Voigtlander Vito I prontor

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Vito - lens door open
I have used as a title for this article 'Vito I' but the camera is actually the Vito - Voigtlander were not aware of the forthcoming Vito range at this point.  I already have an article on the Vito II here and much in that article applies here as well.  The two cameras are very similar as you might expect.  The lens serial number says the lens was made in 1945 which is also the probable date of manufacture - one of the first cameras to be made in war-ravished Germany.

Vito top view

lens: Skopar
focal length: 50mm
apertures: 3.5 to 16
focus range: 1 metre to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor II
speeds:  1/5 to 1/200
flash: synchronised for bulbs
film size:  35mm

The camera is a folder and nicely compact when closed.  It measures 120mm by 70mm by 40mm closed and 120mm by 70mm by 80mm when open.  Closed, it nicely fits in a trouser or jacket pocket.  The only distinguishing mark on the closed camera is an ornate 'V' on the lens door and a fairly indistinct 'Voigtlander' is embossed on the leatherette on the back together with the model name 'Vito'.  There is also the country of origin embossed on the back which is 'Germany'.  As Germany is the English name for the country this indicates that it is an official import,  Strangely, for an official import, the focussing scale is in metres rather than feet, suggesting that Voigtlander were not fully geared up for export in 1945.

The top plate is very uncluttered.  There is a knurled ring at either end.  The right-hand ring is the film advance and the left-hand ring the rewind.  In the centre of the top plate is a very small, reverse Galilean viewfinder.  The eyepiece is only 5mm by 2.5mm.  The image seen is roughly 0.5 times life size.  This is very small compared to more modern viewfinders but it is more than adequate.  There is also a frame counter which counts up from one.  There is no accessory shoe (flash shoe) although one was available as an extra and fitted over the viewfinder.

On the rear of the top plate is a lever.  In the normal position (down) the film advance will only advance one frame.  When raised, the film can be advanced as far as you want and can be rewound.  The toothed wheel which is exposed by raising the this lever can be used to set the frame number to one.

Then underside of the camera contains three items.  Close to the centre is a 3/8 Whitworth tripod boss.  A 1/4 Whitworth insert would ave been available for the more usual tripod size.  There is also a button to release the lens door.  This is spring loaded and partially opens the door.  When new, the spring may well have fully opened the door but this camera is nearly seventy years old.

The third item on the base is two 'feet'.  These are little more than pins.  A third foot is on the lens door giving three feet altogether which allow the camera to sit stably on a flat surface.  this is primarily intended to allow group portraits using the self-timer.

When the door is opened, the lens comes forward on its bellows and locks in place.  The shutter release is on the top edge of the door together with a threaded socket for a standard cable release.

The lens is a Skopar f3.5, 50mm lens.  This is the original version of the famous Color-Skopar and is not calculated for colour film.  However, it is intended for panchromatic film so should perform well with colour film.  See the test pictures below for details.  This lens focusses from one metre to infinity and has Voigtlander's usual two Happy Snapper settings - a circle for the hyperfocal distance at f5.6 (approximately five metres to infinity at f5.6 or 2.5 metres to infinity at f16) and a triangle which gives a focus range of 2.5 metres to five metres at f5.6 (ideal for groups).  This lens has no blue/purple tinge and so cannot have been coated as was normal post-WWII and so will be liable to flare.

The shutter is a Prontor II (which is the same as a Klio on a Zeiss Ikon camera) which is a pre-war design and was soon to be updated to the Prontor S.  This Prontor II has a PC connector and so must be synchronised for flash - I would suspect for fast flash bulbs (F: sync) but there is no indication of this on the shutter housing (my Vito II has a Pronto shutter and this is specifically marked F:).  Shutter speeds are 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/200 which is more than adequate.  The bezel of the shutter housing bears the shutter name - Prontor II - Gauthier's maker logo and Voigtlander's script name.

There is a self-timer lever which we are always told not to use on old cameras to prevent damage to the shutter.  It barely works on this camera, taking 16 seconds to actuate the shutter and then needing a little help from my finger over the last two or three seconds.

This shutter needs cocking before use - the cocking lever moves from left to right and up to cock the shutter.

Apertures available are f3.5 to f16.  As there are no click-stops, you can set an intermediate value if you want to.  The only other item of note on the shutter assembly is a stellate lever.  I am not entirely sure what this is for but I suspect it was to do with the hinged yellow filter that the early Vitos were fitted with.  The shutter bezel has three screws in it that are also part of the filter assembly.  When production had used up the store of pre-war parts, the bezel no longer had these three screws.

Inside is where this camera gets interesting.  The design dates from 1939 and the camera was intended to use unperforated 35mm film.  As the film was unperforated, there are no sprockets in the camera.  Instead, the camera judges the film with a feeler roller as in an up-market 120 camera.  As the film came on a spool with backing paper (again, as with 120 film) there are springs fitted to the film chambers to keep the film tight on the spools.  When production restarted in 1945, Voigtlander decided to modify the camera for modern perforated 35mm film (135 format).  the only real change is that the film gate (the rectangular opening that lets the light hit the film in the correct place) is reduced to 24mm by 36mm (originally it had been 30mm by 40mm).

The film take up chamber will take the standard spool from a 35mm cassette as a take-up spool or an empty cassette can be fitted which means that when the film is finished you can open the back and cut the film with the exposed part already in a cassette.