All the Cosina Voigtländer Bessa models have a double focal plane shutter with two sets curtains to prevent damage by the sun. Shutter speeds range from 1 to 1/2000s and bulb (B), with flash sync at 1/125s on hot-shoe or PC terminal. They all have TTL exposure metering, and most have a manual exposure setting except the most recent R2A and R3A that have an aperture priority mode.
The Bessa L and T (finderless)
The first model was the Bessa L, introduced in 1999. This was a finderless body with a Leica screw mount. It was introduced with a range of Voigtländer 39mm screw lenses, that were quite inexpensive and told to be of excellent quality. It could of course mount all the wide variety of 39mm screw lenses by manufacturers as diverse as Leica, Canon, Nikon and even cheap but often excellent Soviet lenses.
The Bessa L was mostly intended to be used with ultra wide angle lenses, with which the absence of a focusing device is not a problem. Most notably Voigtländer introduced a 15mm and a 12mm lens, the latest being the shortest focal length for 35mm (fisheyes excepted).
On some markets, the Voigtländer Bessa L was sold as the Cosina SW-107.
The Bessa L was replaced in 2001 by the Bessa T, that used the Leica M mount, could receive a trigger advance design, and had an integrated rangefinder with high magnification, but no rangefinder. It was sold in silver or black, and is now discontinued but some stock is still available.
In 2001, the Bessa T was sold in a special kit, called 101st Anniversary, with a 50mm f:3.5 collapsible Heliar lens, for the anniversary of the Voigtländer Heliar lens design. It existed in black, grey, olive and blue, and only 2000 were produced of this limited edition.
The Bessa R and R2 (manual rangefinder)
The Bessa R, introduced in 2000, was a rangefinder camera with a projected frame finder and a Leica screw mount. Although considerably cheaper than a Leica M camera, its viewfinder was comparable in function and feeling. It featured movable frames for 35mm/90mm, 50mm, and 75mm lenses. The body, made of polycarbonate plastics, didn't come close to being comparable to a Leica but was solid enough. All in all it was an inexpensive, all-manual rangefinder with TTL metering at a significantly lower price than a comparably equipped Leica M camera.
The Bessa R2 replaced the Bessa R in 2002. It was an updated version, with a Leica M mount replacing the Leica screw mount, and the ability to take a trigger advance accessory. Its quality of fabrication and overall finish was told to be much better than the R, with metal instead of plastic plates.
The Bessa R2S and R2C (Nikon and Contax mount)
The Bessa R2S and Bessa R2C are special versions of the Bessa R2, introduced in 2002, the R2S having a Nikon rangefinder mount and the R2C a Contax rangefinder mount. They are both discontinued today but stock is still available.
The Bessa R2A and R3A (auto-exposure rangefinder)
The Bessa R2A and Bessa R3A, both introduced in 2004, are the current models in the Bessa line. They are both updated versions of the Bessa R2, with the Leica M mount and an exposure-priority automatic exposure, switchable to manual. The R2A has a finder with a 0.7x maginification, and 35/50/75/90 frame lines. The R3A has a finder with a 1x magnification, and 40/50/75/90 frame lines. Both can take the trigger advance accessory.
They are sold in black or grey.
- Stephen Gandy is the US importer of the Bessa and maintains very documented pages at Cameraquest
- The entry in the Leica FAQ
- Peter Wolff's Bessa R2 review
- User reviews at PhotographyReview.com