Anyone using these classics?
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!
1. Voigtlander Vito B
2. Agfa Super Silette
3. Contessa LKE
4. Voigtlander Vitessa
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.
Originally Posted by Shawn Rahman
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.
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.
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.
I used to have a Vitessa-L with the 50/2 Ultron--probably the nicest 50mm lens I've ever owned for 35mm.
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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!
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 elekm; 09-12-2008 at 02:32 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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.
... 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.
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?