Voigtlnder’s Bessa R3M And 50mm f/2 Heliar Classic Lens; A Retro Classic Page 2

Collapsible lenses almost invariably weigh more than the same glass in a rigid mount, and the Heliar Classic, bare (no caps, filter, or shade) is no exception, weighing in at an impressive 260 gm, a bit under 10 oz.

Finally, there is no focusing spur or finger grip, which seems odd with a collapsible lens. Instead, there's just a 3mm/1/8" focusing collar on the fixed part of the mount. It's easy enough to use, but a spur would be even easier.

Heliars are five-glass, three-group Cooke Triplet derivatives with both the front and rear singlets split into cemented doublets, much like the APO-Lanthar; f/2 represents a remarkable speed for this design.

The drawback with a snapshot camera is that you never know when you are going to get a good picture, and wish you had had your "real" camera with you. The R3M is small enough to count as a snapshot camera, but delivers more than enough quality to qualify as a "real" camera. (Kodak's Portra 400VC.)
© 2006, Frances E. Schultz, All Rights Reserved

The diaphragm control ring is unusual, too, with f/2 to f/8 reasonably equally spaced with click detents for half stops, then f/11 and f/16 closer together with full stop detents only and (unlike most Voigtländer lenses) no f/22. The distance scale (down to 1 meter, 39", only) is marked only in meters. Like the body, the lens is engraved "1756-2006 250 Jahre."

In Use
This is, without a doubt, a purist's camera: a mechanical-shutter coupled rangefinder with a fast (but not too fast) 50mm lens. Look at the great work done in the '30s, '40s, and '50s with much slower films and 50mm f/2 lenses and it's easy to imagine yourself working for Time or Life or Picture Post or Paris-Match or Stern or any of the other great picture magazines of the past. The only risk is slipping effortlessly from purist to poseur.

There's not much to say about the body. If you like rangefinders, you'll like this one. If you don't know whether or not you like rangefinders, the R2M and R3M are good cameras with which to find out.

The 1:1 finder of the R3M makes it really easy to shoot with both eyes open, the oldest trick in the book for top-flight rangefinder shooters because it allows you to see what is going on around you as well as what is going on in the viewfinder. Some protest that the 40mm frame is hard to see when they are wearing glasses, but a lot seems to depend on the shape of your face and the thickness of your glasses. At least as many people find no problem whatsoever, so the only way to find out is to try it for yourself. Or you can buy a screw-in diopter lens for the eyepiece.

The simple construction of the Heliar makes for a contrasty lens, though with modern high-saturation films such as Kodak's Portra 400VC and post-processing in Adobe's Photoshop or other image-editing programs, this is less important than it was.
© 2006, Frances E. Schultz, All Rights Reserved

Incidentally, the full finder outside the 40mm frame is a pretty tolerable 35mm finder, albeit with somewhat blurry edges. Alternatively, of course, buy an R2M.

Old Heliars have a cult following, and probably this one will acquire one, too. It's not significantly better or worse than other lenses, because by the time you get to this level of quality, sharpness and contrast and resolving power can all be taken for granted. It is, however, different. All lenses have their own "signatures" and this one is more legible than usual.

In a sense, it's a pity that the R3M and R2M comes only as a commemorative set with the 50mm f/2 Heliar. If you don't already own any rangefinder cameras, the R3M/R2M are a great place to start, and the Heliar is probably as good a first lens as any--if you like 50mm. Our own inclination for a starter set would however be either an R2M with 35mm f/1.7 Ultron and 75mm f/2.5 Heliar or an R3M with 40mm f/1.4 Nokton and 75mm f/2.5 Heliar.

Then again, those who specifically want a Heliar, either as a collector or to use, must also buy an R2M or R3M body, so you might be able to strike a useful deal to forgo the 50mm f/2...

The closest focusing limit of the Heliar is a very traditional 1 meter: not very close, but close enough for a picture like this. The viewfinder frames are of course fully parallax compensated. (Kodak's Portra 400VC.)
© 2006, Frances E. Schultz, All Rights Reserved

Only you can decide whether it is better to buy the 250 Jahre set to use as it stands or as part of a more comprehensive rangefinder system. Either way, it is (like all Voigtländer cameras) an incredible value for the money. Even in the face of the digital onslaught, there is still a great deal to be said for film, both for personal pleasure and for publication; and as film cameras go, this is an extremely fine one.

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). The Bessa R3M/R2M 250th anniversary set sells for $1050 at The Photo Village and for $1049 at CameraQuest.

For further information on the art and craft of photography from Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz, go to www.rogerandfrances.com.