Bessa 66, the vintage compact
Before the pocket sized compact camera there was a pocket sized compact camera... well, maybe a little heavier but definitely sexier and more impressive when unfolded.
Produced by Voigtländer, a famous well-known brand in Germany, the Bessa 66 was introduced in late 1940s.
The company had been known for its inventions of metal cameras since 1756. Voigtländer has the credibility of solid quality photography products. In the 1930s, the company launched the Bessa line, a series of medium format folding cameras. These were almost all scale-focusing cameras, and range from 6×4.5 to 6×9.
This camera is one of the more popular 120 roll film folders among collectors and users alike. It was designed for amateur photography. It is a compact and easily carried medium format camera for people on the move and who are into casual photography. Despite the fact that it was designed with convenience in mind, it is still creating images of very good quality.
The Bessa 66, known also as a ‘Baby Bessa’ produces square format 6cm-by-6cm negatives, with a 75mm f/3.5 lens. It is amazing that being so small – with a film area around 4.3 times that of a typical 35mm frame, it is relatively smaller in size than a Leica M2, one of the smallest 35mm cameras around! It easily fits in the pocket. Some models have a yellow filter hinged on the front lens and folded.The camera is equipped with an uncoated Voigtar lens. The focal length is 75mm with an angle of view of 52 degrees. The lens focuses from 3 feet to infinity by simple rotation, although the scale is so granular, that sometimes it may be hard to guess the distance. The depth of field is indicated on a scale placed on top of the case. The maximum aperture is f3.5.
There is a good choice of shutter speeds; 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/15, 1/25 1/50, 1/100, 1/175, and B and T. In addition, the shutter has a timer, which is activated by a separate lever located on the lower part of the ring shutter. There is also a socket for a cable release.
It has a metal front panel covered with leather and it is opened automatically at the touch of a button. The lens-shutter assembly is supported by the front panel and connected to the body. The names "Voigtlander" and "Bessa 66" are embossed on the back of the unit and there is a "V" embossed on one disc in the center of the front panel. The metal fittings are painted black enamel and the top is covered with chrome.
The inner chamber is accessed by a door that opens 180 degrees and it includes a red window for observing the number during the film advance. The locking lever is also used as an extended foot of the camera, especially for long exposures. A tripod socket (3/8 ") is incorporated in the lever. On top of the camera there are: the key to wind the film and a depth of field calculator.
An interesting thing is the frame counter. You can use the red window to set up the first frame "1", then you can continue to advance the film by using the counter on the top of the case to shoot the next frame.
Bessa 66 is described as the smallest medium format camera. When folded it is hard to figure out its purpose. When unfolded it can impress with its clever innovative design and the antiquated look at the same time that is hard to match by today’s compacts.
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Here are a few good examples from photographers who use Bessa 66 today.
'Varese. Tribute to Luigi Ghirri' by Francesco Brivio, Italy
'Au RDC' by Sylvain Biard, Paris, France