It’s reasonable to say that this camera changed my life. Certainly my photography life… I’d managed to last quite a few years taking photos on automated modes. Even after I bought my first slr, the Nikon F60, I didn’t stray outside of ‘P’ other than for some slow shutter speed work. I sort of understood what ‘aperture’ meant, but I’m not sure I really understood the implications of it. Buying a Nikon D70s helped, I quickly realised the creative possibilities of a nifty 1.8 lens and some narrow depth of field. There were still some big gaps though, the biggest was the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and film speed.
That’s where the Vito B came in…
I was working in a shop that sold cameras at the time, always trying to learn more about what I was doing, I used to spend a lot of time reading about cameras and talking to the customers who knew their stuff. One customer, a chap named Len, was in the shop one time and we were chatting about Leica. The conversation was about build quality. Len told me of a chap he knew who swore by a camera called the Voigtlander Vito B. This chap had apparently told Len to forget the Leica, the money would be ill spent before having a go with a Vito b.
This of course was enough or me to jump on eBay and see what I could find. Within the day I was very surprised to have bought one for a paltry £16. A few days later and this camera showed up. Complete with provenance in the form of a photo of its previous and only owner.
And what a wonderful thing to behold. The build quality of these things is something really quite special. In fact most if not all of the Voigtlanders of the era are very nicely made, a few years later and some larger chunks of plastic started finding the way into some of the designs. There were of course contemporary Voigtlanders that are possibly much more noteworthy, some of the Bessa folders are quite stunning, and worth a little more than £16 … But that’s what makes the Vito B so special, they can bought for next to nothing.
There are a range of models, the one I bought is I suspect the cheapest version. It has a 3.5 color-skopar lens and 4 speed “pronto” shutter there is also a 8 speed “prontor SVS” version. There are also versions with a larger version, but I find the small viewfinder version more aesthetically pleasing!
The camera is wonderfully elegant in its simplicity. The aperture is set on the front of the lens, focus in the middle and shutter speed is the closest dial to the cameras body, it’s all there in front of you. This is of course the case on many cameras of the era but im yet to find one that combines this simplicity with such a pleasing design, feeling of quality and for £16 …
A couple more shots of the camera:
The rewind knob which doubles up to remind you of the film speed. Also, small but adequate viewfinder
I have a lens hood for mine, I love the detail of the engraved ‘V’.
It is also this simplicity that lead the camera to having such a large effect on my shooting.
Also-recently-acquired light meter in hand, the one afternoon I thought to take the little Vito B for a walk. I went down to the river and started slowly taking photos of my surroundings. The very basic process of transferring light meter readings to the camera first showed me how limited I was going to be.
I can’t remember for sure, but I expect it was 200 iso film. I remember realising that I could only use the camera at f11 or f16. I also very vividly remember having somewhat of an epiphany with the realisation that 1/100th and f16 would give the same exposure as 1/200th and f11. And then a second epiphany that you might choose one over the other for different depth of field, and a third that by choosing 1/100th and f16 that I didn’t have to think to focus between shots as everything would be in focus – this was clearly demonstrated to me by markings on the lens! … A forth that pretty much every meter reading I had taken had given me one of two-ish readings so with a little simple judgement I could put the light meter back in my pocket. And finally, that had I put slower film in the camera I could have used larger apertures … Aperture shutter speed and film speed all tie up nicely together … That must be what people mean when they are talking about ‘1 stop’ this or ‘2 ev’ that.
So you can imagine how I felt, I’d left the flat I lived in at the time fumbling with this antiquated camera but come home being capable of using it fairly independently of a light meter in most day light situations and had a broadly greater understanding of photography. Suffice to say, smugness ruled for a bit… Until I realised that all I had learned were the basic core skills of photography! And that when this camera was new, these were the skills you needed to just get started! Still, the confidence it gave me was immense, I think I had shot my first paid wedding within the year, a year or so later and I was down to part time in the shop perusing a career in photography. So it’s no overstatement to say this camera changed my life … Of course it would have happened eventually, maybe with a very different camera, but for me it didn’t, for me it was the Vito b.
So gushing aside, objectively speaking is the camera a poor mans Leica? Well, in terms of function, it of course is only on a par with the likes of maybe a Leica 1. In terms of the quality of the pictures… Probably not. Build quality wise, these more simple vitos just keep on going! I’m sure an expert would tell me of the use of brass(?) components in a Leica, or that the quality control would have been much higher. Im sure they would be right, I’ve had Leicas, and I’d probably agree to be fair, but this little camera in your hand just feels so solid! Its impossible to deny a level of quality! And there is, after all so little to go wrong… Certainly for the sort of money you have to spend to buy one. For me, regardless of comparison, the Vito b is a must have compact camera!
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41 thoughts on “Voigtlander Vito B Review – A Beautiful Camera”
Wish I’d read that third-last paragraph a year ago, as it would have saved me a lot of time and money. Good stuff, Hamish.
