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Bessa III RF review

Arthur Plumpton , Mar 07, 2010; 03:42 p.m.

Good news for Fuji RF 670 and Bessa III RF viewers or owners. The recent edition of "Réponses Photo" (France) has a three or four page review of the Bessa III model by Phillipe Bachelier. There may have been other reviews, but I am not aware of them. The camera has received their top achat (top buy) rating (85/100), if that means anything. Perhaps more importantly, the shutter is rated as one of the quietist around (better than Mamiya 7 or Leica M film cameras) and the lens (Heliar, 6 element) is rated very good over all the field from widest aperture down and excellent at f5.6 (diffraction becomes significantly noticeable only at f22). Less highly rated were the distance varying parallax compensating lines (only two, compared to Leica's moving frame) and the fact the VF shows only 90% of what you get (an RF problem in any case). A bit longer (3/4 inch) in the long dimension, but otherwise of similar bulk and less heavy (1 kilo versus 1.2 kilos) than the Mamiya 7, possibly due to ample use of plastics (my deduction).

The Fuji variant is apparently available in NA as well. Does anyone know whether its lens is identical or not to the Cosina-Voigtlander one? Although Fuji designed the camera, and it would seem likely the lens formulae would be similar, I haven't seen anything in that respect stated to date and that might be important to some considering the Fuji model.


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Ralph Jensen , Mar 07, 2010; 06:40 p.m.

Thanks for that report, Arthur! Consensus seems to be that the Fuji and Voigtlander lenses are the same, just with different branding:

You may have read these already (they're not "magazine" reviews), but here are some user reports:

Dirk Rösler , Mar 08, 2010; 12:05 a.m.

Also have a look at this, in French, but great comparison shots with Carl Zeiss Planar 80 on a Hasselblad:

Emmanuel Bigler and J.C. Mougin are highly respected authorities in the French photography world.

Arthur Plumpton , Mar 08, 2010; 08:04 a.m.

Ralph and Dirk-

Thanks. I am glad I posted this, if only because it incited your most informative posts. The bokeh at full aperture in one of Ralph's references is good, and the tests cited by Dirk of the two French teachers and photographers are very complete and informative. It seems that the Planar has a bit more contrast and its definition at f4 at infinity is superior, but at smaller f stops at infinity focus the resolution of both lenses appear to be not very different. What is impressive is that focussed at relatively close distance the Heliar tested better and resolves finer detail at several apertures and even down to f11 and f16.

Ray Butler , Mar 08, 2010; 11:10 a.m.

diffraction becomes significantly noticeable only at f22

At face value, that's actually rather disappointing - in a really excellent lens, aberrations are so low that diffraction becomes the limiting factor at a much wider relative aperture, like f8 or f11. But I wouldn't worry about it, because I'll bet the reviewers simply lacked the resolution in their setup to test this properly - that is certainly true of the Bigler & Mougin comparison: Tri-X 400 scanned with an Epson 4990 at 2400dpi is not going to test the true onset of a diffraction limit at anything faster than f16. So I'd take the test results with a pinch of salt. All we can say is that in the abberation-dominated wide open regime, the Planar was better at infinity and the Heliar was better at close-ups.

Less highly rated were the distance varying parallax compensating lines (only two, compared to Leica's moving frame) and the fact the VF shows only 90% of what you get (an RF problem in any case).

Talk about the 21st Century stepping backwards from the 20th! This aspect just comes across as a design which is inferior to what came before it - long before it. 1960s medium-format press rangefinders like the Mamiya Press and Linhof had complete moving frames in their automatic parallax compensation, and showed more than 100% of the lens' field of view. Sub-100% viewfinder coverage is not inherently an RF problem - in fact, if anything, it's the last problem that an RF should have, because its viewing system is optically decoupled from the taking lens. The RF baseline could have been longer, too - look at all that space to the left of the RF window. I just don't get what Fuji/Cosina were up to.

Arthur Plumpton , Mar 08, 2010; 10:43 p.m.


Some good points. It is certainly not a perfect camera and it should be closer to that at the price. The 90% view of the RF VF is sad, but that is often the case with RF cameras. The Leicas have less than perfect correspondence between the framelines and the actual image and most modern RF camerasas seem to be less than perfect in that regard although their bright viewfinders and clearer RF patches are often superior to the older classic MF RF cameras.

The RF base is much too small, given the apparent room to the left of the RF window. The camera is also highly plastic although its interior body may well be made of metal. The struts also appear less strongly built than the DOI Plaubel Makina of 20 or so years ago.

What I find interesting are three things-

  1. the very quiet shutter, useful for street photography or photography in close quarters.
  2. the apparently respectable performance of the Heliar lens at f5.6 and down. Ray's point about the resolution of the scans is a good one (surprising as one of the testers in the French article is a graduate of an optics institute in France), but this doesn't avoid the fact that the Planar is visually inferior to the Heliar in moderate close-ups (full newpaper page camera distance) andthis is visible in the several images at intermediate f stops.
  3. the out of focus bokeh rendition at full aperture in one of the other reports above; no hard looking double edged ni-sen bokeh.

Is this enough to take me away from my current but out of production MF RF cameras (a Mamiya 6 system and a Fuji GSW 690 III). Probably not.

Dirk Rösler , Mar 09, 2010; 01:34 a.m.

If the camera was more "metal" then people would complain that it is too heavy. When is the last time you encountered a 6x6/6x7 camera with that feature set that weighs in at 1kg?

Arthur Plumpton , Mar 09, 2010; 07:28 a.m.

Thanks, Dirk, the light weight is a good point, often overlooked. There are always alternative choices that must be made in design by the manufacturer. I woud like my Mamiya 6 to be as strong as an Alpa, but it probably could not be at its (former) price level. The Bessa III is a nice camera.

Neil Ambrose , Mar 09, 2010; 09:09 a.m.

The 90% view of the RF VF is sad, but that is often the case with RF cameras.

Actually, I was really pleased to look through the Bessa III viewfinder. I was delighted with 90% correspondence. Not sure why it's considered to be a disappointment.

Many SLR designs have 95%-98% viewfinder coverage even when viewing through the lens. All recent model Leicas show around 90% in the framelines at close-up, but closer to a more modest 75% at infinity - and even less, if using a 90mm or 135mm lens. The Bessa III offers a consistent 90% view at all distances, which in my opinion is an excellent achievement — one of its strengths, not weaknesses.

The parallax correction on the Bessa is pretty sophisticated. Instead of fixed frame lines that merely move left/right to correct for distance parallax, the Bessa frame lines also expand and contract between infinity and close-up, correcting for both parallax and the size of the coverage area.

AFAIK, the only other rangefinder that did anything similar was the Contax G2. No other RF that I've used comes close to this level of accuracy.

Yefei He , Mar 09, 2010; 07:11 p.m.

Right, regarding the viewfinder, from the description at cameraquest.com, it has the most advanced frame line ever, as it not only moves, but also changes size. That's way better than the Leica or Mamiya Press frame line. I'm not sure what the review that the original poster referred to was talking about. Well, perhaps in reality, the bottom and left edges of the frame line are fixed, and the top and right edges move. So it may feel less sophisticated than the Leica frame lines (only two lines move!), but, this is actually more accurate.

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