The Voigtlander Bessa RS2, a dead rangefinder experience

I love rangefinders, I prefer them vastly over the Single Reflex Cameras. It’s just about the enjoyable of the experience that rangefinder cameras provide, and how it seamlessly connects with the way I take pictures. I don’t like the restrains of the SRL viewfinder, its like encaging the eye. To trap everything in a dark box feels to me like a totalitarian approach to the scene, whereas the rangefinder viewfinder feels unrestricted, as if engaged in a candid conversation with the reality that flows through the frame lines. SLRs certainly have their irrefutable benefits, and therefore I have tried to like them but I have ended up parting from the cameras that I’ve tried: Canon Digital, Canon AE1 and Leica R8 & R6. It’s just not my weapon of choice.

Bessa R2S 50mm framelines Bessa R2S 50mm framelines

That is why unconsciously, I had my reserves when I came to think about the Nikon Rangefinders, nowadays our brains make an instant connection between Nikon and SLRs.  Why was I thinking about the Nikon Rangefinders if I have a Leica system that I love? Well, I would say it was because of Leica itself and my never ending curiosity for optical mechanics. I have enjoyed very much my experience with Leica rangefinders, I feel at home when I am with a M film camera and a lens, but I have always been lured by the “other” rangefinder system, the Contax, the one that Nikon copied when released the Nikon I in 1948 and continued to develop when, after some major flops regarding film compatibility with the Nikon I and Nikon M, the Nikon S was introduced in 1951.

The classic Contax-Nikon Rangefinder

Zeiss Contax system

The whole Contax system has always appealed to me, I like the mechanical design of the barrel mount, the optical design of the lenses, and how the Carl Zeiss engineers (all hail to Ludwing Bertele) developed the Sonnar, Biogon and Diastagon designs that are the standard of many of today’s objectives. The interest in the system was also encouraged by the tragi-comic outcome of its evolution as both Contax and Nikon rangefinder cameras were the core base from where their respective engineers developed the Single Reflex Cameras that finally would depose the rangefinder as the ruling photographic system.

Both Contax and Nikon rangefinder systems are deeply related, being Nikon the continuation of the Contax. Released in 1932 and designed as a camera system from the start (meaning a camera body plus a wide array of lenses of different focal lengths that would satisfy all the possible photographic needs) the Contax rangefinder gave almighty Leica a fierce competence providing faster lenses and higher shutter speeds than the ones offered by Leica at the time. All these elements made Contax the camera chosen by many photojournalist until the end of World War II. This is when Nikon was ready to take the baton, they redesigned their standard lens mount by using Leica’s parameters in the standard focal length, rather than  the one already established by Zeiss, which meant that a significant focus difference between Nikkor S and Contax lenses at close range and wide apertures from 50mm and up, but no significant difference for widE angle lenses due to the depth of field. Despite those changes the Nikon is Contax’s true heir, they expanded and consolidated the system, designing and releasing a wide range of lenses from 21mm up to 250mm.

Nikon S2 Ad 1

The new Contax-Nikon rangefinder system 

The main reason why I had never decided to acquire a Contax – Nikon Rangefinder system, was because of their age (50+ years), by now many of the bodies and lenses available have noticeable defects, so you have to either pay way more in a mint condition lens, or pay for a CLA amd live with the faded coatings, scratched elements, and beaten up barrels. But then I noticed the Voigtlander SC lens range and I started to give it a serious thought. Launched 13 years ago in Photokina 2002 as part of the rangefinder renaissance promoted by Cosina, the SC line offered for the first time in more than 40 years a variety of brand new lenses in Nikon S mount. Sadly the hype didn’t caught up and the line was discontinued in 2005 after only one production run.

