Photos & Projects

Silver Springs and a Voigtländer Vitomatic I – By Anthony Rue

August 27, 2018

By the time Voigtländer released the Vitomatic I in 1957, Silver Springs had been Florida’s premiere tourist destination for almost 100 years. Over 500 million gallons of pristine water flowed every day from a series of springs to form the Silver River, and promoters crafted glass bottomed boats in the 1870s to take tourists from around the world over the wondrous caves.

It was so striking that William Bartram’s letters describing the springs and rivers of Central Florida inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘River Alph’ and the “caverns measureless to man” of Xanadu in ‘Kubla Khan.’ Silver Springs provided the setting for many of the classic Tarzan movies, it terrified teenagers as the home of the ‘Creature of the Black Lagoon’, and in 1958 it was the location for Lloyd Bridges’ ‘Sea Hunt’ – the TV show that inspired a generation of Americans to take up scuba diving. In its prime Silver Springs had glamor, thrills, and breathtaking beauty drawing tourists from around the world.

The Voigtländer Vitomatic I is exactly the sort of camera that the discerning German industrialist would have taken with him or herself to Silver Springs on a Florida holiday in the decade before Disney: compact, streamlined, built like a tank and made for travel photography. It is simple in operation, and yet precise and capable of crisp images with striking color definition.

Silver Springs Glass Bottom Boat

Silver Springs Sun Deck/Alligator Warning

Time has not been kind to Silver Springs. The water output from the springs dropped to half of what it had been in the 1950s. The water flows murky greenish blue, not gin-clear, and algae coats the riverbeds. Feral packs of Herpes infected Rhesus monkeys, introduced in the 1950s as part of an ill-fated jungle cruise attraction, now roam the banks and have been known to attack swimmers and hikers. Alligators sun themselves on floating mats of dead river grass and algae, prohibiting any swimming in the spring. A waterpark added in the 1980s sits abandoned in the parking lot, rotting away in the Florida sun. The glass bottom boats still run hourly, listlessly spinning over the few shallow springs that run clear.

Silver River

Ross Allen Monkey Island, Silver Springs

Silver Springs Sea Hunt Dock

There is a real melancholy with visiting Silver Springs now, even if it is a fascinating location to shoot. It seems to be the appropriate place to shoot a roll of Kodak ColorPlus 200 through a Vitomatic I. Both Voigtländer and Kodak were iconic brands during Silver Spring’s glory days. Now both are shadows of their former selves. This particular Voigtländer Vitomatic I was picked up in an auction  lot that included a Vito B, the Vitomatic I, a Vito CLR, and a Vitoret, all for $100. Each one was so pristine and clean they looked like they had been unboxed yesterday.

Of the four, the Vitomatic has become my favorite to shoot. The selenium meter is still spot-on, and I’m in love with the images that are produced by the Color Skopar f2.8/50mm lens. Although it is likely you can find one for yourself as an artifact cast off from some relative’s belongings, theVoigtländer Vitomatic I deserves to be held up as the pinnacle of a sturdy, reliable travel camera.

Some more photography taken with the Voigtländer Vitomatic I can be found here

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Dr Allan Dodds
    August 27, 2018 at 10:30 pm

    The Vitomatic I illustrated did not have a rangefinder but its successor, the Vitomatic II, did.

    • Reply
      anthony.rue
      August 30, 2018 at 1:35 am

      Good catch! I thought I wrote “viewfinder.” I’ll see if I can get a moderator to clean up the title.

  • Reply
    Regan Scott
    August 29, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Seems like a cool place to visit. Thanks for sharing. My Vitomatic has been in the closet for years now. Hands down the worst camera I’ve ever owned. The ergonomics are terrible along with the awkward size and weight. It’s good to see that someone likes it though.

    • Reply
      anthony.rue
      August 30, 2018 at 1:34 am

      No camera is going to please everyone, but if you really think that the Vitomatic ergonomics are terrible, I have an Arette Dn I can loan you… If you ever want to free up space in your closet, I’d happily make you an offer for yours.

      • Reply
        Teddy
        December 4, 2019 at 4:00 pm

        As a young high school photo student training photographer a voightlander rangefinder gifted to me by my dad.who decided that SLR was the way to go gave me a love for photography and how stops and shutter speeds control photos.

  • Reply
    Jerard van der Walt
    August 31, 2018 at 4:52 am

    I own a Vitomatic I and I think it’s one of my most underrated cameras.
    Sure, there’s no rangefinder but that hasn’t stopped me from taking decent photos with it.
    Anyone who complains about it’s ergonomics, obviously hasn’t used it’s big brother, the Prominent.
    It does have a surprising weight for such a tiny camera though.
    I’ll never get rid of mine, it’s quality, through and through.

  • Reply
    floatinggold
    March 5, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    You seem to be the first person not to love Silver Springs. Definitely made me re-think if I want to go there.

  • Reply
    anthony.rue
    March 5, 2019 at 10:45 pm

    I do have a certain affection for Silver Springs– but it has been treated poorly for so long that it is a shadow of its former glory.

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