So, the Zeiss Icon Voigtländer 500 SE Electronic and the Zeiss Icon Voigtländer 1000 SR are very similar brothers from an era of iconic mid-century design and innovation. (There is also another brother, the 500AE but I’m going to ignore that) I have had the 500 for a while but wanted try the 1000. It was a while before I could get my hands on one; finally I did and it’s a great little camera.
Both Cameras come from the period after the merge with Zeiss Ikon (obviously) and although they use the full company name (Zeiss Ikon ….) they were designed and produced at the Voigtländer works in Braunschweig, Germany.
First then is the rarity; 500s are pretty common on that auction site and so fairly easy to get hold of; the 1000s as may be inferred from my opening paragraph are not so easy and are actually a little rare. I got mine eventually from Germany and did not find it via that site’s own search tools. In order to actually bid/buy I kind of had to trick it into letting me do so as I did not have an account on the German version and it wouldn’t appear on the US .com. Eventually though I bought it and it arrived in good shape. Interesting note (maybe) the ‘original’ box it came in, looks like it was technically for a 500 but with a 1000 label stuck over the top; not sure if that was someone having a joke or how they actually shipped originally.
Having used the camera a few times I started to compare it with the 500 and felt perhaps an article was worth writing.
Both these cameras have the same f2.8 42mm Tessar lens, so optically they should be identical. Film advance (thumb operated from under the camera) and shutter operation are also the same so what are the differences?
The main difference between the two is that the 1000 has a coupled rangefinder whereas the 500 is scale focus.The 500 has typical distance measures on the lens along with icons common with many cameras for Portrait, Group and Landscape distances. These are icons echoed in the viewfinder so you can see approximately which distance you should be focused on while framing the shot.
The RF on the 1000 is a small dot in the VF and at least on my example is bright enough for most situations. The base length isn’t anything to write home about but it is adequate in my opinion. One other small difference here is the 1000 has a plastic knob on the focus ring to aid in adjusting but it is small and not that effective; more on that later.
Both cameras have a battery operated cDS light cell for exposure with the 500 offering automatic exposure using aperture priority. This means that the 500 needs two Mallery PX825 batteries versus the single PX625 in the 1000 and that is probably where the biggest difference presents itself (more on that in a moment).
The 1000 uses a match needle exposure mechanism (in the VF) and offers full manual exposure control as a result. The 500, as mentioned, uses aperture priority auto-exposure and it presents the selected aperture in the VF with values of 2.8, ‘•’, 5.6, 8, 11, ‘•’ and 22 (with the ‘•’s referring to 4 and 16, in attempt to save space in the viewfinder I assume). The automatically selected shutter speed is also the shown in the VF via the meter needle pointing towards values of (1/) 30, 125 and 500. The 500 also offers exposure compensation by way of a slider just under the sensor on the front with values of 0 • 1 • 2 (which I believe are 0.5, 1, 1.5 and 2 stops over). The 1000 offers shutter speeds from (1/) 15 through 1000 with common increments; aperture is presented in the VF here too but not the shutter speed (f8 is replaced by a • similar to 4 and 16 which actually looks neater).
The 500 has a plastic knob on the underside of the lens which switches between auto and flash modes. from the manual I understand that flash mode fixes the shutter speed for sync at 1/30 sec.
The other functional difference is that the 500 uses a sliding mechanism on the top just in front of the shutter release to set film speeds from ASA 25 through 400 (DIN 15 through 27 also represented), on the 1000 this is set through a ring on the lens with the same range.
The final difference physically is due to the battery situation mentioned above; the 500 requires two batteries. These are situated under sliding ‘lids’ on the front of the camera either side of the lens. The one battery on the 1000 is held in a small screw accessed compartment on the underside next to the tripod mount. The main impact of this as far as I am concerned is that it makes the 500 more cumbersome to hold. It may only be a quarter of an inch of plastic on the front of the camera but it makes it feel bulky in the hand and aesthetically look chubby; changing its sleek modern styling (compared to the 1000).
I found the situation with PX825 battery being discontinued less of an issue than it could have been; luckily you can get away with 625a. They are not the same size by any means but if you hold them in position while you slide the lid over, they stay in place nicely and I didn’t have any issues. In fact I had more issues with the correct battery in the 1000, as for some reason the contacts don’t always sit against the battery correctly and it was intermittent (I think this is a common problem and different people have resorted to different fixes).
That about covers the physical comparison so what about the more important comparison of using them? Here are my thoughts..
The 1000SR is nice to hold; it may look plastic but under that modern material is a metal chassis that feels solid and reliable without being too weighty in the hand. It’s also slim (relatively speaking) so along with it’s clean lines is just right for the mid-century look as you walk about your hipster neighborhood.
The thumb operated film advance is not for everyone but I found I took to it easily and was not a problem once you get going; if I were switching between this and another camera with a ‘normal’ winder I might find it a little awkward perhaps.
The focusing ring is the front-most and smallest ring on the lens barrel which is perhaps it’s biggest operational issue as it is not easy when you are looking through the VF to find it with your fingers, even with the small knob and so often you might find your greasy fingers touching the glass. This is true (apart from the small knob) for both the 1000 and the 500 so for the purposes of this comparison should not affect the outcome. However it is worth noting that my 1000 came to me with a rubber lens hood screwed onto the filter mount and the side benefit of this is that it gives you a much bigger target to find and makes focusing so much easier (it fits both cameras so evens out ).
As mentioned the RF is small but adequate and I had no issues finding focus and getting decent images with the Tessar lens. Similarly, the settings for exposure and using the match needle is familiar and worked well. Having the aperture only shown in the VF kinda pushes you towards shutter priority operation by setting the shutter speed first and then finding the right exposure while composing in the VF.
To be honest it’s been a while since I picked up the 500 having been using my other cameras more but as half the operation of this is the same as the 1000 it was of little impact.
Walking around with this for a short while I found that it’s a nice viewfinder to look through; everything you need to compose your image and check settings are there so it makes for a great point and shoot with tools to adjust. It’s very easy to walk around and take pictures with little distraction. I did find that my trick with the battery was not 100% on this outing (maybe I didn’t quite place the batteries in the right spot but I found that squeezing the left-hand battery compartment when I needed to check readings made the connection and the needle swung into place.
Not sure if my example has a slight fault but I found the take-up spool needed to have the back fully closed in order to wind on – the same was not the case on the 1000.
As mentioned the slight bulkiness of the 500 does makes it a little less nice to hold.
I loaded both cameras with Ilford HP5 Plus and took them out trying to shoot similar things.. It was a very sunny afternoon here in California so I decided to shoot the roll at 100 ASA and even then I had limited scope for adjusting aperture or shutter speed.
All things being considered, I do find the 1000 a better camera to use; the confidence in setting the right focus, the additional stop in shutter speed together with the slimmer and more comfortable size all goes to a nice shooter that I can easily put in my pocket or as an additional camera to my bag. Both cameras deliver lovely pictures using that Tessar lens and so both are pretty excellent cameras this spec range so if you are looking for a simple camera with some control and pocketable I can definitely recommend either of these. 1000s are hard to come by in my experience especially in the US so, unless you need that 1/1000 sec shutter speed don’t hold out for the 1000 and miss out on a good 500; the 500 will still deliver excellent photographs for not a lot of expense and has a very easy operation.