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Voigtlander Vito B, Plus Accessories – A Very Interesting Charity Shop Find – By Seb Copley

March 23, 2022

This is not going to be a review, just some early thoughts on my experiences using the oldest camera I have so far owned. The Voigtlander Vito B has been reviewed many times, not least by Hamish on this site here. I hope, however, that this article might be of general interest or in some cases bring some memories or nostalgia. I came to own my Vito B after my mother found it in a charity shop where she works, knowing my interest in film cameras she bought it for me. When she brought it round, I didn’t really know what to expect, but was very pleasantly surprised!

The camera came in a large leather case, but not just a camera, the case contained a plethora of accessories and paperwork. Everything was in excellent condition and obviously very well looked after. I have put a few rolls through the camera and it works perfectly, and feels of very high quality construction. There is also a light meter, rangefinder, exposure calculator and chart, a gorgeous lens hood (I love that V on the hood), some filters, a set of manuals, sales receipt and inspection report from Voigtlander.

Leather Case

The contents of the case

Weston master III lightmeter

 

The camera itself is in remarkable condition. These cameras, I believe, were manufactured between 1954 and 1959, making it by far the oldest camera I have ever used. The camera I have is exceptionally clean and well kept, the only real sign of wear is the fading of the graphic on top of the rewind dial.

It is hard not to compare it to my other camera with a decent age, my 1960s Minolta Hi-Matic7. These cameras really are radically different, and while I love my Minolta rangefinder, and have some lovely results with it, there does seem to be a vast difference in build quality. The Vito B seems to be built with an superior build quality, the body is finished in a mixture of brushed and shiny metal, the leatherette has also aged very well which leads me to believe the original quality and workmanship must have been high.

The function of the camera is lovely, it has a surprisingly small form, but is very tactile and sits comfortable in the hand. The shutter release is nicely smooth, and I really love the winding lever which sits integrated into the back of the body of the camera. My Minolta, when compared, seems a little rough around the edges and there is a slight wobble in the lens, which the Voitlander doesn’t have.

As lovely as the camera feels and looks, it is after all a practical tool, and needs to be used. I found shooting with the Vito B a slight challenge in some areas. I have never really trusted my Minolta’s light meter, partly due to the voltage differences in modern and old batteries. So I also use a combination of smart phone meter and sunny 16, this has served me well so far, although of course there have been mistakes. The lack of a meter, therefore, was not so off putting, but the maximum shutter speed of only 1/300 a bit of a shock to the system.

I have been using 200 speed film, but with the next speed down at 1/125, neither of these shutter speeds seem that close to 1/200 for me to confidently use sunny 16 – though I suppose choosing 1/125th would probably be ok given the flexibility of modern film emulsions. Having a max shutter speed of 1/300 and an aperture range of 3.5 to 22 means that the use higher speed film, for example ISO 800 and 1600 will be impractical for use with this camera outside of specifically lower lit environments. Perhaps if I were to take it for a walk in some woods, or maybe in more evening light I could make use of those sorts of films if I really wanted to. I guess, the reality is, these high speed emulsions were just not available when this camera was on the market.

The more unnerving part of practically using the camera though was the lack of a focussing aid build into the camera. Although I now understood the need for a separate pocket sized accessory rangefinder tool.

Pullin optics rangefinder

For my first few films I used a mixture of distance estimation and using the little rangefinder. Both methods I found to be pretty slow, definitely not conducive to speedy off the cuff shots. I think everything I did shoot was in focus, although I was greatly helped by shooting outside in summer, the small aperture giving me a very generous depth of field.

This is just how photography would have been enjoyed by someone using a camera like this in the 50s. Though, with time and practice – as I am sure was the case for user of this camera back then – I expect I would find myself able to shoot faster. Certainly the added depth of field that modern day higher-speed films will allow for quicker snaps using the depth of field indicators the barrel of the lens. It would be interesting to see how I succeed with a set of more dimly lit scenes, or with the need to focus to a closer distance more accurately.

A couple of sample photos:

Figgate Park

Swans

Park

lily
Dinosaur

Overall this is a really well built and delightful camera. The looks are pure classic mid-century. Using it, there is the challenge of working with a camera built without focussing aids and with what is now regarded as pretty slow top shutter speed.

Hope you have enjoyed the pictures of equipment and the photos I have taken, I would love to hear if anybody has experience or memories of using any of this gear, especially the light meter and rangefinder.

Thanks for reading.

