Travelling Bessa III report from Leigh Youdale…

The camera arrived well packed in it’s own little Pelican case from Mainline Photographics. Considering it has already been through the hands of the major part of the 20 or so participating photographers, each having it to use for two weeks, it’s in mint condition. It’s probably had more use in the last few months than I would give it in years, so it gets a tick from me for quality of finish and construction.

“Ellie” Leigh Youdale 2009

It feels heavy – substantial – in the hand but the impression is a bit misleading. It weighs in at 1049g with strap and battery but no film. By contrast my Rolleiflex f2.8 Planar weighs 1303g without film. Quite a difference but the Rolleiflex, appearing to be more compact, really doesn’t feel any different in weight when you pick it up unless you have one camera in each hand to compare. I guess 250g isn’t that much really.

I went out shooting with both the Rolleiflex and the Bessa III. Whereas on unpacking the Bessa I was a bit daunted by its apparent size, in use I found I quickly lost that impression and found it very easy to use. It hangs by its strap quite easily from the shoulder when closed, does not feel heavy, and is easily steadied whilst walking by slight arm pressure. The Rolleiflex, on the other hand sits rather heavily on the chest, bounces around a bit and pulls on the neck but otherwise is probably easier to carry in a ready-to-shoot state. (I prefer to carry the Rollei like this as it’s easier to use the viewfinder).

“Old school Bowral NSW” Leigh Youdale 2009

In Summary after two weeks with the Bessa III:

  1. The apparent size of the Bessa is not a problem. One quickly gets used to it. Compared to other 6×7 cameras it’s compact. However, it’s not a pocket camera and needs a bag of some kind – doesn’t need to be huge though.
  2. Loading and unloading is very straightforward and simple.
  3. For an MF camera it’s pretty much useable as a point-and-shoot using AE.
  4. The meter appears to be very capable even though it’s not TTL.
  5. Always carry a spare battery!
  6. Always wind on anti-clockwise!
  7. People are curious about the camera, so there’s no need to hide it.
  8. The f3.5 lens is not a drawback. With the longer focal length, the depth of field is pretty close to a f2.8/50mm lens on a 35mm camera anyway.
  9. The front element of the lens is not recessed to any extent and the use of a lens hood should be pretty much standard practice. Only problem carry it around open. (The hood also carries the filter if one is in use).
  10. I’m undecided about the usefulness of both 6×7 and 6×6 formats. I shot 6×7 on this camera and 6×6 on the Rolleiflex. I think the formats are a bit too similar, but then I’m used to square format. You can’t change format with film in the camera so it probably gets down to personal preference. Holding it in portrait (vertical) format with 6×7 wasn’t a problem but horizontal is easier for focusing.
  11. The shutter is vibrationless and almost noiseless. Remarkable!
  12. Turning the focus to infinity to close the camera quickly becomes automatic.

Coogee Beach Life Guards! Leigh Youdale 2009

Conclusions:

The full set of prints of the duplicated Rollei vs Bessa comparison arrived yesterday and, after an earlier on-screen comparison of just one pair of scanned images, I was a little surprised. With both lots of negatives of identical subjects enlarged to the same print magnification (8×8 or 8×10) in all but one pair of frames I’d have to say the Bessa wins in terms of sharpness, rendition and overall appearance.

Not by much though. The Rollei shots look perfectly acceptable until you put them side by side with the Bessa equivalents. The differences are subtle but detectable to the eye without resorting to a magnifying glass. I doubt they’d show up on a computer screen but in the print the difference is definitely there.

In the one pair that looks better from the Rollei I have to qualify my impression because it’s clear from the shadows that the sun was partly obscured for the Rollei shot but obviously came out for the Bessa shot so the exposures are not exactly matching.

It’s not enough of a difference to make me immediately rush out and sell the Rolleiflex, but it’s enough to cause me to start thinking!

The Bessa III is not really a professional MF camera in the sense that it doesn’t have interchangeable lenses, and most professionals would want that facility. But it’s a great camera for the enthusiast.

It is a very competent modern reincarnation of the old Voigtlander 6×9 folders. It has one small disadvantage – the frame sizes are 6×6 and 6×7 where most would prefer to have 6×6 and 6×9 in a camera of this type and size, but it also has some significant advantages over its older siblings.

Some might argue that the lens could not possibly be quite as pin sharp as some other legendary MF lenses but my comparison tells me otherwise (bearing in mind the Rolleiflex is 50 years old!). Pixel peepers might want to disagree, but the final output, on the wall is what really counts. Comparisons on 72 dpi computer screens are hardly going to cut it.

It has a modern electronic shutter with +/- compensation, aperture priority or manual setting and a much better range of more accurate speeds.

It has a brilliant viewfinder and a coupled rangefinder that is just so easy to use.

It’s new.

As to the internet forum debate (dare I say whingeing?) about the price, I have to say that most of the negative comment came from people who didn’t have the money to buy such a camera in the first place but were somehow hoping it would cost under $1000 and so at least be in the realms of aspiration. Dream on!

Yes, you can buy second hand cameras with similar attributes for less than the Bessa costs. So if you like 50 year old second hand, shutters with limited speeds and doubtful accuracy that need manual cocking each shot, faded viewfinders like pinholes and (most) without any rangefinder at all, much less an integrated one and lenses that may or may not live up to their hype, I say go for it. It’s your dollar!

Or you can wait several years and hope that a few of the limited production run end up hitting EBay at a ridiculously low price. I don’t think so!

To sum up – If I didn’t already have a Rolleiflex I’d want a Bessa III. And maybe I want a Bessa anyway. The Rollei might soon change owners.

Leigh Youdale Camden 2009

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