Frequently Asked Questions

During the course of a typical day I get many e-mails inquiring about this or that camera or characteristic of this and that folder. Often I think I should save the questions and answers and create an FAQ for my website. Well, good intentions often fall to the wayside with the next series of e-mails! The following messages, however, I did save as the questioners cover many of the basic questions I am asked. Hopefully it will help - or at least be of interest.

Q: I've read many negative comments on about Bessas and folders in general. What do you think?

Jurgen says...

You can read negative comments about any item ever produced by the hand of man. That’s why there are soooooooooooooo many different variations of the same thing. Everyone finds fault with anything, so something seemingly different has to be made for people to buy it. Every product has its naysayers as well as supporters – just the way it is. And people who have something to complain about tend to be more vocal than those who don’t. I guess that’s why I almost never read In our quest to find the “right” thing, or “best” whatever it is, we search and read other people’s prejudices to validate our own.

The other aspect is that people buy their folders at flea markets, the neighbor’s garage sale, and eBay, and expect these 50- to 60-year old folders to perform like they’re just out of the box. I have bought at least 3,000 folders during the past 7 years on eBay… I can’t remember a single one that did not need some kind of adjustment, cleaning, fixing, or slaughtering. You cannot expect a used 50 year old camera (or car, or refrigerator, or even uncle Clyde) to function like they were new/young!!! And still people belittle these unrepaired/serviced cameras when they don’t perform like their 2005 Hasselblad.

Q: Your comments on my 2 Agfas puzzled me. If the bellows are that bad how come I got perfect slides from the L model, and also no light leaks in the III when I taped the back with black vinyl electrician's tape, the hinge and 3 other sides where they close

Jurgen says...

It is slightly possible for light leak at the hinge (though there should be a foam strip there) and less probable at the lock side. Almost no chance of a leak along the top and bottom of the back – simply by the design of the back. As I said in the note with the cameras, take your cameras in a dark room, take one of those electric window Christmas candles and hold it inside the bellows from the back. You will see the light show (pinholes) I referred to. Why didn’t you notice any effect of these pinholes in your previous pictures? Light travels in straight lines – even in a bellows. Since the pinholes are almost all on the tips of the pleats (you can SEE and FEEL them on the bellows, the pleat tips are SPLIT!), the sun has to be in the right position (or you do) for the light to travel to the film and effect your picture/negative/slide. I know that bellows replacement seems to be your specialty but not to even bother at the other things specified in my e-mail?

To fix the shutters and not the bellows is like fixing the air conditioner and leaving the windows open. It’s half a job leaving the major problem unattended.

Q: Is a folder reliable? Will the film lie flat?

Jurgen says...

Hmm… If I buy a Mercedes will I ever have a problem? If I buy a Lexus, will it ever give me a problem? If I buy a Renault, will it get me to the airport on time? The answer is…. maybe… So too to your questions. However, the basic answer to your questions is YES, the film is flat. Is it micro measurable flat? Well, every single camera is different. Would you notice? Highly highly unlikely. Is the lens really parallel? WELL yes. Would you notice if it was .07mm off? No. Basically – yes it’s parallel… and if it wasn’t REALLY, you wouldn’t notice. Which is just like the day it left the factory 55 years ago. If your intent is to replace a Hasselblad, Rolleiflex 2.8F, Rolleiflex 6008AF, Pentax 67II, or Mamiya 67RB with a folder and get like results, then you should absolutely NOT get a folder. A folder has one, and only one, tremendous advantage over the aforementioned – it is light, pocketable, convenient, and delivers excellent results. But it ain’t no Rolleiflex!

Q: Are rangefinders accurate?

Jurgen says...

