So here we are - another Voigtlander, one of nearly 300 in the collection. No particular reason for choosing this one other than its age. Gerry's collection is heavily weighted towards post-war cameras, but this Bessa RF is probably pre-war. Having tried one of the most modern cameras in the last article, I thought I'd go back to one of the earliest.
The Bessa is a folding bellows camera, taking either 6x9 or, with a removable mask, 6x6 frames on 120 film. Voigtlander made the first Bessa in 1929, but the RF model was introduced in 1936. In some ways it's quite sophisticated for its age - it has a coupled rangefinder and a viewfinder which can be switched between the two frame sizes. It also has a shutter release that's not on the end of the bellows, but pops out from the lens door as it opens - high technology for the time. However the eagle-eyed will notice the unnecessary cable release attached in the photo above - I didn't actually manage to find the shutter button until well after I'd shot two rolls of film.
I quite like using old folders like this - it's a world away from modern photography, and forces you to take your time. The difficulties involved just add to the experience of using the camera for me, even if it makes the results a little unpredictable. A folder is a very portable way of exloiting a large neg size, making them good for landscape stuff where a bit of walking is involved and you don't want lug a great lump of camera around.
Gerry shot a large number of landscapes - mostly on 35mm slide, but a good deal on medium format as well. He clearly enjoyed just wandering on his own with a camera, and there's a definite appeal to that - just walking and looking, and not really thinking about much else. In later years Gerry struggled to walk any significant distance, due to something called intermittent claudication (something similar to gout, and I think similarly a consequence of good living). As a result, the amount of lensmanship sadly decreased. This was no barrier, of course, to the continued acquisition of interesting cameras.
I took the shots below whilst on holiday in France this August. Over several days I drove the route between Quimperle and the campsite and admired the openness of the scenery. Large fields punctuated by rows of trees, telegraph poles and only the occasional house. Not much different from rural Britain, but different enough. So, I went for a walk along the same route with the camera.
As with most folding rollfilm cameras, there's no fixed travel wind-on, you just turn the knob until the next frame number appears in a little window on the back. The window has a sliding cover on it, and I've never really thought about whether I usually shut this cover or not. On this occasion I left it open the whole time, and this proved to be a mistake - it's clear from the fogging in the images that light is getting in. I think some light was probably leaking round the film door, but in the image below you can see the red blob of the film counter window is the main culprit.
With black and white film it's less of an issue; there's more of an overall fogging, which has the effect of aging the whole image, making these pictures seem like artefacts from the early days of photography. Not exactly what I was aiming for, but quite nice in a way.
I really enjoyed using this camera. I suppose you could call it slow photography, and that slowing down makes for a pleasurable, relaxed experience. I'm not sure it was a roaring success image-wise, but I'd certainly go back to it, or at least to one of the numerous variants of the Bessa in Gerry's collection.