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    Voigtlander 35mm Rangefinder System Overview


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The Voigtlander System has 10 bodies, along with the 12/5.6, 15/4.5, 21/1.8, 21/4, 25/4, 28/3.5, 28/2, 28/1.9, 35/2.5C, 35/2.5 P, 35/2.5 PII, 35/1.7, 35/1.4, 35/1.2, 40/1.4, 50/3.5, 50/2.5, 50/2, 50/1.5, 50/1.1, 75/2.5, 75/1.8, 90/3.5 lenses. 

Which are missing from this photo ?

After 30 years of  stagnation in 35mm Rangefinder design, when Leica was the ONLY real choice, Cosina started introducing their new lineup of Voigtlander Leica Screw cameras and lenses in January 1999.   At first, nobody seemed to take the new kid on the block seriously.     After all,  Leica screw mount was a dead system which nobody would buy, and Cosina was foolish to even attempt such a thing.   Then reports started coming in of the stunning performance of the 15. The new Voigtlander line has been building up momentum ever since then,  adding more lenses, accessories, and even a new quality rangefinder camera.    In retrospect, Cosina's efforts and success are no less than  astonishing.  Conventional wisdom is that there was NO way to produce lenses and cameras approaching Leica quality at a fraction of the price.   Conventional wisdom has been proved wrong.   

Interestingly from a classic camera perspective,  the new Voigtlanders owe their heritage to a  combination of the first two 35mm camera systems: Leica and Contax.   While the new Voigtlander mounts are either Leica screw mount or Leica M,  and the Voigtlander rangefinder and finders owe much to Leica designs, the shutters are vertically moving metal shutters -- an idea introduced in the Contax I of 1932.

In March 2001 Cosina Voigtlander upset the rangefinder status quo even more by introducing their first Leica M mount camera, the unusually designed retro style Bessa T,   amazingly the most inexpensive M mount rangefinder ever sold.

In late February 2002 Cosina Voigtlander introduced the Bessa R2, an upgrade of the original Bessa with M mount, all metal top and bottom plates, and chrome top plate fittings, with the T Rapidwinder capability added, along with a standard production 50/2.5 Color Skopar.

In September 2004 Cosina Voigtlander introduced the Bessa R2A and R3A, aperture priority AE rangefinders in Leica M mount.  The R3A is the first ever M film camera with a 1:1 life size finder.

One of the most amazing aspects is Voigtlander's amazing innovation and variety within a very short time.    So far we have two TTL Leica screw mount bodies, the L and the rangefinder coupled R, eight lenses announced or in production, as well as many unique rangefinder accessories  the likes of which have never been seen before.   This is very very surprising.  Not since the introduction of the Leica M system have so many truly new rangefinder products been introduced in such a very short time.    My hat is off to the mind behind it all, Cosina's CEO,  Mr. Kobayashi -- a long time Leica enthusiast.   All of this innovation brings up the obvious question: what   new products await in Voigtlander's future?

While the Yasuhara T981 was the first new Japanese TTL Leica screw mount camera to be announced,  the Cosina / Voigtlander L was the first to make it to the marketplace, achieving an impressive list of firsts:

"Old" German Voigtlander Vs "New" Japanese Voigtlander: The new Cosina made Voigtlanders have nothing to do with the old German Voigtlanders, other than the name.   The original German Voigtlander company, founded in 1756, was bought out and disemboweled by Zeiss in the late 1970's.   Not long after, Zeiss stopped its own camera production, unable to compete economically with the Japanese (or was it just Karma's revenge for Voigtlander?).   I am not sure how, but rights to the trademarked Voigtlander name eventually escaped Zeiss, to Ringfoto in Germany.  Cosina (a Japanese manufacturer), successfully arranged to use the time honored Voigtlander name on their new series of Leica screw mount cameras and lenses.  

Cosina's use of the Voigtlander name offended some longtime fans of the long deceased German firm. Disparaging words were more than a few, from some shortsighted "true" Voigtlander diehards.    In answer to their cries of Cosina insults, I say "Nonsense."    Whatever admiration the old Voigtlander firm deserves, they didn't survive.   Dead companies don't make cameras.  

