5 Frames… Of Bradford on a Voigtlander Bessa 66 (ILFORD XP2 Super / 120 Format / EI 400) – by Mike Avison
It was time to try out one of my 120 format film cameras and the first one that came to hand was the Voigtlander Bessa 66 with its Voigtar 1:3.5 75mm lens. It’s a folding camera and I do like the fact I can slip into my back jeans pocket: eat your heart out Hasselblad owners! With no working electronic exposure meter, I tried out the excellent Fred Parker’s Ultimate Exposure Computer.
Although all the familiar controls are there, using a Bessa 66 is a surprisingly large step from a 35mm SLR. On an SLR the controls are carefully laid out in convenient, almost intuitive locations while on the older medium format cameras they are in the most convenient position for the person designing the camera, in order to keep the build simple, economic and compact. That said, it just requires a bit of mindfulness and, if over 55 years old, possibly a pair of reading glasses!
The next thing: what subjects to go for. To answer this I considered again why I had decided to resurrect the Bessa 66. It was the aesthetic of the act of taking a picture with such an old camera that excited me. So it seemed only appropriate that I seek out subjects from a bygone era. It seemed a good plan to record a “historic” scene with a process that felt and looked of the era.
I live near Bradford an ailing mill town in the UK, where many old buildings have so far escaped the wrecking ball. So on one of her visits home, my daughter and I meandered around the streets, me shooting 120 on my Bessa 66 and she colour on my (her?) Pentax Spotmatic. It was one of those brilliant relaxed days one rarely gets to spend with a young adult offspring.
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When the rolls were finished, we conveniently dropped them in at the Bradford Camera Exchange where they process and scanned them for £3 each (now £5). A few hours later, we received our scanned photo’s by download (we opted for 3,000×2,000px scans, although higher resolutions were available at a small premium).
The version of Bessa 66 I have does not benefit from a lens coating so I was careful to keep the sun over my shoulder.
The portrait is out of focus and I have to admit that was an error but I think it works well with Mike’s wistful mood. My only real problem with the Bessa is difficulty reading the image number through the spy hole on the back. I wish Kodak would print them in bold and black. I have wasted a few frames of film because of this!
My second roll is going to be colour film which I am looking forward to seeing. I am really enjoying the experience and since you can pick up a Bessa 66 for approximately £15 it is a cheap way of enjoying medium format. What of the future? Well, I bought another identical one and intend to shoot some stereo.
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Hi Mike! Thank you for a fun article. I suspect that your folder uses a Cooke triplet lens, in which focusing is achieved by rotating the front element. Your out of focus portrait is probably not due to a mistake on your part. Close focusing is one of the limitations of an otherwise excellent lens.
Fuji Neopan has backing paper that’s MUCH easier to read through the red window.
Hi, I enjoyed shooting this camera but sold it after a few rolls. I had good results with color film. If you enjoy this camera, consider the Franka Solida III, its Schneider Radionar lens bests the Voigtlander lens. It too is range focus.