Voigtlnder’s VSL 43; A New Entry-Level Film SLR Page 2

Get Those Extra Optics
It has to be said, too, that finding extra prime lenses (preferably in K-mount) is a good idea. The zoom that is supplied with the camera does not flatter it. Yes, it enables you to get started immediately, and if you take the trouble to put the camera on a tripod and shoot at f/8 or f/11, the results can be surprisingly good. At full aperture the performance is less than stellar, and unless you use a reasonably fast film (at least ISO 400) the small maximum apertures of the standard zoom mean that you run the risk of reduced sharpness as a result of camera shake in anything other than bright sun. Remember: f/3.5 is 2/3 stop slower than f/2.8 and f/4.8 is only 1/2 stop faster than f/5.6.

Focusing is precise, thanks to a microprism collar around a horizontally split rangefinder prism, and the standard lens goes down to a 0.4 meter/17" "Macro" mode where the quality isn't brilliant, but is better than not being able to focus close. The screen is satisfactorily bright, as it has to be with such a slow standard lens. The filter fitting on the standard zoom is a handy 52mm.

The shutter release is threaded for a proper, God-fearing, PC-tapered shutter release--no "dedicated" and overpriced electronic releases here--and there is a 1/4" tripod socket in the bottom. The only flash sync is via the hot shoe, though: no PC nipple, but these are available from third parties via hot-shoe adapters. Back opening is via the usual pull-up rewind crank and there is a window in the back for checking what film (if any) is loaded. Batteries are 2x LR44/SR44.

There is an all-electronic self-timer: press the button at 10 o'clock on the lens mount (seen from the front) and there's about a 10-second non-cancelable delay. The button flashes prettily in red during the countdown. There is no manual stop-down (depth of field preview).

Sheep grazing, late afternoon. This would be a difficult shot with any camera/lens, handheld and with ISO 100 film (Kodak's Ektachrome EBX). Roger had a choice between losing sharpness to the poor performance of the lens at full aperture (here 70mm and f/4.8) or risking camera shake at a smaller aperture. He chose the former. Moral: use ISO 400 film!
© 2006, Roger W. Hicks, All Rights Reserved

The Local Chatter
Inevitably, a lot of snobbism has surrounded the introduction of this camera, with many complaining that it cheapens the Voigtländer brand. Nonsense. Go back 50 or more years, when Voigtländer was in its heyday, and there were quite a lot of rather basic cameras under the Voigtländer name, coexisting quite happily with the immortal Prominent and the original APO-Lanthars; and let us not forget that Zeiss themselves used to sell box cameras of far more pedestrian specification than the VSL 43.

Certainly, we'd rather use this new Voigtländer than any box camera or indeed than most of the fixed-lens, leaf-shutter, entry-level Voigtländers of the 1950s. Plastic? Yes, but that is probably superior to cast pot metal and stamped thin-gauge sheet. It won't outlast a Leica, or even a '58 Voigtländer Vitrona, but we would be surprised if any users of this camera were to expose the scores or more likely hundreds of rolls of film that would be required to wear it out. For that matter, the shutter is a lot more reliable and accurate than on most elderly used cameras (such as our Pentax SVs from the '60s) and of course it has both through-lens metering and Aperture-Priority automation.

A Good Way To Learn?

The great thing about learning (or re-learning) photography with a film-based camera like this is that the pictures can't be deleted: you can return to your successes, as well as your failures, for days, weeks, months, and years afterward--decades, even--and re-assess them in the light of your growing knowledge, experience, and wisdom. This is why many people reckon that this is the best way to start to learn about photography.

We're not totally convinced about that. We'd say that an inexpensive digicam is best for the rank beginner. Switch to film once you have acquired an eye for a picture; when you want to take more control over focus, exposure, and depth of field; and when you understand how film can deliver significantly better quality than the vast majority of digicams. Certainly, something like the VSL 43 is a far better learning tool, once you understand the basics, than anything automatic.

Sure, the VSL 43 is an entry-level camera; so learn "real" (film-based) photography with it, for what is today very little money, and once you have learned this arcane but wondrous art, buy something better. Before you do, though, buy at least one more decent lens: the one supplied really isn't very impressive, but then, the body alone would be a bargain at $225 without a lens. With a good lens, you may be amazed at the quality of the results the VSL 43 can deliver. When you've learned all you can, and progressed to a pro-level camera, pass the VSL 43 on. Choose the recipient carefully, as the likelihood is that you will be making a friend for life.

The VSL 43 was supplied for test by the official and apparently only importers: The Photo Village, Inc., 1133 Broadway, Ste. 824, New York, NY 10010; (212) 989-1252; www.photovillage.com.