While the new "Voigtlander" is hardly the same company as the "old" Voigtlander, the same is certainly true of today's Leica and Rollei companies, after each has been sold and resold a number of times.   As far as I am concerned, Cosina is honoring the old German company by keeping its name alive with a new, innovative, quality lineup of cameras and lenses.     Ironically, the old Voigtlander firm would have considered itself very fortunate to dominate a segment of 35mm market the way the new Voigtlander does today.

  Cosina is to be congratulated for the system's  innovative camera and lens designs, and for reintroducing the venerable and honored name of Voigtlander once again to the ranks of production cameras.

On the other hand, if you have not figured it out yet, Cosina is eating Leica's lunch.   

The new Voigtlander cameras and lenses should have and could have been made by Leica...thereby opening up their long neglected introductory level rangefinder market as well as introducing a new lower priced series of excellent lenses.  Not everyone wants to pay $2000 plus for their new 21/2.8  lens, even if it is Aspherical.

Hopefully the sleeping Leica bear won't keep hibernating.  It's been decades since Leica has had competitors (plural) to the M.   Between the Autofocus Contax G1/G2 and the new Japanese Leica Screw Mount and M cameras, perhaps now Leica will once again start showing the innovation which led it to leadership in the Rangefinder world.   Competition is good for the product, and great for the photogs!!

Interview with the President of Cosina, Mr. Kobayashi  in January 1999

Mr. Kobayashi is the guiding light of the Voigtlander LTM camera line, himself a long time Leica enthusiastic with 40 years of photography experience.  As interviewed in a Japanese magazine, he created the 15 Heliar because as a young photographer he was unable to afford the even then substantial price of the 16mm M Hologon.   My thanks to our mutual friend Michi for helping make this interview possible.  

"Our desire is to call back/revive the times when a camera was just a camera and lenses were just lenses (not the mere photographing tools like cameras/lenses today) and when people have the joy of having and operating a camera. Accordingly, in reviving the cameras of such times, we intend to add the latest technology there and in particular offer lenses with the highest performance."

Q. How did you come to produce Leica L mount camera/lens?

A. "For the L mount which LEITZ started in 1930, many camera makers and lens makers the world over, including Japan, adopted it till the Canon 7s in the 1960s. Thereafter, this mount has been discontinued for about 30 years, however, finding out the second-hand L mount camera lenses produced in the past, many users enjoy the nostalgic design and compactness which modern cameras do not have. On the other hand, since the main subject of our Voigtlander camera plan is a focal plain shutter camera allowing lens exchanges, with no doubt, we have chosen the L mount as one that meets the conditions; the body can mount as many lenses of other make as possible; the lens can be mounted to as many bodies of other make as possible; and both the body and lens are compact."

Q. How long did it take to produce?

A. "About one year. Since the original form is our SLR body,  it took only a short time, relatively.)"

Q. What designs were considered but not used?

A. "Idea to display over/under/correct exposure in the viewfinder."

Q. How did Cosina you acquire the Voigtlander name?

A.  "Although we can not disclose details because of the contract, the company holding the Voigtlander brand is Ringfoto Germany. We have business contact with the company for over 20 years."

Q.  What is your design aim?

A. "Since the users of this series require high performance, we make efforts to exert the maximum of our current technology."

Q.  Why did you choose the 75 mm instead of the 90mm for your telephoto?

A. " The rangefinder camera displays performance far beyond SLR with wide and standard-angle lenses. However, we think that the rangefinder camera is suitable for lenses up to 75mm, and for lenses of 90~135mm or more, SLR has more advantages."

Q. Will you produce a M mount camera and lenses?

A.  "At present we do not have any such plan."

Note: 11/99  Rumors are these plans may have changed.  Some say the new Voigtlander Rangefinder camera will be in M mount.   3/01 Cosina introduced the M mount Bessa T.  What's next ?

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Revised: September 11, 2017 Copyright � 1998-2005  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.