Like the original Contax, the Voigtlander SC lens range was designed as a system, one body plus 7 lenses: 5 Color Skopar lenses, 21mm, 25mm, 28mm, 35mm and 50mm, sharimg the same 43mm filter thread; one high speed Nokton 50mm f/1,5 with a 52mm filter threa; and one small telephoto Apo Lanthar 85mm with a 39mm filter thread. Additionally a special lens the 50mm Heliar f/3,5 was designed for the Nikon Historical Society kit.


Another advantage is that you are acquiring considerably newer lenses featuring modern coatings and derived from the classic Zeiss constructions later adopted by Nikon, mainly Biogons and Sonnars.

  • The Voigtlander Bessa R2S

My main concern in this project was the Bessa R2S body. I have read many negative comments about the Bessa line in general, and how they are plastic toy like cameras, not reliable, and that you should better stay away from them and go for the “real deal” instead, meaning go for a Leica (in the case of the Bessa R2) or a Contax or a Nikon (in the case of the Bessa R2C and R2S).

Biased by such comments I considered the affordable Nikon options, the S2 do not have parallax correction, it only has 50mm frame lines and the prices for a fully operational body in respectable cosmetic condition took me to the US$400 – 500 range, the S3 has more features, but is significantly more expensive, around US$700 – 1000 for a body in the same condition. On the other hand the Bessa R2S, although very difficult to find, falls in the same price range of the S2, but it has more features than the S3 and it is only 13 years old.  So, hesitantly I decided for the Bessa R2S, being able to find a very nice one for a reasonable price.

Bessa R2S front

When I got the camera I was very surprised about the quality of its construction. The only plastic components are frame selector, part of the advance lever, and the shutter release button.

Bessa R2S top plate

The Bessa R2S has an internal frame made of Aluminum cast. Aluminum die casting alloys are lightweight, offer good corrosion resistance, ease of casting, good mechanical properties and dimensional stability. Leica M film cameras’ body frames are also made of Aluminum. The Bessa R2S top cover, bottom cover and back door is made of Magnesium cast.  Magnesium alloys are noted for low weight, high strength to weight ratio, exceptional damping capacity, and ease of machining. Leica R9 top plate and modern Leica M digital body frames is also made of Magnesium cast.

Bessa R2S back

So we have an full metal body, made of the same materials used by Leica in the construction of many of their cameras. The Bessa R2S feels solid and well built. It has a textured rubber body covering that improves the hand grip, this is really useful considering its small size and weight. Its mechanics are outstanding, and in some way it is very similar to a film SLR such as the back door flip door that opens through a spring released by pulling the rewind lever, and the film loading procedure.

The main complains about the camera are the loud shutter sound and the viewfinder:

  • I consider the shutter sound critic way overrated, yes it is loud compared to the Leica M cloth shutter (that is one of the main advantages of such cameras and one of the reasons I like them so mv uch), but it is not louder than the Leica M8 metal shutter, or as loud as the mirror flip of a SLR. I guess that thanks to the M8 the shutter of the R2S doesn’t bother me that much. If I want total stealthiness I would grab the M2.
  • Now, the viewfinder is not bad, it is really clear and the frame lines are visible and have good contrast, the rangefinder patch may “disappear” in some situations, such as the M6 patch before I had it upgraded to the MP standard. Nothing to say here, it is what it is, thanks to the M6 school I learned to re-position my eye to overcome this issue, it is annoying when it happens but not a big thing for me.
  • Like in any other Bessa you have to select the appropriate frame lines through the frame selector, it is not automatically displayed like in the Leica M. If you forget to change it you will notice it as soon as you feel the lens you are using, believe me.
  • The viewfinder has 0.68 magnification, which provides an Effective Base Length of 25.16, this means that accurate focusing is more difficult than with any Leica M (not considering here the Leica CL); that would be true with the Bessa R2 but not with the R2S, because we have to remember that the R2S uses the Nikon Rangefinder focusing system which allows you to do a spot on focus better than with the M system; therefore the whole Effective Base Length thing is just not as relevant for the RS2. More about this in the upcoming lens section.

