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Voigtlander Vitessa L
Old 02-11-2019   #1
CharlesDAMorgan
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Voigtlander Vitessa L

Got this back from the dealer who had to have the rangefinder mechanism repaired. It is a rather beautiful thing which I suspect will have somewhat minimal use - the size is perfect for the top pocket, the patch is good, but I'm not a great fan of the serrated edge linked aperture and shutter speed EV system. I like the focus wheel though! The build quality is really stunning.

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Ilford Delta 400 shot at box speed and developed in FX39 1:9

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Film amateur with a few rangefinders - Leica III, M2/M3, Werra 3 and Zeiss Super Ikonta 534/16 medium format.

Apart from that have a Rolleiflex 3.5F, the odd Minolta XD7, Hasselblad 500cm, a Topcon Super D and an Intrepid 5x4 large format (not the half of it but I am clearing them out, honest).

I do all my own black and white developing at home.
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Old 02-11-2019   #2
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Film amateur with a few rangefinders - Leica III, M2/M3, Werra 3 and Zeiss Super Ikonta 534/16 medium format.

Apart from that have a Rolleiflex 3.5F, the odd Minolta XD7, Hasselblad 500cm, a Topcon Super D and an Intrepid 5x4 large format (not the half of it but I am clearing them out, honest).

I do all my own black and white developing at home.
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Old 02-11-2019   #3
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The Vitessa is a great camera. Got one with Ultron lens. Pretty amazing thing.

Personally I enjoy the Vitessa T a little more.

Only problem with these cameras is that they are pretty darn complicated and not many (if any) technician will touch them

Any one know of a technician that repair them on USA?

Marcelo
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Vitessa L
Old 02-11-2019   #4
randy stewart
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Vitessa L

These are stunning cameras. Decades ago I acquired one cheap at a camera show because the meter had died; I fixed the meter. You'd have to have big pockets if you want to carry this one around as such. It's far bigger than the average Retina. It is deceptively heavy, like carrying a brick. However the lens is just lovely, and the funky film advance plunger, if odd, functions perfectly. No, I do not use mine, even periodically, but I would have no reservation to take it as my one and only on a trip tomorrow if need be. (But add a hand-held meter with mine). The oddest (and I suspect the most expensive) 35mm rangefinder folder of the 1950s.
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Old 02-11-2019   #5
CharlesDAMorgan
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When I've finished the roll in my Leica III I'll put one in this and have it with me. At the moment I have plentiful pockets but spring may test them!
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Film amateur with a few rangefinders - Leica III, M2/M3, Werra 3 and Zeiss Super Ikonta 534/16 medium format.

Apart from that have a Rolleiflex 3.5F, the odd Minolta XD7, Hasselblad 500cm, a Topcon Super D and an Intrepid 5x4 large format (not the half of it but I am clearing them out, honest).

I do all my own black and white developing at home.
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Old 02-11-2019   #6
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Definitely a weighty thing...
I bought one with the Ultron a few years ago, cracking lens
It suffers from film scratching though, have never really solved the problem
Thought it could be some very light corrosion on the pressure plate, polished it out but the scratching has remained.
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Old 02-12-2019   #7
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Just did a comparative weigh in. With 50 mm lens and film in (plus strap in the case of the M3) the following weights were achieved

Leica III - 545g

Voigtlander Vitessa L - 678g

Leica M3 - 810g

The III is also the most compact, with the Vitessa about the same size as the M3 body, smaller when lens fitted to the M3, but they feel absolutely comparable in quality of construction and materials with the M3 having a way better viewfinder. Then again, it's also about 5 times the cost without a lens!
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Film amateur with a few rangefinders - Leica III, M2/M3, Werra 3 and Zeiss Super Ikonta 534/16 medium format.

Apart from that have a Rolleiflex 3.5F, the odd Minolta XD7, Hasselblad 500cm, a Topcon Super D and an Intrepid 5x4 large format (not the half of it but I am clearing them out, honest).

I do all my own black and white developing at home.
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Old 02-12-2019   #8
Peter Jennings
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I had an L, but I hated the linked exposure system, and the meter wasn't accurate. Now I have an earlier A model with no meter and traditional shutter/aperture settings. It's a pleasure to use, and I DO use mine! But not often...
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Old 02-12-2019   #9
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Possibly an A would have been better, especially as my meter is charmingly out, and the linked exposure is a bore. But it looked lovely in the shop...(story of my life!).
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Film amateur with a few rangefinders - Leica III, M2/M3, Werra 3 and Zeiss Super Ikonta 534/16 medium format.

