Cat

    Top-Cat Member

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    Damn, when I thought I could stop and start making photos, I found I missed a film holder. And instead of having the patience to look out for a film holder I bought a whole Glunz 9 X 12 camera with film holders, film and glass plates in one.

    Analog photography is starting to become a real spending spree OCD for me.

    Anyway, what's the "taco method"?

    I'll probably be able to take my first pictures sometime during late march, early april. Any good "introduction to large format on the cheap" instructions? I already have a tripod, light meter and a D-word camera for planning out. As well as I'm considering trying it out in studio with studio flash lighting as well.
     
  20. EASmithV

    EASmithV Member

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    X-Ray film, to soften the learning curve.