After a year and a half I’m finally following up with my promise to do the full review of the Voigtlander Bessa R2a. As mentioned I’ve owned this camera for a while now and have thoroughly put it through its paces and even though it may be pretty beat it goes to show this camera is capable of withstanding heavy use! For the first couple months of owning this I might’ve put through 50+ rolls it was just so fun to shoot. This was my first M Mount rangefinder and I’d even go to say this camera played a key role in influencing me to purchase my first Leica.
But why did I purchase a Leica? Why even bother purchasing another camera 2x the price when the Voigtlander R2a did just about everything a Leica could and then some? I mean overall the Bessa R2a is a solid camera and could very much be the answer to anyone wanting a Leica like rangefinder for about 1/3 of the price. But here’s the thing, the R2a takes a BATTERY!
Okay lets CUT the BS, there really was no reason for me to purchase a Leica other than the fact that I wanted one. I really do believe the Voigtlander Bessa’s are a FAR better value than Leica cameras. It may not be metal, bare bones and pure like a Leica BUT the R2A holds it’s ground as being one of the best Leica alternative rangefinders. Let’s jump into some of the key features of the camera.
1.) M Mount Rangefinder
One of the key selling points this camera will feature is the Leica M mount. You can put just about any Leica M mount lens ranging from your Summicrons to your Summiluxes and even to your third party options from Voigtlander and Zeiss. When shooting film your image quality depends largely on the quality of your glass so having the ability to put some top notch M mount glass is a BIG benefit. With the money you save from buying one of these cameras you can put towards a nice M mount lens opening up the possibility of having a ridiculously killer setup.
With the R2a you have frame line options for 35/50/75/90.
2.) Built in Meter + Aperture Priority
Having a built in meter on an M mount body is INSANE considering the Leica equivalent is the M6 which can easily run you about $2000. Not to mention this camera has a built in aperture priority mode allowing the user to quickly select a desired aperture and the camera will do the rest. Again the equivalent costing about 2x the price putting the Voigtlander Bessa R2a at the top of the list for photographers looking to have a bit of automation in a rangefinder body.
3.) Top 1/2000 Shutter Speed
This camera boasts an impressive top shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second putting it on the list of top shutter speeds in a rangefinder right behind the Konica Hexar RF. This could be of great benefit to people looking to shoot their lenses wide open without having to use an ND filter.
4.) Bright Viewfinder
The viewfinder on this camera is surprisingly bright. It may not be as bright as my m2 but it’s far better than most rangefinders in its price range. Its important to note that the finder has a .7x magnification so if you’re a 35mm shooter you will have no problem when it comes to framing as the frame lines cover the viewfinder nicely. If you’re a first time rangefinder user or even a seasoned vet, the viewfinder won’t disappoint
So this is an M mount rangefinder, can shoot Leica glass, has a built in meter, features aperture priority, has a max shutter of 1/2000 of a second all for just about 2/3 the price of a Leica? What’s the catch? Well if I’m honest it’s hard to really pin point a MAJOR con to this camera but I do believe that everything in life has its imperfections no matter even on things that you genuinely love. The R2a has 2 cons that I think could be a turn off for some people so please read and consider the following;
1.) Battery Dependent
In order to power the light meter as well as the AE mode a battery is needed. This camera takes two LR44 batteries and not only does it power the meter and AE mode, it also unfortunately powers the shutter. This is one of the common complaints that some people either HATE or just dislike in general. The counter argument that a lot of r2a shooters make is to simply buy and carry a couple o extra batteries with you while you shoot. And from personal experience I’ve had the camera die on me after not changing the battery for about half a year but since the batteries used are button cell batteries they are VERY easy to find. A quick trip to the drugstore, Walmart or even Target will cover you. If you’re looking for the same camera with a built in light meter (minus the AE mode) check out the Voigtlander Bessa R2m as it’s the same thing but that camera doesn’t need a battery to operate the shutter, only the light meter.
2.) 35mm Frame lines
I’m not sure if this is a personal pet peeve of mine but the when you’re in the 35mm frame lines you may notice there is no bottom frame line. Instead they give you two little hash marks and leave the rest for you to figure out. This could be tough on someone who is looking to compose or at least see what will be the cutoff on the bottom side of the frame. I’ve gotten use to it over time but this definitely annoyed me a little when first starting out with it.
The Voigtlander Bessa r2a I feel was built for people who are coming from SLR’s over to the rangefinder system. They implemented features very similar to what you would find on some high end SLR cameras such as AP, Light meter and even a top 1/2000 shutter speed. This would be a great outfit for anyone that wants to try a rangefinder without having to go full manual. Looking back at what Voigtlander did for this camera is just insane! The has to be the best entry level M mount rangefinder under $1000.
This may not be a Leica but it is a very capable camera. The differences between the two I feel mostly has to do with materials used to produce the camera. Leica is known to use high grade metals such as brass for their gears and body. I feel as if this may be the reason why people love Leica as a brand, they’re built well and luxurious. on the other hand the Bessa r2a is humble chunk of plastic making up for its build quality by squeezing in expensive features into a rangefinder system. This is the answer to an M mount rangefinder that has automation features without the $3000 price tag.
Body only you’re looking at about $1000 Mint/New between $700-800 used and if you wait for a good deal you can even find them for around $500. I purchased mine from the used market for $500 and some change so just be patient, ask your photographer buddies if anyone is selling one because you are bound to find one of these at a good price.
Here are some sample images from this camera, if you enjoyed this review please share, like and comment your thoughts!