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Voigtlander Vitessa-T 35mm rangefinder cameras

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Voigtlander Vitessa-T 35mm rangefinder cameras

Post Wed Sep 06, 2006 1:35 am

By way of introduction, I am a serious collector of a single make and model of 35mm rangefinder film cameras. These are the Voigtlander Vitessa-T cameras manufactured in Braunschweig, Germany during 1956-1958.

I now have 52 of these, and I'm awaiting number 53, which I just bought on eBay and which I will pick up this weekend. Along with the Vitessa-T cameras, I have a large collection of all the Compur lenses manufactured for the Vitessa-T, along with a small group of lenses (Steinheil Culmigon, Schneider-Kreuznach Braun-Tele-Arton, Rodenstock-Rotelar) which also fit the Synchro-Compur Model 1130 shutter specifically made for the Vitessa-T.

Why this particular make and model of camera? Back in late 1971, I borrowed my first Vitessa-T from a friend who had purchased the complete outfit from a Chicago hockshop. It turned out to be a superb camera once I mastered the technique of proper exposure setups. My wife and I used the Vitessa-T on a long weekend trip to New Orleans, and we both were surprised at the quality of the color slides that resulted from its use. Needless to say, our friend offered to sell us the entire camera outfit for $100 (camera body, eveready case, 35mm, 100mm, 135mm lenses, all with cases, Turnit3 finder). I'm forever glad I accepted his offer.

That was the start of a 35-year love affair with this particular make and model of German rangefinder cameras, and I was never tempted away. I have done photography with one or more of these all across North America, Europe and the eastern Mediterranean.

Lately, I have begun seriously haunting online auctions, and getting cameras that frequently are sold inexpensively merely because nobody seems to know how to clean and lubricate the shutter. Or to re-connect parts of the relatively complex film advance, shutter cocking and double-interlock systems. None of this is too difficult if you first consult appropriate service and repair manuals.

In any case, these old rangefinder cameras are strictly mechanical-optical devices. Which means that if you don't drop them or twist some part with too much leverage, there is little or nothing that breaks. I have learned that mostly what they need are thorough cleaning to get rid of dessicated lubricants which have been in some of these cameras for 50 years, if they were never properly serviced. Then, the most careful application of the least amount of new lubricant you can apply, and only where the specifications call for it.

Vitessa-Ts are equipped with built-in selenium powered exposure meters, which supposedly decay with passage of time and exposure to light. But of more than 50 of these cameras, only one has a seemingly dead meter and a second one has a weak meter. Even these old selenium cells can be replaced (Magnetronics, UK) and their galvanometers can be re-calibrated. I think the secret is to keep the camera dry and avoid exposing the selenium cell to constant bright light.

Another trick I picked up from an old-time shoe repairman who also has collected cameras is to avoid storing the cameras in leather cases. Leather is a great adsorbent of moisture -- especially water -- and it will pass this on to the camera body. Instead, I keep all mine wrapped in protective material and use any of the large number of leather cases only when I take the camera outdoors for photography.

I'm thinking of selling some of these on eBay, one at a time. But only after I restore each camera so that they will function precisely as the optical engineers designed them at that factory in Braunschweig when they manufactured them 50 years ago. That typically requires only a CLA (cleaning, lubrication, adjustment). And the nice things about specializing in a particular make and model of camera are twofold. First, you have a lot of shutters, camera bodies and lenses to acquire some expertise on. Second, they all have interchangeable parts, with the exception of some parts that were changed in later manufacturing runs of this camera.

So that's my story to date. I'd like to know if there is any kind of specialized community of people who collect and use Vitessa-Ts. I have not taken the time to look. But PBase seems like a potentially useful place to start.

If any of you have explored this particular camera make and know something about them I may well have missed, I won't feel antagonistic if you contradict anything I wrote here. That's a good way to keep on learning new things.

Arnold Harris
Mount Horeb WI

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