Home Film Rangefinder Oddity: Bessa T with Voigtländer 35/2.5 and 15/4.5

Rangefinder Oddity: Bessa T with Voigtländer 35/2.5 and 15/4.5

The M Files, part 6 of 9


I can find no better word: This one is a definite oddity among the not-quite-Leica-M cameras. The Voigtländer Bessa T has a rangefinder, but lacks a classic viewfinder. Being the first Bessa with an M bayonet, it was in its way a ground-breaking camera. So, historical reasons alone make the Bessa T worth looking at. But how is this camera in real-life photography? For this review, I tested it with lenses from 15 to 90 millimetres focal lengths majoring on the Voigtländer 15/4.5 Super-Wide-Heliar Version I and the 35/2.5 Color Skopar.

This was Voigtländer’s very first rangefinder camera with an M mount. The Bessa T was made to less sophisticated standards than later Bessas. And the camera is unique in that it has a rangefinder for focusing (the small round windows) but no viewfinder. You need an external viewfinder to get full value out of the system. Here, the Super-Wide Heliar 15/4.5 is mounted, the Color Skopar 35/2.5 was also used on this camera.

What on earth is that camera supposed to be? This question will be on the mind of many people when they take a Voigtländer Bessa T in their hands for the first time – it feels somewhat awkward. It was not destined for a long life: The Bessa T was introduced in 2001 and had already been discontinued by 2004. 

The model T belongs to the early Bessas of the new generation, that is, cameras that were not produced in Germany but by Cosina in Japan. Voigtländer is merely a trade name for this camera. For the classification of the single models and the history of the Cosina-Bessas, I can again recommend Stephen Gandy’s site from the USA: www.cameraquest.com. It remains a wonderful resource on this topic.

For a 15 millimetre lens, you need a 15 millimetre viewfinder obviously, but take good care…

Back to the 30s: A camera with a rangefinder, but no viewfinder

The Bessa T is special in that it sports unique features. For framing the picture, it requires an accessory viewfinder to match the focal length of the lens used. In this respect, it is similar to the earliest Bessa by Cosina, the Bessa L, which was marketed especially for extreme wide-angle photography in its day. The mirrorless concept was interesting then because wide-angle lenses can protrude deeper into the camera body. This obviously does not work with a mirror in the way, and extreme wide-angle lenses had to be built following an expensive-to-manufacture retrofocus design. Remember, super-wide-angle lenses were not so readily available only two decades ago.

For focussing, however, the Bessa T provides a rangefinder. This essential feature is missing on the Bessa L. But in her younger T sister, the device is not built right into the viewfinder as we all know it from later Bessa models and all regular Leica M bodies since the 50s. 

Thus, the Bessa T is more of a successor to early screw-mount Leicas, such as the Model II from 1932. The rangefinder is a tiny, round peephole, which opens up a kind of keyhole perspective. At a rough estimate, I would say that the angle of view is equivalent to that of a 400-millimetre tele lens.

… if the accessory sits a bit loose on the body, it is prone to fall down. Exactly as it happened to this viewfinder. Replacement is expensive because Voigtländer have changed to build only higher-end models which are nice in their all-metal outfit, but costly.

External viewfinder issues and the problem of gravity

You always have to look through two windows in practical use and then pay attention to the light meter. To help you to get exposure right, the Bessa T offers TTL metering. In the absence of a real viewfinder, exposure is indicated by three LEDs on the outside of the camera’s body. 

If you look through any viewfinder on your accessory shoe, you can see the display very practically at the edge of your own field of vision. At the same time, it is beneficial if you are shooting from the hip with zone focus, as some advocates of so-called street photography advocate. Of course, in this case, the rangefinder is not used at all, so that a simple Bessa L would be sufficient for this kind of photography. 

And be careful with the external viewfinders: I had one that sat just a bit too loose on the accessory shoe. I dropped it on the cobblestones and ruined it. Such a shame as there are nowadays only available the much more expensive viewfinders of the second generation.

Voigtländer/Cosina even produced the T-Winder which works pretty much like a Leicavit. At also fits in the Bessa R4M and the Rollei 35 RF we already reported on in The M Files. The winder does not adapt to the Zeiss Ikon!

Plastic fantastic 

As far as ergonomics and haptics are concerned, the Bessa T belongs to the first series of the Cosina-Bessas. This run used even much more plastic than the later models. The back door is a bit rickety, and the whole camera does not create a particularly high-quality impression. 

