Meet the Camera: Voigtländer Vito C

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Yeah, I know, another camera. Another Voigtländer camera. Another folding Voigtländer camera. Another folding Voigtländer camera named Vito. Sensing a pattern? I’m starting to bore myself, I’m sure along with anyone else who, for whatever reason, is still paying attention.

Hot on the heels of the Vito IIa comes the Vito C (which I’m assuming represents the third letter in the Roman alphabet, not the Roman numeral for 100, but given Voigtländer’s rather arbitrary naming schemes, who knows?), circa 1981 (or MCMLXXXI, if you prefer) from what little information I can find. It’s small, it’s plastic, and it looks a lot like my Minox 35ML, probably because they were both produced by Balda. When it came to German cameras, brand names didn’t mean a lot by the 1980s.

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It’s a simple little thing, simpler than the Minox. Whereas the Minox has aperture control in addition to program, shutter speed indication in the viewfinder, backlight compensation, and a battery tester, the Voigtländer has none of these. What it does have is a single-stroke advance (the Minox is double) with an indicator showing if the shutter is cocked, brighter, clearer brightlines and a focus distance indication in the finder (but gets by with a simple OK (<1/30th) or flash symbol (>1/30th) indication of shutter speed), and a film loading door (the Minox has a removable back). The Voigtländer has settings for films up to ISO 800; the Minox goes up 1600. They use different batteries (PX28 vs. 2x SR44). They’re different, but it’s all in the details – the form factors are virtually identical.

The lenses are again similar but not the same. The Voigtländer has an extra 3mm of focal length (38 vs. 35 in the Minox); both have a maximum aperture of f/2.8, and are coated Tessar-types. I don’t know what sort of committee decided that 38mm was the right focal length for the Voigtländer, but it’s the kind of oddball design choice that could only have come from a group of people sitting around arguing vehemently about it in an effort to justify their paychecks.

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I’m not sure how exactly, but the Vito C feels more mechanical but a little flimsier than the 35ML. The worst bit is the rewind crank, which you lift to release the back. It feels like it’s going to snap off in my hand every time I pull it up, and the rewind is pretty stiff, so spinning it requires some force – I need to see if I can free that up a bit. The film door isn’t exactly industrial strength either, but I guess it’s sufficiently robust to have survived for several decades. Some of this sense probably stems from my time with older metal-bodied cameras that feel like they’re carved from solid chunks of brass. Users less so-influenced may not share my trepidation.

Of course, the great virtues of both the Voigtländer and the Minox are their light weight and small size. No other camera I own, with the exception of the Olympus XA2 currently gathering dust on my shelf, is as unobtrusive and easy to carry. That they are capable of taking technically good photographs as well – and they are – makes them worth bringing along.

What remains to be seen is whether the loss of aperture control and backlight compensation prove sufficiently important to relegate the Vito C to the shelf next to the XA2 (which also lacks those particular attributes), or if it ends up in regular use like the 35ML.

 

Meet the Camera: Voigtländer Vito IIa

Well, I’m weak. A revived interest in photography did not mean that I had to buy any more equipment. I have plenty filling my shelves just waiting to be used. But reviewing the collection reminded me that my beloved Voigtländer Vito was really just too finicky to continue using. The film counter/double exposure lock is made up of a couple of wafer-thin gears, and they weren’t playing well together, no matter what I did to encourage them to get along.

This, naturally, turned my thoughts to its replacement. I really liked that camera. It has a very similar case shape to my beloved Leicas, and the uncoated lens was really very good (and I’m a sucker for uncoated lenses). It slipped unobtrusively into a pocket, the lens protected by the door. It was a fine camera.

Knowing that Voigtländer continued and (presumably) improved the Vito line, this seemed the natural course of action. Broadly speaking, the Vito II was very similar to the Vito except that it used a sprocket rather than a feeler for the film advance (the original was designed for 828 film before the war). Looking casually at the design, it seemed to use the very same arrangement that had killed my Vito, which didn’t encourage me.

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Which brings me to the last of the line, the Vito IIa. Yes, Voigtländer continued to use the Vito moniker on many other models for several decades, but this is the last of the proper folders. In fact, it’s one of the last folders made (not the last though – I have a considerably later Certo Super Dollina II). The IIa replaced the traditional top-mounted knobs with a small pop-up knob to rewind and a lever to advance. A cold shoe appeared on top, and the viewfinder was improved. Under the slightly taller top cover, I suspected there must be a revised – and hopefully more robust – mechanism.

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None of this would work if the camera was going to cost real money, and the scarce IIa usually commands the better part of $100, which was more than I was willing to part with for this experiment. Fortunately, I found one that was cheap by virtue of being in unknown mechanical condition. But it was pretty on the outside, so I made an offer, which was accepted, and it was soon on its way.

I tore it apart once it got here (it’s a pretty simple camera to disassemble) and found two problems: the shutter was sticking, and there was a hole in the bellows. A little liquid electrical tape took care of the light leak, and judicious application of naptha and powdered graphite freed up the shutter. Everything else, including the thankfully more substantial counter/exposure lock, got a simple cleaning and it was good to go.

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On the plus side, it retains many of the positive characteristics of the Vito. The viewfinder is a bit bigger but offset from the lens, and the lever wind is easy to use but doesn’t cock the shutter. In the minus column, it’s bigger and heavier – not by a lot, but enough to notice – and the lens is coated, which makes it less interesting in my book.

It’s an obvious direct descendant of the Vito, and I like the camera, but so far it hasn’t quite filled the void left by its predecessor. I’m not sure why exactly. Maybe I just need to use it more. I’m resisting the temptation to transplant the uncoated lens from the Vito into the IIa’s body. For now, at least.

Please vote in the Petri Color 35 contest

The voting thread is finally up over at RFF, and your vote can help to decide who gets the little Petri Color 35. Please go here and vote for your favorite photo.