Quick Take: Voigtlander Bessa R3A and Nokton 40mm f/1.4 MC

First of all, I have to get this out of the way: major guilt trip for not having written a blog for more than a month. I’m just glad  I finally got my self to write this one.

I grew up in the generation of film photography, so I guess it was natural for me to miss it. So much, that I even sold my 50D and the awesome EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8, so that I could fund the Bessa and Nokton combo. When I was a lot younger I toyed around with SLRs, from the full manual Nikon FM-10, the semi-auto Minolta X-300 to the full auto Canon T-50. I had no experience with rangefinders, which made the Voigtlander kit an even more exciting proposition.

This kit isn’t new; it’s been around for a few years and you can find tons of reviews on the web. That’s one of the good things about basic film cameras: it’s immune from frequent tech updates. One of these four things will happen first before you will find the need to replace the camera: 1) it breaks, 2) you die, 3) the world runs out of 35mm film, 4) you get rich enough to afford a Leica.

This isn’t a review of the camera, but more about my initial experience with it. I’ve only been with this camera for six months and I must say that learning process to use a rangefinder is fun as it is challenging.

Most of the adjustments I had to make with how I shoot with concerns the viewfinder. For one, there is some parallax error. Also, the frame lines (that are supposed to indicate the borders of the frame) seems to be only an approximation. Because of these, the end results I get are always slightly different from how I composed the shot, and this lack of precision may turn off SLR/DSLR users. And speaking of the frame lines, they are quite difficult to see on the R3A, especially when you wear spectacles. A tip to eyeglass wearers: use contact lens on days you intend to use this camera.

The viewfinder has some positives about it too. I love the fact that it is a 1x magnification, meaning what you see with your naked eye is the same “size” as what is seen through the viewfinder. As far as I know, the R3A is the only rangefinder currently in production that is spec’d this way. And of course there’s the absence of “tunnel” effect and there is no flipping mirror to obstruct the view as the shot is taken.

On top of all these, I’m also undergoing a lot of adjustments going from digital to film. There’s the sniper mentality: I have to keep in mind that I only have 36 exposures in between rolls as opposed to a virtually infinite 16GB memory. There is also the [re-]learning curve of manual focusing, add to that the impatience of my subjects who are now used to digital’s split second focusing.

So far I’ve exposed and developed only a hand full of rolls and the resulting shots are quite satisfying. I would be fooling myself to say that the photos out of my rangefinder has superior image quality and fine detail over my previous DSLR kit. But for certain, the results I get now have that warm analogue quality without being playful like Lomography or fake like Instagram.

Film rangefinders bring back the glory of photography to the photographer and not the sophisticated gizmos that he employs. It challenges the photographer and forces him to think, rather than letting a computer chip do the work. It enthrones composition, and condemns pixel-peeping. Ultimately, film photography celebrates the photograph, and not the technical specifications behind it.


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