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Cosina Voigtlander Bessa Telemeter Intro
Discontinued Sold Out: See Current Bessas Here
Unique inexpensive compact lightweight M camera with long rangefinder base and the ONLY M camera with built in diopter adjustment in the rangefinder!
IMAGINE a lightweight M mount camera 1/4 the price of an M6, with a rangefinder more accurate than the .72 M6. hmmmm. Mr. Kobayashi did, and then he built it. Announced in Japan on March 15th 2001, the Bessa T arrived at CameraQuest in early July. It was discontinued 5/1/2004.
Re-think your way of thinking about Rangefinders: This is a VERY different design.
The new M mount Bessa T has a very different, retro design. Instead of a combined rangefinder - viewfinder, it uses separate accessory shoe mounted viewfinders with a separate rangefinder of long effective baselength built into the body. Why use separate rangefinder - viewfinders ? To fill a niche in the M rangefinder market -- the ENTRY Level M market. This is the lowest priced M mount camera made today. The silver or black body sells for $450, the optional black trigger winder sells for $175. While the super wide 12, 15, and 25 Voigtlander wides include the finder with the lens, the accessory Voigtlander 28, 35, 50, 75, 90 viewfinders sell separately between $125 to $150 each. Another route is using any of the many classic variable 35-135 finders. If accessory finders are new to you, visit Accessory Finders. The Bessa T's shown on this page are all prototypes.
M Mount ? Yes, Leica M bayonet mount. You can use most M mount lenses (by Leica or Konica or anyone else), or any Leica Screw mount lens with a screw mount to M bayonet mount adapter. If this is new to you, visit the Screw Mount to Bayonet Adapter page. Unlike Leica M's, it makes no difference which of the three possible adapters you use, since the Bessa T has no built in viewfinder to couple them to. Will Voigtlander make M mount lenses ? NO. See the special Copal shutter with a 2nd outer shutter to make sure the metal blades are light tight.
The factory trigger winder is also interesting. The T is the only M Mount camera in production with an optional factory bottom winder. I know for a fact that Cosina's CEO Mr. Kobayashi is a fan of Tom Abrahamsson's Rapidwinder, a detachable fast trigger wind advance which doesn't need batteries -- it uses finger power. Unlike the Leicavits or Rapidwinders, the Bessa T's trigger winder can be added or removed at any time without exposing the film.
inexpensive camera, big rangefinder
Selling at about 1/4 the cost of a Leica M, yet focusing more accurately than any Leica M except the .85, the Bessa T has a unique place in M mounts. Its price range has all the initial markings of a lightweight, just like the inexpensive Leica CL of the '70s. Yet, the Bessa T has killer instinct. Unlike the CL, the Bessa T has a long effective baselength rangefinder. For the 1st time ever, an inexpensive M camera can accurately focus even the super fast 50/1 Noctilux, the 75/1.4 Summilux, or 135/3.4! Voigtlander's inexpensive Bessa T is alone in the entry level M market. I wonder if Leica will answer the call -- with Leica's high labor costs, I wonder if they can.
Tom Abrahamsson on the Bessa T: Bessa-T - At last!
Now I can "spill the beans" about the Bessa-T. It is a
non-viewfinder, but rangefinder equipped Bessa body with an M-lens mount. Think about it a
bit! You have to focus through a small window at the back, move your eye to the viewfinder
for the lens you are using for framing and then shoot. Initially I was skeptical when I
saw the camera last year in Japan. I have a very bad
track record with external viewfinders - most of them are lost, broken or small pieces of essential glass fall out of them. When they work, they are great. Bright and contrasty as well as rather pricey and bulky. Like most of you have kept some of them around for years, not knowing why, but at last I have found a use for them. The Bessa-T is weird, no two ways about it, but in some strange way, it works! I have had one now for a couple of weeks and put about 25 rolls through it. Lenses have varied from 21mm to 75mm focal length and when I find my 90mm finder, I will try out that one too. With the lenses up and including 35. I use the camera as a hyperfocal camera with a "focus" checker built in. Now and then I would check that my range was within the focus and occasionally I would fine-tune using the cameras rangefinder. One can shoot fast and furious that way and have a reasonable rate of success. With lenses longer than 35 (or 35 in very low light) it is a slower process. You carefully focus and then move the eye to the finder and frame. It sounds a bit clumsy and for anyone weaned on M rangefinders, it takes a while to get used to. (the exquisite threesome above is Tom's black Nikon S mounting a prototype Voigtlander SC Skopar, my chrome Nikon S2, and a prototype Voigtlander Bessa T mounting a prototype Voigtlander 21/4)
What really helps is the quality of the rangefinder. It is very bright and contrasty, the focus snaps in and out very quickly and precisely. There is a diopter control on the ocular - seems to handle at least +2 to -1 diopters correction. I found that with the 21 and 24 I shot similar to a Bessa-L, you wave the camera in the general direction and shot with less concern for precise framing. The focus was a nice feature when shooting wide-open, even a wide-angle lens will show focus loss when shot wide open without precise focusing. Where the Bessa-T shines is with the 35/1,4, the fast 50's and the 75/1,4. The base of the rangefinder is about 38 mm and the magnification is 1,5 so the baseline is 58mm, more than enough to give you precise focus even with a 75/1,4 wide-open. My 75 is a fairly late one with the built in hood and I could notice a slight shadow in the rangefinder when focusing close from the hood intruding. Not enough to make it useless, just something one had to think about. The trick was to push the hood back for focus and pull it out for shooting. Clumsy, maybe but it worked and that is the key. The 75 is not an easy lens to focus on the M6, but with the Bessa-T it was a "snap". The "tunnel" vision that you get with the rangefinder (those who use screw-mount Leicas know what I am talking about) forces you to be very precise with the focus and "lock" it in. Yes, it is slower than with an M, but for portraits, I think it would work very well.