It improves a bit if you screw on the T-Winder (sold separately) to the bottom. You can unfold a vertical lever and use it to transport the film very rapidly. Basically, the T-Winder is a simple equivalent to the Leicavit and, as such, very nice because it is really solidly manufactured. 

The fast winding mechanism also fits many later Bessa models, including the already reviewed Rollei 35 RF, and provides an extended handle as an additional benefit. In any case, it turns the Bessas into fast cameras for reportage photography or snapshots.

Voigtländer’s 35/2.5: A pancake with astonishing qualities

I think this is one of the smallest lenses ever made with M mount if not the smallest of all times. Voigtländer’s Color Skopar 35/2.5 is not only called a pancake lens. It is one for sure. 

I used the Bessa T mainly with the tiny pancake lens, the Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5. For framing, I used the 36 mm viewfinder, which Leica introduced for the X1. It is inexpensive, easy to find, pleasantly bright and ideally matched to the Skopar. The lens itself is surprisingly good, especially when you consider the low price. It is extremely tiny, weighs only 134 Grams and is just 23 millimetres long. It takes small E39 filters. 

Wide-open, sharpness is good in the centre; stopped down to 5,6, it is excellent all over the frame. I made some shots with the SL (24 MP), no correction profile selected neither in the camera nor in Lightroom, and I was really pleased. For such a small lens, the Color Skopar shows great performance. Some of the notorious colour shift occurs when the lens is used on the M262. The Leica lens profile for the 28/2.8 (11809) will take care of it. 

One the Bessa R, you need an external viewfinder for any lens. With the 35, Leica’s 36 millimetre viewfinder which was once made for the X1 turned out to be a good fit.

On the Voigtländer Bessa T, the humble 35 makes a good pairing

I think this pancake 35 would make a really nice travel companion. But I have to make one small restriction: I used a Kodak Ultramax 400 for testing, whose relatively coarse grain is much more forgiving than a modern sensor. But for a small, inexpensive analogue kit, the Color Skopar is definitely an excellent choice. Ideally, however, you would choose a universal body because focussing through the T’s small windows and then switching to the external 36 mm viewfinder for actual framing (or the other way round) is cumbersome. 


You cannot expect wonders from a not-really-fast 35 when it comes to background/ foreground separation. But within its limitations, the tiny Voigtländer is quite good. Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5 on Bessa T. Kodak Ultramax 400.
Colours and structures – altogether a beautiful rendering. Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5 on Bessa T. Kodak Ultramax 400.
One more look into our peaceful area. Somehow, the entirely unspectacular character of this lens seems to combine with the calmness of the Hegau landscape. Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5 on Bessa T. Kodak Ultramax 400.

Quite often, the last light of the day brings a special clarity. Enjoy the fine colour nuances and the majestic Alps far behind the volcanic summits of the Hegau. Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5 on Bessa T. Kodak Ultramax 400.

Fasnacht (Carneval) was cancelled for 2021, but a real Konstanzer decorates his town anyway. This was taken with the antique VIOOH finder and the APO-Summicron 90. The rangefinder did not help to get the garland exactly in the middle sharp. APO-Summicon 90/2 in Bessa T, Fuji C-200. .


You saw some images of the Hegau area near the Bodensee already. Voigtländer’s 35/2.5, the company’s cheapest M mount lens you can buy new, catches this special afternoon quite nicely. Lake Constance to the left is under fog as frequently in autumn and winter. Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5 P on Leica SL.
This is a few hours later, the sun has just set, and in the distance, the Alps have emerged from the mist. This 134-gram lens certainly makes a straightforward travel companion (which may not always be said of its user). Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5 P on Leica SL. 
Regular readers of The M Files know about my ferry shots. I cross the Bodensee by boat quite often, and frequently there is something to take a photo of. Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5 P on M10.
It takes less than 20 minutes to sail from Meersburg to Konstanz, but it is always like a mini-holiday. The tiny Voigtländer performs beautifully albeit some chromatic aberrations in the high contrast parts are visible. Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5 P on M10.
Normally, you would choose a telephoto lens to feature the summits of the Alps south of the Bodensee. I like this moderate wide-angle image because it transports the vastness of our landscape. Voigtländer Color Skopar 35/2.5 P on M10.

Meet the mother of all modern 15 rangefinder lenses

This lens is a piece of photographic history: With the first version of the 15 Super-Wide Heliar, Voigtländer/Bessa/Ringfoto entered the market, first with the analogue mirrorless (Bessa L) and then the rangefinder. This was attractive because SLRs would not have supported such a construction that combined good rendering with inexpensive manufacturing.

