Voigtlander Rangefinders are no more....


Cosina recently announced the end of production for all its rangefinder cameras. Even in a time where interest in film photography has become a bit of a renaissance, Cosina could not sell enough of them to keep them alive. 

This is not to say that you'll see the Voigtlanders disappear from the shelves overnight. There are still plenty of stocks, just that maybe the models might be looking for won't be in stock. 

Like for example the Bessa R4M would have been my camera of choice. It has 21mm framelines for wide angle shooting, so you don't have to buy an optional viewfinder like in the case of Leica M cameras. Leica has no solution for wide angle lenses except for a clip on viewfinder which you have to pay for. 

Voigtlander lenses are still being manufactured so it's not a big dent on your film shooting experience. 

For me, the Voigtlander rangefinder cameras was a good step towards film photography for beginners as they are much cheaper to own than compared to the Leica MP or M series rangefinders. 

Leica still manufactures the MP, a pro level film camera which cost a bomb. But the Bessa was the cheaper alternative. In fact, it is only a fraction of the cost of a used Leica M7. You could go buy a used film camera on eBay, but there are some of us who want to own something new. 

Why the SLR won the Film Battle

Before the introduction of the SLR, the rangefinder was the only professional film camera you could use. How the SLR became king of the hill was simple. It was much easier to focus and use. 

In a rangefinder, you have to align two split focus images together to know that you are in focus, whereas in a SLR, you can judge the focus by the clarity of the whole frame. Even the highly praised Olympus XA did away with rangefinder focusing in subsequent models. 

The ease of using a SLR was evident from the onset but prices between the two didn't differ as much. Both needed manual lenses and the Japanese found a way to make it cheaper. This meant that Voigtlander was sold to Cosina and the European heritage faded away. 
Over the years, Voigtlander started to withdraw production of its cameras, the first to go were the A models, now even the M models have been killed off. 

As rangefinder cameras fell out of fashion, the digital age was probably the final nail in the coffin. 

What you'd be missing on a Voigtlander Cameras

The Bessa R3M had a 1:1 viewfinder aspect ratio so you can keep both eyes open to frame a subject. This is clearly a step above what a Leica could do. 

But shooting with a film camera like the Bessa takes some getting used to, the A models have auto exposure while the M is fully manual. I could double down on a manual model as that is the best way to experience rangefinder photography like the old pros use to do. 

Using an old world method to capture images has to be experienced to be appreciated. 

There is no instant previews or sharing to social media. Film has to be developed and printed. Money must be spent on film. 

Film stocks give a varying degree of results. No two film stocks behave the same way. You get 36 shots in a roll, which means there is no machine gunning your way to a picture like you do on an iPhone. 

If you mess up the exposure, there is no second chances so you have to bracket shots which are important to you. 

Film photography, especially using a rangefinder camera, sharpens your level of observation as you learn to anticipate picture  moments before it happens. This is more so with the rangefinder as you need to work the focus and set an exposure for the moment while thinking of the framing. 

If you don't work fast enough, you will miss that moment. So instead seizing the moment, you anticipate it why observing what goes on around you. 

Sure you can do this with a film SLR as well, but that defeats the point of training your eye and mind to think at the same time. 

Shooting with a rangefinder is more difficult, sort of like driving with a stick shift on a classic car but the experience you get from it is out of this world. It's a sense of achievement to be able to shoot good pictures on film with a rangefinder than it is on your iPhone. 

So if you intend to embark on this challenge, I urge you to hurry. Bessa models would soon be only found in a used camera store.