I inherited my grandfather’s Voigtlander Bessa 66 from my parents around 2010, along with a collection of 35mm equipment that had belonged to my dad and me. My grandfather had stopped using the camera before I was born, so I’d never seen the Voigtlander before. I was quite taken with it. I loved its compact size and its clever folding bellows mechanism. But using it turned out to be more challenging! I shot a few rolls of T-MAX and nearly everything ended up way overexposed. So I set the camera aside.

Fast forward 10 years and I decided my official Pandemic Hobby would be photography. As that hobby grew I started to explore the older cameras that I’d been using for decoration. I was especially interested in using the Voigtlander for a backwoods canoeing trip, figuring that the no-battery, entirely manual camera would be better suited to a rough, wet adventure.

Some quick testing told me that the Voigtlander’s shutter speeds were way off, so I sent it off for repair. The shutter then broke again, leaving me with a max speed of 1/50th. So, off for another repair! The cycle of life for vintage cameras.

A birdhouse sits on a snow-covered deck behind a house.

With the shutter working correctly I loaded up a roll of Lomography’s Berlin 400. I wanted to amplify the grain a bit, so I decided to push it one stop to 800 ISO.

A black-and-white photo of a black-and-white dog sleeping on a dark couch

Now, that may have been a mistake. This combination of fast film and slow-ish shutter limited my ability to do outdoor photos on anything but a cloudy day. The Voigtlander claims to have a max shutter speed of 1/500. But the shutter control on my camera jams up if I try to go past 1/250

The shutter, aperture and focus controls of a Voigtlander Bessa 66 camera sit on the the front of the black leather bellows.

Do not try to go beyond 1/250!

Since I’d already repaired the shutter twice I didn’t want to try and force the issue. Using a yellow filter helped, since it cut about one stop of light, but in future I probably won’t load anything faster than 400 in this camera.

A black-and-white photo of the back of a brick building. Painted on the building's wall in graffiti is the word

The yellow filter helped a lot with this photo, as did taking it early in the day.

The Voigtlander Bessa 66s are scale finder cameras. Before taking a photo you estimate the distance to your subject and then turn the lens to the same distance. You can take a zone focus approach as well. The lens comes with two zone indicators and a handy depth-of-field tool that you can use to figure out the right focus for your shot. Sometimes you don’t get the focus quite right!

A black-and-white portrait of a woman standing in front of a collection of christmas lights. She is wearing a knit cap and glasses

Scale focus is difficult when shooting in low-light situations and you have limited depth-of-field

Once the roll was complete I developed it myself in Ilford Ifosol3. Lomo recommends 8:45, but I increased that to 13:00 because of the push. I scanned the negatives using my cobbled-together home scanning setup: a Lomography Digitaliza, Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III and a vintage Super Macro-Takumar 50mm F4 lens. I edited with Affinity Photo.

A black-and-white photo of a mural painted on the side of a brick building. The mural reads

As I’ve re-engaged with photography I’ve come to enjoy the patient and slow side of the hobby, which is definitely part of shooting with the Bessa 66. It’s not a camera for quick shots; it’s a camera that requires some forethought and deliberation. But it’s also small and light enough that I can bring it anywhere, ready to capture the moment… assuming that I don’t need to capture the moment quickly.

I have more photos on Flickr, or you can follow me on Mastadon at @[email protected]

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