1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Voigtländer Vitomatic IIa

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by gray1720, Mar 2, 2014.

  1. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    A boring historical interlude – Voigtländer was founded in 1756 and, as far as I can tell, are still in business, though the name has been bought and sold so many times that the present company bears no resemblance to its predecessors. It was a pioneer of photographic technology, introducing the famous Petzval lens in 1840 (you read that right), so by the time the twentieth century arrived the company was just settling nicely into its role as a manufacturer of quality optics.
    The Vito range of 35mm cameras first appeared as folders in 1939/40 and underwent a process of punctuated evolution. By 1960, when the Vitomatic IIa was launched, the camera was a slick beast with a coupled rangefinder, light meter coupled to aperture and shutter speed (hence the “matic” suffix), and a coated lens.
    The first impression on seeing one is just how small it is. It’s 11cm wide by 8.5cm tall, and approximately 7cm from front to back – just slightly larger all round than a G-series Canon with the lens extended – and is dominated by a hefty lens assembly on that tiny body. It is also a looker – black leatherette and lots and lots of chrome with only the rather stuck-on fruit gum-esque meter window spoiling the lines. The lens is mounted low in the body and a pimple underneath it ensures that the camera will sit on a flat surfaced without toppling forwards.


    On picking it up you discover that either you’ve just had your hair done by a Philistine named Delilah, or the thing weighs a ton! In fact it weighs about 700 grams, a little less than a Nikon F3 body without a lens, but it is so small it seems much heavier than it is. That weight is actually a plus, as it makes it very stable and you really have to try very hard to shake it when you release the shutter.

    Loading the camera shows some of its quirks. 1960 was before rewind cranks were commonplace so, rather than pull a crank up, to release the back of the camera you turn a clip on the base and a little hinged door on the bottom pops open and in the process also releases the back. Inside is fairly conventional, but instead of two small sprockets to engage the film there is one large one at top centre of the film gate. Don’t forget to use the knurled (word of the day, it seems) button to manually reset the frame counter on the bottom plate (the ever-ready case has a handy cut-out in the bottom so that you can see this).


    In common with many German cameras of the era, the shutter release is coupled to the film sprocket so that the shutter can only be easily released when there is film in the camera and it has been wound on, with the thumb-stretching 270-degree winding lever that also cocks the shutter. Press the appropriate button on the lens assembly and a slim knurled ring can be rotated to set the film speed – a surprisingly wide ISO 12 – 800 plus (perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it is German) DIN equivalents – then, once locked, the same ring is coupled to the aperture control ring. There’s also the standard VXM flash sync/self-timer button of the day, this time with a little sprung lock-out. The lens is a speedy f2.8 Color-Skopar, Voigtländer’s own coated four-element lens. Apparently it’s not as alike to the Tessar as you’d expect, though I’m afraid the difference rather escapes me, but it is sharp and contrasty, and is set in a diaphragm going down to f22 with a Prontor SLK shutter speeded from 1-1/500[SUP]th[/SUP] of a second, plus the PC flash sync mentioned above.

    Raise the camera to the eye and it becomes apparent that the viewfinder is vast! At some point Voigtländer must have employed a designer with dodgy eyes because the early Vitos had a shockingly squinty viewfinder, but later Vitos and Vitomatics have a whopper that not only provides enough eye relief for the wearer of even the thickest of spectacles to use it comfortably, you can actually use the rangefinder patch at arm’s length. Illuminated frame lines make framing simple; you can keep both eyes open and watch the surrounding action as well, the rangefinder patch is nice and bright in the centre of the frame and is easily moved by the pleasingly knurled focus ring at the extremity of the lens assembly. The match needle of the light meter is visible in a prism set in the top casing, and is also visible in the viewfinder via a cunning set of mirrors and prisms under the lid. On top of all that, despite the ultra-chunky lens assembly, it is invisible through the viewfinder. The aperture and shutter speed rings are coupled only at their extremities, no reliance on the EV system here, and the meter needle being visible in the viewfinder means that it’s easy to adjust without having to look at the top of the camera.

    View through the viewfinder. The lens is visible, but I had to work quite hard to get my camera to take a picture and get it all in - if you use the Mark One eyeball instead of a digital camera, your view is much clearer and you won't see the lens unless you try very hard!:

    Once you’ve exposed your film, to rewind there is no fiddling with squitty little buttons – you press a little knurled bar on the left-hand side of the camera and the rewind knob pops up from the top casing. That popping up makes all the difference – no knob is as easy to use as a rewind crank, but this is as good as they come.
    All in all, the Vitomatic IIa gives the impression of being a very carefully thought out piece of camera design, easy to use where everything fits to the hand. Yet within 12 years of its launch Voigtländer had stopped making cameras! I can only assume that it was toppled by cheaper cameras from the Far East, especially, especially as the name was then used on cameras built by Ricoh and Chinon.

    What are the photos like? I’ll add them to the next post, as this is quite long enough already!
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2014
  2. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Generally the pics are pretty good, but I'm not convinced that the meter isn't going the way of all things selenium - it seems to need an extra stop of exposure in most cases over what the meter suggests. Nothing that using an external meter couldn't cure.



    Both on Tri-X - much as I like the look, I really struggle to get the stuff flat enough to scan properly, resulting in really freaky solarisation-type effects in the centre of the frame.


    (if the sun ever comes back out so I can finish the roll and develop it, the next review is likely to be the Vest Pocket Kodak)
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2014
  3. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    Cheers, Adrian. An entertaining and informative read. I'm now convinced I'll have to get myself a Vitomatic as well. So many cameras, so little time! :) They're obviously closely related to the Vito B series, with that bottom door and the big sprocket.

    I've used a few cameras with the Color Skopar (Vito II, Vito BL, Vitessa L, and Perkeo II for the medium format 75mm version, and it does seem to be one of the sharper lenses of that era, certainly for the price that cameras fitted with them tend to go for.

    Given the state of my eyes these days, that viewfinder sounds good!

    I find that when the sun actually shines, "Sunny 16" is at least as accurate as most 60 year old selenium meters...
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2014
  4. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Voigtländer was bought by Zeiss in 1956 and today the name is merely licensed to others. In other words, the company isn't in business at all, but the name is still in use. Like Zeiss, they made some quite cheap cameras; some mid-range, like the Vitomatic; and some truly stunning stuff, which sometimes makes contemporaneous Zeiss stuff look (comparatively) cheap and nasty. Things like the Prominent and the (original) Bessas, for example.


  5. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Yup. Zeiss sold the brand to Rollei in 1972. Cosina licensed the name for some uses, but I believe the trademark belongs to a German retail chain these days - Ringfoto.

    I've never actually owned a proper Voigtlander, although I have owned 4 Cosina bodies and a range of the lenses, and I have several lenses from Rollei's ownership, too.
  6. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Nick,

    That is my understanding too. And it appears on some pretty nasty stuff.


  7. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Good to see I'm being read, even if I don't quite get the nuances of the history of the name right! The Vitomatic is much nicer to use than the Werra 3, because it's not all coupled up by the EV system, and I really ought to use it more.

  8. Grierson

    Grierson Well-Known Member

    Thanks for an interesting article.
  9. alfbranch

    alfbranch Well-Known Member

    Thats interesting and very informative. I have a Vito B which I love and very similiar design but no metering of course.

Share This Page