Apart from that have a Rolleiflex 3.5F, the odd Minolta XD7, Hasselblad 500cm, a Topcon Super D and an Intrepid 5x4 large format (not the half of it but I am clearing them out, honest).

I do all my own black and white developing at home.
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Old 02-12-2019   #10
Sarcophilus Harrisii
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CharlesDAMorgan View Post
Got this back from the dealer who had to have the rangefinder mechanism repaired. It is a rather beautiful thing which I suspect will have somewhat minimal use - the size is perfect for the top pocket, the patch is good, but I'm not a great fan of the serrated edge linked aperture and shutter speed EV system. I like the focus wheel though! The build quality is really stunning.

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Nikkor 105mm f2 DC
Ilford Delta 400 shot at box speed and developed in FX39 1:9

Charles,
this site has a good coverage of the different versions of the Vitessa rangefinders.

I acquired what is probably a N1 or N2 model with the Color-Skopar lens several years because I love old Voigtländers and the unique design features and appearance of the Vitessa make them extremely appealing. Build quality is very good also. I spent some time getting it working very well including setting the rangefinder and removing the side cover to clean and lubricate the plunger and film wind as well as the parts inside the lower cover. I was delighted to finally have a working example of a camera I had long admired and wanted.

Unfortunately after loading it with its first roll of film it seized up soon after. It didn't need much investigation to work out why. The tab brazed onto the lower part of the plunger which connects to the film wind had fractured and detached. Pretty sure I know why, too.

The earlier models of the Vitessa have a plunger shaft with a knob (or button, if you prefer) that's crimped into the top of the plunger. It doesn't remove and is not intended to. Removing the top cover is simply a case of taking out the retaining screws and gently slipping it off. The opening in the top cover is large enough for the knob to pass through.

It's a larger opening than later models and there is a circular felt washer located around the plunger underneath the cover. As the plunger goes up and down it "wipes" the shaft to help keep dust out of the body.

At some point before the L series with integral light meter arrived Voigtländer changed the plunger and top cover design. The opening in the cover became smaller and a little tighter fit around the plunger. From the POV of keeping dust out of the body this was probably a good thing. But it also meant that the knob, previously an integral and non-removable part of the plunger, was a threaded separate component which must first be removed in order to separate the top cover from the body.

I suppose if you simply need to give the rangefinder and viewfinder optics a quick blow off or clean the knob can stay in place. The cover will still clear the body but it's inconvenient, annoying and the potential is definitely there for components in the top of the body to be damaged if they are fouled by that cover swinging around on the plunger. So it is really better to take the cover right off for all but the most cursory of tasks. And this means the knob must be unscrewed from the plunger.

When I serviced my first Vitessa fitted with such a knob I quickly worked out that it had to unscrew. But it was more than finger tight and I felt very uncomfortable simply twisting the knob against whatever held the plunger in place in the body (I hadn't delved that deeply at this point the top cover is usually the first part to come off).

I was able to remove the plunger knob very easily. All that was needed was to use a couple of small pieces of rubber inner tube. One to grip the knob and another wrapped around the plunger as a friction wrench. I had ample purchase to get the knob unfastened.

Hence, I am quite sure I didn't damage the tab for the plunger by poor workmanship. But I'm also quite sure that other owner/repairers wouldn't be as careful. If the knob on these later versions is simply twisted against the mechanism locating the plunger, it places a great deal of unintended lateral stress on the tab (which was designed to handle the tensioning of the shutter and winding the film, but not twisting forces). The result will be failure of the tab that bears on the wind and shutter systems.

That Vitessa was relegated to a box being unusable as is. Perhaps I can re-attach the tab to the plunger, it was a clean fracture and although it is quite fiddly to introduce the tab with the perfect angular alignment it can be done. I just need to work out how to join them in such a manner as it will be robust enough to endure.

It's obviously best avoided but such are the potential pitfalls of buying 1950s vintage cameras.

A year or two later I picked up an earlier model Vitessa with the Ultron lens in pretty nice overall condition. A little brassing from some clips around the strap lugs but tidy enough generally. It had a few problems of its own but I was able to rectify all of these and I ought to use it more often, because that 50mm Ultron really is something very special indeed. During the colder months in Tasmania it tends to accompany me often whenever I wear a jacket, I suppose it is my favourite winter camera. I think it is the A3 version.

