Voigtlander Bessa - medium format folder

Medium Format Cameras:
Classic Scale Focus Cameras:

Voigtländer Bessa

by Karen Nakamura

Overview and Personal Comments

The original Voigtländer Bessa is a classic folding medium format camera. I bought mine at an antique show in Roseville, MN in the summer of 2002.

This Bessa I, produced from 1931-49, is scale focusing, which means you guesstimate the distance to your subject. The Bessa RF of 1936/1948 and Bessa II of 1950 had coupled rangefinders, which is nicer but raises the price of the camera several times over on the used market. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.

The Bessa came with four lens options, in increasing quality: Voigtar, Vaskar, Skopar, and the Color Skopar. There were also three leaf shutter options, also in increasing quality: Prontor, Compur, Compur Rapid.

This camera came with the cheapest Voigtar, but I have to say I like the slightly dreamy, low-contrast image it provides. It's a welcome antidote to the hyper-contrasty, hyper-sharp images produced nowadays. And you can contact print the 6x9 negatives, they are so large. I have the feeling this unit was produced before the war because the lens appears uncoated (although surprisingly in pristine condition).

There are actually two ways to frame a photo with the Bessa. You can use the eye-level sports finder (shown popped out on the right) or the waist level finder in portrait or landscape orientations (shown above the lens at the 1 o'clock position).

There is no sophisticated winding mechanism on this camera. You simply wind the film until the next backing paper mark appears through the red window on the back of the camera. No double-exposure prevention, of course.

Interesting quirks

One of the things the Voigtländer company was famous was for recycling trademarks. The Bessa name was applied onto a variety of cameras, some of which shared no common lineage. Although Voigtländer bankrupted in the 1970s, the company that took over its name in the late 1990s (Ringfoto) continues the tradition -- of recycling product names. They just licensed the name to Cosina, which has come out with a very nice line of 35mm rangefinders using the Bessa moniker, just be assured that they have zilch to do with the classic, first Voigtländer Bessa folders.

Technical Details

Camera Name
Bessa I
Place of Manufacture

Germany / West Germany

Date of Manufacture
Focusing System

Hah! Measure the distance to the subject and use scale focusing.

Fixed Lens

110mm f/4.5 Anastigmatic Voigtar


Compur leaf shutter
1 sec - 1/250 sec + T + B

Metering System



f/4.5 - f/22 (no click stops)

Flash Connection

Film type / speeds

Type 120 film (medium format)
6x9 format

Battery type
Dimensions and weight
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About the Voigtländer Corporation

Voigtländer is one of the oldest names in camera history. It was founded in 1756 to produce optical instruments, from 1840 it started to make cameras and lenses. 1902 saw plate cameras. The Schering Gruppe takes over Voigtländer in 1924, then the Zeiss Ikon conglomerate took it over in 1956. In 1970, Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander merge fully with Zeiss building cameras and Voigtlander only the lenses. In 1974 Rollei acquires the name with Voigtlander shutting down the next year. In the 1990s, the Japanese company Cosina licenses the name from the owner (Ringfoto) and produces a series of 35mm Leica-copy rangefinders and lenses under the Voigtländer marquee.

Zeiss: Zeiss Ikon was formed in 1926 out of the merger of five companies: Carl Zeiss/Jena A.G., ICA A.G., Erneman A.G., Goerz A.G, and Contessa-Nettel A.G. Zeiss-Ikon was a huge corporation with offices in five cities in Germany and it offered a huge variety of cameras. Unfortunately, that was also its downfall. Various divisions competed against each other horribly and there was much, much reduplication of effort. It never really took advantage of its size. Carl Zeiss, the main company, can actually trace its roots to 1846, to the very dawn of photography and is renowned for such designs as the Tessar and T* coating. Even now, Carl Zeiss lenses grace the very best cameras from Contax to Hasselblad.

In 1972, Zeiss formed into a partnership with Yashica Corporation of Japan. Zeiss now only does lens design and makes a small amount of photographic lenses. Yashica manufactures the Contax series of Zeiss cameras.


On the Net



OK!!!! Actualy, I stopped by to see your Voightlander (nice and just like mine, but must confess I have been trying for at least an hour to close mine. Ive pushed, pulled, etc. and , at this point am a little desperate. Please, tell me the secret to closing it. I really havent had a chance to check out your web site. Thank you.

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