First Impressions: The Voigtlander Bessa R3M

Today, when I got home, I found a package: a Voigtlander Bessa R3M and a M39/LTM to M-mount adapter ring. I was brimming with excitement, I’d spent the entire day watching the UPS tracker, vibrating with anticipation of getting home and getting my hands on my new toy.

My first order of business was to grab my Canon 50mm f/1.8 LTM lens and break into the box. I wasn’t about to play with the camera without sticking a lens on it first.

I pulled the Bessa out of the box, drooled a little bit, screwed the adapter ring onto my lens, and locked the M-mount of the adapter ring into the camera. It was a gorgeous sight to behold. Now, if only I’d been able to get my lens in all black…

I immediately pulled the viewfinder up to my eye, focusing the lens back and forth, in and out, matching images in the focus patch as I aimed at various objects in my living room and out in my back yard.

The Bessa.

The Bessa R3M is a solid camera. I’d read countless reviews, forum posts, and blogs about how cheap, cheesy, and toy-like they feel. Well, most of these reviews are based on how the Bessa feels compared to a Leica M-series. None of the reviews I’d read had really compared them to anything else (other than the Zeiss Ikon… which is always compared favorably with the Leica M’s…).

The weight is wonderful. It felt sturdy, but still light enough to carry in your hand. It could probably be slightly lighter, but that’s being nit-picky. Compared to my Fed 2, it seemed downright feather-light. (I may amend my feelings on the weight as I spend more time using it, but at first impression, it was just right.)

The film advance feels smooth and deliberate. Better than a lot of the cameras I’ve used. It was on par with, if not better than my Canon AE-1 SLR. The shutter is nice and quiet. Probably not the quietest, but quieter than my AE-1, Fed 2, Argus C3, and Cmeha Smena 8m. It makes a nice, quiet ‘tick’ or ‘flick’ sound. It happens so quickly that you barely have time to notice it. The shutter speed dial and ISO selector are pretty straight forward.

The shutter release as a nice, solid feel to it and I like that once the shutter is cocked, pressing it halfway lights up the display for light meter, leaving enough resistance to let you know just how far to press before the shutter fires. The light meter is a pretty nice touch, on an otherwise mechanical camera. The fact that if the light meter batteries die, the camera will continue working is a bonus.

There are a couple of things that could be improved, though. The lugs on the front of the camera for attaching a camera strap are in a strange location, causing the camera to hang on an angle. It’s a little bit odd and slightly uncomfortable. It’s not enough to matter to me though. The other thing is the film door being made of plastic. It’s strange to feel plastic when the rest of the camera isn’t. Still, it’s not a deal breaker by any means. I don’t even mind it, it makes sense. I have plenty of other cameras that are metal with plastic film doors. It was just enough to catch my attention.

All in all, I’m pretty impressed with the Bessa R3M. Everything feels nice and solid, I have no complaints so far. I will need to run a couple of rolls of film through it to see how it performs in the real world.

Posted in