Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Voigtländer effect - Voigtländer Vitomatic Ia

Sometimes the things that came to you almost by chance, without having planned anything, are the ones that you end up loving the most. I got my Voigtländer Vitomatic Ia thanks to the selling eagerness of my favorite camera dealer, who is always willing to let out as much of his stuff as possible, probably with his retirement already in mind.

vitomatic 03
(EOS 40D, Sigma EX DG 50mm f/2.8 macro, 1/15, f/11, ISO 100)

When you hold the Vitomatic in your hands for the first time, its heavy weight comes as a surprise. Few moments afterwards, you realize that someone spent a lot of thought designing this machine. Every single control (shutter release, focusing ring, film advance lever, aperture/speed setting ring) is exactly where your fingers expect it to be, ready to be operated and remaining discreetly out of the way when you don't need them.

The Vitomatic's construction is solid as a tank, and the quality of the used materials is A+. Every single part is machined to amazing precision, which makes possible a crisp and round operation. The shutter release is especially worth mentioning, because if you press it slowly and carefully, it reaches a point where it just kind of shoots by itself, with no apparent pressure coming from your finger. This feature, together with the sleek leaf shutter and the heaviness of the body, allow for virtually no camera shake at insanely slow speeds (1/15 and even 1/8 being no real problem for a reasonably steady hand). The swiveling mirror of a single-lens reflex camera can only dream of such a shake-free shooting quality.

Another very interesting feature of the Vitomatic is its bright life-size viewfinder, that is cleverly positioned so that you can look through it with your right eye while keeping your left eye open. The 1x magnification creates the optical illusion of a frame floating in the air. Combined with the projection of the match-needle light meter situated on the camera top onto the viewfinder (which, incidentally, is the feature that distinguished the Ia from the I model), this feature makes the Vitomatic a really quick shooter. The solid, single stroke film advance lever only adds up to the shooting readiness.

But the most amazing feature of the Vitomatic Ia is its lens, a coated Voigtländer Color-skopar 50mm 1:2.8 that is capable of rendering images with virtually infinite sharpness. The level of detail that this lens is able to produce is truly incredible. The design of the Color-Skopar comprises 4 elements in 3 groups, a classic Zeiss Tessar design. Voigtländer really knew how to take the most out of this killer design. The Vitomatic uses unit focusing, which means the whole lens, and not only the front cell, as is most common in this kind of camera, moves forwards and backwards to focus. This contributes to even more sharpness. The shutter blades are behind the rear cell.

vitomatic 04
(EOS 40D, Sigma EX DG 50mm f/2.8 macro, 0.6s, f/5.6, ISO 100)

The Vitomatic Ia is a clear example of what I like to call the "Voigtländer effect". This is the realization, as soon as you hold a Voigtländer camera, that these are devices made for a lifetime, where cutting costs in the quality of the materials or the build was never an issue. When you hold a good Voigtländer exemplar in your hands, you understand what camera design is all about.

Voigtländer Vitomatic Ia
My Vitomatic Ia flickr set

Maker Voigtländer
Model Vitomatic Ia
Type viewfinder camera
Lens Voigtländer Color-Skopar 50mm f/2.8 (No. 6452606, ~1964)
Shutter Prontor 500-SLK, 1 - 1/500 + B
Film type 35mm 24x36
Year 1960-1964
Country West Germany

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