The Voigtländer Bessa-R

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Why a Manual Camera?

Does the world of photography need another manual focus, manual meter, manual wind and rewind camera?

If you believe that it doesn't, then read no further. If you think there is room for a camera like this, you're in for a real treat.

Bessa-R rangefinder camera
The chrome Bessa-R with 35mm f/2.5
Color-Skopar lens.

Quite simply, the Voigtländer Bessa-R is a return to the basics. It's a camera that brings the simplicity of photography back to the marketplace and to the masses.

This camera, which is manufactured by Japan-based Cosina, is an all-manual 35mm rangefinder system that includes interchangeable lenses, hot-shoe mounted meters and other accessories. And it's affordable — although the definition of affordable continues to be stretched.

In the age of $1,000 digital cameras, the Bessa-R seems like a bargain at about US$900 with lens (prices vary). That was the price when I wrote this back in 2000. Since then, the price of this body has come down quite a bit.

Better yet, the Bessa-R is a photographer's camera — whether you're a beginner or a pro or somewhere in between. It's a camera that you'll like right away. More on that later.

The camera is designed from an SLR body, which is evident by the placement of certain controls, such as the shutter-speed knob, rewind button and self timer. But it doesn't detract from the overall design. It's fresh without being overboard, but at the same time it's not boring.

The body is built on an aluminum chassis, while the top and bottom plates and back are made of plastic. By now, we've become accustomed to the use of plastic on cameras. The use of plastic inside  cameras is another story, which I think can be problematic, especially when used for gears and other internal parts where plastic seems to break down much quicker than metal.

Although you might prefer metal top plates, think of how many dings you've seen on older cameras. I have several cameras that have tiny dents caused by ... well, life.

The Bessa-R is the second in a line of 35mm manual cameras from Cosina. The first was the Bessa-L, which remains in production. The Bessa-L lacks an in-camera viewfinder, but is sold with a widely praised 15mm ultrawide-angle lens that includes a viewfinder that mounts atop the camera body.

Both cameras use 39mm screw-mount lenses, which includes 10 Voigtländer-branded lenses from Cosina and a large number of legacy lenses from Leica, Canon and others available on the used market.

Cosina has been quite busy introducing some very interesting glass for the Bessa-R. For example, if  15mm isn't wide enough for you, there now is a 12mm f/5.6 lens with a 121-degree angle of view. It also includes a separate viewfinder, as well as a bubble level, so your shot will be horizontally correct. It appears to be a very impressive lens. There also is a 50mm f/1.5, a 75mm f/2.5 and a 90mm f/3.5, as well as several others.

Cosina also plans to produce Voigtländer lenses for the major bayonet-mount makers.

Voigtländer Japan?

Some people might scoff or even be offended by the use of the name Voigtländer by a Japanese camera maker. I think it's nice to see another old name in photography make a comeback in much the same way  Contax re-established itself as a premier maker of quality cameras and lenses, first with the help of Yashica and then Kyocera. So I don't mind seeing Voigtländer back on the scene.

I'd rather see these classic names thrive and be supported by a strong company than be relegated to the history books.