Tag Archives: bessa

The Benny Ling 2012 Photographic Year in Review: By the Numbers, An Introduction to Film, and Just Taking Photos

One of my favourite photos of the year was of this pink bike. Not this particular photo, but one of them.

2012 marks the first year I’ve taken photography seriously. I’ve always been interested in photography, but haven’t really gotten as involved with it as I did this year. It probably had a lot to do with the acquisition of my own DSLR kit late last year, and even more to do with doing my own photography — the shots I’ve seen other people take but have always wanted to apply my own spin or interpretation of, combined with the creative control a “serious” camera like a DSLR allows.

By the numbers

Lightroom says I’ve taken 7343 images with my 60D this year Of those:

  • 3493 were taken with the Sigma 30 1.4
  • 2105 were taken with the Canon 17-55 2.8
  • 662 were taken with the Canon 18-135 3.5-5.6
  • 632 were taken with the Canon 24-85 3.5-4.5
  • 200 were taken with the Canon 50 1.8
  • 251 were taken with a Samyang(?) 6.5mm fisheye

The Sigma’s high numbers are pretty easy to explain: it’s the lens that got busted out at my first ever wedding reception, and it’s usually the one that’s attached to my camera the most often. It’s usually the lens that I take when I’m going to an event at youth, and of course, being the fastest lens I own means it gets used quite a lot. Overall, I quite enjoy the Sigma — it’s a great piece of glass when you consider the price. Fast, with a great focal length for a crop sensor.

The 17-55 is easily the most expensive piece of glass that I own, and in a few respects it’s a better lens than the Sigma. Its numbers are lower than the Sigma on a pure photos-taken basis mainly because I don’t use it as much. I’m not sure why, because it can produce some truly great photos. It’s the lens I took with me to Melbourne that one time, the one I used at the Relay for Life, and what I do most of my landscapes with. But I seldom use it at youth events, purely because it looks (and feels) intimidating; people tend to shy away from it. It may produce some excellent photos, but it’s not exactly subtle. It’s heavy, too — almost a full kilo. In an ideal world I’d like this lens to be the one permanently attached to my 60D, but such is the advantage of an interchangeable camera system.

The rest of the numbers aren’t exactly special: the 18-135 was the first lens I owned, along with the 50 1.8, the latter of which doesn’t get much use due to the slightly longer focal length and the fact that I have the much better (sharper, faster) Sigma to use instead. Maybe when I go full-frame I’ll use it more, but that’s definitely for another time.

An introduction to film

Around April, I bought an old film camera, and experienced film photography for myself. Our family had an old film point and shoot before the days of digital, of course, but I rarely used personally. But the Yashica Lynx 14 I bought off an OCAU forum member made me realise that maybe there was more to this photography thing than just pressing shutter buttons. Perhaps it was the fully-mechanical nature of the camera, or maybe it was having to wait to see if my photos were any good, but film photography made me start enjoying photography all over again.

I ended up loving that Yashica Lynx — non-operational/slightly temperamental light meter and all — so much that it ended up with a stuck shutter, which was the end of that particular camera.

But by that stage I couldn’t give up rangefinder photography, which has more advantages than just looking the part with a fancy film camera. Long story short, I ended up buying a Voigtländer Bessa R2A camera, paired with a Voightlander Nokton 40 1.4 to replace the old (like, late 1960s-era old) Yashica Lynx.

The story continues…

A New Rangefinder (feat. Bessa R2A)

I was about 30 exposures into my 13th roll of film when suddenly, the shutter button on my Yashica Lynx 14 just stopped activating the shutter. Quite inconvenient, really. I always wind-on directly after firing off a shot, which cocks the shutter automatically — but somehow, that wasn’t happening anymore. The shutter wasn’t being cocked, even though it seemed to still be advancing film.

I made a short video which explains exactly what was going on.

The shutter was being fired when I was winding on. Not sure how, or why it started happening pretty much spontaneously; I had noticed similar “shutter-not-cocking-after-wind-on” issues a few weeks prior, but I didn’t know it at the time and dismissed it. Resulted in some pretty funky exposures too, since it was opening the shutter after winding on a new frame — mostly shaky, blurry-cam type stuff, but kinda cool in some sort of surrealist way.

I was pretty upset. Shooting with a rangefinder is incredibly satisfying, and seeing as my only rangefinder had just given up the ghost, not shooting with a rangefinder for street just wasn’t an option.

Being an old, fully mechanical camera, I investigated repair options: taking it to the local camera repair shop resulted in a repair bill which could have run into the hundreds of dollars had I chosen to send it off to some gentleman who specialised in older cameras, multiples of what the camera was actually worth (in monetary terms, anyway). I decided to do a little DIY, taking apart the camera and seeing if I could fix the issue myself.

Sadly, that didn’t work due to a lack of understanding about which camera parts did what. I took the entire thing apart (except for the lens assembly), and I still didn’t figure out how it worked. Nothing terribly obvious was wrong with it, which seems a little strange when you consider that it’s a fully mechanical camera, and not some electric-powered everything like the DSLRs of today. But I digress.

I did get the chance to clean out the rangefinder patch and window, though, which has now resulted in a viewfinder that looks fantastic. Shame it doesn’t actually take photos anymore.

Which brought me to an entirely new dilemma: which replacement rangefinder was I going to purchase? Not having a rangefinder wasn’t an option, they’re just too much fun to shoot on, way more portable than a DSLR, and besides,, I don’t mind manual focus. I lusted over a digital rangefinder for about the same amount of time it took to look up the price. Until I start getting paid handsomely for photography, they’re a little out of my price range.

After looking around for a bit, it was a toss-up between two Voightländer cameras: the Bessa R2A, or the Bessa R3A. They’re practically the same camera, but the Bessa R3A has a 1:1 ratio viewfinder, which is pretty cool because it means you can take photos with both eyes open (if you look though the viewfinder with your right eye, that is). Apart from that, they’re both 35mm film rangefinders with built-in auto exposure or metered manual — and if I was going to shoot street, autoexposure was exactly what I wanted, allowing me to set the aperture, focus, and let the camera take care of the rest.

I ended up buying an R2A second-hand, because the store that I wanted to buy from didn’t have any in stock… I also ended up getting the super-popular Voightländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4, perhaps one of the cheapest ($529 new, hah) M-mount lenses that you can buy. Compared to some of the massively-upwards of $2000 Leica lenses, it’s dirt cheap whilst still providing excellent image quality — and by excellent IQ, I mean knock your pants off stuff.

But perhaps the best feature of the Bessa isn’t that it has auto-exposure, or the fact that it’s a reasonably recent film camera (i.e. introduced in 2004, still manufactured today), but the fact that it has the all-heralded Leica M mount.

Ah, Leica. They’re not a brand for the beginner or even for those without deep, deep pockets, but they’re renowned for the simple reason they have some of the best glass in the business. All manual focus, but lenses that are unparalleled when it comes to sheer resolving power and image quality.

The Bessa R2A isn’t really unique in that it’s not the only 35mm film rangefinder that features a Leica M mount, because there are a fair few rangefinders that do — but besides all that, it’s still a (very big) step up from the el-cheapo Yashica Lynx I was using before. Not top-tier (Leica M6/M7/MP-level), but not exactly bottom-barrel, either.

Besides being fantastically built and opening up yet another wide variety of super-expensive glass to lust over, the R2A is really good fun to shoot with.

But that’s for another time.