Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe camera surrounded by the 90 mm and the 200 mm as well as the Zoomar 36 - 82 mm lens
SLRs

Voigländer Bessamatic DeLuxe Review – Best of the 60s – By Madeleina Schwantes

September 7, 2021

If you have ever held a Voigtländer camera from the 60s you know that they are quite heavy. This isn’t a bad thing though as the cold metal feels very sturdy in your hands. The Voigländer Bessamatic Deluxe was not cheap. They were high quality cameras and that’s exactly what they feel like.

Before we get into the review, here is my favorite photo shot with the 90mm lense on Kodak Gold 200. All photos in this review are unedited.

Portrait of a man taking a picture with his camera. Lavender fields in the background. Taken with a Voigtländer Bessamatic using a 90 mm lens and Kodak Gold 200

Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe / 90 mm / Kodak Gold 200

Some Background on the Bessamatic

The first Voigtländer Bessamatic was introduced in 1958. It uses a leaf shutter with shutter speeds ranging from “B” (Bulb mode) to 1/500. The aperture which you can set on the camera ranges from f/2 to f/22 depending on the lens. Lenses are attached with the Voigtländer F. Deckel DKL Mount. The Bessamatic does not have a “quick- return” mirror which means you have to bring the mirror down by winding up the camera before each shot. There is a counter to keep track of the amount of shots you have left and it will automatically reset once you rewind the film.

There are different versions, three of which you can see below. The Bessamatic (left), the Bessamatic DeLuxe (center) which I will be reviewing here, the Bessamatic M and the Bessamatic CS (right). Both the Bessamatic and the slightly improved Bessamatic DeLuxe use a light meter powered by a selenium cell. The readings are visible through the viewfinder. In addition, you can also see your shutter speed and aperture through the viewfinder when using the DeLuxe. The Bessamatic CS has TTL CdS metering which requires a battery, while the cheaper Bessamatic M has no light meter at all. Unlike the other three is also doesn’t have a split image indicator.

Three cameras. From left to right: Voigtländer Bessamatic, Bessamatic DeLuxe and Bessamatic CS

From left to right: Voigtländer Bessamatic, Bessamatic DeLuxe and Bessamatic CS

Focus and Depth of Field

I had never worked with a split image viewfinder before, so it took a little getting used to. If you have worked with one before you should have no problem focusing. The viewfinder is bright and clear most of my pictures have been spot on. Only small moving objects such as flowers in the wind can get tricky if you are working with a small aperture as you can see in the picture below. I was trying to focus on the lavender but none of the stands turned out 100% sharp.

Close up of lanvander slightly out of focus to illustrate focusing issues. Shot with Voigtlände Bessamatic using 35 mm lens and Kodak Gold 200

Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe / Zoomar 36 – 82 mm / Kodak Gold 200

Besides the split image viewfinder, the Bessamatic DeLuxe has another great feature when it comes to determining which parts of your image will be sharp. You may know this already if you have worked with other Voigtländer cameras from the same era. All of the lenses (with the exception of the Zoomar) come with two red indicators situated above the focus ring. They move according to your shutter speed and aperture settings and point out within which distance objects will appear sharp. The distance on the focus ring is displayed in both meters and feet.

Focus ring on a lens for the Voigtländer Bessamatic with two indicators for the distance in which an object will appear sharp on film

With the focus ring in this position any object in a distance between 1.2 and 3 meters will be sharp

I find this super helpful. In fact, this is the only way I shoot with my smaller Vitomatic I as it has no other indicators. It has always worked very well for me so technically I could probably skip the split image viewfinder altogether. Needless to say, it becomes tricky to guess the distance though if your aperture is very small and it comes down to a few centimetres

Getting the exposure right

One of the first things you will notice when looking at the Bessamatic DeLuxe is that the aperture ring is attached to the body instead of the individual lenses. This has to do with how the exposure is adjusted which is quite different from most other SLR cameras.

