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Sunday, June 8

Selfies with the Vitessa


Www.theonlinedarkroom.com, voigtlander Vitessa, ultron, 50mm f2, darkroom, film, analogue, analog, silver gelatin,  firstcall 400s, spur hrx, acurol-n, acurol-p, cool black

Back in March I revealed the latest addition to my camera line-up, a Voigtlander Vitessa "barn doors" from the 1950s. It came with a few issues, the main one being that it didn't always advance the film leading to double and multiple exposures.

Well, I got the old lighter fluid out and cleaned the unique plunger wind-on mechanism as well as I could and also gave the shutter a squirt as the slow speeds were sticking. It seemed to be functioning fine after that but then suddenly refused to release the shutter when wound on.


I noticed the flash sync had been knocked off the X setting to the M (for bulb) setting. When I switched it back, the shutter started firing again. Now, it's all working very sweetly although the 1s and 1/2s settings are running a little on the long side.

I wanted to give it another outing so loaded it up with a roll of Firstcall 400S with the intention of developing it in Spur's HRX. Spur says the film should be rated at 40 ISO even though it's nominally a 400 ISO emulsion. Having developed the film like that in the past and found there was plenty of shadow detail at 40 ISO and just about enough when underexposed by a stop or two at that film speed, I decided to shoot the roll at 160 ISO.



There's no Spur development time for Firstcall 400S at 160 ISO so I had to have a guess. For 40 ISO, the time is 12 minutes. Since I was effectively pushing the film two stops, I decided to give it about 40% extra or 16.5 minutes. That turned out to be somewhat overcooked. Probably around 15 minutes would have done it. Shadow detail is slightly lacking in a few frames but it's not too bad at all.

I was quite pleased with the performance of the Vitessa and its 50mm f2 Ultron lens, one of the stars of the '50s. The frame spacing is very even, the exposures are even if a trifle meaty, and there's not much to speak of in the way of vignetting.


Sharpness is good across the frame and contrast is fine although the exposure and development used obviously helped produce quite snappy negs.

I took the advice of famous Scottish photographer Joseph McKenzie - Phil Roger's tutor at art college - who told the students to photograph whatever caught their eye. I was wandering around the university campus - a regular haunt of mine and Phil's - and managed to get a few self portraits of a somewhat tubby-looking me in the frames. I've put on more than a stone since my son's wedding last August and that diet is becoming more pressing all the time…



Going out with no expectations or preconceptions is very rewarding. As is having just one camera and its fixed lens. Of course, rangefinders don't get easier for me and I have to say that I really don't like them much at all. I've yet to whip the top of the Vitessa to see if I can clean up the viewfinder so looking through it is a pretty dismal affair. It might be more usable if I could see what I was doing!

The university campus has some very nice areas but the ones I've chosen to show here are images of a few buildings that are no longer used for anything and so are a bit tired looking. In fact, one building that both Phil and I have photographed from time to time has been boarded up which is a bit of a bummer if you like photographing urban decay and graffiti.


The final shot, as you can probably tell, was taken at the golf course rather than the university. I was curious to see what the Ultron's bokeh was like, test the rangefinder at it's closest focusing distance and shoot into the light without a lens hood to test for flare. I reckon the lens did pretty well on all three counts.

Now that I've proved to myself that the camera is working well I'll be happy enough to offload it on Ebay. It's well made, has a great lens, fine build quality and a lot of charm and quirkiness but it's still a rangefinder and that's the one thing I've yet to overcome when it comes to cameras.

5 comments :

Andrea Ingram said...

Nice. will have to try 400s at 160 in Spur

Bruce Robbins said...

Remember, though, Andrea that this was developed using HRX and not Acurol-N. You could try the recommended time for 40 ISO and add 25-30% to see how it goes.

Paulo Moreira said...

Lovely article. I also have the Vitessa but it is the T model. Shame you don't get along with rangefinders, there are some good ones out there, with great viewfinders and cheap.

Andrea Ingram said...

Thanks for reminding me Bruce. :-)

Herman Sheephouse said...

Coo - it's like two dogs weeing on the same walls Bruce!
Some nice shots though - you should hang on to the camera.