I made a conscious decision to use the Bessas last weekend, as they’ve been sitting around mostly unused for the past six months and I had a hankering for black and white film. If I were being a “rational economic actor”, I’d probably have come to my senses and sold them on long ago, but something about the build quality of these cameras makes sense go out the window. Just as well, because they can also be a pig to use.
The various problems I had were:
- Two of the lenses (Skopar 35/2.5 and Jupiter-8) lack detents on the aperture ring, added to which the Skopar has an incredibly loose dial - I frequently took the camera away from my eye to discover that f/8 had become f/6.3. Not a big deal in terms of exposure for a negative, but it could make a difference to DOF.
- The Skopar is incredibly small, but that also makes it somewhat irritating to use since there’s barely room for your fingers. I can’t yet accurately and quickly locate the focus ring by feel, and I frequently end up putting my finger over the rangefinder window, particularly when holding the camera in portrait orientation. Neat concept but the handling is poor.
- On one occasion, my finger slipped as I was trying to nudge the (slightly stiff) shutter speed dial and I pressed the shutter by accident.
What I liked:
- Hyperfocusing is easy and often quicker than peering through the viewfinder trying to locate the RF patch over a suitable edge and then work out what it’s showing.
- The Skopar has a nice short throw, which makes it easier to track a moving object (like my Junior Research Assistant) once you’ve got the initial focus.
- The 15mm Heliar and external viewfinder on the Bessa L continues to be a joy to use, even if the effect can easily be overdone.
This isn’t meant to be a whinge - chances are, experience and familiarity would overcome most of the problems (perhaps coupled with a different lens in the case of the Skopar - I think it’s quite a dull proposition in terms of its focal length and maximum aperture, but its contrast is outstanding). This are simply data points to bear in mind before you become too sucked in by the amount of starry-eyed hype lavished on this kit in various photo forums. Expect to put a fair amount of effort into adapting if these are your first RF cameras.
On a related note, I regret to say that my old and worn Yashicamat TLR is nearly dead after barely three rolls of film, during its first outing in a year. A lovely camera to use, but at the time I could only dare afford one in “pre-battered” condition. The meter, which was nonfunctional and already hanging off, detached completely when it hit the ground after falling out of its extremely loose-fitting case. It still works, but sadly it’s more of a liability to drag around now, especially with the requirement for a separate meter. Ironically, the little Gossen I snapped up on eBay at the same time also appears to be knackered.
Unlike the RF experiment, I’ve really enjoyed shooting with a TLR on the few occasions I’ve been able to use it. The square format appeals greatly, the viewfinder puts most digicams to shame and, while they’re a bit tricky to use if the subject is anything other than static, the results can be outstanding (even allowing for the extremely flare-prone lens in my particular example). I’m going to replace it one day, but this time save up and spend more money on a decent example with a working meter, which will eliminate at least one major impediment to getting more use out of it.
Actually, I think what I really need is a Leica. I’ll browse eBay for one just as soon as my Glamorous Research Assistant gets back from instructing her solicitors…