Voigtlnder’s Bessa R3A; A Rangefinder 35 With Electronic Shutter Page 2

An added benefit is that the Effective Base Length (EBL) of the rangefinder is now longer. The actual length is still only 38mm or so but at 1:1 you get the full effective 38mm instead of less than 30mm. For comparison, the actual base length of an M-series Leica is approximately 68mm so the EBLs are about 39mm for the 0.58x finder, 49mm with the 0.72x, and 58mm with the 0.85x.

There is, however, a price to pay for the improved finder and better rangefinder accuracy on the R3A. It is impossible to fit in a 35mm viewfinder frame, so the widest is 40mm. This appears with the 90mm. The other two frames are 75mm and 50mm. They are selected via a three-way switch on the top of the camera, just like other Bessas and indeed the Rollei rangefinder. Because we like to use both 35mm and 28mm lenses, we simply put the incredibly tiny Voigtländer 28mm/35mm finder in the accessory shoe: it adds virtually nothing to the weight or bulk of the camera.

A new 40mm f/1.4 lens is available but was not supplied for test. This focal length is "semi-canonical" in that Leica used it on the CL, and many decades ago there was also a 40mm Zeiss Biogon. A 40mm and a 75mm make such a fine combination that it is perhaps a pity the frames are not 40 - 50+90 - 75 instead of 75 - 40+90 - 50.

Street Shooting

For "life on the street" rangefinders are of course the classic cameras, and with a 50mm f/1.5 Nokton you have a superb combination. Roger shot on Kodak's Ektachrome EBX ISO 100.
Photos © 2005, Roger Hicks, All Rights Reserved

R-Series Similarities
Unchanged from the R-series are the ISO film setting (lift-twist and drop around the shutter speed dial, ISO 25-3200); the wind-on lever, with about 30Þ stand-off plus about 150Þ travel, single-stroke or multi-stroke; the hot shoe plus proper PC flash-sync nipple (on the left of the camera, with a cover); the standard cable-release fitting in the middle of the shutter release; and the ability to accept the same trigger wind as the T and R2/R2S/R2C. The trigger is particularly useful if you are left-eyed as Frances is, because it allows you to wind on without taking the camera away from your eye.

The shutter is a vertical-run metal blade type with flash sync at 1/125 instead of the 1/50 of the Leica M-series; inevitably the shutter is noisier than a Leica's, but accuracy was excellent, with most of the speeds spot on and even 1/2000 coming in at 1/1600.

"Handholdability"

Most people find they can handhold any rangefinder camera (including the R3A) for one or even two shutter speeds longer than an SLR, and still get comparable sharpness. Roger used a 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, shooting at 1/15 sec wide-open, for this shot on Kodak's Ektachrome EBX ISO 100.

Mount And Body Build
The lens mount is of course fully compatible with the four-claw Leica M-bayonet, as also used on the Rollei and Zeiss Ikon: we tried it with most of our Leica and Leica-fit lenses, though focusing is marginal with the 75mm f/2 and 90mm f/2 Summicrons at full aperture--which is why the Voigtländer lenses are 75mm f/2.5 and 90mm f/3.5.

The body is in the distinctly matte black paint--almost a hammer finish--that Voigtländer has made their own. It feels reassuringly solid in the hand at 430g (just over 15 oz) for the body only, in a compact package 135.5x81x33.5mm (5.33x3.19x1.32").

Results? Exactly as expected. This camera accepts many of the finest lenses in the world, not just from Voigtländer but also from Leica and Zeiss. We found no difference in resolution between the R3A and an MP when using a Leica Summicron 75mm f/2: both delivered an amazing 125 lp/mm on the film with Ilford Pan F and Delta 100. At this point, you are not so much measuring lens/film resolution as the ability of the camera to hold the film repeatably in the same place; this is why 125 lp/mm is rarely seen consistently, even with the very best lenses.

Making A Choice
Ultimately, the question of whether this (or its stable mate the R2A) is the camera for you must come down to two things: how highly you value automation and how far you deprecate battery dependency. If you don't care about automation and don't like battery dependency, you will do better to go for a Rollei or (if you can afford it) a Leica MP--or maybe an R2, if you can still find a new one or a good used one. Or maybe you could wait for the R2M and R3M. These have not been announced, or even rumored, but when we asked Hirofumi Kobayashi about all-mechanical versions of the R2A and R3A, he said, "I do not rule it out."

But if you like the idea of automation and aren't worried about the batteries--and as we say, it doesn't seem to be battery-hungry--then it's a choice of this, a Zeiss Ikon or a Leica M7. This is pretty exalted company. And the Voigtländer Bessa R3A can hold its head high as it stands among them.

The Bessa R2A and R3A sell for $539 in black and $579 in gray. Voigtländers are officially distributed by The Photo Village, Inc. (1133 Broadway, Ste. 824, New York, NY 10010; (212) 989-1252; www.photovillage.com) and CameraQuest (1336 Moorpark Rd., Box 184, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360; (818) 879-1968, www.cameraquest.com).

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