Thanks Rob! Rest assured, time might have been saved, but you probably would have spent the money anyway 😉
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A Vito B was my first ‘proper’ camera, a well-spent £18 for a well-engineered and reassuringly heavy device. (I think my purchase was inspired by your Vito appreciation on the forum).
They’re a great camera to learn on, although I’ve not left the house without my light meter yet
Put the light meter down man! 😉
Did you ever read this? http://www.realphotographersforum.com/lighting/1832-sunny-16-rule-correct-exposure-without-light-meter.html
The next roll is going to be meter-free! I’d read it, but not ‘internalised’ it, For English weather it’s going to be mostly f8 or f11 at 100ISO, so I just need to adjust for my 200 ISO film and I think I’ll be ok…. 🙂
It’s summer now so f16 when the sun is out is fine. You are better erring on the side of under exposure anyway! One way or another, negative film is pretty forgiving of error.
200iso film, 1/200th and f16.
Which Vito b have you got?
1 large finder 2.8 (with the exposure lock)
1 small finder 3.5
1 small finder 3.5 (with 25/50/100/300 markings)*
1 small finder 2.8 (with 25/50/100/300 markings)
The small finder cameras look better, but the large finder is much easier to use.
*only ’cause it came with pristine case and hood and was £10!
I always thought it a bit odd/confusing the Vito’s had 300 instead of 200 or 250.
Haha, a few then …
I don’t think they were so worried about standards back then as our digital world is now.
might get just one more… ebay has a small finder with the locking expsure thingy… I’m so tempted…
LVS it’s called – Light Value System.
It’s based on the EV system at 100iso, here you go – http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Light-value_system
I prefer cameras like this without it my self… Although oddly on the hasselblad, where really to my mind it is less useful, I don’t mind it … I just find it makes me slower with the having to fiddle with the locking mechs so much.
So many people now are carrying smart phones around and not cameras, and it’s nice to see these cameras being used. It may be useful for some people to know that certainly with the iPhones, there are very good free light meter apps that can be downloaded which are very versatile. You can preset a wide range of film speeds etc, and it’s amazing how accurate they are when compared with a good quality SLR meter. You can easily transfer the reading that onto these compacts and be confident that the exposure will be fine, providing the shutter/aperture timings/settings are correct
I have a few of those apps, none quite work perfectly for me… But the readings are certainly accurate enough!
I had a Vito II (a folder) for a while. Also a great camera and probably the same beautiful lens. I just didn’t like zone focusing.
I have two Vito B’s, both with the small viewfinder but one f2.8 and the other f3.5. The optical quality of either is remarkably good. I would put it on a par with any of my other lenses. The lenses is both Tessar (4 element) designs and cheaper versions of this design have front cell focusing i.e. focusing is achieved by moving the front two elements only. Not so with the Vito B lenses which are unit focusing i.e. focusing is achieved by moving whole lens, as is the case with all the best lenses. For closer distances at larger apertures, to get the best from the lens you need to focus more accurately than is possible by guessing. For this I use the Voigtlander rangefinder accessory. The scale on the rangefinder is matches the scale on the lens (i.e. same number sequence) and this makes setting the focus easier. Great article and I agree with you: it’s a beautiful camera.
Thanks for the comment Jim, very interesting! I had a Voigtlander Rf at one point, but it was so hazy it was basically unusable … I must have it somewhere, I might dig it out and try to fix it!
I’d love a 2.8 version, am I right in thinking it is an LVS lens on that one?
It’s easy to disassemble the rangefinder, you just remove the two screws. It’s easy to clean the glass windows but be careful with the mirror and the semi reflective beam splitter. I wet a disposable lens cleaning tissue with lens cleaning fluid, allow it to ‘drop’ onto the surface then drag it off. Don’t apply any pressure and don’t rub. The mirrored surface in particular can easily be rubbed off. If the mirror surface looks clean, leave it. It should be possible to restore the rangefinder to its original performance. My f2.8 Vito has regular aperture and shutter speed controls, just like yours. Voigtlander made many variants. As I said, mine has the regular controls and it has a plane glass full size viewfinder (i.e. not the even later solid glass block with projected framelines). Back projecting the framelines needs a curved semi silvered mirror in the block so these later viewfinders are dimmer. I agree with you: larger viewfinder Vito’s are not as visually appealing as the earlier versions but that’s the price I pay: the plane glass viewfinder is full size and wonderfully clear.
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I’ve just bought the VOIGTLANDER VITO B CAMERA off of eBay for £40 on the strength of this article !
I hope you enjoy it! 🙂
Wonderful to read that you are enjoying your Vito B. Truly, little miniature marvels. And I do prefer the small viewfinder version as I feel the added body height dimension upsets the overall look of the camera.