Overall I really like this particular version. It has a diamond shaped rangefinder patch which is no better than a rectangular one but it is different to most. It has automatic parallax compensation (unusually, this involves moving the actual eyepiece location relative to the top cover). It has strap lugs, which I think is a big deal. I wouldn't call myself a particularly clumsy photographer but nobody is perfect, and dropping a camera is never a good idea. So I think straps are a good thing. Previous models were not fitted with strap lugs, meaning you have to go freestyle, use the never-ready case with all the awkwardness this can entail, or, have your Vitessa suffer the ignominy of dangling upside down from the tripod mounting thread. No thanks.

It's not perfect, though, because it incorporates a Compur Rapid shutter. Which to be fair is a very good shutter indeed. But as installed in the Vitessas it doesn't feature a self timer, and I really like these. Having one means you don't need to worry about keeping a cable release on you whenever the light gets low. You can always trip off the shutter without suffering vibration blur, and these shutters themselves are very smooth indeed, so sharpness can be superb. Still, mine has a plunger in good condition, and I suggest you are less likely to have issues with the actuating tab of these earlier versions, since would-be repairers don't try to break the tab off the shaft getting the knob of it, because it doesn't have to come off!

I suppose the catalyst for this post is that the older shutter also does not use the linked EV shutter/aperture coupling that some of the later Synchro-Compur-equipped examples have. So apart from neatly sidestepping the potential failure issue of the plunger resulting from previous owners' stupidity, you also get an exposure setting arrangement that (I personally) find easier to live with. I also like the removable slip on accessory shoe of the earlier models. Any Vitessa is a beautiful camera but the earlier versions without the fixed accessory shoe are just a little cleaner, aesthetically. The use of a thin layer of felt to protect the chrome finish of the cover from scratching by the shoe is Voigtländer at its best.

There can be other issues with the Vitessa plunger wind system. I don't see it as a failure prone and poor quality design, but it certainly does need occasional cleaning and lubrication as well as an intelligent owner endowed with some mechanical sympathy. If the components are dirty and/or dry this places additional stress on the parts including that tab and will increase wear. So it is a very good idea to to keep your Vitessa clean, and to store it in a dust free environment. If it is a windy day at the beach, shooting with one isn't a very good idea, more than some other cameras perhaps. Apart from sand or dust sneaking past the plunger into the top cover, there's a bit of a dust trap under the bellows that can create problems, too.

Although there are many more parts under the lower cover which benefit from cleaning and lubrication every decade or two (including curved tubes full of ball bearings waiting to be lost, if careless owners venture within) access to the plunger system itself is pretty quick and easy. By removing the top cover and the smaller side cover for the film counter, you can actually reach and clean the plunger mechanism and some of the drive train for the wind and cocking quickly, and easily. If you manage to acquire a Vitessa that previous owners haven't stuffed around with, just servicing this will sort a lot of the typical gremlins owners report, by itself.

When opening the barn doors it is fairly well known that one's hand should cover the plunger shaft so that it does not eject from the stored position with a sharp "whack". This is good advice. Be kind to the plunger mechanism and it will last OK, I think. If it graunches, sticks or misbehaves, don't keep using it: get it serviced.

Although it has been far too long for me to be specific about the differences without taking a look inside, there were many changes internally to the rangefinders between the earlier and later models. I have never worked on an L model, let alone the T series and perhaps there were even more modifications which followed? But I can tell you that the earlier rangefinder units and subsequent types are very different, and share few, if any, common parts.

Access to any of them will still entail taking off the top cover for adjusting vertical or horizontal alignment (as well as the infinity adjustment of the lens focus, which of course, as usual, must first be correct before rangefinder setting). And to fine tune the rangefinder and re-check calibration, the cover must be replaced.

This seems to cause a little consternation around the web, from comments I've read here and there. It was not a big deal for me. It's completely unnecessary to replace the plunger knob between checks (if it has to come off at all) or to re-install the securing screws for the cover. You do have to tease the focusing knob into its seat on the focus shaft as the cover slides back on, but the first couple of times are the hardest. There's a knack to that but it's not difficult to pick up. And by holding the top cover firmly in situ with thumbs and fingers, you can check the rangefinder adjustment, and, if it is still not spot on, just slip the cover off and tweak and replace, until it is.