Bessa R2S 85mm framelines Bessa R2S 85mm framelines

Bessa R2S 35mm framelines Bessa R2S 35mm framelines


The Bessa R2S is a top quality camera at a very convenient price. The whole rant on the internet about the Bessa line is not applicable to this camera; Cosina went the extra mile adapting the Bessa basic body to the Nikon rangefinder concept. This camera was not meant to compete with its Nikon S siblings, as I am sure the use of said cameras is a whole different experience, but to provide a new alternative to enjoy a long dead rangefinder system.


The real shades of gray (b&w film is a matter of heart) pt 1


There are many resources about black and white film and its representation of color, perhaps one of the most important is Ansel Adams’ book The Negative, which I encourage every b&w photographer to read. That book was the door to a whole new experience in film, the challenge to understand and represent colors in monochrome, the incidence that the type of film emulsion and the filters you use have in the final image. But how did we end with the types of films that we have today? How was the evolution of monochrome film in its quest to represent “accurately” the colors that our eyes perceive?. Months later I found in LFI Magazine a series of articles by Torsten Andreas Hoffmann about composing in Back and White which provided me some light to those questions and finally lead me to write this post.

  1. Black and White films and their reaction to color.-

Black and white photography is based on the multiple representations of gray tonalities and how every single color provides its own shade of gray.

In order to better understand how each color is transformed into a gray tonality we should first understand how colors are perceived by our eye and then how it is captured by film.

Our perception of color.

Visible light is formed by electromagnetic radiation in the wavelengths between 390 – 710 nanometers (approximately). In other words visible light ranges between the invisible infrared light and ultraviolet light, everything in between (390 – 710nm wavelengths) are the colors that the human eye can perceive.

Image source: Wikipedia

Have you ever wondered the meaning of the spectral sensitivity chart that you find in the data sheet of your favorite b&w film? Well it turns out that black and white film is also sensitive to the different colors of the light spectrum, this is called spectral sensitivity.

Spectral sensitivity and the evolution of film

Through the history of b&w film, photographic emulsions were evolving in their sensitivity to the wavelength of colors in order to translate them into adequate shades of grey.

In the early days, the photographic emulsions were sensitive to blue, violet and ultraviolet light, but only slightly sensitive to green, and practically insensitive to the rest of the spectrum. In 1873 Hermann Wilhelm Vogel discovered dye sensitization which allowed photographic emulsions that were sensitive to green, yellow, orange and even red.

Types of photographic emulsions

Orthochromatic emulsion: a photographic emulsion with extended spectral sensitivity in the yellow-green region. They are high sensitivity to blue, generally correct sensitivity to green and bright yellow, but has too low sensitivity to orange and is practically insensitive to red, as it does not register wavelengths longer than approximately 560-600 nm (medium yellow to orange). Furthermore, orthochromatic emulsion has decreased sensitivity in the 500 nm area (pale blue) and so it reproduces brightness of blue colors more accurately. These films record red color darker than expected, they have special use in landscape photography because they render foliage luminously comparable to the eye perception, however you have to be careful if there are red reflecting surfaces such as rocks, tree bark and flowers because it will render white dark. It can also be used in portraits where it will emphasize skin and darken a ruddy complexion.

Currently, Rollei provides an orthochromatic film labeled as Rollei ORTHO 25, which is slow speed film (ISO 25) with a spectral sensitivity range 380 – 610nm

Ilford Ortho Plus Spectral Sensitivity

Note: the previous chart corresponds to Ilford Ortho Plus film which I believe is now discontinued

Isochromatic emulsion:  a photographic emulsion with increased sensitivity to yellow-green. They are excessively sensitive to violet and blue, but has generally correct sensitivity to yelow, slightly low sensitivity to green and registers wavelengths up to 620-650 nm (orange/red), so it’s not sensitive to deep red color.

