In recognition that the 35mm rangefinder camera really does come into its own with wide-angle lenses Cosina has revamped the Voigtländer Bessa to make this more convenient… and allow faster shooting.
Long before the development of automated camera systems, the 35mm rangefinder camera was often adopted for its inherent speed of operation which, in turn, allowed for spontaneous shooting. With the exposure preset for the prevailing lighting conditions and the focus set to make the most of depth-of-field, all that remained was to point and shoot.
It was this characteristic which endeared the rangefinder design to street photographers – most notably Henri Cartier-Bresson – who could, instead of worrying about camera settings, concentrate on what was happening around them… and be always ready to capture “the decisive moment”. A key element of such readiness was, of course, a wide-angle lens which took in more of the scene – allowing for cropping in the darkroom later on – and had inherently more depth-of-field. Set the aperture to f11 or f16 on, say, a 21mm lens and the focus to around 1.5 metres and the depth-of-field will typically extend from around 70 centimetres to infinity. Who needs autofocusing? Wide-angle lenses and rangefinder cameras are a great match, especially as the type of photography typically done with the latter is largely more about having a wider field-of-view within which to work. In fact, there are some physical constraints on the camera side which limit the focal length… the size of the image frame within the viewfinder, for example.
Four With More
Recognising that using wide-angle lenses is probably more of a priority than anything else, Cosina has revised the viewfinder on its latest Voigtländer Bessa-series of 35mm rangefinder cameras. The new models are designated R4A and R4M with, as before, the suffixes standing for ‘Auto’ and ‘Manual’ respectively. The previous R3-series models had a viewfinder with a magnification of 1.0x and brightline frames for the 40mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm. If you wanted to fit a lens wider than 40mm then you had to also fit a matched accessory finder which provided the wider angle-of-view. Apart from the inconvenience of having to use two finders – one to frame, the other to focus and check exposure settings – the accessory unit also occupied the flash hotshoe… plus the parallax error increased as the distance from the lens’s optical axis increased. In other words, this is an arrangement which somewhat compromises the speed at which the camera can be deployed.
This is all solved with the R4’s viewfinder which has a magnification reduced to 0.52x so it can accommodate brightline frames for the 21mm, 25mm, 28mm, 35mm and 50mm focal lengths. Now you’re talking! These are the ‘classic’ rangefinder camera focal lengths and, for many users, it’s going to be a rare occasion when they need anything longer. Being able to use the 21mm and 25mm focal lengths without fitting an accessory finder is a real boon to using the R4 in a wide (sorry) selection of situations from landscapes to interiors.
Cosina is building on this by introducing a pair of compact ‘pancake’ type wide-angle lenses – a 25mm f4.0 and a 21mm f4.0 – which compliment the R4 bodies beautifully. While this report concentrates on the R4A, the R4M is essentially the same save for having a mechanical shutter and, consequently, manual exposure control only (with a different viewfinder display). Both cameras retain the Leica M-bayonet lens mount which is called the ‘VM mount’ on the Voigtländer cameras. As we’ve noted in our reviews of the previous models, the build quality of the Bessa R bodies has been steadily improving since the original model with the Leica screwthread mount. Underneath is the same stout chassis that’s been providing a solid base for both Cosina-made 35mm SLRs and RF cameras for over two decades.