Bessa R2a/3a + lenses build and feel
I am smitten with my RF645 but would like a small 35mm RF for when I need very small light kit with me at all times. I am in two minds; A Bessa R2/3a with 1-2 lenses (35/40 and 75/90) or save up for something 'better' built (prob used leica). I am in Afghanistan so cannot drop into the local store to pick one up but I can mail order from the USA.
Can you describe build/quality experiences with the late Bessas and lenses? I am a bit concerned by some threads stating that they have had faults straight from the factory with wobbly bits and vignetting issues due to faults (Leon).
Does it feel solid in the hand like a Pentax MX/Olympus 2n/Nikon fm2/3 or somewhat less robust?
How resilient are they?
Might sound a bit silly, but it could get knocked about and I am trying to get an idea if it would last and respresent true value or not.
Plenty of incredible picture opportunities here....but not all are for the taking!
I have a Bessa L and a Bessa T. Both feel solid and well put together and have given no trouble in several years of light use - I am not sure how they would like to be slung round my neck without cases, banged together and driven for miles in a jeep on rough dusty roads - no reason to suspect them, but I'd probably take my Nikon instead. I am pleased with the lenses I have (50 mm f1.5, 28 mm f1.9), again both seem well made and give good results, except that the 50 came with a stupidly small lens hood and was much better with a bigger one.
Just a thought - you could far more easily get a Bessa in black than a Leica, if being inconspicuous is a consideration.
hi Tom - I've had my r3a for about 7 months now and I really like it. It feels more solid that the r2 and generally comes across as a robust camera, although I havent really knocked it about for obvious reasons. Many people have reported problems in quality control with rf alignment (I know 2 personally), but mine was perfect. I'm sure you;re aware, but dont forget it's completely battery reliant, not even a default shutter speed when they've run out, so that might alter your choice.
I exchanged my 40mm nokton and the replacement is perfect - I've also got the 21 mm wide which is stunning given the price - no bad points at all as far as I can see. I used to have a the 90mm apo-lanthar too (sold it when I sold my r2), which was a great lens, but I didnt use it much becasue of my preference for wider points of view.
hope that helps?
Tom, I don't own a Bessa but I do have a couple of Voigtlander lenses--the 21/4 and the 35/2.5. The 35mm is the original, non-pancake lens. I bought the 35 several years ago to use with my Leica M6 until I could afford a 35mm Leitz Summicron. Even after I bought the Summicron, I kept the Voigtlander because I really like it a lot. The 21mm is almost a twin of the 35mm lens. Both are very sharp and both are well made and appear to be pretty sturdy.
I've read that the original black finish lenses wear badly. Both mine are silver and they still look fine. I'm not a heavy--or rough--user, however. The lens hoods that come with them are not very good but there are other, better hoods available from Voigtlander and others.
I've been using C/V Bessas for the last couple of years. I have L, T, R2 (non-A), and R3A bodies. I've used the 15, 21, and 75mm lenses. Of the cameras you've mentioned that I know, I'd put the build quality on the T, R2, and R3A in the same range as the Pentax MX. I haven't used an OM-2n, and it's been over 20 years since I sold FM2's, and I never used them. It's not Leica M or R build quality, but I don't find that the cameras feel flimsy or are unreliable. I hear the R is not as rugged, and the L is certainly not as well built as the T, R2, or R3A. The only quirk I've found is with the film transport. If you tweak or spin the sprocketed spindle to the right of the shutter when loading film, the advance sometimes sticks. You can just gently rock the spindle and you'll feel a little click when it frees up again. This doesn't happen every time, but it's not exactly rare, and I've never had a problem with it staying stuck.
One of my four bodies, a T, came with a vertical RF misalignment, relatively minor, but it bothers me just a little. My R3A was banged on the baseplate by a loose monopod when I swung to avoid getting hit at a soccer game. That knocked the vertical RF alignment out a little. I was able to quickly reset it through a hole under the hot shoe and it's been fine since, even in critical circumstances. It took another hard hit from a soccer ball shot (right on the lens shade of the 75mm) 3 weeks ago and is still fine for RF alignment.
I haven't used the 15 a lot, but it's a fine, sharp, contrasty lens with the fall-off and special perspective you'd expect. The 21 is very nice as well, very good contrast and resolution without a lot of fall-off. The 75 is now my most-used lens, as it allows me to "edit" in camera in a way I like. It's very sharp and has very good contrast. It does a great job with Efke 25 and Rodinal 1+100 and with Velvia. I've noticed a little loss of contrast at the center when shooting backlit, with the sun just out of frame above the shot, but haven't seen a lot of flare. I've shot it a lot wide open at f:2.5 for indoor soccer with good results, and I get round, pinpoint stars to within a few mm of the edges doing guided astrophotography wide open with both print and slide film. Seeing those results for the first time wowed me. FWIW, Erwin Puts says it's a derivative of a famous 75mm f:2.5 Elcan (E. Leitz Canada) lens. I just go by my results.
