Double review: Voigtlander Vito B & Apparate & Kamerabau Akarette II – by Tobias Eriksson
This review consists of a comparison between my experience of using two seemingly very similar cameras, the Apparate & Kamerabau Akarette II – one of the cameras I’ve felt most comfortable with – and the Voigtländer Vito B.
When writing this I had been using the Vito B for something like six months. The main bulk of my experience comes from a 48 hour stint in Stockholm in August 2017, where most of the Vito example pictures stem from.
The Akarette has been in my care for about some months now. I’ve used it extensively, for instance trying to capture impressions of the fading summer and the autumnal (Scandinavian) light. After the Midsummer solstice the Swedish midday sun moves rapidly towards the horizon again, day by day, making the days shorter. Already in early September the dark part of the year is approaching, the light at dusk less warmly tinted (yet at times dense with a yellow tint).
Here’s what I cover in this article:
The rounded edges and heaviness of the Akarette makes it feel good in my hands, while the Vito has more “hard” edges and a brick-like density. The Vito B is 100 grams heavier, even though it is the smaller camera of the two.
The Akarette weighs more than my much larger X-Pro camera, which instinctively feels odd. Of course the older cameras are all metal and glass, being produced in the early and mid ’50s, respectively.
These are very quiet cameras. The blade shutters are placed close to the aperture blades in the lens complex like twin suns working in collusion to save an instant to prosperity.
There’s nothing strange about loading film into the Akarette II. Well, apart from the fact that the whole back half of the body is hinged. It is a brilliant solution to the problem of light leaks. Here it’s not very likely.
The Vito is almost equally eccentrically loaded. A small ‘lip’ is folded out and twisted whereafter a third of the bottom – which is hinged – falls out and in that movement releases the hinged “back door”. Load film and reverse the motions and you’re done.
The lenses are both 50 mm. I haven’t read up on any of their specifics regarding parallax- behavior or if some of if the finder shows the entire picture. At least I have not experienced any surprises in this regard when post processing my images.
Focusing and shooting
Previsualization. Much of analog photography is based on this. The process of deducing in advance how to expose and prepare the taking of a picture. Your knack for previsualization is the back-bone of your ability for taking analog pictures without automated aid. These cameras will achieve nothing in the form of photographs unless you’ve done your homework.
These two are viewfinder cameras. Alas, focusing is done in a process of guesstimation when I take pictures. I always bring a workman’s laser distance meter, but I’ve not to this day used it in photography. (Stupid.) For focus I use crude estimation along with my dumbed down zone focusing skills (I never seem to remember the basics – or particulars). So, when the light is poorer I tend to use longer exposure to try to keep the preferred focal depth.
When I received the first two rolls taken in Stockholm i got hiccups since there were many black blotches on the negatives. There were triple or more exposures made on the same area or in successive areas. On the first day of using the camera in the city I noted that the winder would return and an exposure could be made even though the winder arm hadn’t been fully wound. But when seeing the negs I realized how many pictures were affected. The pictures that did come through were rather satisfactory, though.
From testing and reflection I’ve come to deduce that if the film isn’t quite tense when loaded the mistake will be repeated. At least this goes for my own Vito.
While on the subject of winding, the Akarette, as you can see, has a wheel winder much like the Fed 2, which I love to use. It’s real easy to wind, while rewinding the film is a bit of a hassle, as it is on my Fed. Well, it’s old, and inherently should be more ‘work’ intensive than a modern camera.
The Akarette focus ring is situated at the front of the lens. I believe that this fact is a huge part of my fondness for this camera. The throw on the Akarette focus ring is 360 degrees, which is a bit long, but not unusual. However 2 meters to Infinity is contained in 90 degrees which is handy. The 1,1 to 2 meter throw is 140 degrees which is a bit long.
As for the Vito the max throw is something like 300 degrees. The focus distance is much more detailed on the ring – especially in the below 2 meter range. So precise close focusing is quite possible. Closest focusing range is the not so impressive 0,8 meters. Perhaps the Akarette has a similar close focus range, but we don’t know since it is not marked on the lens. But probably it is since one can turn the focusing slightly past the 1 meter mark.
Exposure is a three step process:
- Set shutter speed
- Set aperture
- Set focus
Of course, composing and taking the picture is step four!
Intuitively where all these controls are placed around the lens, they should be in order – from rear to front – I think. And they are on the Akarette! (And the later Vito BR – where R stands for Rangefinder by the way.) The Vito on the other hand has the aperture ring in the front. Which means you have to grip the focus ring to be able to change focus. It’s a bit annoying, and not at all unusual in lenses. I just feel the placement to be counter-intuitive.
They are not fast cameras. Fastest shutter speed on both are 1/300th of a second. Taking pictures in Stockholm in sunny August, with 400 ASA film means keeping it at 1/300th or 1/100th, while changing apertures from 11 to 5,6. (I always try to overexpose 1-2 steps.)
Stockholm was Vito circumstances. The Akarette conditions have been more varied – from bright sun with clear skies mid-afternoon, to actual night exposures at hospital windows (my Mom was in stroke rehabilitation), to “sunset with ferry”. So, even with 400 ASA film I’ve been taking a whole bunch of exposures at 1/25th. (I would perhaps even have exposed at longer times had those not been kaputt on my camera. Actually they are on the Vito too.) That feels like the old days when I trusted my 25-year-old hands to be steady enough. I don’t anymore.
A 50mm is a portrait lens, is what a lot of people say. When out of the studio, I’d say it’s a ‘compositions’ lens. A wide angle – 35 mm, say – I would term a ‘scene’ lens – good for capturing a larger context. Making a picture with a compositions lens, on the other hand, is very much dependent on the photographer’s ability to leave stuff out. Or to incorporate compositional elements like lines and shapes. This you can of course do with a wide angle lens – but it’s more difficult since you have to physically go closer to the subject of your picture.
And blah blah blah. So much is written on this subject. What I’m trying to get at here is that the two reviewed cameras are excellent compositions cameras, each sporting a 50 mm lens of good quality. Notwithstanding I tried to catch ‘scenes’ when in Stockholm with the Vito. Sweden’s largest cities are not near as crowded as the metropolitan cities of the world, so trying to catch bustling crowd scenes other than narrow tourist-filled alleys is a hard come-by. Unfortunately my attempts at crowd photos were over (and over) exposed by the failing Vito.
Sample photos: Voigtlander Vito B
Sample photos: Apparate & Kamerabau Akarette II
Summary and conclusion
If I were to go out today with one of these two cameras my choice would be the Akarette. Here’s why:
- It feels much lighter (even though it’s not, really)
- It’s more easily/intuitively handled
- The knowledge of more available lenses out there (A 35 and a 75 I think.)
- Since it is ‘uglier’ it feels more a part of history, of manufacturers finding their way. But that’s me.
There are some ‘buts’ when it comes to user experience concerning these camera. When they are used in an appropriate situation, though, like ‘street photography’, they are a joy to use. And wear – the Vito like jewellery – the Akarette like an analog statement.
Thanks for reading!
~ Tobias Eriksson
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