I suppose I would not want to have to completely remove the barn door and its articulated carriage that the focus moves on, if I could avoid it. But Voigtländer used some of the best bellows leather ever. Chances are good that with some neatsfoot oil, they'll be lightproof and last for years to come. If they're not, you probably bought a poor candidate for rejuvenation in the first place. Generally, cleaning the shutter, setting the rangefinder, and servicing the film advance ought to get a decent prospect running pretty nicely. If you really do have to go the whole hog and do a total strip down, Thomas Tomosy's article in one of his repair books is actually pretty good, with helpful photos of the barn doors and their related components.

This is not the first time I have discussed the peculiarities of these pretty and usable rangefinders with such excellent lenses. A search of the forum postings will unearth other posts related to maintaining them if it's needed.
Cheers,
Brett
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Old 02-12-2019   #11
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Some pics I took with my Vitessa. I have the one with the 50 f2 Ultron lens and no light meter. I prefer the look of it w/o it, plus I doubt at this age they would be accurate if they even worked.
It's a fun camera, and has an RF blob, just like a Nikon SP!






I think I'm going to sell mine, because just like my Zeiss Contessa 35, I hardly ever use them but keep them around because they are so cool and nicely made.
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Old 02-12-2019   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CharlesDAMorgan View Post
Just did a comparative weigh in. With 50 mm lens and film in (plus strap in the case of the M3) the following weights were achieved

Leica III - 545g

Voigtlander Vitessa L - 678g

Leica M3 - 810g

The III is also the most compact, with the Vitessa about the same size as the M3 body, smaller when lens fitted to the M3, but they feel absolutely comparable in quality of construction and materials with the M3 having a way better viewfinder. Then again, it's also about 5 times the cost without a lens!
Of course the advantage of the Vitessa is that it has a 50mm f2 lens that folds flat into the camera, rendering it "pocketable". My M3 with the collapsible Summicron 50 f2 is not such a thing.

(Given the choice, I'd take the M3 w Cron in a heartbeat of course!!!)
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Old 02-12-2019   #13
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Some pics from my Vitessa and the Ultron lens








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Old 02-13-2019   #14
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Thanks Brett for a very comprehensive guide and others for lovely contributions. This week I'm running around on life matters but I hope to get shooting soon.
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Film amateur with a few rangefinders - Leica III, M2/M3, Werra 3 and Zeiss Super Ikonta 534/16 medium format.

Apart from that have a Rolleiflex 3.5F, the odd Minolta XD7, Hasselblad 500cm, a Topcon Super D and an Intrepid 5x4 large format (not the half of it but I am clearing them out, honest).

I do all my own black and white developing at home.
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Old 03-02-2019   #15
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Another shot with my Vitessa L
Ultron 2/50
Ilford Delta 100


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Old 03-03-2019   #16
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Stunning...

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Old 03-03-2019   #17
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I had a Vitessa L that I saved up for and bought probably around 1955 or '56. Loved it, but having an early GAS affliction, I sold it in order to get an SLR (new then). Got some kind of Practica that held together for a year or two and then basically fell apart. My recollection is that it was made from metal that probably came from tin cans versus the jewel like precision of the Vitessa. Always regretted selling the Vitessa.
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Sheared Film Wind gear Vitessa A
Old 04-19-2019   #18
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Sheared Film Wind gear Vitessa A

Just picked up a severely neglected Vitessa A at a thrift store and found the film advance train not functional due to the gear on the film takeup shaft had been sheared-off.


How in the world did that happen?


Anyway, took it apart and am pretty confident I can make or have made a replacement shaft to fit to the gear and have a working camera again.


The only thing I dread is stuffing those 8 tiny ball bearings back into the film release mechanism and not spilling them all over the place when I reassemble the thing!
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Old 04-19-2019   #19
farlymac
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Oooh, I had an L back when I was in the Navy. It was the first rangefinder camera I ever owned, and I loved it. Except when I wanted a closer look at something far away. For that reason alone I traded it in when I got my first Nikkormat. Should have kept it, but it took the Vitessa, and all the cash I had to buy my way into the Nikon system.


I never bothered to replace the L later on, as other rangefinders caught my eye, and they had battery powered meters. But man, I took some good photos with it back in '72-73.


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Old 04-28-2019   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by farlymac View Post
Oooh, I had an L back when I was in the Navy. It was the first rangefinder camera I ever owned, and I loved it. Except when I wanted a closer look at something far away. For that reason alone I traded it in when I got my first Nikkormat. Should have kept it, but it took the Vitessa, and all the cash I had to buy my way into the Nikon system.


I never bothered to replace the L later on, as other rangefinders caught my eye, and they had battery powered meters. But man, I took some good photos with it back in '72-73.


