We’ve already spilled more than enough virtual ink on the particulars of my camera-buying disorder here at Filmosaur, so I will not belabor the point further. That said, please join me in welcoming this little Voigtländer Vito to the club.
Having acquired the Kodak Retina in trade, my wandering eye then happened to fall upon the Voigtländer, a little worn around the edges but complete and intact, advertised as having a stuck shutter and an absurdly low price. A quality camera cheap and a repair/restoration project to boot? How was I to resist?
Voigtländer has a very long history, first as an optics and then a camera manufacturer, and maintained a reputation for high quality products over that time. The Vito is a 35mm folder very similar to my Retina, not surprising since they were both made in Germany at almost exactly the same time (the first version of the Vito was produced in 1939-1940, then again from 1947 to 1950, Germany having been a bit otherwise preoccupied in the intervening years). The lens – an uncoated 50mm, f/3.5 Skopar (Tessar-type) mounted in the same Compur-Rapid shutter as the Retina – is considered excellent. It is different, however, in that it uses front-element focusing rather than moving the whole lens assembly. This makes the focusing action on the Vito rather lighter than on the Retina, though the Retina’s lever falls to hand more easily than the Skopar’s small front ring.
Mechanically there are a few peculiarities to the Voigtländer design. Rather than the traditional sprocket wheel to handle frame spacing, the Vito uses a feeler spindle arrangement similar to medium format cameras that regulate frame spacing with unperforated 120 film. It’s not clear why Voigtländer did this: some say it was because the design was originally intended to use unperforated 35mm 828 film and altered after the outbreak of the war ended production of that film type; others suggest it was just a different way to approach the problem. Regardless, the feeler spindle can be problematic if the series of gears linking it to the advance knob and the shutter interlock are not perfectly clean and running smoothly; it thus went the way of the dodo with the updated Vito II in 1951.
The other odd bit is the shutter release. Instead of using the more traditional plunger on the top plate, or even simply sticking with the release on the shutter assembly (which is present but basically inaccessible because of its placement behind the door), Voigtländer opted for a release bar mounted on top of the door, connected to the shutter by a short mechanical linkage. While this seems unnecessarily complex (especially compared with the much simpler plunger of the Retina I), in practice it’s a winner. The action is far lighter and smoother than the Retina’s heavy, long-throw button, the shape is comfortable, and the position is perfect.
So now I have two folding cameras: the Vito and the Retina I. They are very similar on paper – same focal length, same aperture range, same shutter, virtually the same size – but in practice they feel a little different. Both exude quality, but the Retina is heavier both in weight and action; if the Retina is a Mercedes-Benz, the Voigtländer is a BMW. Both good at what they do, but reflecting different engineering approaches to a similar design specification.