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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. It is therefore more difficult to gather proper information about particular models in the Bessa line. This article will feature as much reliable information about the "pre-war" models as possible.
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 6x9" photographs. It's 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 leaf options: Prontor, Compur, 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. One of the revolutionary features of the Bessa was a self-timer.
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.
Bessa's produced after 1930 featured two ways to frame your photograph. First there was the "Eye level sports finder" located in the top of the camera under a metal hood. You would simply open the spring loaded hood to reviel two square brackets, the front bracket usually housed a glass lens that would assist in determining the actual viewing angle of the lens. Although some models did not feature this glass aid the prosess for framing your image through the sports finder was the same. Alight both square brackets and press the shutter release. The second framing option offered on Basse's produced after 1930 is the "Brilliant Finder". Operated in much the same manor as a TLR viewfinder, the Brilliant Finder offered greater accuracy which eased composition.
Optional Equipment Voigtländer offered a few accessories or optional equipment for the Bessa line. A simplistic cable release, Brilliant Finder magnifier and a lens filters "Alpha" Yellow.
The Bessa I was manufactured between the late 1940's up until the late 1950's 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, the camera also has a small finder that mounts in the shoe on the top which in practice is pretty easy to use- you just transfer the distance to the lens.
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)
The Bessa RF camera had a very long production run and is the predecessor of the Bessa II. Improved version of the Bessa 1935 without brilliant finder, but with a coupled rangefinder. 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 Bessas it uses 6x9 and 4.5x6 exposures on 120 film and shutter release on front door. 60,000 Bessa RF were made.
- Voigtländer Bessa 6x9 1929-1949 Review by BKSPicture
- 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 I instructions (three options), from F. and S. Marriott
- Bessa models (very well illustrated), at UK Camera
- Bessa instruction manual from www.orphancameras.com
- Bessa RF Heliar Gallery at mflenses.com
- Voigtländer patents
- Bessa 66 at M. Groleau's site
- Bessa before 1935 at www.collection-appareils.fr by Sylvain Halgand
- Bessa -1937 at www.collection-appareils.fr by Sylvain Halgand
- Bessa RF at www.collection-appareils.fr by Sylvain Halgand
- Bessa II at www.collection-appareils.fr by Sylvain Halgand