Yes. Lenses are matched to the rangefinder during service as most after 50+ years are out of alignment. Most coupled rangefinders are dimmer than non-coupled because of all the extra glass in there to make the rangefinder work. Most shutters are reliable after CLA, but just like a Lexus just out of the showroom – once in a GREAT while it needs to come back because something broke or trips over itself. Any of the 6×9 folders gives most excellent results, especially the Agfa Record III, Zeiss Mess-Ikonta or Super Ikontas, Voigtlander Bessa I or II, and actually, any other 6×9.

Q: What's the Best Folding Camera?

Jurgen says...

As you can imagine, I get many e-mails with that question. The most basic answer I always give is rather simple… Whichever one you like! Whoever tells you that this or that camera is the best is telling you which camera he/she likes.

It’s like, what’s the best car? The best Refrigerator? The best Lawnmower? If there was one best, then there would be only one produced or bought! Truth be told, like cars, there are no bad cameras… All take good pictures in the right hands, the right eye, the right lighting, the right subject matter, etc. If the question is, what’s a good camera, then that is easier to answer. Any folder from Zeiss, Agfa, Voigtlander, Franka, Balda, Welta, Mamiya, Plaubel, even the Russian Moskvas, and a bunch of the lesser known Japanese folders from the fifties will give excellent results – particularly after the accumulated dirt and inactivity of 50 years has been removed. I mean, would you drive a car that hadn’t been serviced in 50 years?!?

If you ask me what MY favorite folder is, I can answer with several. The Agfa Super Isolette is tops. Zeiss Super Ikonta C & A and Voigtlander Perkeo II’s are cool. And there’s nothing so efficient and long lasting as an Agfa Isolette II/III (as long as they’ve gotten a new bellows and CLA !) A coupled rangefinder folder is of course always pricier than non-coupled because there were far fewer of use produced. In 6×9, the Weltur 6×9 is a simpler camera to use than most… The Super Baldax is a nice starter in 6×6 for a coupled rangefinder. I would recommend the Super Ikonta III w/ f3.5 Novar lens as it’s the most “bang for the buck”. The only hang-up, so to speak, for some people is that the Super Ikonta often has very little space between frames. This is caused mainly because of the types of films used today compared to how films were made “back in the day.” However, I never found this to be a problem as I scan and crop my medium format anyway, so the tight frames are of no consequence. With a camera like the Weltur, you do not have this because film is advanced via the rear “red window” rather than an automatic internal gear train as in the Super Baldax and the Super Ikonta III, IV, 532/16, or 533/16 models.

Of course a nice lens helps… Four element Tessars, Ennits, Solinars, and Skopars are supposedly a step above the Vaskars, Apotars, Radionars, and Novars. However, the performance of the latter is far too often underrated by the unknowing – or the internet photo kaffeeklatsch junkies. A three element top quality lens will deliver excellent photos, though instead of enlargements of 20×30, you’ll have to settle for 13×19 (or so). But otherwise you will hardly see a difference without a high power loupe. I don’t know about you, but I do not look at my photos through a loupe.

So, what’s the best folder is often nothing more than aesthetics – it’s the one YOU LIKE!

Q: Coated or Uncoated Lenses?

Jurgen says...

Again this is a question I am often asked about. I can only speak from my experience… and thus a simple answer. I have seen almost no difference between pictures taken of the same subject, shot on the same day, same lighting, etc. with a coated lens or an uncoated one. Lens coating has to do – as I understand it and having read this and that – with the light transmission through the glass elements. A coated lens will allow more light to reach the film than an uncoated lens. Thus, theoretically, if a coated lens reads f8 at 1/125, then an uncoated lens should be set at f5.6. I say theoretically because I’ve ignored that simple math and simply set my uncoated lens to whatever my modern lightmeter told me the light/shutter setting should be. And I get perfectly exposed pictures. So much for theoretical optical physics. Unfortunately (I guess) I’m not a concrete-sequential kinda guy, so all the scientific mumbo-jumbo of optical physics means little to me. The proof is in the pudding (or picture). That’s what matters. So basically, coated lenses make you feel good, but they won’t necessarily take better pictures – only you can do that.