Seb

http://instagram.com/sebcopley

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Tom Redd
    March 23, 2022 at 10:45 am

    Beautiful camera. You are very lucky. That lens hood alone is probably worth twice what your sweet mother paid for the whole kit. I picked up the slightly later Vito BL in a trade with a camera shop. They advertised it as non working. They didn’t realize you need to have film in the camera for it to work My version has a really cool light meter. You press a little button and the meter dial spins around and stops at the right exposure. 60 years on, the meter still reads perfectly. My version has a one to one viewfinder. You can follow the action with both eyes open. Great feature. As you indicated, the build quality is top notch. Early this winter, I walked out on the breakwater at the tip of Michigan’s thumb and braved the ice and wind of Lake Huron. Got some incredible photos of perfectly symmetrical icycles hanging from the railing. That Color Skopar lens is one incredibly sharp lens! My only complaint is that it is a European camera and the distance scale is only in meters. For estimating distance, human feet is a lot easier than meters. 5 feet is easy to estimate. 1.6 meters not so easy! Enjoy your Vito!

  • Reply
    Phil
    March 23, 2022 at 10:47 am

    Thank you for your article, it brought back memories of the 60’s when I was given the same camera and much the same accessories. The camera was my Grandfathers who passed it on to my Father then on to me. There were no automatic cameras in the 60’s, so you learnt fast the hard way how to use a camera and it never leaves you. I have a Vito B I bought some years ago, it is still in excellent condition, they made cameras properly in those day.

  • Reply
    Eryridave
    March 23, 2022 at 10:52 am

    Nice find! I’ve got two Vito BL cameras where one has a totally shot shutter speed and the other is a bit dodgy but better. Seems to be ok on the fastest speed and some overlapping frames as well, but I’m hoping to throw a colour roll through anyway and hope they are as good as yours.

    I had a couple of wonderfully sharp shots among the weirdness and I’m hoping that with use that the camera is exercised and becomes more reliable. TBH, I love how it feels in the hand and shooting and i may pay for a CLA even if it costs more than the camera is worth as it deserves to be used.

  • Reply
    Alan Simpson
    March 23, 2022 at 2:39 pm

    My late mother’s 35mm camera was a Voigtländer Vito B (my father’s was a Kodak Retina IIa), which I used a lot at the start of my journey through photography. I remember it as well made and with a feeling of quality. I presume modern-day fast films could be used in the camera if you add a neutral density filter to the front.

  • Reply
    Alex G
    March 23, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    Ugh, I had one of these in my hands recently and assumed it was non-working. I only read that you needed to have film it for it to function after I’d sold it for peanuts for “parts.” It was so beautifully made, compact, and nice in the hand. This piece floods me with regret…

    PSA: only test these with film loaded. They can’t function without it.

  • Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    March 23, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    Nice- these ‘ordinary’ Voigtlanders always seem to ‘punch above their weight’ whenever I take one out

  • Reply
    Michael McD
    March 23, 2022 at 4:20 pm

    I also picked one up at Goodwill, and know you need film in it to function, however the shutter button was jammed. There are no repair manuals to be found so I scoured the internet for any ideas after disassembling the camera and did find what I needed. The camera, the small view finder version like yours, now works fine. Throw some Ilford FP or old stock Plus-X into the camera and go out shooting. The 1/300 top speed doesn’t bother me when I shoot a 1924 1/30 box camera. Try to use f8 when possible and make a decent guess of the distance and you are good to go on a sunny day. Slow the film speed down a bit then use a yellow or red filter. These cameras are very sharp.

  • Reply
    Neil Kesterson
    March 25, 2022 at 7:51 pm

    Nice article. I have a bunch of Voigtlanders, most still work after many decades. My favorites are the Vitomatics, which are basically the Vito’s with rangefinders and meters. You should seek out one of these for quicker shooting, like the Vitomatic IIa or Iib. The lenses are stunning.

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    April 3, 2022 at 7:41 pm

    I used many Weston light meters, both Cine and still versions. It’s recommended to angle them down about 45* when taking a reading to avoid the sky. Another technique was to take a reading off your hand held in the same light as your subject. The flap over the selenium cell can be clicked open for readings in lower light. An Invercone is a handy accessory for making very accurate incident light readings rather than reflected readings. It snaps over the selenium cell and looks something like a dented ping pong ball. It’s used by holding the meter in similar light to your subject and pointing the Invercone back towards your camera. If you are lucky enough you might find an Invercone.
    There is a calibration adjustment screw on the back of the meter. Cover the light sensor with you hand to block out all the light and carefully turn the screw until the needle points to zero. Doing that makes a big difference to its accuracy. Some Weston light meters had a problem with the glass coming unstuck and jamming the needle, so avoid pressure on the glass. Camera mechanics used to be familiar with repairing a loose glass but these days perhaps not so much.
    I’ve still got a box full of various Weston, Gossen, and Seconic meters ( all with incident light cones ) that used to hang on their string around my neck and sit in my pocket ready for use. The technique I mentioned of taking a reading off your hand gives a similar result to using an Invercone which is generally the most accurate method.

  • Reply
    sebcopley
    April 6, 2022 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone. That is done very good information about the light meter, it’ll be useful when I try it out more thoroughly.
    Many thanks

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