Voigtländer Bessa-R2S (Special Set for Nikon Historical Society)

The Voigtlander Bessa-R2S Nikon Historical Society set, fitted with a (non-functioning) Metz 182 flashgun from the 1960's.
The Voigtlander Bessa-R2S Nikon Historical Society set, fitted with a (non-functioning) Metz 185 flashgun from the 1960’s.

For those who aren’t aware, Voigtländer are a brand used by the Japanese company, Cosina, to market rangefinder film cameras, their lenses and accessories, as well as large aperture lenses for the Micro Four Thirds format. My Voigtländer hails from their Bessa line of rangefinder cameras. The R2S differed from the rest of the Bessa range, in that it featured the old Nikon rangefinder lens mount, rather than the Leica screw or bayonet mounts. A counterpart model, the R2C, featured the Contax rangefinder mount, which differs subtly in the focus mechanism from the Nikon mount. Due to lower popularity than the more ubiquitous Leica mounts, both the Contax and Nikon mounts have been discontinued. My particular model of R2S was made in a limited run of 500 for the Nikon Historical Society, coming packaged with a 50 mm f/3.5 Heliar lens and gloss (rather than “crinkle”) black accents.

Pampas grass at sunset, St. Kilda, Dunedin. Voigtländer Bessa-R2S NHS, Heliar 50 mm f/3.5, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ASA film.
Pampas grass at sunset, St. Kilda, Dunedin. Voigtländer Bessa-R2S NHS, Heliar 50 mm f/3.5, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ASA film.

I was attracted to this particular camera (sitting in a display case at a camera store in Cambodia, brand new and fully packaged) primarily for the lens, which was at one time the sharpest ever tested on film by Popular Photography. I won’t dispute their findings; this is a sharp lens in every sense. Details in photographs are crisp and well defined, while the lens controls (all the camera controls for that matter) are well weighted, precise and beautiful to manipulate. To top it all off, it renders like a vintage lens, though with all the benefits of modern multi-coating to improve contrast and colour.

The defunct indoor kart racing building, Dunedin Harbour. Voigtländer Bessa-R2S NHS, Heliar 50 mm f/3.5, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ASA film.
The defunct indoor kart racing building, Dunedin Harbour. Voigtländer Bessa-R2S NHS, Heliar 50 mm f/3.5, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ASA film.

The only quirks of the camera are the focusing wheel for 50 mm lenses (the silver wheel on the front of the camera), lack of click stops on the aperture ring, and light shutter release (the lightest of any camera I’ve used). It’s not these quirks which have kept it on the shelf, but rather the rangefinder mechanism. Don’t get me wrong: it’s an excellent rangefinder camera. However, having spent so much time using SLRs, I’m inherently more comfortable with SLR-style cameras. This is changing as I use the PEN Mini with the optical viewfinder more often, but there’s still some way to go before I’m wholly comfortable with the concept of not seeing precisely what the camera is going to be capturing. It’s not specific to the Voigtländer, either, as there are clear favourites (i.e. more frequently used cameras and lenses) in my collection which get noticeably more use than the others.

A ladder which goes into the Otago Harbour, allowing fish to hit the town on a Friday night. Voigtländer Bessa-R2S NHS, Heliar 50 mm f/3.5, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ASA film.
A ladder which goes into the Otago Harbour, allowing fish to hit the town on a Friday night. Voigtländer Bessa-R2S NHS, Heliar 50 mm f/3.5, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ASA film.

I strongly recommend becoming acquainted with Voigtländer if you aren’t already. Besides making rangefinder film cameras and lenses, they make SLR lenses for Canon and Nikon mounts (and Pentax mount if you can find them), and manufacture a number of premium manual focus lenses for Carl Zeiss. The quality is superlative (as you’d expect from a company manufacturing under license from Carl Zeiss), and prices very reasonable, especially in terms of relative quality to comparable products at the same price.

The Voigtländer Bessa-R2S is a nicely built rangefinder camera, which excels at what it does (even if that doesn’t really gel with my way of doing things). This is typical of the Voigtländer line of products, which don’t disappoint when it comes to premium quality at mainstream prices.

A big glass building, whose purpose has remained a mystery to me for much of my life. (I can't be bothered looking up the company name on the top of the building to see what they do). Voigtländer Bessa-R2S NHS, Heliar 50 mm f/3.5, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ASA film.
A big glass building by the wharf, whose purpose has remained a mystery to me for much of my life. (I can’t be bothered looking up the company name on the top of the building to see what they do). Voigtländer Bessa-R2S NHS, Heliar 50 mm f/3.5, Kodak ColorPlus 200 ASA film.
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