The camera is designed in a way that requires you to choose your aperture first. Unlike what you might expect you cannot do so by turning the aperture ring. Instead, you have to use the knob on top of the body on the left-hand side. You can turn the ring to adjust the shutter speed, but the aperture will always change with it. Here is an example: You choose f/5.6 and the speed sits at 1/125. You can now turn the shutter speed to 1/250 and the aperture will automatically move to f/4.

Of course, you can technically choose the shutter speed first, however the mechanism will not allow you to turn the ring past a certain point. Let’s say you took your last picture using f /4 at a speed of 1/60 and you have a f/2.8 lens attached. If you try to set the speed first, the fastest you will get from there is 1/125 because as you turn the ring, the aperture will jump from f/4 to f/2.8 and then can’t go any further than that. You would then have to turn the aperture back using the knob before you can turn the shutter speed ring again.

This also means that you can’t really use the Bessamatic DeLuxe as you would a modern camera with “manual” mode. If there is a certain combination you want, you might have to switch back and forth between turning the knob and the aperture ring a few times. It also makes working with an external light meter a little annoying. If you are working with the build in selenium meter however it gets quite natural soon apart from having to take your hand of the lens.

Through the viewfinder you can see a small circle, as well as a needle which moves up and down depending on the lighting. When you adjust the aperture, the circle moves accordingly and has to be matched up with the needle (see picture below). Again, you are clearly meant to adjust the aperture first. The circle will of course not move when you change the shutter speed, given that the changing combinations of speed and aperture provide the same amount of light.

View through the Voigtländer Bessamatic Viewfinder

I personally find the mechanism takes some getting used to and feels a little strange at first. Before I read the manual, I even thought something was broken because I couldn’t get to each speed. But once you understand how it works, I guess it depends on personal preference whether it is a benefit or a flaw. I would prefer not having to take my hand of the lens to turn the knob. At the same time, I find it practical, that once the exposure is set, I have all possible aperture and shutter speed combinations available. I always work with the internal light meter so I don’t miss a “manual” mode

The Issue with Selenium Meters

I love that I can grab my Bessamatic DeLuxe and go, no charging or batteries needed. This is definitely a benefit of the selenium meter. Unfortunately, these meters can lose accuracy over time as they tend to weaken, especially if they were constantly exposed to light (e.g. sitting in a display case). If you own a camera like this make sure to keep the selenium cell covered when not in use. If you are looking to buy one, you might want to bring another camera a long that has a functioning light meter, to double check the readings. Voigtländer did build in a screw to adjust the meter, but it is not easily accessible – therefore this is a job for professionals. You can no longer get replacement for these meters.

The meter on my Bessamatic DeLuxe is weak as well. My work around was adjusting the ISO on the camera. Since I only shoot negative films this has worked great for me. When shooting Kodak 200 my ISO is set to 50. As you will see with the pictures below, I get great photos out of it this way. Some are a little too bright but easy to fix with lightroom. Therefore I have not been willing to risk sending it in just jet. I probably wouldn’t shoot positive films with it though. I have another Voigtländer (Vitomatic I, viewfinder camera) and can say that you can set the exposure pretty accurately if the meter works properly.

Photographer poking out of a field of lavender. Taken with a Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe using a 90 mm lens and Kodak Gold 200

Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe / 90 mm / Kodak Gold 200

BMW E36 shot with Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe using Kodak Gold 200

Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe / 35 mm / Kodak Gold 200

Pink flower in front of a broken wired fence, socce field in the background. Taken with a Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe using the Zoomar 36 - 82 mm and Kodak Gold 200

Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe / Zoomar 36 – 82 mm / Kodak Gold 200

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

All in all, I am very happy with my Bessamatic DeLuxe. The pictures come out clean and sharp and there is just something about that heavy, silver body that makes is feel so reliable. There is a good variety of lenses available and most of them are surprisingly small. One particularly interesting one is the Voigtländer Zoomar (36–82mm) which was the first ever zoom lens  for 35mm cameras. It is not that easy to find and can be quite expensive, but I absolutely love using it, despite it being very heavy. Here are some pictures I took with that lens.