Most of these early Vito models come with a Color-Skopar f3.5, a really fine lens, but in some other and later models you can come across the f2.8 version (and even the much cheaper 3 element Lanthar lens) and which I read contemporary reports on wasn’t quite up the the f3.5. Whilst more than acceptable, writers thought stretching the Skopar design to f2.8 was just a little too far. But then they probably tested on Panatomic X, or Ilford Pan F if one needed the extra half stop of speed. So, I doubt many users like me, who majored on FP4 would notice the difference.
If you fancy an even older looking Voigtlander, have a search for the Vito IIa, this is a delightful folding bellows model, again with the f3.5 Skopar, and about the same size as you B. It comes with a more useful multi-speed Prontor SVS shutter.
My Dad bought a Vito B second hand in Germany 1954, I inherited it. The camera has been in constant use for sixty odd years and is my pride and joy.
Hi Peter, that’s wonderful! You can’t imagine a modern compact camera lasting like that!
Great website Hamish. Having picked up a film camera again for the first time in years, I love the info and inspiration here.
I bought a mint Vito B last Friday for a tenner and can’t believe what fun it is to shoot with! Obviously I Googled it and happily your site was one of the first links to pop up. It has the 3.5 Prontor-SVS lens and is a beautiful, solid and well engineered bit of kit.
Can’t wait to get the first film developed…
You’ll have to let me know how they turn out!!
I’d be happy to. Will be getting them developed in the next couple of weeks.
Great stuff! Email me!
I bought Vito B 3.5 with prontor SVS SHUTTER second hand from Sheffield Photo Co, when I was 18 for £18 in 1963. An absolutr fortune then. It was the best I could afford then and I never regretted it. I’ve lent it around my family, had it returned when they moved on. These modern autos are fine (I have a super duper Nikon) but I do feel as though you are showing some interest and effort and involvement.
Regards to all
Do you still haver it then?
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This is the camera I learned photography with, I was probably in my early teens, so probably mid seventies. It was my fathers camera that he bought in in 59 or 60. Learning from scratch with a handheld meter and estimating distance makes everything after that seem simple (or like cheating). I eventually moved on to a Nikon SLR in the early eighties. Then some years with digital and eventually only iPhone… Picking up film again it’s really fun to use the same old camera, my daughter is now learning the basics on the Voigtländer Vito B, although she prefers the focusing of rangefinders (Leica M2). Nice review, need to have my Vito B CLAd now when I learned what that is (through 35mmc) the operation of my copy is a bit clunky but then again the camera is older than I am. (I have lots of original filters, extra original hoods, probably more than I need if someone is interested.)
You’ll have to share some results when you shoot it again!
Thank you for your nice review of the Vito B. Enlightening! I have an early version, f/3.5 Color Skopar and Pronto shutter mechanism. I have used it just a couple of times with magnificent results! I collect vintage cameras and the Vito B have a special place among them, even after living with 8 Leicas! The Vito B is back to basics. It is the way to understand and learn photography. Just yesterday I grabbed it and gave it a CLA along with a rejuvenating detailing to bring it to as new condition. I am planning to use it this weekend withKodak TMax 400 film while doing street photography. Never done that before with this camera. Only still subjects and portraits with very good results. The small footprint and the cute antique look will certainly help as people will deduct nothing serious will come out of it. At least it is not connected to Twitter or Facebook to get my candid pictures in a flash to social media. I like shooting street photography using B&W film and zone focusing. I use real world exposure meters and also the nicest vintage type exposure meter app called MyLingtMeter on my iPhone. Always razor sharp on the correct measured values. I also restored the Voigtlander range finder accessory and found it to be very easy to calibrate and use. It is now in it’s full glory. I hope to have the chance to share with you the results. This is my first time at 35mmc.com. Thank you all for your time and kind attention. Greetings from Mexico City. Edgardo Molina.
Hi Edgardo, I’d love to see the results – you’d be welcome to share them on the site too, if you fancied it?
The Vito B is a wonderful machine. I think I was 11 years old when I was bought one… ’84 or ’85 from KP Cameras in Cambridge- “if you want to learn about photography, then learn to use this!” was the moral of the exercise as I remember it. I pulled it out from a box as part of a general re-engagement with film last year, ran a film through it an it worked just fine. I’ve had it cleaned and serviced and now it works *really* beautifully. I’m conservative with film cameras- I ditched an expensive autofocussing SLR at one point because I couldn’t be arsed to learn to use it and got another ME Super because I can use it really well in my sleep. The little Voigtlander just feels wonderful in the paws, as you’ve most eloquently described!
Just looking at one on eBay now. I am so tempted by it but I am on a wife imposed camera buying ban. Maybe I could say it’s a gift for someone. ME !!!!
Just picked one up from my local camera shop. Large finder f2.8 prontor SVS version. All seems in good working order so looking forward to getting our and shooting with it.
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