PF
Phil,
you could definitely get a Vitessa working again. They are not getting any cheaper but plenty of clean ones needing some shutter service or TLC still present online. One great point is that the leather Voigtländer used for their bellows must have been just about the best ever. I suppose you can always be unlucky—but light leaks and bellows replacement is unlikely. I recommend an earlier version with the larger top cover hole and fixed plunger button/knob for the reasons I have outlined above. Just a little safer as it's less likely somebody will have damaged the plunger by trying to get the knob off. The real early ones did not have strap lugs, meaning never ready case or tripod fitting strap only. But models with the Ultron lens, strap lugs and the easy to remove top cover were made and as a bonus did not use the EV coupling either. It's a personal thing but that's my preference.

The reasons to use a Vitessa today are they're so pretty and have unique features. And that Ultron lens is something really special.
Cheers
Brett
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Old 04-28-2019   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sarcophilus Harrisii View Post
Phil,
you could definitely get a Vitessa working again. They are not getting any cheaper but plenty of clean ones needing some shutter service or TLC still present online. One great point is that the leather Voigtländer used for their bellows must have been just about the best ever. I suppose you can always be unlucky—but light leaks and bellows replacement is unlikely. I recommend an earlier version with the larger top cover hole and fixed plunger button/knob for the reasons I have outlined above. Just a little safer as it's less likely somebody will have damaged the plunger by trying to get the knob off. The real early ones did not have strap lugs, meaning never ready case or tripod fitting strap only. But models with the Ultron lens, strap lugs and the easy to remove top cover were made and as a bonus did not use the EV coupling either. It's a personal thing but that's my preference.

The reasons to use a Vitessa today are they're so pretty and have unique features. And that Ultron lens is something really special.
Cheers
Brett

Yeah, I suppose one day I'll get another one, Brett. It's just not on the radar at the moment.


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Old 05-06-2019   #22
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I want to clean my Vitessa down there.. (hmm) ..

but I'm unsure about which screws are holding the cover. I would assume it is the 4 screws in the corners closest to the edge. Can anyone confirm this?


vitessa-bottom-cover.jpg

vitessa-bottom-screw.jpg
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Old 05-07-2019   #23
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I would suggest you leave the bottom alone! If you remove the bottom plate, all sorts of bad things happen! I had to do it to get access to the broken shaft pictured above, but if you are just cleaning, try lots of swabs and cleaner without removing that plate!


The shutter release is ingenious; a hollow tube with 8 tiny ball bearings that allows the downward pressure of the shutter release rod to turn a 45 degree corner without linkages, but it is hairy to get back in place!


If you don't have to, just... don't.
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Old 05-07-2019   #24
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Sorry, duplicate message...

Last edited by Kino : 05-07-2019 at 04:01. Reason: duplicate
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Old 05-07-2019   #25
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Hmm.. I know .. probably good advice, Kino. Thank you.

I guess I'm fishing for good advice from that Tasmanian mammal: Sarcophilus Harrisii ..
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Old 05-10-2019   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kino View Post
I would suggest you leave the bottom alone!
......
If you don't have to, just... don't.

I think I have to! When the doors are closed and the plunger is down, the shutter release can't be pressed to open the camera and release the plunger like the manual describes. So I think there must be something sticking behind that bottom plate, and needs to be cleaned. And I don't feel safe using the camera like it is now.

It think Sarcophilus Harrisii (Brett Rogers) someplace here suggested that it is safe to remove the bottom plate, provided one holds the camera upright?
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Old 06-13-2019   #27
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Just in the final stages of scanning my first roll through the Vitessa. The results from the Color Skopar are very good and sharp enough, but with a bit of post sharpening they are very pleasing. A nice, contrasty and pretty rendering lens. I find the focus patch a bit tough on my old eyes, so missed a few exact focus points on wide open, but stopped down it's not a problem.

It's a charming if idiosyncratic camera, got a lot of attention when out, but I'm really not a fan of the old EV linked sharp teeth exposure system.

Ted



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Both shot on TMY400 2 at 200, Perceptol 1:2 for 10 minutes
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Film amateur with a few rangefinders - Leica III, M2/M3, Werra 3 and Zeiss Super Ikonta 534/16 medium format.

Apart from that have a Rolleiflex 3.5F, the odd Minolta XD7, Hasselblad 500cm, a Topcon Super D and an Intrepid 5x4 large format (not the half of it but I am clearing them out, honest).

I do all my own black and white developing at home.
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