5 Frames with Voigtländer Bessa R3a and Portra 800 – Tommaso Avati

My name is Tommaso Avati and I am a fiction writer (novels and screenplays sometimes). Writing is my life, I really enjoy it and there is nothing comparable to the pleasure that gives to you composing a nice and well constructed story. Photography though is my hobby, what I do when I want to “unplug” my mind from work. And it is curious how both activities are somehow similar. Both need composition, both require a watchful and concentrated eye, both (in most cases) have to do with human beings. Similarities may go on maybe, but what I am really interested in here is telling you how I got into film photography.

When I was a very young guy, digital photography was still a dream, and if you, like me, wanted to keep some visual memory of the important moments of your existence there was no other choice than film. When digital got into our lives I saw all my dreams come true because photography finally became easier, cheaper, quicker, and under some aspects even better than film!

I spent the following 20 years experiencing and then getting into all the photography systems out there! Like many of you I guess, I tried Micro Four Thirds, Olympus, Panasonic, and then went to the 1.6 crop factor from Fujifilm ending up with those amazing full frame sensors from Sony. But that was not actually an end. It was just the beginning indeed because I felt that there was something missing in my creative process. So I gathered some courage, sold all my stuff to buy my first Leica camera (M9), and I thought I finally got to heaven again, and for good.

Shooting with a Leica was the best experience I could imagine. The camera is so essential and the controls are so few and the rangefinder focusing requires so much attention and commitment that I fell in love with all of it. Taking pictures had never been so fun and creative. The Leica M system was so cool for one very simple and obvious reason: it refused all of the quirts and whips that the other digital cameras kept adopting one over the other. Leica focuses only on what matters.  I thought I had found my system! But I was wrong, it wasn’t enough yet, I had to go forward and if you really want to go forward sometimes you need to move backward: to film photography. I started searching the web for M mount film camera brands and found the Voigtlander Bessa R3A which costs reasonably less than Leica but delivers a great shooting experience.

Young couple with moon. A bit too romantic for my taste, but it liked the light.
Two girls at the Maxxi museum. This is the last floor of the museum. Which is amazing.
A boy checking his phone.
People, at People Square. I know it is a little blurred, but I had to crop it a little bit

These shots where all taken with Voigtlander Bessa R3A, Portra 800 and TTartisans 50mm f/0.95. I shot them here in the heart of Rome which is where I live. I used to shoot with a 35mm lens, which is my favourite FOV and I love it, but doing street photography here in Rome has got pretty tricky lately as people have become somehow a bit suspicious. So, a 50mm, even if heavier and bigger than the unobtrusive Nokton 35mm, grants me more distance from the subject and does the trick. I am sorry for the quality of these file, I am still new to film photography and I have no proper scanner yet, so I used an old HP multifunction printer with a flat (kind of) scanner to acquire these shots.

Her majesty, Tiber the River. It really amazes me, I’d like to photograph it all the time, but finding a not too inflated way is not so easy

I love my Bessa R3A now and I definitely adore film. I still shoot digital, actually more than film as it is so much cheaper but when I have some rolls to load into my beloved film camera I am really happy, I feel excited just like something magic is going to happen. And do you know why? Because shooting film means no crazy global shutter, no 5 axis stabilizer, no multi direction articulated display, and if you don’t have any display at all you cannot check your shot as soon as you take it, in fact you have to imagine that picture that you have just taken. And the pictures that you can imagine, just like the stories before you write them, are the best they could possibly be.

If you kind of like my shots, you can find me on Instagram

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13 thoughts on “5 Frames with Voigtländer Bessa R3a and Portra 800 – Tommaso Avati”

  1. These writers! Always trying to distill the very atoms of the situation… joking apart, you have found the essential with your words, backed up with wonderful pictures. Thank you and keep on exercising your eye and your lovely film cameras!

  2. Daniel Castelli

    Oh my goodness…living in Rome and wandering the streets with a camera! My film expenditure would be larger than my food costs!
    Your film choice naturally captures the mood of the night. I can almost feel the atmosphere and smell the streets.
    One point you made in passing has been germinating in the back of my mind. Your comment about people reacting to having their photos taken and your choice of a 50mm lens is something I’ve give some though to since the middle of the pandemic. My half-baked idea is that people will not be so forgiving to having a camera pushed into their faces anymore. Social distancing or resentment for being used as just an element in a photo? People should be treated with respect.
    The 50mm lens give you enough distance from your subject so you don’t intrude in their space. You can still retain the naturalness of the street without being a bore. Just look at the work of Elliott Erwitt or H C-B. Masters of their craft, but they managed to remain unobtrusive.
    I switch between three focal lengths: 35mm, 40mm and 50mm. But recently, I got a 75mm lens, just to give me a bit more distance between myself and my subjects. Plus, these 70 year old knees won’t allow me to outrun an irate subject.
    Good work, I look forward to more.

    1. Thank you very much Holly. Bessa cameras are pretty nice and fun indeed. But now that you mention it, I am jealous of your 120 folding camera ! ????

  3. Very nice shots. You have inspired me to shoot some Portra 800 at night with a fast lens! Portra is such a pleasing look and a nice change of pace from the vivid colors of Velvia and Provia slide film I usually shoot. Well done !

  4. Hi Tomasso,
    Great article. I own the same TT Artisan 50mm 0.95 lens, and I’m considering the Bessa R3A, so this article came as perfect fit. I’m very interested in the x1 viewfinder of the Bessa. I love shooting 35mm, although I guess you should use an external viewfinder and zone focusing for using a 35mm lens. Have you tried that?


    1. Hi there, I have a Nokton 35 indeed, which I actually love and never had an issue. There is really not much difference between 35 and 40. You will get used to

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