Portrait of a woman taken with a Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe using the Zoomar lens and Kodak Gold 200

Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe / Zoomar 82 mm f 2.8 / Kodak Gold 200

A small church high up in the mountains.Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe using the Zoomar lens and Kodak Gold 200

Voigtländer Bessamatic DeLuxe / Zoomar 82 mm / Kodak Gold 200

In the end this camera is sentimental to me so I will always appreciate its quirks. My Voigtländer Vitomatic 1 belonged to my grandpa, this Bessamatic DeLuxe belonged to his best friend. He promised it to me at my grandpas funeral and passed away just three months later.

Besides the weak meter I got really lucky with my Bessamatic DeLuxe as it has no major problems. Bessamatics are quite complicated. This is why after over 60 years they still produce great photos. But it also means they are hard to fix if something breaks. If you are looking to buy one make sure you do some research first. This way, you will know how to spot some of the hard to fix flaws first. There is good place to start here.

Another piece of advice: Be gentle. Don’t push past the exposure mechanism and watch your shot count. My first film ripped because I wound the camera up one to many times. To avoid this, make sure to stop once the counter reaches zero.

Feel free to contact me or comment below if you have any question regarding the Bessamatic. You can find more photos on my Instagram @maddy_mercury.

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    September 7, 2021 at 2:47 pm

    It is nice to see one of these sturdy old cameras put into use. Well done. Did you try to use the Bessamatic CS? I assume you need a mercury battery for the meter but there are modern options that provide the 1.35 volts. Does the meter in your unit work?

    • Reply
      Madeleina Schwantes
      September 7, 2021 at 11:22 pm

      I haven’t tried it yet but I will be on vacation in Sweden next week and will give it a go there. I’ll gladly give you an update when I have the results 🙂

  • Reply
    Peter Roberts
    September 7, 2021 at 4:25 pm

    What an informative review obviously written from the heart. That Zoomar is a new one in me and looks to give impressive results.
    Interesting that you used Kodak Gold. Was that from choice? In spite of it being sometimes dismissed as a mere “consumer” film by Portra snobs I like it very much. To my mind at least, it produces almost retro looking images. It certainly went well with those Voigtländer lenses.

    • Reply
      Madeleina Schwantes
      September 7, 2021 at 11:21 pm

      Thank you 🙂 To be honest, I first used Kodak Gold because it was the cheapest option and I could buy it at a drug store near by (3 rolls for 7,99€). When the first scans came back though I was really happy with the colors especially this slight yellow glow that somehow says “film” without looking like a cheap filter. So I think it was exactly that retro look you mentioned that got me hooked

  • Reply
    NigelH
    September 10, 2021 at 6:17 am

    Nice review and lovely images. I have been thinking about my CS recently as I want to update my own review of it. I have been looking through photos taken with it and somehow I had forgotten how good they were/are. I stopped using it a while ago partly because of the weight but also I struggled a little with the operation (I think mine may have a minor fault) and also I like using my other Voigtländers. I have an older Zoomar on mine as well as 50mm both are excellent. Maybe it’s time to give it another outing… I better start doing weights to build up strength.

    Thanks for your detailed review

    • Reply
      Madeleina Schwantes
      September 10, 2021 at 10:11 am

      I wanted to try my CS and took it on vacation with me but I can’t get the meter working properly. It seems the batterie sits loose? My reading are either up in the red or down in the green corner, not much movement in between. I can get the needle about half way up when covering the lense bit it just all seems off. It worked fine (or at least look as if it did) when I tested it back home … any advice? If I hold the batterie with my finger and push the check button, the needle swings into green telling me ots not empty

      • Reply
        NigelH
        September 10, 2021 at 8:30 pm

        My battery is dead so can’t test it right now, but I don’t remember having any issues. What battery are you using? 625? Mine seems to be held in there firmly enough.

      • Reply
        Rol_Lei Nut
        September 13, 2021 at 9:25 pm

        Regarding your CS’ meter, CdS cells can “die” of old age as well.
        A silicon meter cell can actually be replaced by any which can fit (from an old meter). I believe that they even be cut/sawed to size if needed.

