My old new little friend – the Voigtländer VF-101

Oh, goodness me. I’ve gone and bought a handful of old film cameras on Ebay. Six, exactly – purchased on the cheap with the understanding that they might not work. I think I’ve done alright – three apparently just fine, one with a minor but non-fatal issue, and two that are clearly defunct, at least until someone more skilled than me works on them a bit. And what a motley crew they are:  Minolta Hi-Matic 7 and 11, Yashica M, Voigtländer VF-101, and the amusingly-named Taron Promaster and Super Westomat 35. For the record, the Westomat and the Hi-Matic 7 are the dead ones.

The main difference from my other old film cameras is that these are all rangefinders, meaning that you focus them by turning a dial or ring to make two superimposed images in the viewfinder line up. This is a step up from the distance-scale focusing of my Silette and Brillant, where you either guess at (“estimate”) the distance to the subject and dial it in, or carry a tape measure.

In recent weeks, I’ve run film through all four of the working ones, and a clear favourite has emerged. So, in the words of Al Pacino in Scarface (which I cheerfully admit I’ve never seen):  let me introduce you to my little friend – the Voigtländer VF-101.

Voigtländer VF-101
What a pretty little thing.

If you’ve read older posts here, you might remember another Voigtländer, the 1937 version of the Brillant V6. This VF-101 is a lot younger, dating from somewhere between 1972 and 1976, and was made not in Braunschweig, but Singapore. It’s from a time when Voigtländer was no longer an independent company, having passed through Carl Zeiss (those makers of fine microscopes) and into the hands of photographic heavyweight Rollei. To add further confusion, the camera is badged on the bottom as a Rollei, and is cosmetically nearly identical to the contemporary Zeiss Ikon Contessa S 312. It also came in a very attractive all-black version.

The camera is a lovely little thing – compact, seeming hardly big enough to accept a roll of 35mm film, but reassuringly solid. It has a built-in light meter that couples to the exposure settings, and miraculously uses regular 1.5-volt batteries, rather than the impossible-to-find and environmentally unfriendly 1.35-volt mercury cells of older cameras. It’s dead simple to use, too – a meter needle in the viewfinder tells you if you’re in the right exposure range, and a single dial on the lens barrel chooses an aperture, with the camera selecting a shutter speed to go with it. Focusing is by the old rangefinder technique of twisting a dial around the lens barrel, and lining up two images in the viewfinder – the “real” scene, and a ghost image from the little, round rangefinder window next to it. Easy.

Everything about this little charmer works exactly as I’d want it to, and it seems to take rather nice photographs.

Totem pole, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
Not too bad indoors with 400 speed colour film – Totem Pole, Royal Ontario Museum

Fallen angel, St. James cemetery, Toronto
Black and white film – St. James Cemetery, Toronto

Celtic cross, St. James cemetery, Toronto
That 40mm Color-Skopar lens is wickedly sharp at narrow apertures – St. James Cemetery, Toronto

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Eversley, Ontario
Colour film again – St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, in the long-lost hamlet of Eversley

I’ve taken a break from the VF-101 recently in order to try out some of its cousins (that Taron Promaster was a pleasant surprise, in case you were wondering). But I’ll come back to it, with some slower colour film, because it really is a joy to use, and it tucks away nicely into a pocket. I have a few new locations in mind where it might do well. In the meantime, stay tuned for examples from the others.

A selection of photographs from this camera is here. If you want spoilers, the other cameras appear in this Flickr collection.

About Richard Wintle

I am Canadian by heritage, and a molecular biologist and human geneticist by training. My day job is Assistant Director of a large genome centre, where I do various things along the lines of "keeping the wheels on". In my spare time, I tend to run around with a camera, often chasing race cars, abandoned barns, and sundry wildlife.
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4 Responses to My old new little friend – the Voigtländer VF-101

  1. Mike says:

    Looking good, Richard! Graveyards + B&W = win!
    The St Andrew’s Church scene looks surprisingly Finnish. Is it anywhere near Sudbury? I’ve heard, from an old buddy working at Laurentian, that there was a Finnish (sauna) Ghetto there in years gone by.

    Now, be a good boy and go and watch Scarface.

    • Thank you sir.

      St. Andrew’s isn’t near Sudbury – it’s in what is now King Township, just north of Toronto. Sudbury’s about 4 hours’ drive to the north. This kind of field-stone construction is fairly common around here though… some nice examples at the Camera On King blog.

      No Finnish community around here as far as I know – that church would have been built primarily by Scots Methodists I believe. I’d never heard this about Sudbury though, interesting. Maybe Finnish immigrants bringing mining expertise?

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