Voigtländer VF 135

New camera, same problem – will it even work?

After speaking to a friend, Pat, about his interest in getting into film photography, we visited some of our local charity shops to scope the prices of their SLRs for him. Browsing didn’t last long. Entering St. Luke’s Hospice charity shop in Broomhill, we were drawn to the cameras they had displayed on their shelves. On a complete gamble, we parted with a fiver each to take home a Voigtländer VF 135 for me, and a Zenit E Made in USSR‘ for Pat (the only selling point that mattered to him). We had our cameras, now to get them going.

Testing Out

Here it is, the VF 135, and first impressions are it’s a dinky little thing, lightweight, and feature bare. It might lack aperture or exposure control, but it’s great looking and fast shooting. Perfect.

It’s a good looking camera, something it shares with its brother, the Rollei XF35. But the fully automatic controls requires a battery, and as I figured, I’d need to buy a new one. Specifically, a PX625 mercury battery. Mercury.

These aren’t easy to come across, shockingly. They’re banned almost everywhere except Russia, and expensive as a result. After some research, I found this useful post on 35mmc.com and immediately made my way to Boots to pick up some hearing aid batteries, apparently the perfect substitute.

The lithium air batteries are supposedly a perfect mercury substitute, holding their voltage far steadier than an alkaline battery, which is ideal for camera calibration. I replaced the battery, stared through the viewfinder, and… nothing. The exposure needle stayed still. That’s it, put the old one back in, it must be broken.

Or so I thought, as I pointed the camera at a lamp I noticed the needle jump. Of course. It wasn’t moving because the room was just too dim. And so was I for not trying that earlier. So the new batteries weren’t needed after all, but at least it looks like it works.

Now it’s time to load it up with Poundland’s finest AGFA Vista film, and we’re on our way, once you figure out fitting it onto a strange looking spool (still not quite sure if I did it right).

One last step, you adjust the ISO in possibly the most awkward mechanism – rotating a metal ring right by the lens.

Now it’s time to burn through the roll and get it developed, then we’ll know for sure if it works. Results will be posted soon, quality won’t be on my side though as I want the scans back quickly.

As for the batteries, they might not be a total loss, at 1.45 V they should work in my Nikon EM, which seems like it could do with a fresh set. A quick check, and it’s looking like it works. I guess I have plenty of spares now too.

The Camera

So far, I have to say I love the little thing. It’s completely different to my usual Nikon SLRs, and a damn sight lighter to carry. I’ve wanted a rangefinder for a while, I’ve only ever tried SLRs, and the completely different mechanism interests me more than anything else. Whilst fully automatic controls (apart from a limited flash range) might be an issue as your main shooter, this could be ideal for quick situations or for travelling. And that’s exactly what I need it for.

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The design is a beautifully simple box shape with no room for ugly dials or tools. It’s basic, it’s functional, it’s German.

Quality-wise, it feels surprisingly not plasticky given its weight, and nicely sturdy as a result. As for shooting, the fairly dull shutter sound is totally overcompensated for with what is a confusingly loud winding lever for its size. A different experience all round, but not one I dislike.

Apparently, a good tip for using this camera is to keep the lens covered when it isn’t in use. This switches off the circuitry and should keep the battery going for longer. Probably the reason it still has some life in it. Handy, though, as it didn’t come with a lens cap. I might be needing those other batteries after all.

Rounding Off

You might not buy this camera as your main shooter, and it won’t teach you much about technique. But as a lightweight, carefree, quick firing rangefinder it certainly has its appeals if you can get it working.

I’m interested to see how the photos turn out, if they do, and it should be a good option using it for trips and street photography. This should give a wider range of opportunity to shoot film, alongside my Nikon SLRs. Even then, if it doesn’t work, a fiver for a pretty desk ornament wouldn’t be too bad a deal.

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