Panchromatic emulsions: Panchromatic means sensitive to all colors of light. This is a photographic emulsion capable of recording red subjects, as its sensitivity range reaches wavelengths of 660-730 nm (orange/red to red). They have decreased sensitivity in the 490-540 nm area (blue to green). Early Panchromatic films were, however, still much too sensitive to blue light (what resulted e.g. in pictures with too bright sky and clouds invisible against white background), therefore required a yellow filter for correct representation of blue color brightness.

Panchromatic films first appeared in the early 1930’s. Further developments have been a matter of improving the linearity of spectral response. Kodak moved wholly to panchromatic by the mid-1950s.

Types of panchromatic emulsions

Originally there were three types of panchromatic films, Type A, B, and C.

Type A. It has increased blue sensitivity but reduced in red; it’s sometimes called orthopanchromatic. Examples of these films are Efke /Adox ISO 25 and ISO 50, and Fujifilm Acros 100 and Neopan SS 100. These films render blues lightly and greens, yellow and red darker.

Acros 100 spectral sensitivity

Note: the chart above corresponds to Fuji Acros 100, this is one of my favorites films, really high quality and surprisingly cheaper than other ISO 100 films.

Type B. Almost all modern panchromatic film fall in this category. They have a spectral response close to what the eye perceives; it can be made to match the eye’s response more exactly with a suitable yellow #8 filter. A typical panchromatic film is a bit too sensitive to red color as compared to yellow and green.

TriX spectral sensivity

Note: Trix is without question the most famous panchromatic film.

Type C. It has extended red sensitivity. Here we may found the Superpanchromatic which had additionally increased sensitivity to red colors (in the 620-680 nm) and generally a high speed (such as the Ilford Delta 400). One of the purposes of this type is to achieve a higher effective speed under rich tungsten illumination.

Delta 400 Spectral Sensitivity

Note: Above Delta 400.

Some special panchromatic films readily found today are:

Rollei Retro 80s which is a film with an extended red sensitivity that falls near into the infrared spectrum (approx. 780nm), this characteristic enhances its capacities in portrait and nude photography.

Kodak T-Max films which have reduced blue sensitivity, thus the effect of tilting the curve toward red, but not an increase in red response or extension into infrared, this enables the response of the film to be closer to the response of the human eye, blues may be recorded as slightly darker tones.


Nowadays, there are still a couple of different b&w emulsions to try, experiment, tame and love, unfortunately the price of film is increasing due to the lack of demand and the high cost of manufacture. The task is to look for the emulsion that matches your eye and your photographic style, stick to it and dominate it, many photographers love TriX and have been faithful to it for ages. Personally I like Fuji Acros 100 and Ilford HP5, followed by Kodak Trix and the now defunct Kodak Plus X, I am trying now Ilford FP4 as a substitute.

Now go out there and love some film.

Hiking Adelaida

No sabiamos lo que venia… que ingenuos

Segun Mario, la tipica estructura de casco de la hacienda de finales de los 60s. Mínimo la báscula estaba “trucada” por esos días.

Explorando los Amates. Hacia unos dias habia conseguido unos rollos Kodak Pro 100 y decidí probarlos junto al Elmar 50mm 2,8.

Este encuentro debió darme una señal acerca del retorno

El Elmar proporciona buenos resultados tanto en el detalle como en el bokeh

“Las plantas que nos donaron fueron las primeras en arruinarse”.

La Cooperativa comercializa su propio café en el mercado internacional.

Foto para el análisis sociológico del expectador.

Atravesando el maizal antes de llegar a la primera cascada.

Paradise Lost y el cambio al Nikkor 105mm 2,5 para algunas tomas a la distancia.

Happiness is… a clean waterfall!

Después de una hora mas de recorrido llegamos a la segunda cascada. El hombre blanco y la naturaleza.

Improvisando dialogos.

Perspectiva Natural

Aun faltaba mucho por recorrer, pero comenzó la lluvia y tuve que guardar la cámara.