        • Reply
          Madeleina Schwantes
          September 14, 2021 at 7:28 pm

          Thats very interesting I will look into that. I got the battery working now but the readings were still wonky until I set the ISO to 12 (the film is 200) then it matched up and I decided to give it a go. Unfortunately the camera jammed today halfway through the roll. I can no longer pull the film forward although I know for sure it isn’t full yet.

        • Reply
          Terry B
          September 15, 2021 at 1:59 pm

          They certainly can, and it can come as a surprise, particularly as we often expect this with old selenium meters. This happened to me recently with a Rollei 35 LED. I acquired it a few years ago before film camera prices overall started to go up. It’s in immaculate condition and was fully working when I gave it its last run to check all was well when I put it back in the cupboard about 6 months ago. I got it out recently to “work” it again and the LED’s don’t come on. I did think it could have been the battery, but the A110 takes the same battery and both of mine worked.
          So although this 35LED looks to have been cosseted, it still failed, when it wasn’t even being used!

  • Reply
    William Nyilas
    September 11, 2021 at 8:23 pm

    I fell in love with Voigtländer cameras when a 35mm Vito II was given to me. I took it out, shot some Kodachrome 64 with it (using the Sunny f16 rule and a general knowledge of exposure) and was blown away by the beautiful colors, contrast and sharpness of the slides. This was back in the mid 1970’s. In those days they had camera shows where you could buy and sell all types of cameras. I saw a Voigtländer Bessamatic with the 50mm 2.8 Color Skopar lens on it (the same type as was on the Vito that I was so pleased with), so I couldn’t resist and bought it. Not long afterward the shutter mechanism failed and I sent it to Marflex in NJ to have it fixed. To this day it still works perfectly at all speeds. I picked up a 135mm f4 Voigtländer Super Dynarex and a 35mm f3.4 Voigtländer Skoparex, both in nice fitted leather cases. I shot a few rolls of film, all of the lenses are excellent performers. I subsequently bought a Voigtländer Perkeo II 6×6 camera, again with the Color Skopar lens. Although it is a Medium Format camera, It can fit in your shirt pocket. I haven’t taken any photos with it yet, but can’t wait to do so. I want to see how it compares to the photos taken with my Rolleiflex TLR’s .
    My only issue of your review of the Bessamatic Deluxe is that you didn’t take photos with the two very common lenses (the 35mm and 135mm lenses) , and even the 50mm Skopar – lenses that I’m sure most Bessamatic owners/users have and use much of the time. Very few users have the Zoomar lens in their lens arsenal, but it was good to see a few shots taken with that lens,
    Overall I was very pleased with your review of the Voigtländer Bessamatic Deluxe SLR. The Bessamatic SLR’s are fine, precision made German cameras and lenses that take suerb, top quality photos. To me they are works of art.

    • Reply
      Madeleina Schwantes
      September 12, 2021 at 11:37 am

      Thank you for your Feedback! I am actually working on another review where I want to compare the different lenses in detail. I was approached about writing a review after I had shared some images taken with the Zoomar in an analog group and so I did – at that point I simply couldn’t have said much about the 50 mm or the 135 mm. My 135 mm is unfortunately very oily and I am still trying to fix it and I don’t use the 50 mm for sentimental reasons. I first got into analog photography with the Voigtländer Vitomatic I my late grandfather gave me which has the 50 mm 2.8 Color Skopar as well. When I go out to shoot I usually take both cameras with me because I do not want to replace my grandpas camera with the Bessamatic. This might be a bit weird I know but its how I choose to honor him. I will work with it for the lense comparison though and will do some site by site shots of the same subject using each of the lenses I have (35 mm, 50 mm, 90 mm, 135 mm once its fixed, 200 mm and of course the Zoomar)

    • Reply
      NigelH
      September 13, 2021 at 4:18 am

      Good to know that there are plenty of Voigtländer fans out there; I’m interested to hear how you get on with the Perkeo, it’s on my wanted list 🙂

  • Reply
    Daniel
    September 13, 2021 at 9:58 am

    Great review and photos. This is exactly what this site is about. I appreciate the comments of people who shoot with vintage cameras as I have recently started reusing my 1974 Minolta SR-T-303, and it’s interesting to read the experiences of others who are giving film a shot (no pun intended) after using only digital for years. A very informative read, thank you!

