Experiencing the Vitomatic 1

The Voigtlander Vitomatic-1 is my second camera in what is likely to be an expensive and addictive collection of vintage film cameras. My introductory camera to film photography was a Minolta SR-T 303b which I cherish very dearly. I bought the Vitomatic-1 based on 3 main features; first: it is small, second: it takes 35mm film, third: it has fully manual settings. I’d seen and examined the Vitomatic-1 on multiple occasions while looking through the grand collection of antique shops in downtown Martinez, CA.
The Vitomatic-1 is the least featured camera of its series, with a maximum shutter speed of 1/300, inability to take double exposures, and no rangefinder or sense of distance, it is a simple machine. The (hardly) higher ranked Vitomatic-1A came with 1/500th sec shutter, and meter reading visible through the viewfinder. The simultaneously released Vitomatic-2 had even further features such as an incorporated rangefinder. The Vitomatic-1 is a camera that can be equated to an advanced point-n-shoot. Having used it for a little while I think this should probably not be one’s very first 35mm camera, it has quirks and lacks features where only experience or a full array of extra tools can be used to take the desired photo.
The strongest feature of the Vitomatic-1 is that it is small: 11.5cm wide, 7.5cm long, and 8.5cm high. At those dimensions it isn’t the smallest film camera out there, but it makes up for this by using 35mm film, fully manual settings, and being built like a (German) tank. The Vitomatic-1 is made entirely of metal and glass, it is a tough camera that can last ages. The downside to all that metal is that it’s a heavy camera for its small stature. It weighs less than my Minolta 303b, what I wanted, and to be realistic it’s not that bad since it is so compact.
Another great feature of the Vitomatic is that there’s no need for a battery, ever. The selenium meter has enough power from the light in front of it to make a reading. The meter has been criticized as being inaccurate and unreliable, I don’t find this to be true. Comparing meter readings between the Vitomatic and Minolta SR-T 303b’s twin selenium contrast light compensation meter, I see hardly any difference under most circumstances. I imagine higher contrast scenarios yield less accurate readings, and this is where the photographer must have some experience in “feeling the right settings”. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I am sure the meter is not always 100% correct.
The Vitomatic-1’s weakest point is that there is no rangefinder. Setting the distance between the camera and the subject is entirely up to the photographer. This is where experience is key, knowing zone focuses, and having a good judgment of distance (measured in feet on the lens). Or a less daring photographer could mount an external rangefinder, or carry measuring tape for close distances. Because of this shortcoming the camera is likely not best for use in dark-indoor type situations without external measuring devices. Note that when I refer to “dark” I mean 1/60 f/2.8 800ISO relatively near subject kinds of conditions, this camera still takes decent indoor photos if you know your cards.
The viewfinder and lens barrel are two separate entities, there is an offset to take into consideration. At further distances it’s less obvious on the exposure, but up close shots dramatize it. Still good for out and about street photography with varying distances, not so much for close up or studio settings where you need perfectly framed shots. The viewfinder is nice and big, with reflective frame lines and just a touch of pink in the glass. Lots of fun to look through it, the viewfinder gives a good idea of how the picture will be framed, but doesn’t tell the whole story.
Lomographers embrace the unknown and beautiful mistakes that film can offer. We love artistic views of the world through different colors and films. This camera doesn’t make it easy to take those photographs. For one the camera is made to prevent double exposures, one could try to rewind the film spool exactly one frame after priming the shutter, both tricky and totally blind. Secondly, take into consideration the most common tool for a lens, filters. The lens on the Vitomatic-1 is a permanent 50mm lens which is crystal clear and compact. The problem is the 32mm threading. Filters that size are scarce, it won’t likely be new and selection is really low. Probably don’t bother looking for filters that size in shops, the best place to look is online -coming from a person who hates shopping online. Adapter rings may exist, I haven’t found one yet, it would take multiple adapters to fit on most modern filters. This creates an issue even with black & white, yes you can take b&w photos without filters, but to get those over-contrasted and darkened exposures they’re needed. Once a filter is found and fitted, don’t forget to mentally compensate for the difference between the meter and filter.
The aperture is always stopped down in the lens barrel and has no dividends. Unlike the shutter speed where there are clicks in place, the aperture is totally analog. There’s no click, and therefore the photographer can adjust in between f-stop numbers. This means you’ll never be stuck trying to combine exact f-stops and shutter speeds to absolutely center with the meter. The f-stop can be ANY number between 2.8 and 22. It makes it difficult to record your exact f-stop per photo, but in the end it is a useful characteristic.
Again I must say this is best used as an advanced point-n-shoot. It’s a charming and cute little camera that has likely made it through 57 years without many issues. It’s comfortable habitat is for when you want to take colorful bright photos at more than 6 feet of distance. Great for landscapes, street photography, and when space is tight in one’s luggage. The photographs I’ve taken with it are clear and very colorful, typically under direct sunlight, bright overcast, and indoor conditions. If you are smitten by its small build and old world charms like I was, try to look for a Vitomatic-2, it has the rangefinder which is very handy especially for dark situations. Further models have more features which you can use and are not just bells and whistles.
I am still happy about my purchase, I’ve come to love this little camera. It’s a basic film camera that heavily depends on the photographer to envision the picture. It takes some time to get used to, and in return will offer photos that can be achieved by most other cameras more easily. Each camera is said to have a certain look to its photos, some more dramatic than others. The Vitomatic-1’s picture prints barely have a “vintage look” to them, if you want a camera that dramatizes its vintage looking prints keep searching. The look is there, but it is slight and the prints look more modern than aged (used Fujifilm-800), the clear prints a testament to the quality of Voigtlander’s famed optical lenses.
Overall I’d rate this camera as a tool at 2.5 of 5 stars. Experience needed, few features, good and nice quality photos possible. It is a limited tool, but this begs the question of what it takes to craft a great image, a better tool, or a better photographer?

written by allmyownstunts on 2015-05-25