When Christmas rolls around, it is not terribly surprising that the gifts so generously directed to me might include things photographic. In addition to an ample stock of film and several books on the subject, I received a very handy little camera: a Voigtländer Perkeo II.
For those unfamiliar, this is a medium format folder producing a 6×6 negative; nothing unusual in this – there were many such folding cameras produced in the 1950s. What is noteworthy right off the bat, however, is the size of the thing: put simply, it’s downright tiny. It is barely larger than its contemporary 35mm cousin, the Voigtländer Vito, especially when folded.
Expanded, the Perkeo is a bit larger, but it’s still quite small by medium format standards. It fits easily into a pocket or a spare corner of a bag. If you want medium format in a portable form, this is it.
The major advance of the II over the original Perkeo is automatic frame counting. It works pretty well, although if you want it to work on the first frame after you switch over to frame counting, you have to make sure the interlock has been set; if not, you’ll have to reach in front and trip the shutter that way. Spacing is fairly consistent and reasonably tight. A nice bonus to this is that, in combination with the very short run between the spools, you can often eke out a full 13th frame on a standard roll of 120. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s an 8.3% bonus, the equivalent of getting another three frames on a 36-exposure roll of 35mm. With film costs rising, I’ll take anything I can get.
Build quality is typical of Voigtländer of the period, which is to say excellent and attentive to detail. My example has the Prontor-SV shutter, which tops out at 1/300 (as opposed to 1/500 of the available Synchro-Compur), mounting a nice example the highly regarded Color-Skopar lens (a front-cell focusing Tessar-formula design), an 80mm f/3.5. There’s no rangefinder, so focusing is down to estimating the distance to your subject and dialing it in. Design elements like the dual finish on the relief-cut lens struts and the little fold-down leg for stabilizing the camera when resting on a table demonstrate that Voigtländer’s engineers were paying attention.
Ergonomics are typical folder. If you don’t like folding cameras, you won’t like the Perkeo II; I do like them, fussy though they can be, and shooting the Perkeo is quite a familiar experience, save for cocking the shutter upwards instead of downwards, as on my Compur-Rapid-equipped 35mm folders. The shutter button requires a long, deliberate press to ensure the interlock on the frame counter is properly tripped. The viewfinder is big and decently bright (by 1950s standards), offset slightly to the left. There’s a cold shoe for a flash or a rangefinder, should you not trust your distance-estimation skills.
So what niche does this particular camera fill in Your Humble Filmosaur’s burgeoning collection, one that already includes a Rolleiflex and a Ciro-flex, both of which shoot exactly the same size negative, you ask? In a word: Portability. I’ve really come to appreciate my folding cameras for their ease of carriage, especially when traveling, hiking or biking. Particularly in the first case, there have been occasions when I’ve wished I had a medium format camera with me, but was unwilling to lug around a big boxy TLR for an entire trip. Now I don’t have to make that compromise. I’ve got a very capable 6×6 camera I can stick in my pocket.