I was also able to use a 15-millimetre Voigtländer lens. It was the Super-Wide-Heliar 15mm F 4.5, this is the very first version of the super-wide that came out about 20 years ago. It had its debut together with the Bessa L in a screw-mount version and somewhat later with M mount. On film, the results were good. Not stunning, but pretty sharp especially when stopped down a little. Flare resistance is remarkable, quite important for such a wide angle (you will frequently have the sun or some other source of light in your image). 

Stopped down to 8, you do not have to think about focussing at all because there is plenty of depth of field – this is important as this lens has no rangefinder coupling! On a digital camera however the Version I Heliar is quite disappointing. Heavy vignetting might be charming, but you get dramatic colour shift on the sides. Lightroom has a correction profile (if you shot DNG), but the outcome is not that much better.

And this is the full set. But bear in mind that the rangefinder of the Bessa T is not needed at all when shooting with this lens – it has no rangefinder coupling. Focusing is done with distance estimation. No problem when you have as much depth of field as with this slow opening and this short focal length.

The following pictures were taken with the Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on film

With the wide 110 degree angle, you are likely to have the sun or any other strong source of light in your image. Flare resistance is very helpful such an ultra wide angle. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on Bessa T. Kodak Ultramax 400.
Some vignetting is visible on film, too – but to a far lesser degree than in digital use of Voigtländer’s first modern 15. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on Bessa T. Kodak Ultramax 400.
Anyone talking about a cheap lens? I have seen far worse from newer and far more expensive ones. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on Bessa T. Fuji C-200.
Good flare resistance in this high contrast image. Winter on the shores of the Bodensee. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on Bessa T.
Already the first of Voigtländer’s 15s showed remarkable little distortion and good sharpness right into the corners (as long as you shoot on film). Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on Bessa T.
Even after one year of intensive work on The M Files, I am not entirely sure what all this film look is all about. Images like this (winter day on the promenade of Konstanz) make incline me to feel that there is indeed something of a special look. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on Bessa T.
Two roads diverge in a wood. Think of using the less well-trodden path and shoot on film. The old Voigtländer will give you a great experience. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on Bessa T. Kodak Ultramax 400.
If you are not used to ultra wide lenses on your rangefinder, you are likely to have your fingers in the image unintentionally. To make the misery complete, the external viewfinder also crashed onto the pavement at exactly this point. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on Bessa T. Kodak Ultramax 400.
The 15 is a beast not easy to tame. If you think it will make it much easier to take architectural photos you will soon see that it’s not that simple. But I shot this one to show the good sharpness of the Voigtländer ultra-wide lens. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 on Bessa T. Kodak Ultramax 400.

The following pictures were taken with the Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 and digital cameras

Again, an impression from the Hegau area. You can hike there superbly in autumn and winter (with some luck also on cross-country ski). But when you need the dramatic 15 millimetre lens perspective, do not force Voigtländer’s very fist 15 on a digital body. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 Leica SL.
The same problems: Heavy vignetting and colour cast on both margins. You can also see the enormous improvement in technology over the last 20 years. The Heliar is now in its third iteration and now has a good reputation for digital usability. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 Leica SL.
Sharpness is good, and the lack of a rangefinder coupling plays no role on the SL or any other camera that can be focused in live view. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 Leica SL.
This is the bigger part of the ferry fleet that serves the Meersburg-Konstanz line laying still. The connection is operated 24/7, 365 days a year. During the day and without Covid, up to six ships, each one taking between 60 and 80 cars are continuously in service. However, I added the photo to show that purple fringing is less prominent when the sun is less harsh and when the old Voigtländer 15/4.5 is used on the M10. Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 M10

The high-precision rangefinder in (more or less) practical use

To see if the increased rangefinder accuracy has a visible effect, I used the Bessa-T with the Voigtländer 35/1.4 Nokton attached. You know this interesting lens from my Bessa R4M review. Wide-open, it was not easier to focus on the Bessa T than with modern Leica rangefinder models. 

Finally, I did some tests with the notoriously difficult to focus Leica APO-Summicron-M 90. Apart from the fact that it is challenging to frame your photo, for example, when shooting portraits, I did not notice much of the mathematically quite high accuracy of the rangefinder in the Bessa T. The camera has a measuring base of 37 millimetres and a 1.5 magnification. This even surpasses the M6 with the 0.72 viewfinder. But this is more theory: with my M262, I get better results, although the demands on sharpness are always higher with a digital image (no grain! 100 per cent view).

