Mainline Customer and recent Bessa III purchaser is so delighted with his camera that he has sent through this personal hands on review.
Is this camera worth the expense?. Does it take a good photo? Does it work? Does it make sense?
The Short Review – This camera is superb.
But I suspect you might want a few more details…
Out of the box…
Typical spartan rangefinder packaging with a decent manual. The first thing I notice is how light it feels. Sitting to the left of me I have a Leica M7 with the 50mm 1.4 lens. It’s heavier than the Bessa III.
Loading film is a breeze and the workmanship on the camera is excellent – It feels really solid. Selecting 6×6 or 6×7 is simple and the flexibility of 120 or 220 is nice.
Straight up real world focus test… very nice.
I travel a lot and I’ll have no hesitation taking the Bessa with me.
I’m a tad obsessed by quality of picture v weight of equipment.
The Bessa gives me the chance to get awesome medium format quality – with point and shoot convenience.
But does the Lens stand up? Does the camera take a photo worthy of the format…
Before we talk photo quality. Let’s talk about the viewfinder. As any rangefinder enthusiast knows – if the viewfinder is awful the camera will be to!
To cut to the chase – This is the best viewfinder I have had the pleasure to look through on a Rangefinder and I have looked through them all.
I have a Zeiss Ikon – which is a great camera, the viewfinder is bright, it’s easy to focus BUT the shutter speed readout is colored blue and can be really hard to see. I was really worried the Bessa III would have this same issue.
Accurate colours… easy focusing…
It doesn’t – it uses the same system as the Ikon BUT the shutter speed scale is on the left hand side of the viewfinder, it’s a BRIGHT red and in a weekend of shooting wearing glasses was easily readable.
The folding mechanism is really solid and well constructed and if you open it as described in the manual you can be ready to shoot in a second or two.
There has been some commentary on the web that when folding the Bessa back in you need to set the focus ring to infinity. This is true and becomes instinctive with about 10 minutes of use.
I have to say I’m not much of a specs man so I was eager to get out in the field and try it.
Melbourne delivered an overcast first weekend. And as a father of three girls under seven was going to have my work cut out for me!
I was really worried about two things with this camera.
First, was the folding mechanism dodgy and would it cause focus shift.
My second issue was would the 80mm 3.5 lens would lack character and resolving power and with a wide open Aperture of 3.5 would not be fast enough for those street/all-rounder situations that you find yourself in if you carry the camera with you everywhere.
Stunning bokeh… taken at f3.5
If your after a lot of focus cards and measurements the rest of the review will disappoint. If your after a real world pressure test – then read on.
The Challenge I set myself with was this.
Trust the meter – was it any good, how did it cope with tricky lighting.
Handheld – No tripod allowed. Did I mention it was a very grey weekend. For me, the whole point of this camera is to get exquisite medium format quality without the whole tripod and lighting set-up experience. Could I handhold this sucker and get a decent shot…
The final rule was to abuse the rangefinder – I took this camera to subjects and situations where Rangefinders fear to tread – An indoor children’s party, taking shots of children at the playground. If this is going to be a bring everywhere camera – let’s give it the worst possible rangefinder subjects!
So how did we go.
The first time I operated the shutter mechanism I was floored. They have out Leica’d Leica. It’s the quietest and most importantly for handholding, softest shutter I have ever heard/felt on a camera.
In fact, when your anywhere with even a modicum of noise – your going to have to trust you have taken the shot – you will not hear it or feel it.
The Curious disengaging camera…
Children of photographers can become relatively unwilling subjects…
When I pulled out the Bessa and unfolded it for the first time – the kids loved it and where happy to pose for the “Transformer” camera.
Three weeks later it still has that effect. When I was taking photos in the street, the folder is completely disarming.
For the type of work I do – this is a godsend. In this Facebook age, a quaint folding camera sparks curiosity and intrigue, not fear.
This was brilliant.
Ed I have to say this is a really great shot!!! … Scott
I shot Ilford 3200 Black and White (I was terrified of slow shutter speeds indoors with the 3.5 lens) and I used Ektar 100 for the color
So i spent the weekend pointing the camera at bright objects, low light, Make shift focus tests. You tend to get a gut feel with a camera for how low you can go with shutter speed. I was trying 1/4, 1/8, 1/2! The gorgeous shutter mechanism was giving me a confidence to attempt shots I would not dream of normally.
The experience of having it in my little Crumpler bag with me at all times and use the Bessa III as a, dare I say it, a medium format point and shoot was a dream.
Changing film was very quick and fiddle free, the winding mechanism is excellent, all very straight forward.
But how would the pictures look….
I got everything back from the lab… and I flicked through the proofs I was thrilled.
Everything I focused on was in focus, the lens had a real sharpness at
3.5 and the bokeh/character was everything I would expect of a medium format camera.
I used to haul round a Hasselblad 503cx with an 80mm lens. That’s going on ebay.
I have put up my favorite/useful images are here on my Flickr Bessa III gallery
I have added commentary on what I was trying to test.
There was no processing or cropping at all (which is a shame because some of the composition is embarrassing!)
You might get the feeling that I’m pretty chuffed with the Bessa III and you would be right. The best camera is the one you have with you and the ability to have the Bessa III around all the time to capture a decisive moment in Medium Format is exciting.
Negatives – you can’t change the lens and I would not mind that extra half a stop But as i said, the Rolls Royce shutter mechanism MORE than makes up for this.
Price – there has been much debate about the price of this camera and I have to say a lot of it makes me raise an eyebrow. This a brand new medium format folder with Aperture Priority and lock, Modern centre- weighted metering, top line construction (and trust me I’m up there in the Leica snob category), excellent lens and the BEST shutter mechanism I have ever encountered.
Comparing this to a vintage folder in my view is crazy, A Hasselblad 503cx with and 80mm 2.8 lens, film back, and PME45 for metering and a shutter that kicks like Bruce Lee will set you back WAY more. A LeicaM7 and a new 50mm lens again – way more expensive.
The Mamiya m7 and 80mm lens is probably the best comparison. It’s a great camera but it’s not a camera that you take everywhere. It’s heavier and the shutter mechanism is not going to allow the handholding that the Bessa III allows. You can pick up a Mamiya 7 for less than the Bessa and if you do a lot of tripod work might be fine for you.
For me the Bessa is exactly what I was looking for. Having a medium format camera with you for that once in a lifetime sunset is worth every penny.
Ed Dale is an acomplished Amateur Photographer who’s day job is teaching people around the planet about Internet Marketing at www.thirtydaychallenge.com