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..