The meter is the same as in the Bessa-L or R and the readout is on the back of the camera. You can see the diodes (red-green-red) when you focus or frame the shot and correct quickly. The meter works very well (it rivals the M6 meter for precise reading and uses far less batteries), but as you have no idea what the coverage is, you have to be careful with strong light sources throwing it off, particularly with wider lenses.
Another feature that is close to my heart is the Voigtländer Rapidwinder! Yes, I now have competition at last. It is a very slick unit that can be attached and removed from the camera (although why anyone would want to remove it I can't understand) without fogging film. It is smaller and lighter than mine, it has a small, shallow grip with 2 strap lugs attached so that you can carry the camera vertically (a la M5!). The lever is longish and 'flops" down and locks in place. The "unlock" mechanism is neat, you just push the lever backwards about 30 degrees and it frees it and you can fold it up. Good idea, but the main problem is that if you push it by mistake, it has to be folded up and then down again to lock. It feels flimsier than mine, but mine might be a case of overkill. The action is smooth, but it has more inertia than the Rapidwinder and a tendency to "high-spot" about halfway through the cycle. It is an almost essential piece of equipment as the eye of the shooter is more centered on the Bessa-T with the top-mounted viewfinder and there is precious little room for the finger to pull on the top-mounted advance lever. Even a right eye focusser is a bit squeezed there.
The house shot and runner were taken with the 21/4.
The M-mount worked very smoothly and any of my M-lenses went on without
problems with the lens-lock or focusing roller.
The whole construction of the Bessa-T feels much more solid than the Bessa-R or L. The rubber cover has a changed texture that makes it less slippery and the controls are somehow tighter and more positive. The advance lever on the top is now black and has a ratcheted clutch in it, so that you can do multistroke advance (also possible with the trigger winder on the bottom).
I am not sure where the Bessa-T fits in the rangefinder camera firmament, but however weird it sounds, it actually works very well. I can see it being used for wider lenses as a substitute M camera, but I think it will really come in to play for very tight precise focusing with high speed lenses, particularly when shooting wide open. Next experiment will be with the Noctilux at close range at f1!
Voigtländer also supplied me with a 21/4 and the 28/1,9 Aspheric. I had seen both of these lenses at various times before. The 21/4 is in the same mount as the 25/4 Snap-Shot Skopar, a truly small and pocketable 21! It couples to the rangefinder and so far it has proven it self a very competent lens. I have not had time to shoot extensively with it, but from the negs, it looks sharp right across the board. Once I have had a chance to print something from this lens, I will let you know. The price is evidently going to be around $500 including the finder (which is much better than the Leica 21 finder!). The 28/1,9 Aspheric looks gorgeous, it looks and feels like a Leica lens! It is not a small lens, roughly the same size as a Summicron 28/2, but with a much smarter hood. It does not protrude into the finder of the M-camera as much as the 28/2 hood. Performance again, so far so good, but I need to print stuff shot with it to really judge it. Mine is a chrome version and it really looks slick on a chrome M2 and balances well with a M2/Rapidwinder combination.
