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Bessa 66

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.


If you enjoy this review, you will probably like others. Check out Camera Reviews.


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



Photo: mikeovers avatar

mikeovers commented:

Hi there, I enjoyed your little review of the Voigtlander Bessa 66, but forgive me if I point out a few errors and omissions. Firstly, this range of cameras was introduced in 1938, not the late 1940’s, and all models until 1945 were fitted with a hinged filter holder which had the “Moment” yellow filter fitted as standard. As for the lens, there were four different lenses offered, the Voigtar, an f4.5 triplet, was the least costly, then the Vaskar a slightly faster f3.5 triplet. Next the f3.5 Skopar, a four element Tessar type lens, and lastly the f3.5 Heliar a five element lens of great reputation, which was the most expensive. These lenses were mounted in a variety of shutters, the one you describe sounds like a Prontor SV, fitted to some later models, but far more common were the Compur, with speeds up to 1/300 sec, or the Compur Rapid, up to 1/500 sec, neither of which have self timers or flash connectors. There were two basic body designs, the first version, shown in your picture, had an integrated viewfinder, and automatic film positioning which had a release button at the front, and an operating button at the back, and a second version, introduced around 1940, which had a single button on the back to perform both functions. Both of these had the depth of field indicator mounted out of sight on the bottom plate. The second design appeared at the same time, but with a simpler design of top plate, fitted with a folding frame finder and the depth of field indicator more sensibly mounted on top, the automatic film spacing was replaced by the ruby glass window, and the knurled film winding knob replaced with a simple folding handle. Later versions of this design had a folding optical viewfinder Post war models continued with the simplified design, gradually losing the depth of field indicator and folding yellow filter on the way, but regaining the knurled winding knob, until the range was replaced by the Perkeo in 1950. All variations were also built as 6x4.5 cameras, giving 16 exposures, called the Bessa 46, and at the very end of production a few hybrids were prototyped, which had both formats, called a Bessa 646, and I believe there was also a version with a coupled rangefinder, but both of these are extremely rare. Of course for the British and American markets, these cameras had their scale focussing marked in feet, but the vast majority of production was graduated in metres for Germany and most other European countries. I hope you understand that these observations are meant in the most amicable manner, and I applaud your efforts to encourage a younger generation to discover the fun of using a vintage film camera, but it is important to ensure that the information that is circulated, on the internet or elsewhere, is accurate in both the historical and technical sense, and it is in this spirit that I offer these corrections. With sincere good wishes, Mike Overs

on: 22-02-2015 14:31
Photo: Aga avatar

Aga commented:

It could fit in my handbag. ...the staircase...Au RDC...The examples are as elegant as the camera.

on: 15-10-2012 23:26