My first impressions with my new Bessa R2S

Discussion in 'Rangefinder Forum' started by john borrelli, May 11, 2009.

  1. john borrelli

    john borrelli Member

    Dec 25, 2006
    4x5 Format
    I recently purchased a Voigtlander R2S kit and I thought I would share my thoughts about the camera and lens which may be of interest to the rangefinder community.

    I should state a bit about my photographic style. I primarily use Velvia 50 film and I do primarily scenic photography. I am a long time amateur. I most recently used a 4X5 view camera. My style is well suited to this type of camera but recent back problems required me to rethink using this system.

    I decided to buy the Voigtlander as the lightest weight outfit I could imagine, considering cost, lens quality and preference for manual focus film cameras. I had never used a rangefinder before though I had handled a Leica M7 at a camera store. I planned to use the camera with the same tripod, spot meter, cable release and fuji velvia.

    The camera and lens I decided on was the Bessa R2S with the Voigtlander 50mm f3.5 heliar. This is the discontinued Nikon version of the Voigtlander R2 manual exposure camera.

    I was attracted to the lens because of the great reviews the lens had received particularly on the Tao of Leica site, Popular Photography and other sites also positively reviewed the lens as well. One of the things I was interested in was a rangefinder lens that performed well at smaller apertures like f 11 and f 16, as opposed to the preference of a fast lens performing well at f 1.4. I had used a 150mm Rodenstock on the 4x5 so a lens with a similar focal length was desired.

    The Heliar seemed to fit the bill. I was also interested in a lens that was low distortion, handled flare well and was small and light. Again the Heliar seemed to fit the bill. When the camera first arrived I took the lens off the camera and gave it a close look. The mechanical qualities were impressive, almost jewl-like. The lens barrel appears to be all metal and is quite thick metal at the lens mount. The aperture ring was also quite smooth, and became smoother after a little use, the lack of click stops for apertures did not seem problematic as the lens held the stop it was set to, just remember to keep your finger on the camera's focusing wheel when changing stops. The lettering on the lens appears stamped into the barrel rather than just painted on the surface. All in all, the lens was much better than expected at this price point. The lens hood I received with the kit and the lens cap are similarly well made and look great as well.

    So how has the lens performed so far? Well I have only shot two rolls of Velvia and also a roll of black and white just out of curiosity. Let me talk to the Velvia as I have a long history with this film with 4x5 and 35 mm.

    The lens is a great performer! I am not much for lens tests and I have only printed to 5X7 print sizes, but I will say I have shot several of my favorite images with this lens and I have been in the hobby for over 10 years.

    I compared similar slides with a loupe that I shot with Velvia and a 60mm Nikon AFD lens, FM2 and the camera's version of MLU. I used the same subject and the heliar at its minimmum focus seemed sharper with the heliar. Though of different subjects and just comparing through memory not loupe tests, at infinity the heliar seemed sharper than either the 60mm Nikon, 50mm AIS or a Minolta 50mm f 1.7 , non macro and Minolta 50mm macro manual focus lens that I have all owned in the past.

    Just for the heck of it, I shot the same scene with the Heliar that I had previously shot with my Arca 4X5, this one was a real eye opener for me. I compared two prints I made using my modest Epson 4990 scanner, custom holder, Epson r1800 printer and Adobe photoshop. The 5x7 Heliar print looks better than the 11X14 Arca print made with a sharp 150mm Apo Sironar N lens and Velvia film.

    One of the subjective things I notice with the Heliar is its ability to capture a three dimensional quality on film. I have always felt this was Velvia's best attribute so coupled with this lens and a tripod this quality really comes out well in the photos. I have carefully shot a few sunsets and the Heliar handled the flare as well as any lens I have used.

    Readers may be interested in a few comments about the camera body. My first impressions of the body were that it was not of the same high mechanical quality of the lens, not of the same quality of the Leica I had handled, not of the same quality of the FM2n, or SRT 101, probably better mechanically than a Minolta x570 or X700 I have owned. The camera had no problems when I went through the camera's functions, all in all, it is more than acceptable at this price point.

    Here are some of the things I am positive about with the camera body. The rangefinder patch was bright and easy to use right off the bat. The viewfinder is bright and uncluttered. I love the fact you don't have multiple viewfinder frames. I just see the 50mm frameline. I thought I would have a problem without seeing apertures and shutter speeds but I think this and the simple meter scale adds to the uncluttered view. I use eyeglasses and the viewfinder is a perfect fit for me being a little ways from the camera, I was concerned about this as I had never handled the Bessa but for me the view is a great fit with this lens and camera. I can see the framelines and just enough around them. At minimum focus distances the finder is not as accurate as with farther distances, but I believe this to be common with rangefinders.

    I have really come to like the camera body's focusing wheel. The movement of the focusing patch lines and the subject move intuitively together when focusing with the wheel. This may sound odd but it was great when I discovered this and now I always know which direction to move the wheel to focus on the subject. There is a long throw to the lens so this may not be a speedy combination for fast focusing but it's a great fit for my style. Incidentily, using the hyperfocusing focusing scale with this lens is a pleasurel because of the long throw and the great detail in the well made scales.

    In closing, a camera should fit with the photographer's style, so far this little Voigtlander and heliar are the perfect fit for me and I'm getting out doing photography again. I hope this review will be of some interest to the community.
  2. Ken N

    Ken N Member

    Oct 1, 2004
    Creston and
    Multi Format
    Wonderful post. Thank you!
  3. Viggi

    Viggi Member

    Jan 16, 2009
    Scotland; Fr
    Thanks for taking the time to post - I always enjoy reading considered views on equipment. I like the fact that it isn't an immediate 'which is better' discussion, even if there is some interesting comparison with other equipment.