Boy, I think Voigtländer has done it again. The Bessa-T is strange, but in a good way, the 21/4 is truly a lens you can stick in a pocket and carry everywhere and I suspect that the performance of the 28/1.9 not going to be inferior to the 28/2 and most likely at a price that makes it highly competitive. To my knowledge, my Bessa-T is the first production example in North America. For those who are serial number nuts, it is 000001 (and the 21/4 is 000006) so obviously very early production samples. Now we all know about the Bessa-T, the 21 and the 28. I wonder what's next from Cosina/Voigtländer.
Caddie shot taken with 28/1.9 on M2
Ed: Tom's Pics with the 21 and 28 are used here to illustrate the story, not to show what the lenses are really capable of, since no computer screen will do that anyway. However, considering he is an experienced photo journalist and is very happy with the results, the news is indeed good so far.
Tom Abrahamsson 3/31/01 Follow-up Report
Leica III, Voigtlander 21/4 and 28/1.9's, brightline finder
I have now had a month to use the Bessa-T and the 28/1,9 Ultron and the
21/4 Color-Skopar. The initial novelty has worn off and it is now time to put down
some longer-term emotions about the camera and lenses. The Bessa-T is a somewhat
idiosyncratic camera. The lack of a viewfinder was something that I thought would
irritate me, but to a great extent, it is a
non-issue. The availability of external finders and the quality of these finders is such that it is a pleasure to shoot with them (be it Leica or Cosina/Voigtlander finders), when it is convenient to do so. There are times when you wish for an integrated viewfinder/rangefinder, particularly with longer lenses and in fast shooting situations.
The camera is more comfortable than the Bessa-R insofar that it feels more solid. I have not taken it apart, but from pure tactile feel, the top-plate is now cast alloy and this "deadens" the shutter sound somewhat. It is still noisier than an M, but part of that is the shutter-system with the double curtain (the first curtain is a light baffle as well as the metering surface, the second is the actual shutter). The higher flash synch (1/125) and top-speed (1/2000) necessitates a metal shutter. The film advance arm is now ratcheted and will no longer stick out when you get to the end of the film (as is does on the Bessa-L and R) and, yes it is
black on the black camera! The back door has a more solid feel to it too. I do not know if it has a different material or a heavier base than the Bessa-R/L door. It feels more solid anyway.
The M-bayonet is right on the button. No excessive force is needed to mount M-lenses and the lock clicks in with a positive feel. I tried it with about 20 different lenses and so far all have mounted true and coupled to the rangefinder. Just like the Bessa-R/L, if you use the collapsible 50/90 mm lenses, you can't push the lens all the way in. It stops about ¼" from the fully collapsed position as there is a ledge at the back of the shutter "crate" that interferes. It does clear the sensor for the meter though. The Russar 20/5,6 cant be used on the Bessas either as the rear element protrudes deep enough to catch on the same ledge. The lens will mount, but you cannot focus to infinity as the barrel jams against the ledge. Too bad as it would be a nifty lens to use on the Bessa-L! The meter is the same as the VC-meter, the Bessa-R and L and one can only state that it works flawlessly. I suspect that the M6 TTL is slightly more sensitive in the extreme low light, but on the Best's the batteries are more likely to be still OK.
The Bessa-T's trigger-winder is convenient (but I am biased to triggerwinders) and it has started to smooth out with use. There is still a bit of inertia when you start the stroke, but the "high" spot ½ way through the cycle has vanished. The lever lock down mechanism is cute, but suffers from being too easy to disengage. Small and light anyway and the fact that you can attach the strap on a vertical mode is a benefit.
Conclusion is that the Bessa-T is a good back-up to a M camera and at US$ 450, it is cheap enough to dedicate a body to a lens, a 21,24 or 28 with finder will suit fine. Quality feels higher than the Bessa-L or R and the rangefinder is very good, bright and contrasty with a good diopter control. For street shooting, I would add the Trigger-winder (but then I would, wouldn't I?). It is still cheaper than a used CL and I feel that the T is a better deal. Long base rangefinder, better meter and feels more solid. The 1/125 flash synch is another advantage - stick one of the Voigtlander double shoes on the top and run the sensor from the flash in one shoe and the finder in the other. No, it is not a TTL camera, standard flash synch contact on the left side of the camera.
I have tried the Bessa-T with lenses from 21mm to 75mm focal length (still
have not found my 90mm finder!) and speeds ranging from f4 to the Noctilux at f1 and the
Summilux at 1,4. Only fuzzy shots have been through my own mistake. The rangefinder works
very well, even shooting the Noctilux at f1 and at 4 feet was fine. The 75/1,4 did show
some mis-focus at extreme close-up, but that could have been my doing. It was a bit of a
hit and miss. At 1.5meter, it was dead on, but at closest focus, there was a small shift.
