Bessa L with film

5 frames with Voigtlander Bessa L and Ilford XP2

I have had this camera for 7 years, which is longer than I’ve had any other film camera, partly because it’s great, and partly because it still works.  bought it with the Voigtlander 25mm Snapshot Skopar, and later on added the 35m Color Skopar. The design of the Bessa L is odd in that there’s no focussing device, no rangefinder or TTL view, so you have to guess the distance and use a separate viewfinder for each lens. For the 25mm I bought the Voigtlander finder, which was quite expensive, but the 35mm lens is paired with a Helios finder that cost a lot less and was easily available to buy. The Voiglander one has better build quality but the Helios is also good for the price, with framing brightlines and a clear overall view.

It’s all refreshingly basic and manual. It has a battery-powered light meter but you have to set the shutter speed, aperture and focus. The lenses are ltm mount with no pins and they simply screw on. The camera and lenses are much smaller than an SLR setup, so it doesn’t take up too much space in my backpack which is required for water, various clothing layers and the all important lunch-related foodstuffs and other snacks.

I chose XP2 for my walk in the Dark Peak, in Derbyshire, England. I like XP2 because it’s a fast film but with fine grain, and it’s so easy to get processed because
you can throw it in with your colour films. I’ve heard people say XP2 is ‘a bit grey’ but I find it gives good contrast, sharpness and tonality. I asked the lab to not adjust the contrast of the images, as I generally prefer a naturalistic look and there was going to be a lot of contrast in the images already.

It was a hot sunny day with a just few small fluffy clouds. This kind of harsh light is not favourable for colour images but I feel black and white captures the ambience well without the distraction of the washed-out colours.

These images were all captured around Grinah Stones and Bleaklow Stones; an area of moorland with squelchy peat bogs and characterful gritstone tors, a place I love to go for long walks in, and where even at weekends it can be mostly just you and the landscape.

The sunlight brings out face-like patterns in the pockmarked rocks of Grinah Stones.

Grinah Stones rock 1
Grinah rockface 2
Grinah Stones rock 2

This weathered rock is at Bleaklow Stones, and is nicknamed The Anvil. Although it looks more like its nickname from a different angle, I wanted to use the big shadow to create some contrast in the image.

The Anvil at Bleaklow Stones

It was summertime and it had not rained for a long time so peat bogs were quite dry. This one had grasses and bilberry growing on top. The rolling hills of Bleaklow are in the distance.

Peat and grass
Dried peak bog with grasses growing on top

These paths on the moors are usually boggy in the wetter seasons, and will swallow your boots if you’re not careful! Not today though; it was dry and crispy with cracks like crazy paving.

cracked path
Dry and cracked path on moor

I would heartily recommend the Voigtlander Bessa L to anyone who wants a good quality camera and lenses, that isn’t too heavy. It’s a bit quirky and you need to be able to judge distances but if you stick with wide-angle lenses it isn’t critical to get it spot-on.

Thanks for reading my first post! You can find some more of my photos here: My Flickr photos

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16 thoughts on “5 frames with Voigtlander Bessa L and Ilford XP2”

  1. Thanks for the story and the pics which are great.
    I have a Bessa L und it’s maiden name Cosina SW-107. It’s a camera that is definitely for the wider lenses but it’s a fine user and combines “modern” features with the feeling of using the Ur-Leica (people might stone me for this) and it’s a light set-up, IMO.
    Best wishes
    Martin in Austria

    1. I knew it was made by Cosina but I didn’t realise they made a Cosina-branded version – interesting!

  2. The Voigtlander L has got to be one of the oddest and most under appreciated 35mm bodies made in recent times. I had one as a “backup” to a Voigtlander R. Talk about a dream travel kit — both bodies and three lenses fit into a small shoulder bag with a propack of film. I wish I still had that kit. Your excellent commentary and photos brought back many fond memories and no shortage of longing, Well done.

