The Bessa folders were part of a range of Bessa cameras produced in Germany by Voigtländer over a long period. Voigtländer is rather famous for re-using and recycling trademarks and camera names. For instance there are various "Bessa" models out there that are in no way similar to the pre-war Bessa.
The Bessa was the first production model of the Bessa line. Produced between 1929-1956 by Voigtländer, the Bessa is a medium format folder that uses 120 Film to produce 6×9cm photographs. It is the best known and the most sold of all the Voigtlander cameras, with estimations as high as 575,000 cameras made. It was the first self-erecting camera offered by Voigtländer. The Bessa was produced with four different lens types: Voigtar, Vaskar, Skopar, and the Color Skopar. Also there were three shutter options: Prontor, Compur, and Compur Rapid. Identifying which options are present in the camera is usually done by inspecting the inner lens ring, and the outer lens ring, or by year of production.
Bessa Production variations by year
- 1929-1949. Self-erecting rollfilm camera. Similar to the "Rollfilm". There were many sizes and modifications. All models are priced about the same.
- 1929: 6x9, brilliant finder;
- 1930: 6x9 and 6.5x11, brilliant and folding finders;
- 1932: 3.4x5.5 and 6x9, lens on rails, replacement to "Inos";
- 1935: 4.5x6 and 6x9, shutter release on door;
- 1937: 4.5x6 and 6x9, finder with cover;
- 1945: same as 1937, some models had sync;
- 1949: similar to 1937, better shutters.
There is an eye level sports finder located in the top of the camera (the top when held horizontally), folded under a metal hood in some models. In some models, the front frame of the finder has a negative lens. Bessa's produced after 1930 also have a brilliant finder.
Voigtländer offered a few accessories or optional equipment for the Bessa line. A simple cable release, brilliant-finder magnifier and a "Alpha" Yellow filter.
|Voigtländer Bessa I|
image by Hans Kerensky (Image rights)
The Bessa I was manufactured from 1951 up until 1956 (about 80.000 units) and is a well made camera that uses 120 film and can give either 6x4.5(with insert) or 6x9 size negatives. The Bessa I has a simple finder that lacks a built-in rangefinder, however is possible to use a small external rangefinder that mounts in the shoe on the top which in practice is pretty easy to use- you just transfer the distance to the lens.
- Shutter/Lens Combinations:
- Filter size : Push-on 37mm
- Viewfinder: optical direct vision viewfinder.With 4 different masks, two formats (6x9 and 4.5x6) and two parallax corrections (1meter, close-up) separate for each format
- Dimensions (folded) : 168 x 98 x 48 mm
- Weight : 770 Grams
|Bessa II 1956|
image by Geoff Harrisson (Image rights)
This is the most renowned of the cameras with the "Bessa" name. Self folding camera with a coupled rangefinder. 34,500 Bessa II's made from 1950 to 1956. The Bessas II were fitted with a Color-Skopar 3.5/10.5 cm, or a Color-Heliar 3.5/10.,5 cm or from 1954, the rare and sought-after Apo-Lanthar 4.5/10.5 cm. The Compur-Rapid shutter fitted on the earlier models was replaced by the Synchro-Compur shutter from 1951. The accessory shoe appears only from 1954.
Bessa RF (1936-1951)
|Voigtländer Bessa RF|
image by THE LAST PHOTOGRAPHIES (Image rights)
The Bessa RF camera had a very long life and is the predecessor of the Bessa II. An improved version of the Bessa 1935 model but with a coupled rangfinder. All models have a 1/400 Compur-Rapid shutter but can be fitted with four different lenses :
- Skopar 3.5/10.5 cm
- Heliar 3.5/10.5 cm
- Helomar 3.5/10.5 cm
- Color-Heliar 3.5/10.5 cm
As several Bessa's it uses 6x9 and 4.5x6 exposures on 120 film and shutter release on front door. 60,000 Bessa RF were made.
- Claus Prochnow, Voigtländer Report 3, First edition, Braunschweig (D), Lindemanns Verlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3-89506-274-2.
- Bessa I and Bessa II folding cameras at antjam65's site
- Bessa I repair notes at Robert Ian Axford's Camera Works
- Bessa, Bessa II, and Bessa 66 at The Classic Camera
- Bessa by Roger W. Hicks, among Shutterbug's Classic & Historical Cameras
- Bessa I and II at Jurgen Kreckel's site
- Bessa models (very well illustrated), at UK Camera
- Bessa instruction manual from www.orphancameras.com
- Bessa 66 at M. Groleau's site
- Bessa before 1935 at www.collection-appareils.fr by Sylvain Halgand
- Bessa II at www.collection-appareils.fr by Sylvain Halgand