El Gobierno de Japon le condonó ciertas deudas al Gobierno de El Salvador a cambio de apoyar y promover Cooperativas como la Santa Adelaida. Se instaló un pequeño beneficio, pero se dejo a la suerte de los cooperativistas su mantenimiento y reparaciones.

La finca cuenta con un pequeño restaurante. “Una señora que le gusta venir nos enseñó a hacer quesadillas” (Buenísimas por cierto) Un barista los esta capacitando para la preparación y presentación de capuccinos, espressos y otras bebidas.

Cordillera del Bálsamo

The Red Moon and the 12 Bladed Sun

I have come to terms with myself and the equipment that I will be using. At least for the time being. I have named this period the Sonnar Summer. It begun with the arrival of the Nikkor 50mm 1,4 in ltm mount. I acquired this lens after a long journey with the different 50mm I have used. The quest for the perfect 50mm lens is a long one and it may never end, there are too many options considering the different factors involved such as speed, manufacturer, size, coating, age, construction, etc. In the end I believe that the most important factor is the lens construction, since this will be the one that will provide the overall rendering of the lens. It is true that not all Double Gauss, Tessar, Sonnars, Biogons will provide the same image than their other similar counterparts, moreover even among these constructions are many derivations, however you may have an overall idea of the image it will generate.

I have tried many of these constructions, the Double Gauss Planar and its derivative Summicron, Color Skopar f2.5, and Nokton f1.5 and the triplet Heliar f2, all of them great performers but that have been passed on due to low speed (Color Skopar), big size and finder blockage (Nokton 50 1.5), coating blemishes (Summicron), or a moment of doubt (I wish I still had the Heliar).

But I still haven’t  found what I am looking for, until I finally found the Rollei Sonnar 40mm 2,8. I love this lens and the images it produce, this lead me to learn more about the Sonnar design and fell for it. You may read my short investigation of the Sonnar Design Here.

With that in mind I decided to sell my 50mm at the time – the sharp ZM Planar f2 – for something faster and able to produce images with a vintage 35mm film feeling (although a stellar performer, the Planar renders images that seems too digital to me), thus I acquired the Nikkor 50mm 1,4 in Leica Thread Mount. I chose Nikon because back in the day they were really committed with the Sonnar design and manufactured lenses in 50mm, 85mm, 105mm and 135mm with such lens construction.

Enter Nikkor 50mm 1,4

I sent the lens to Youxin Ye to have it CLA’d he removed the oil from the blades and cleaned the optics to the best. The lens has some cleaning marks on the front element and some separation in some inner element that it is visible when you open the lens up to f1,4 but it hasn’t affected the photos at all.

Dante Stella provides a shot description of the lens that is very useful, you may read it here.

The lens is based on the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm 1,5. It consist of seven elements in three groups, with a single positive lens in the first group, a cemented triplet in the second group formed by a positive lens in the second element a low-refractive-index lens in the third element and a negative lens in the fourth element, plus another cemented triplet in the third group consisting of two negative lenses and one positive lens in between.

Specifications: Nikkor 50mm f/1,4

Filter Size: 43mm
f/Stop Range: Full stops from 1,4 to 16 with a phantom stop for f/22
Minimum Focus Distance: Range finder coupling ends at 1 meter and continues up to 46cm
Angle of View: 46.8°
Elements/Groups: 7/3
Length: 41mm
Barrel is made of brass with a chrome finishing.
The diaphragm consist of 12 blades which provide an almost perfect circle at every aperture
This lens is optimized for wide open shots at close distances, it generates dreamy images with a creamy bokeh.

This lens will joint the Rollei Sonnar 40mm 2,8 which is on its way back from DAG after being CLA’d and the “legendary” Nikkor 105mm 2,5 that has just been sourced from Bellamy all the way from Japan. Thus I have the set of Sonnar lenses that will cover the semi wide angel 40mm, the standard 50mm and the short telephoto 105mm.

Join me in the next post with the pictures from the first film roll with the Nikkor.