  3. Mark, great first post–great pictures too. I like the first best, #4 and #5 could do with a bit more contrast. XP2 or scanning ? Anyway.
    I use a similar set for my walkings-a Leica Standard with out a meter, albeit with a very tiny finder with a 50mm window, no frame lines. I pair that with a 25mm Voigtländer Snap-Shot Skopar ( which I can highly recommend too) and an old battered plastic Leica Canada 24mm finder. My favorite combo. The Leica Standards are not that expensive, but you better factor in a overhaul of the gears, the youngest Standards are from 1939…
    A nice half case you found for the Bessa-where did you get that ?
    cheers, Klaus

    1. It was just the standard scan from the processing lab. I also have the snapshot skopar which is great. The case came with the camera body. It has the top cover as well, with a hump for the view finders.
      My Helios 35mm finder recently went wonky. The element with the brightlines has come loose and I can’t open it to fix it. So I found a KMZ 35mm finder for only £50 which seems to be fine, nice and clear, and no brightlines to go wonky 😉

  4. Great article Mark, enjoyed reading that. The images were very well composed and full of drama befitting the scenery. It is wild and wonderful landscape and I thought you brought out its character beautifully with the Voigtlander

    1. Thanks. That landscape can work surprisingly well in mono. The Voigtlander lenses help as they do a good job of capturing subtle variations in tone.

  5. Richard Moore

    It is an interesting camera. I bought one which looked brand new and matched to a Color Skopar 21mm. Great little combo – it really can be used as a P&S and it’s a really lightweight combo. I managed to get two rolls out of it before the wind mechanism decided it wasn’t quite up to the job and stopped pulling film through. Or even worse slipped and slide.

    I’ve seen others mention this and it being an uneconomic repair (if it can be repaired) which is a real shame. Can’t quite bring myself to chuck it out cos it looks like new. I live in hope that someone knows of a fix so do tell……

    1. This is the 2nd Bessa L body I’ve owned. The first one had a problem like you described. It would wind on OK but give up halfway through the film and there would be progressively overlapping frames. Rather than try to investigate a repair, I just bought a new one for £100 or so which has been fine. I see them for sale sometimes, still around the same price. There was one for sale at Real Camera in Liverpool but I’ve just looked and it’s gone now unfortunately.

  6. Daniel Castelli

    Never saw the logic on Voigtlander to introduce this model. Leica made an MDa for scientific use, and a M1 w/only a viewfinder, but they all belong to a special club. I bet, however, pairing one of these bodies with a 12 or 15mm lens would be a great, goofy type of free form shooting.

    1. It’s a bit of an oddball, this camera. Without a finder for each lens you’d be framing by pure guesswork, and focus has to be estimated unless you’re using a tape measure. I think Voigtlander only intended this to be used with wide angle lenses, otherwise it’s just too impractical.
      Those hyper-wide lenses are supposed to be very good, but I never bothered pursuing them, as 25mm is generally as wide as I’d like to go.

  7. I still have my Bessa L, which I bought new in 1999. It was a great travel camera, which I paired with the Voigtlander 28mm 3.5. I always loved the simplicity of the camera and light meter.

    Unfortunately it has not aged well, even though it does still function. The rubber is peeling off and sticky, the small metal exposure-button-lock nipple thing on the advance crank broke off (so the meter goes off in the bag all the time), the foam light seals are bad, etc. It just feels cheap and the metal thin, especially compared to the lenses that one pairs with it.

    These are all the things that remind you of just how much better made vintage cameras were. However, I think Voigtlander/Cosina did go in a more refined direction after this model, although when I look at the prices that the similarly built R3 bodies are commanding now I cringe.

    1. It’s a mixed bag in terms of build quality, I find. The operations of the shutter, winding, etc is very smooth and satisfying but there’s a lot of plastic which is never going to be as robust as metal. I’m used to having film cameras breaking after a while, so I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts I guess.

  8. Just got the L along with Skopar-Snapshot 25mm F4 two months ago, but hasn’t got a chance to develop. This article made me want to pick the camera again and develop em. However still kinda want R but i guess for in near future.

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