  • Reply
    Rol_Lei Nut
    September 13, 2021 at 9:14 pm

    Around 2000 I was experimenting with quirky old cameras, namely Exaktas, Retina Reflexes, Retina IIIS and the Bessamatic Deluxe (and several others).
    I loved the build of the Bessamatic. The lenses were very good (especially the 90mm) but very prone to flare.
    Available lenses were pretty limited: 35mm was the widest, unless you started filing metal off the nearly compatible Retina Schneider 28mm.
    At the long end, the 135mm could only focus down to 4 meters (IIRC) and the rare and expensive 200mm which could only focus down to 8 meters. There is also a 350mm, which has a “close” focus distance of something like 20 (or 30?) meters! The limited close focusing ability, along with the fairly slow lenses, is a technical consequence of the Deckel leaf shutter used: the lens’ light path had to go through the very narrow shutter opening. This construction (and limitation) was shared by a number of contemporary German cameras which also used the Deckel shutter (Retina Reflex & IIIS, as well as a number of smaller brands). The lenses used by these different cameras basically have an identical mount, with the addition of a small extra flange to make each “proprietary”. These flanges can be filed off and the lenses will be fully functional on the Bessamatic (including the Schneider & Rodenstock lenses made for the Retinas). Though I think none of them are actually any better than the Voigtländer lenses, apart from the 28mm which doesn’t exist natively. The Voigtländer 90mm is MUCH better than the Retina’s 85mm.
    Getting the top cover off in order to access the meter pots (and to clean out the viewfinder “dust” caused by a disintegrating foam bumper- a common problem) is actually fairly easy, if you can use the proper screwdrivers gently. The assembly is very well engineered and I was surprised at how easy access was.
    While I enjoyed the Bessamatic, I eventually moved on to better users (Leica M & Leicaflex) , which are really much more practical, despite being more or less the same age .

  • Reply
    Film Friday: Reviewing the 60-year-old Voigtlander Bessamatic Deluxe: Digital Photography Review
    September 14, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    […] Schwantes, writing for 35MMC, has written a review of the Voigtlander Bessamatic Deluxe, a German-made leaf-shuttered SLR camera released in […]

  • Reply
    Stephan
    September 20, 2021 at 7:57 am

    I own and have used a lot of different analog film cameras, really advanced ones like the Nikon F80/90 an very old ones like the Kiev 2 or Zorki 1. The Bessamatic DeLuxe is a keeper for me. If I want to enjoy the simple and slowing down process of taking photos with an analog film camera, the Bessamatic seems ideal for that. I was lucky to find one, where the selenium meter is pretty precise. The lenses are superb and very well made. And because this was a widely used camera in germany in the 1950ies, chances are, you can get them pretty cheap. I also use the Retina 28mm and the superb Retina Xenon 50/1.9 with a slightly modified mount for this camera. Concerning the Close focusing distance: I got some close focusing screw on lenses which allow me to shoot portait or even macro photos. Yes its a little bit of a hassle, but again, when I am in the right mood, it is more like kind of bonus, to prepare your equipment especially for a photo session. I’m just waiting to get the praised 90mm lense for a good price and I will keep my Voigtländer equipment to show it to my grandchildren hopefully some day.

    • Reply
      Madeleina Schwantes
      September 20, 2021 at 12:09 pm

      Glad to see another fan. You are correct, you can get them pretty cheap but they are usually sold by people who have no idea what they are looking at so it can be hard to find a good one. What would you consider a good price for the 90mm I think I just saw one a little while ago for 160€ or so? They rarely show up, I got really lucky with mine as I bought it attached to a camera

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