Getting this camera was a little painful, I’ve written about that already here

This Voigtlander bessamatic is an early SLR with interchangeable lenses which of course is now the norm.  Back then I guess things were still being worked out and there is a noticeable difference between the functionality of this camera to how more modern SLRs work.

In a typical SLR you will find a focal plane shutter in the form of a curtain towards the rear that opens slightly and the scans across the film which is situated just behind it.  The film is protected from light by the shutter whilst you look at the image through the viewfinder via the mirror which is hanging down in the middle of the camera.  When you take the shot, the mirror pops out of the way and then the shutter does it’s thing

On this camera the shutter is a leaf shutter positioned towards the front of the body (in front of where the mirror sits).  So in order for the mirror to bounce the image up into the viewfinder the shutter needs to be opened when the mirror is in place.  Then to prevent the film exposing while the mirror is down (and the shutter open) a screen is put in front of the film.  Effectively this is part of the mirror mechanism.  So now when you take the shot the shutter needs to close then the mirror (and screen) move out of the way and finally the shutter opens and closes to make the exposure.

This is the CS version of the Bessamatic and was the last in the series, the original had a selenium lightmeter,  the ‘deluxe’ added the ability to see the exposure settings through the viewfinder and the CS switched the light meter to TTL CdS. It was only produced for a few years and is probably one of the rarer models as a result.  Seeing the shutter speed and aperture in the viewfinder is via a simple mirror/prism which allows you to see the rings on the front of the camera; its basic but it works well enough.

Make Model Film/format Year Lens Shutter Aperture
Voigtlander Bessamatic CS 35mm SLR c1968 Zoomar 36-82 f2.8 (c1959) B, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500 F2-22

The Zoomar lens (which I am happy to have with this) is a monster and it is the world’s first zoom lens for 35mm cameras.  So every zoom lens you see today owes itself to this beast and even the term ZOOM has it’s origins with this.  The designer had made other zoom lenses for the moving picture industry but this was a new thing in the stills arena. Notice that this is a shown with a speed rating of 1:2.8; that’s a flat number across the zoom range, not a variation at each end.  Pretty impressive compared to many zooms theses days.

The lens works very well in my opinion the focus and the zoom are very solid and smooth.  On my first outing I found the lens was a little loose on the mount but after going around with a screwdriver tightening all the screws I could see, it’s much better now but not as tight as I would like; maybe that’s to be expected for a lens that’s nearly 60 years old. The focus is via a nice wide ring on the front section of the lens, easy to reach out and find.  Zooming is done by a secondary ring which you push pull on nice solid shafts. I have to say these guys got it pretty well right and compares well with many modern zooms.

It’s not a long zoom being only a 36-82 focal length range and so it’s not really suited to nature or sports or anything like that, it’s more for being able to adjust the framing to for example, allow for isolation of a subject.

The camera itself seems to work well too; the light meter is reasonably accurate (fitted with a 625 alkaline 1.5v battery) and the settings are easy to operate.  Seeing the shutter speed and aperture in the viewfinder is a bonus.  As with the Pentacon you can only see through the shutter when the film is wound and ready.


It’s not a light camera by any means especially with the 1¾ lb Zoomar hanging off the front; I think I’d like to try it with a ‘normal’ lens attached.

Here’s a sample of some shots taken on Kodak Gold 200.