This colonial pier used to be located in the Central business district of Hong Kong Island. It was relocated and now resides in Stanley which is on the south side of the island.
This final installment of the Bessa III review will focus on its unique bellows and Heliar lens. Some sample images from the camera will also be included as requested.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the camera is its collapsible bellows. But unlike a large format camera, the Bessa III bellows only allow the camera to be more compact and does not enable any tilt shift effects. (An interesting experiment would be to unhinge and shoot the lens in a non-perpendicular position to the film plane.) With the bellows collapsed the camera can fit in any large coat pocket or side pocket of your bag for easy access. It is very secure so no worries about it opening or closing accidentally.
Both the aperture dial and focus ring on the lens turn smoothly. The focus tab is comfortable to use even for large sized thumbs. The aperture ring is notched so that it’s easy to locate and turn. The numbers on the aperture dial are large enough to be seen through the viewfinder. This enables the shooter to keep their eye on the subject without removing it from the viewfinder to check aperture and shutter settings. And with a viewfinder magnification of only 0.7x it is close enough to 1:1 to keep both eyes open without much disorientation.
As for the lens, I must admit I have some mixed feelings about it. In optimal lighting conditions the optics yield wonderful results. With the correct focus setting the images are very sharp and crisp. However, in poor lighting conditions the contrast is quite low but nothing that can’t be fixed with some post processing. From this table you can see that the Bessa III’s 80mm Heliar lens is equivalent to a lens somewhere between 35 and 50mm on a 35mm camera. As mentioned previously it does feel a lot wider compared to its 35mm format counterpart. Overall the performance of the lens will allow you to take a wide variety of shots day and night, handheld and with a tripod.
Sample Images from the Bessa III with Heliar 80mm F3.5 Lens
For all the Bessa III related post including photos taken with the camera please click here.
In Part 1 we looked at the film compartment of the Bessa III. I forgot to mention that there’s a 120 or 220 film selector on the backdoor which will show how long a roll of medium format film you’re using. There’s also a slot on the back for putting in the film stub to remind you what film type you’ve loaded into the camera. Don’t forget to do this if you change film types often. In Part 2 we will now look at the top plate of the Bessa III.
Personally I find this area of the camera to be the most well designed. I like it mainly for its simplicity and spacious layout. The shutter dial on the left is nicely integrated with the exposure compensation and the film ISO setting. By default the dial is locked to the red “A” which stands for aperture priority. To set the shutter speed you push the silver button while turning the dial to the desired value. To set the exposure compensation you do the same thing except this time you line up the red “A” marker (instead of the white marker) with the -2 to +2 scale. As for the ISO, you lift up the dial to move the internal wheel and release the dial when you are on the desired ISO. Very elegant and speedy operation.
In the middle of the top panel is the flash hot shoe. There’s also a standard PC flash outlet on the left which is covered by a rubber plug. I’ve used this once in a studio setting to trigger radio remote flashes and it worked quite nicely. A Bessa III with a flash/remote mounted is surprisingly easy to handle and well balanced.
Over on the right is the mechanical film counter, film advance dial and shutter button. The film counter is well spaced and easy to read. It will either advance to 10 or 12 depending on whether the 6×7 or 6×6 frame is chosen. If you are using 220 film it will advance to higher numbers respectively. The biggest area of debate is the shutter button and film advance dial. Some folks find this part a little too plastic-y and toy like. I don’t mind it all that much and the fact that it’s plastic means it weighs less and is easier to turn. I’ve only had one minor slip up which resulted in two frames overlapping slightly. The shutter button releases a leaf shutter which will be the quietest and most inconspicuous thing you have ever heard.
And finally, the viewfinder is just absolutely gorgeous to look through. It’s the largest and brightest of all rangefinders I’ve used. The frame lines are minimal and clear and they will shift as you turn the focus dial to correct for parallax. For the amount that the lens protrudes it’s surprising that it doesn’t really block the viewfinder at all. The lettering and font is also quite elegant and minimal with just the white “667” on the front. In summary the controls are simple and intuitive letting you focus on what’s most important – your subject matter.
Several years ago my wife and I travelled to Prague and picked up an old fold up camera. We brought it as a kind of joke and took a few rolls of film with it. Little did we know that when we developed and printed out the photos they were absolutely stunning giving much greater detail on an 8 x 10 print then 35 mm film. Although in working condition the camera had its quirks and was very cumbersome to operate. So I picked up a second-hand Hasselblad 500 CM which was easier to operate but challenging nonetheless due to the upside down viewfinder (I haven’t given up yet). At the time the Bessa III which combines medium format negative + rangefinder composition + compact folding body seemed like the ideal solution.
The Bessa III takes 120 roll film which can be set either to 6 x 7 or 6 x 6 frame ratio. The adjustment can be made simply by turning the clearly marked dial on the right. On my sample this dial is a bit loose and I find myself compulsively checking to make sure it is firmly set before closing the back. The two arrows across the top simply indicate where you should place the starting strip indicator on the 120 film leader. Just line the arrow up with the either the 6 x 7 or 6 x 6 indicator on the leader and you are good to go.
I prefer the 6 x 7 ratio on the Bessa III as it gives a wider field of view. This is good for street shooting because you never know what interesting things can be found on the periphery. To get some composition inspiration you can search for 6 x 7 either on google or flickr to see some good samples.
Other things of note
The two red buttons on the back do nothing more than pop the film reels off the camera. There’s a circular screw-on viewfinder protector that needs to be fastened carefully. If you manage to lose it like I did, you can pick up a Nikon branded replacement quite easily.