For shots with the 75 see:
You can easily see the individual threads in the car bra stitching on the first shot, and you can count threads in the fine vent mesh in the shadows to the lower right.
Word is that the 35mm f:2.5 Classic is also a great lens, but I have a couple of 40mm Summicron-Cs, so that's not a priority for me. The 40 Nokton gets mixed reviews, especially on bokeh, but it's very sharp and faster if you need that. The bokeh sample shots I've seen haven't convinced me that it's bad in that regard. Lens build quality is not as rugged as Leica M or R, but it's very good, and all metal, even the lens hoods. As I said, the 75mm took a direct frontal hit with a hard soccer shot with no problem.
I now do a large percentage of my shooting with the R3A and T bodies (you can still get new Ts from cameraquest.com for $185). I love the 1:1 finder on the R3A, but if you shoot 35 or wider, or if you wear glasses, it may not be for you. The R3A with a mini 28/35 combo finder would also get you a nice set frames while still being low profile. I wear very close-fitting glasses and can barely make out the 40mm frame on the R3A with my eye centered, using peripheral vision. Reports are that most glasses wearers can't see the 40mm frame on the R3A. The reason I like the 1:1 finder so much is that you can leave both eyes open and see nearly your whole field of vision normally, with a reference frame for your shot floating in front of you. It makes me feel like I'm still in the world instead of just observing it, and I can see the context of the shot and anything coming from or happening out of frame that might affect the shot. Great for sports and action. So in Afghanistan or other places where you want to shoot with both eyes open, it might work well for you.
Hope this helps. Let me know if you have other questions.
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One other thing if you're open to other bodies; the R2A and R3A are electronic shutters, so no batteries, no shooting. But you do get autoexposure if you find that useful. The other Bessa bodies are mechanical shutters and work without batteries. If you want some assurance that you can keep shooting, and can swing it financially, a backup T body with appropriate finders might be nice.
I am certainly very interested in the R3a as 40mm and 75 suits me well (lots of people shots here) and later on a 21 or 25 with an auxilliary finder is no bother when I have more time for scenics (wont be getting into any crowds with the wides!). I would appreciate the extra magnification and effective baselength for the 75mm and critical focus. Its going to be a toss up btwn blk R3a and a used blk 0.85 M6/M6TTL. I will look at the Leicas on ebay and see what they go for. One thing that tempts me twds a .85 M6 is being able to keep the 35mm pancake 2 on which sits nice and flat and keeps the camera pocketable/pouchable. Whilst small the 40 1.4 nokton seems that much longer (physical size) and to have a 35mm on a bessa I lose magnification by going to the r2a to get the 35mm brightlines. I dont really need fast lenses here as I dont plan on being about when it is anything other than good light! As pointed out, both eyes open on the R3a also appeals!!!!
I'll keep scratching my head and digest any future pointers!
I've got a Bessa R3a with a Nokton 40 and a Color Heliar 75. The build seems good to me, but I've not used an M6 (other than in the store). I would suspect that a new R3a is a lot less than even a used M6. Even two R3as...
I'm surprised no one mentioned the viewfinder. You can shoot with both eyes open when using the 40, which is very cool. But, if you wear glasses (like I do) then you might have trouble seeing the edges of the framelines. I can live with it even with my glasses, but I know others have reported problems, and I understand why.
I also find the red readouts in the viewfinder hard to see in bright daylight. But, again, it doesn't bother me all that much.
The only thing that does bother me is that I forget to lock the shutter and it always seems to get pressed when I'm closing the bag, but that's user error :-) My MF rangefinder requires that you cock it after every shot, so I get confused going from one to the other.
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By coincidence my March/April Photo Techniques magazine arrived in the mail today. On page 27 is an article comparing the single and multi coated versions of the C/V 40mm Noktons. Aside from the SC vs. MC comparisons, there are general comments on the lens. I'm sure it will hit an Afghani newsstand near you soon.
They say it feels solid in the hand and gives a sense of good build quality. Focus was a bit stiff on both samples at first, but eased with use. Ergonomics will be familiar to some Leica lens users, and they noted the cupped focusing tab. They also say it performs very well wide open, but don't quantify.
The 40mm is a very good lens. I don't know anything about the others other that the 50mm F1.5 screw-mount. It also seems to be a very good lens as far as I can tell from my 1st batch of pics.