Voightlander Bessa I

One of my favourite things to do is to browse round flea markets and junk shops, and I’m always on the lookout for old cameras. Last week, we visited a 1940s recreation weekend at Wimpole Hall. To be honest, I can take or leave the recreation aspects, but I wandered into one tent and spotted this little beauty – a Voightlander Bessa I, circa early 1950s.


If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you will know that the camera that made me fall in love with film photography was a Voightlander Vito, so I knew that this could be something pretty special. However, I know that bellows cameras are notorious for all kinds of problems such as leaking light, however I picked it up and had a quick look and the bellows seemed fine. I’ve also picked up enough knowledge to test out the shutter speeds out and they all seemed to be firing fine. The seller wanted £15, but I offered £10 – purely because I only had a tenner on me! – and they accepted, saying that they wouldn’t have gone so low but were happy to give it away because they could see that I would use it.

So I took it home, cleaned it up a bit, and worked out how to use it. However, pretty soon I noticed that the lens seemed to be full of fungus. I know that this is a bit of a problem with older cameras, so my heart sank when I saw it. I looked into repairing it myself, but I suspect that once I’d taken it apart, I’d never get it back together again. I then enquired with a camera repair firm about how much they’d cost to clean it, and they quoted £80+VAT.

Disappointed, I was getting ready either to dismantle it and accept that it’s broken anyway, or to resell it on Ebay. However, before I did either of those things, I thought I might as well run a film through it. To be honest I was resenting even wasting a £5 film on it, but I thought I’d give it a go so I took it over to Peckover House in Wisbech. When I got home, I then decided that I would try in develop it in Rodinal, which I’ve never used before but I thought as the film was probably ruined it wouldn’t matter. Anyway, here are the results below, using this 70 year old camera that I almost binned as worthless junk. Please be aware, the winding on mechanism took a bit of getting used to so I overlapped two images, and forgot to focus one..


I then decided to take two photos with a flash on a tripod in my living room.  We’d just been to see Goodbye Christopher Robin so we tried to go for a bit of a thirties vibe..


So, I’m really pleased with it! The fungus doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue – there’s some dust specs in the pictures but I’m not too bothered about that. I think the Bessa is a bit of a keeper. I see online that they mostly sell for around the £100 mark, and the next model up (which is identical apart from that it includes a rangefinder) sells for around £300! Not bad for something which cost me a tenner..


Rydal Grotto

Descend from the main stately home of Rydal Mount in the Lake District, pass through a tunnel beneath a bridge next to the flowing stream of Rydal Beck, and you will find a curious little building before a waterfall. The building was originally built in the 1668, and its main purpose becomes immediately apparent once you enter. A solitary window frames the waterfall, making it seem like you are looking upon a living painting. The building served as a retreat for artists, who could sit in the little building and paint the waterfall.

I can’t paint unfortunately, but it made a nice subject for my Semflex TLR. My wife has more talent than me so I took a picture of her as she followed in footsteps of those before her and sketched the waterfall. The light was beautiful through the window.

I almost destroyed these negatives in development, putting in only 300ml of solution rather than 500ml, thinking I was developing 35mm rather than 120. I’m glad I managed to save them.



Overgrown bench on Semflex TLR

I recently acquired a beautiful early 1950s Semflex – a French TLR camera. I had wanted a Lubitel but the guy in the shop convinced me that the Semflex is much better.

I took it out for its debut on a walk around Grasmere in the Lake District. I left my wife on a small beach to do some sketching while I attempted to reach the top of Loughrigg. The Semflex is a pretty big and heavy camera and I was soon regretting the decision to take it with me, but I then came across a broken and overgrown bench, and then it seemed worth lugging the thing up the fell after all..

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First Box Brownie photos

So I got my first Box Brownie photos back – I’m really pleased with them! I wasn’t expecting anything great, as through past experience (see earlier posts) there’s nothing more dispiriting than spending time setting up photos carefully only to find that none of them came out. Therefore, I decided to play it safe, and took my dog out for a walk in my hometown of March on a nice sunny day – ideal Box Brownie weather.

First, here’s a shot of our Victorian town hall. It’s a fine building when looking up but there is an ugly modern car park at the bottom so I chose this angle. I did manage to double-expose one of the pictures by accident, but this one came out the best.



Wandering down to the old medieval church of St Wendreda’s, I spotted this interesting old gravestone, covered in ivy. I didn’t quite manage to get it all in the frame – one of the viewfinders is very dark, the mirrored surface inside is peeling off so I probably need to repair it. Not surprising after 100 years!2

This is a shot of the river Nene from the town centre. Not the most exciting of shots but I quite like the mirrored texture of the water.


Lastly, a shot of the medieval church of St Wendreda’s. I was finding the viewfinder a bit disorientating as its reversed but still not bad!


Considering how old the camera is, I’m pleased with how these came out. Now that I know it works, I’d like to experiment using it a bit more – maybe with some nice sweeping landscapes. I’m going to the Lake District soon so hopefully I’ll be able to get some good shots then.

It’s nice to take something that’s been useless for the best part of a century and give it a purpose again. I hope my little Box Brownie camera is happy about that – I like to think so..