Using the longer lenses (50mm and more) is a bit cumbersome. You need to frame in the
top-finder, go to rangefinder for focus and then back to top-finder. It is slower
but if you are in no hurry, it works well. The
advantage is that you are using the larger magnification of the external
finders and framing is more effective.
The best lenses for the Bessa-T are the wider ones. The 24/2,8 ASPH usually lingers in my bag with little or no use. It has gotten a new lease on life with the Bessa-T. Even the 28 focal length is highly manageable and the 21 is of course a breeze as it has lots of depth of field to play with. I did a couple of rolls with the 35/1,4 ASPH and the T. It was great street shooting package. You can set hyperfocal and fine-tune it with the rangefinder and even shoot without looking through the external finder. The 35mm is an easy focal length to estimate coverage on anyway.
For those who wondered, the Noctilux will not block the rangefinder. You can vaguely see the barrel of the lens in the lower left of the rangefinder, but not enough to throw it out. My Noctilux is a late one with the collapsible hood (which is less blocking than the old style) so old style Nocti's might have a problem. I tried my 60/1,2 Hexanon on the Bessa-T. That lens and hood
did block the rangefinder.
The 28/1,9 Ultron. Very good lens! I have shot a fair bit of 100 ASA black and white with it over the last couple of weeks. Contrast is good, slightly lower than the Summicron 28/2, but not enough of a difference to worry about. It works out to about ½ grade in the multigrade pack on the enlarger. Center sharpness wide-open is remarkable, at least equal to the 28/2. The Summicron is crisper in the corners wide-open (it takes a 15-20 times magnifier to see, not a big deal). Once you hit f2,8 there is no visible difference between the two lenses! I don't have a 28/2 here, but I have 5-6 rolls that I shot in Germany last September with it, bright sun and Delta 100 so I caught the sun here and shoot similar subjects again with 100 ASA film. Not scientific, but close enough for me. The hood on the Ultron 28/1,9 blocks the viewfinder significantly less than the hood on the 28/2. Particularly when used on the M6TTL 0,58. The Ultron also has a small, drop-shaped focus-lever that screws into the barrel. Makes it easy to scale focus for quick stuff. Conclusion, with approximately $1400 difference in the price (Ultron 28/1,9 $550 and Summicron 28/2 at $ 1950) it is a no-brainer in my book! $1400 buys another M6 body used or a rather large volume of film instead!
The 21/4 Color-Skopar. The all time bargain lens by Voigtlander. At $ 375 with the finder, it is a jewel. It is small, same barrel as the 25/4 Snap-Shot Skopar and lightweight. It does couple to the rangefinder on the LTM or M camera. It has a similar focus lever as the 28/1,9. The brightline finder is as good as the Leica 21 finder (almost the same price as the 21/4+ its finder!). Optical quality is very good. If you have used the 25/4 Skopar, you will recognize the quality. Sharp and contrasty with a remarkable lack of fall- off in the edges. Just from looking at the negs, less fall-off than the 21/3,4 has. It has now found a permanent home in my camera bag. It is small enough that you can stick the lens/finder combo in the pocket and have a really wide lens available, without the burden of a 21/2,8. It is not a 21/2,8 Aspherical, but it probably comes within spitting distance at about 1/6 of the cost. It has an another advantage, it is a lens that you probably will leave in the pocket of your jacket or in your bag. This means that rather than going "Boy, do I wish I had a 21 here now" - you now have one along. The 21/2,8 ASPH is not a lens that you drag around frivolously - the 21/4 and its finder occupies about the same space as 2-3 rolls of film! Oh,
remember, you can use the 21/4 on a LTM Leica too!
Testing will continue of all of these products. I saved enough money not buying the 28/2 and sticking with the 28/1,9 that I have ordered a 0-series Leica. Now testing that one will be fun!
All the best,
B/W Pics Courtesy of Tom Abrahamsson at Rapidwinder.com
The Voigtlander Bessa T has a special place in Leica M mount camera history.
First of all, the Bessa T is a unique camera design utilizing a built in rangefinder without a built in viewfinder. It is the ONLY Leica M mount camera with a built in diopter adjustment for the rangefinder. It is the ONLY Leica M mount camera with a meter readout visible from the top of the camera, making it ideal for low angle and Visoflex applications. It is the 1st mechanical shutter Leica M mount camera not built in cooperation with Leica. It is the least expensive Leica M mount camera ever made. It is the first Leica M mount camera made by Cosina Voigtlander. All in all, not a bad list of achievements for Mr. K's 1st M!
Revised: October 19, 2013 . Copyright © 2001-2013 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.