Voigtlander Bessa IIIW 667 Review / by Jake Horn

- The Real Texas Leica -

Over four years ago, I started preparing for my first long backpacking trip with photography as the primary focus. Right about the same time, my interest in medium format photography began, and I was looking for my first kit. Those two events came together and drove me to find a camera set up that would capture images on a large negative, with the least amount of weight possible.

I started to go through the decision tree of weight, physical size, and negative size. I wanted the most resolution in the smallest package. Physical size is important because you can only fit so much in a hiking pack. Weight is also of great concern, not only for the stress put on your body, but also for the ability of a lightweight tripod (in my case a Gitzo traveler) to hold it steady. There's no point shooting 120 or sheet film if camera shake is limiting your ability to print large.

 A summary of the cameras I compared. If it looks like one is missing, it's because the Voigtlander and Mamiya 7 landed on top of each other!. I was looking for a camera that is as far up and to the left as possible.

A summary of the cameras I compared. If it looks like one is missing, it's because the Voigtlander and Mamiya 7 landed on top of each other!. I was looking for a camera that is as far up and to the left as possible.

After months of research, I decided to go with the Voigtlander Bessa IIIW, or as I lovingly call it “The Real Texas Leica”. Having one fixed lens is a huge space avoidance and I could shoot 6x6 or 6x7 with 120 or 220 film. This has been a fantastic camera. Most of the time it is set in aperture priority mode and the center spot meter has been very accurate. The only time I miss exposure is when using film such as Ektar or Velvia and I do not compensate for reciprocity properly.

 Bessa IIIW as Deployed in the Field

Bessa IIIW as Deployed in the Field

For accessories, there aren't very many. No extra lenses or film backs to get all worked up about. Simply a 55mm lens (28mm equivalent field of view) and a body to hold the film. I have equipped it with some much needed accessories that greatly improve handling. They are the Match Technical Thumbs Up grip and soft release button. These two items together allow me to secure the camera for low shutter speed hand-held shots. In fact, a few of my portfolio shots were captured with this camera without a tripod. The back face is very tall, and has some tack to it, but the thumb grip is a must have. 

One additional item I needed for performance was the lens hood for those side lit moments. The front element is not recessed very much, so I leave it on all the time. This is a costly accessory for what it is, and it should have been included with the camera. Though, I figured it would be hard to track down in the future and decided to snatch one up.

 Match Technical Accessories

Match Technical Accessories

I only recently got a Leica M-A rangefinder (see review), but I can say that the Bessa III feels slightly cheaper than the M-A in hand, but not in a bad way. This feeling is more due to the large swinging film door than cheap construction. In fact, the black powdercoat has held up wonderfully in the four years of travel and hiking use. One way the Voigtlander beats out the Leica M-A, besides the film size, is the addition of an on/off switch that protects from accidental shutter firing.

Speaking of shutter firing, this is probably the quietest camera out there. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether the shutter tripped or not. The saving grace is a small light underneath the viewfinder that will light up red when the shutter is released. This feature is great when the camera is on a tripod and there is a slight wind, telling you whether the shutter fired or not.

 Fantastic Combination ISO/Shutter Speed/Exp Comp Dial

Fantastic Combination ISO/Shutter Speed/Exp Comp Dial

 Power Switch Disables Meter & Shutter

Power Switch Disables Meter & Shutter

Pictured Above (starting top left going clockwise): Vertical strap lugs similar to the Leica M5, film size selector location, large/bright viewfinder with shutter light beneath, and pressure plate compensation for film size.

 

BOTTOM LINE:

This rangefinder may be the best medium format film camera for travel and hiking. It truly is The Real Texas Leica. It has the sharp looks and is well thought out much like the Leica. Plus you get that added perk of big negatives in a compact package. A large percentage of my portfolio is made up of shots from this rig and I can not say enough good things about it. If you don’t care for the 28mm field of view, you may want to pass, or try out the folding version with the 80mm lens. If you limit yourself to one focal length, I find that this is the Goldilocks lens for landscapes.

THE SPECS:

  • Color-Skopar 55mm/f4.5

  • Multi-format 6x6 or 6x7 pictures - changed only while loading film

  • Leaf shutter

  • Automatic parallax compensation

  • Centerweighted meter, Manual or Aperture Priority AE

  • ISO 25 to 3200

  • Electronic shutter 4s to 1/500th and Bulb

  • Flash hot shoe and standard PC flash outlet

  • Electronic flash sync at all speeds

  • Mechanical film counter - Automatically Resetting

  • Filter Threads = 58mm

  • CR2 Battery

  • Size = 178mm x 109mm x 89mm

  • Weight = 1.10kg


SAMPLE SHOTS: 

 Stream at Titcomb Basin, WY | Ektar 100 | Tripod

Stream at Titcomb Basin, WY | Ektar 100 | Tripod

 Hot Spring at Landmannalaugar, Iceland | Velvia 50 | Handheld

Hot Spring at Landmannalaugar, Iceland | Velvia 50 | Handheld

 Jokulsarion Lagoon, Iceland | Portra 400 | Handheld

Jokulsarion Lagoon, Iceland | Portra 400 | Handheld