Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2001/03/15

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Subject: [Leica] Bessa-T - at last! (Long)
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 03:03:15 EST

  Now I can "spill the beans" about the Bessa-T. It is a non-viewfinder, but 
rangefinder equipped Bessa body with an M-lens mount. Think about it a bit! 
You have to focus through a small window at the back, move your eye to the 
viewfinder for the lens you are using for framing and then shoot. Initially I 
was skeptical when I saw the camera last year in Japan. I have a very bad 
track record with external viewfinders - most of them are lost, broken or 
small pieces of essential glass fall out of them. When they work, they are 
great. Bright and contrasty as well as rather pricey and bulky. Like most of 
you have kept some of them around for years, not knowing why, but at last I 
have found a use for them. The Bessa-T is weird, no two ways about it, but in 
some strange way, it works! I have had one now for a couple of weeks and put 
about 25 rolls through it. Lenses have varied from 21mm to 75mm focal length 
and when I find my 90mm finder, I will try out that one too.
 With the lenses up and including 35. I use the camera as a hyperfocal camera 
with a "focus" checker built in. Now and then I would check that my range was 
within the focus and occasionally I would fine-tune using the cameras 
rangefinder. One can shoot fast and furious that way and have a reasonable 
rate of success. With lenses longer than 35 (or 35 in very low light) it is a 
slower process. You carefully focus and then move the eye to the finder and 
frame. It sounds a bit clumsy and for anyone weaned on M rangefinders, it 
takes a while to get used to. What really helps is the quality of the 
rangefinder. It is very bright and contrasty, the focus snaps in and out very 
quickly and precisely. There is a diopter control on the ocular - seems to 
handle at least +2 to -1 diopters correction. I found that with the 21 and 24 
I shot similar to a Bessa-L, you wave the camera in the general direction and 
shot with less concern for precise framing. The focus was a nice feature when 
shooting wide-open, even a wide-angle lens will show focus loss when shot 
wide open without precise focussing. Where the Bessa-T shines is with the 
35/1,4, the fast 50's and the 75/1,4. The base of the rangefinder is about 38 
mm and the magnification is 1,5 so the baseline is 58mm, more than enough to 
give you precise focus even with a 75/1,4 wide-open.
 My 75 is a fairly late one with the built in hood and I could notice a 
slight shadow in the rangefinder when focussing close from the hood 
intruding. Not enough to make it useless, just something one had to think 
about. The trick was to push the hood back for focus and pull it out for 
shooting. Clumsy, maybe but it worked and that is the key. The 75 is not an 
easy lens to focus on the M6 as we have seen on the LUG, but with the Bessa-T 
it was a "snap". The "tunnel" vision that you get with the rangefinder (those 
who use screw-mount Leicas know what I am talking about) forces you to be 
very precise with the focus and "lock" it in. Yes, it is slower than with an 
M, but for portraits, I think it would work very well.
 The meter is the same as in the Bessa-L or R and the readout is on the back 
of the camera. You can see the diodes (red-green-red) when you focus or frame 
the shot and correct quickly. The meter works very well (it rivals the M6 
meter for precise reading and uses far less batteries), but as you have no 
idea what the coverage is, you have to be careful with strong light sources 
throwing it off, particularly with wider lenses.
 Another feature that is close to my heart is the Voigtländer Rapidwinder! 
Yes, I now have competition at last. It is a very slick unit that can be 
attached and removed from the camera (although why anyone would want to 
remove it I can't understand) without fogging film. It is smaller and lighter 
than mine, it has a small, shallow grip with 2 straplugs attached so that you 
can carry the camera vertically (a la M5!). The lever is longish and 'flops" 
down and locks in place. The "unlock" mechanism is neat, you just push the 
lever backwards about 30 degrees and it frees it and you can fold it up. Good 
idea, but the main problem is that if you push it by mistake, it has to be 
folded up and then down again to lock. It feels flimsier than mine, but mine 
might be a case of overkill. The action is smooth, but it has more inertia 
than the Rapidwinder and a tendency to "high-spot" about halfway through the 
cycle. It is an almost essential piece of equipment as the eye of the shooter 
is more centered on the Bessa-T with the  top-mounted viewfinder and there is 
precious little room for the finger to pull on the top-mounted advance lever. 
Even a right eye focusser is a bit squeezed there.
 The M-mount worked very smoothly and any of my M-lenses went on without 
problems with the lens-lock or focussing roller.
 The whole construction of the Bessa-T feels much more solid than the Bessa-R 
or L. The rubber cover has a changed texture that makes it less slippery and 
the controls are somehow tighter and more positive. The advance lever on the 
top is now black and has a ratcheted clutch in it, so that you can do 
multistroke advance (also possible with the trigger winder on the bottom).
 I am not sure where the Bessa-T fits in the rangefinder camera firmament, 
but however weird it sounds, it actually works very well. I can see it being 
used for wider lenses as a substitute M camera, but I think it will really 
come in to play for very tight precise focussing with high speed lenses, 
particularly when shooting wide open. Next experiment will be with the 
Noctilux at close range at f1!
 Voigtländer also supplied me with a 21/4 and the 28/1,9 Aspheric. I had seen 
both of these lenses at various times before. The 21/4 is in the same mount 
as the 25/4 Snap-Shot Skopar, a truly small and pocketable 21! It couples to 
the rangefinder and so far it has proven it self a very competent lens. I 
have not had time to shoot extensively with it, but from the negs, it looks 
sharp right across the board. Once I have had a chance to print something 
from this lens, I will let you know. The price is evidently going to be 
around $500 including the finder (which is much better than the Leica 21 
 The 28/1,9 Aspheric looks gorgeous, it looks and feels like a Leica lens! It 
is not a small lens, roughly the same size as a Summicron 28/2, but with a 
much smarter hood. It does not protrude into the finder of the M-camera as 
much as the 28/2 hood. Performance again, so far so good, but I need to print 
stuff shot with it to really judge it. Mine is a chrome version and it really 
looks slick on a chrome M2 and balances well with a M2/Rapidwinder 
 Boy, I think Voigtländer has done it again. The Bessa-T is strange, but in a 
good way, the 21/4 is truly a lens you can stick in a pocket and carry 
everywhere and I suspect that the performance of the 28/1.9 not going to be 
inferior to the 28/2 and most likely at a price that makes it highly 
Stephen Gandy has pictures of this stuff on his web-site: To my knowledge, my Bessa-T is the first 
one in North America. For those who are serial number nuts, it is 000001 (and 
the 21/4 is 000006) so obviously very early production samples. Now we all 
know about the Bessa-T, the 21 and the 28. I wonder what's next from 
Tom A 

Tom Abrahamsson
Vancouver, BC