Voigtländer Bessa – Japanese Leica?

Voigtländer Bessa R3
     

Some say the Voigtländer Bessa R3,…both A and M, are a poor man’s Leica. Well, not exactly. A Leica is a Leica, and in a class of its own. And since Cosina now owns the name Voigtländer, there is really nothing German about them. But are Leicas really worth almost 10x as much?

 

Voigtländer Bessa R3

 

Voigtländer Bessa  R3 – M Mount Dream?

The lenses are pretty good. But to be honest, they’re no Leicas, or even Zeiss. But most people would be extremely happy. Some say they don’t mind buying a “cheaper” M mount camera, as long as they’re using Leica glass. Well, I guess that’s one philosophy. But don’t be fooled. The Voigtländer glass is very good. Come in both Single Coated and Multi-Coated. And if you don’t normally shoot wide open all the time, I doubt you could tell the difference. See the pic of David Bailey and his Voigtländer. I’m sure he’s not trying to save a few pence.

 

Voigtländer Bessa R3

David Bailey and his Voigtländer

1/125 Sync

The Voigtländer Bessas have a double focal plane shutter with two sets of curtains. Shutter speeds range from 1 to 1/2000s and bulb (B), which is pretty good. It flash syncs at 1/125 on either the hot-shoe or PC terminal. No TTL metering, but I’ve never had an issue with any auto flashes, (thyristor) Both have  manual exposure. The recent R3A, (or even R2A), also have an aperture priority mode.

 

Voigtländer Bessa R3

 

The Bessa R3A came out in 2004. Surprisingly, they sell to a very specialized crowd, and have limited sales every year. That Cosina would still manufacture them is a puzzle. Big companies are usually only interested in big money. They are both updated versions of the Bessa R2, with the Leica M-mount and an aperture-priority automatic exposure, switchable to manual. The R2A had a finder with a 0.7x magnification, and 35/50/75/90 frame lines, ,…more like a Leica. The R3A has a finder with a 1x magnification, and 40/50/75/90 frame lines. But the R3A does require batteries to operate.

Comparison Chart

Street Price $4395 (+$180 for .58/.85 finder) Leica M7 $559 R3M/R3A
Size 5.4 × 3.1 × 1.5″ (138.0 × 79.5 × 38mm) 5.4 × 3.2 × 1.4″ (136 × 81 × 35mm)
Weight 1.23 lbs (610 g) 1 lb (430 g)
Made In Germany Japan
Warranty 3yr “passport” (everything but fire/theft) + 2yr 1yr
Color Options Silver, Black chrome, Black paint (+ $100 via a la carte) Gray paint, Black paint )
Finder Options .72x (standard)
.58x & .85x (via a la carte)
R3A/M 1x (1:1 life size)
Framelines .72: 28/35/50/75/90/135
.58: 28/35/50/75/90
.85: 35/50/75/90/135
R3A/M: 40/50/75/90
Frameline Selection Automatic Manual
All Framelines w/Glasses .72: No (28mm lines) .58/.85 – Yes R3A/M: No (40mm lines)
Finder Display Bottom – AE: shutter speed, Manual: triangle/dot/triangle exposure guide Bottom – AE: shutter speed, Manual: set (solid) and suggested (A blinking) shutter speeds
Focusing Accuracy (Effective Baseline) .58: 40.16 mm
.72: 49.86 mm
.85: 59.1 mm
R3A/M: 37 mm
Battery DL 1/3 N Lithium R3A Alkaline LR44
Operate w/o batteries Yes. Two mechanical speeds of 1/60 & 1/125 R3A: No   R3M: Yes
Shutter Speeds AE: 32 sec – 1/1000, Manual: 4 sec – 1/1000 + Bulb AE: 8 sec – 1/2000, Manual 1 sec – 1/2000 + Bulb
Max Flash Sync 1/50 1/125
Shutter Type Rubberized cloth, electronic (with 2 mechanical speeds 1/60 & 1/125), horizontal traveling Metal, electronic, vertical traveling
PC Plug Back of top plate Left side of top plate
TTL Flash Yes No
Metering pattern/method Centerweighted, measured off of 12mm white spot on cloth shutter Centerweighted, measured off of 18% grey shutter blade
AE lock Half-press shutter button Dedicated button in center of rear top plate
Over/under Exposure 2 stops, dial on back 2 stops, integrated on shutter speed dial
Film Loading Bottom loading Swing-back
DX ISO Reading Yes No
ISO Range DX: 25-5000, Manual: 6-6400 25-3200
Trigger Winder Capability Yes Yes
Rewind Method Fold out lever on top plate knob Fold out lever on top plate knob
Off Switch Yes, under shutter button, Red is OFF Yes, under shutter button, Red is ON

 

 

 

Voigtländer Bessa R3

 

Battery, No Battery

The Voigtländer Bessa R3M was released AFTER the A, in 2006. They are the manual-exposure, mechanical-shutter equivalent of the R3A. And don’t need a battery to operate, making them more “Leica like”.

As you can see, this is not a real review. It’s not meant to be. Just a cursory look and comparison of Voigtländer Bessa R3 for those wanting a Leica, but held back by cost. Yes, these are solidly built alternatives. And the image is in the lens, anyway. Couple of quirks, but tolerable.

 

Voigtländer Bessa R3

© Hugo Chisholm Voigtländer 40mm

 

The Good,…and the Bad

The Voigtländer Bessa R3 has a 1:1 finder, it’s relatively cheap, it has an ‘M’ mount taking Voigtlander, Leica and Zeiss glass and on the ‘A’, batteries last forever. Also, film loads with flip out door. (just my preference) The bad? No TTL, the ‘A’ model needs batteries, and may have a German name, but it’s Japanese. Oh, and no “Red Dot”. All in all, great cameras. Is the Leica worth 10x? Your call.  Find Voigtländer Bessa R3A or Find Voigtländer Bessa R3M

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