Classic SLRs:

Voigtländer Bessamatic

by Karen Nakamura


Overview and Personal Comments

The Voigtländer Bessamatic is a 35mm SLR camera made by the Voigtländer division of the Zeiss-Ikon conglomerate in the late 1950s. It features: 1) an uncoupled selenium cell reflective light meter; and 2) interchangeable lenses - two things that were still very cutting edge in the late 50s. It also had the world's first zoom lens, the 36-82mm Zoomar. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.



Interesting quirks

The Voigtlander has an interchangeable lens system, like the Contaflex III/IV. But unlike the Contaflex in which the last couple of lens elements remain behind the Compur shutter in the camera, the entire lens system in the Bessamatic is removable.The Compur shutter remains in the camera. This limits the shorter end of the focal length a bit, but isn't a problem with longer lenses. The shortest lens available on the Bessamatic is 35mm.

The Bessamatic is unique in having the first zoom lens on a camera, the 36 - 82mm f/2.8 Zoomar. Even now, the Zoomars are quite the collector's item.


The Bessamatic was oriented to the advanced consumer (nowadays called the prosumer) or professional photographer. It glows with German craftsmanship. The camera winds and fires like a miniature swiss watch. It's of course all-mechanical except for the selenium light cell which sits above the lens on the prism mount. What's also unique with the Bessamatic is the the meter match needle is displayed within the viewfinder (like a Pentax Spotmatic), rather than sitting outside on the camera body. This allows you to meter while shooting. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.

Also unique is the depth of field indicators on the lens barrel move while you adjust the aperture! Unlike every other camera where the depth of field indicators are these little markings (f/4, 8, 16) on the focusing scale, the Bessmatic has 2 moving needles that mark the DOF precisely on the focus scale.So no more guessing what the DOF for f/6.3 is.

Rather than using cloth focal plane shutters, the Bessamatic borrows the Compur leaf shutter design for the shutter from the Contaflex. This allows the camera to flash sync at all speeds. I personally like leaf shutters and don't mind that the top speed is limited to 1/500 sec. rather than the 1/1000 or 1/2000 available in the focal plane shutters of that era. But then again, I'm an anachronism in myself.

The camera comes with the original Voigtlander case, however the case needs some slight repair. You can either stitch the top back on or epoxy it. It's very minor and can easily be handled.



Technical Details

Camera Name Bessamatic
Manufacturer Voigtländer
Place of Manufacture

Germany / West Germany

Date of Manufacture 1959-62
Focusing System

Single-lens reflex.

Fixed Lens

50mm f/2.8 Color-Skopar


Synchro-Compur (1 sec - 1/500 sec)

Metering System

Above the lens selenium cell.





Film type / speeds

Type 135 film (35mm standard)

Battery type hah!
Dimensions and weight 140 x 105 x 83 mm (906 grams)
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About the Voigtländer Corporation

Voigtländer is one of the oldest names in camera history. It was founded in 1756 to produce optical instruments, from 1840 it started to make cameras and lenses. 1902 saw plate cameras. The Schering Gruppe takes over Voigtländer in 1924, then the Zeiss Ikon conglomerate took it over in 1956. In 1970, Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander merge fully with Zeiss building cameras and Voigtlander only the lenses. In 1974 Rollei acquires the name with Voigtlander shutting down the next year. In the 1990s, the Japanese company Cosina licenses the name from the owner (Ringfoto) and produces a series of 35mm Leica-copy rangefinders and lenses under the Voigtländer marquee.

Zeiss: Zeiss Ikon was formed in 1926 out of the merger of five companies: Carl Zeiss/Jena A.G., ICA A.G., Erneman A.G., Goerz A.G, and Contessa-Nettel A.G. Zeiss-Ikon was a huge corporation with offices in five cities in Germany and it offered a huge variety of cameras. Unfortunately, that was also its downfall. Various divisions competed against each other horribly and there was much, much reduplication of effort. It never really took advantage of its size. Carl Zeiss, the main company, can actually trace its roots to 1846, to the very dawn of photography and is renowned for such designs as the Tessar and T* coating. Even now, Carl Zeiss lenses grace the very best cameras from Contax to Hasselblad.

In 1972, Zeiss formed into a partnership with Yashica Corporation of Japan. Zeiss now only does lens design and makes a small amount of photographic lenses. Yashica manufactures the Contax series of Zeiss cameras.


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