Just for the sake of the experiment: Bessa T with the notoriously difficult to focus Leica APO-Summicron-M 90 and a VIOOH viewfinder to get at least an idea of framing. The nominally high precision of the rangefinder was no help to get sharp images.

For a short lens, you need no rangefinder – for a long lens, finding a viewfinder is not so easy

All in all, the Bessa T is and remains an oddity, and this also explains why it is sometimes offered at comparatively low prices even on the currently overheated second-hand rangefinder market. 

There is some irony about its bold design: The Bessa T has a rangefinder but no viewfinder. External viewfinders are quite easy to get for short focal lengths, but together with those lenses, the rangefinder as the camera’s most unique feature is only partly necessary. For long focal lengths on the other side, this rangefinder would actually be helpful. But despite the impression you might get from eBay and other places, suitable external viewfinders for normal and telephoto lenses are difficult to find. 

Accurate framing is all but easy

The widely available VIOOH viewfinder I had the chance to test is not a substantial help, in my opinion. The longer the focal length you chose, the tinier the field of view becomes. Accurate framing is hardly possible, especially if you want or have to get it right from the beginning (because you can’t crop when working on slide film or because you want to print your image beautifully with the black margin of the negative or because you are just a purist). 

And don’t forget that the parallax problem is not convincingly solved. The frame changes considerably depending on the distance setting, for instance. The VIOOH offers a manual correction, but first, you have to set it, and second, you will not get precise results even if you do.

Sceptical looks from the author: The Bessa T is indeed an oddity among the cameras with M bayonet. If you want to do serious photography with a rangefinder camera, another model probably makes more sense. © C. Rau

Conclusion: Yes, the Voigtländer Bessa T an oddity

If you can get a Bessa T at a good price (that is: a few hundred euros), you can use it as an alternative to the Bessa L with its screw mount. As an owner of M lenses, you might be happy about the M bayonet of the Bessa T. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a real rangefinder camera that combines focusing and framing in one step and provides all the necessary information one single window, you will not be happy with the Bessa T.

I work on a completely independent basis, but I wish to thank Lichtblick and Leica Store Konstanz for their support in providing some accessories used for this review. Both are very recommendable; they take phone or mail orders and offer shipping also outside the EU. However, if there still is one, please do not forget to support your local photo equipment dealer in these challenging times. 

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  1. Dear William, thank you. I am also quite happy with the results, but shooting with an external viewfinder will never be my utmost pleasure. As you are mentioning it: Does the spirit level in the Frankenfinder make any sense when you are not working with a tripod? Oh, and the Kodak Ultramax: I liked it, too. Inexpensive and better than the Fuji Superia with its miraculous 4th layer. In general however I prefer the slower films for extra sharpness and more depth of field possibilites. JP

    • I rarely use a tripod except for some macro work, never for landscapes with 35mm. The important thing is to hold the camera level from a horizontal forward looking perspective. Once that is done the bubble level is useful for straight horizons, whatever about straight photographers! Happy St Patrick’s Day to you and all Macfilos readers.

  2. Those photos are lovely, Jorg-Peter. The Voigtlander wide-angle lenses are great, particularly the ultra-wides. I have the Voigtlander 15-35mm Viewfinder which is excellent, although the Leica Frankenfinder, which I also have, shows the area outside the frame and has a spirit level. You’ve also given me another film to try out, the Kodak Ultramax 400, which looks superb in your photos above.


  3. Thank you for a very enjoyable article. I had toyed with the idea of getting a Bessa T along the way but in the end discounted it as just too impractical.

    I’ve read reviews espousing the joys of shooting from the hip with this super lightweight rangefinder without the added viewfinder but it didn’t quite add up for me personally.

    I do have the ColorSkopar 35mm lens, though, and use it with an adapter on my TL2 where it effectively becomes a 50mm. A highly enjoyable lens that makes for a very compact and lightweight kit.

    • You’re welcome, Steve. I think you made a good decision as the Bessa T is really limited in its use cases. Shooting from the hip something I never liked – photography, for me, has something to do with consciously framing the world or what you see from it. I guess the Color Skopar is even better on an APS-C camera because then the sensor makes use only of the best parts of this small little lens. JP

  4. jörg-Peter,
    your review are top-notch and the series is part of my weekly pleasures. Looking forward to the next one.

    • Thank you, Jean.
      I do get a lot of feedback on my M Files articles, and I am glad about it because all the effort makes so much more sense whan someone is reading it. The next episode is planned for Monday 29th, it will cover the Leica CL.
      Best, JP

  5. .
    Ah: photos with people in them!

    I bought the predecessor (screw fit) Bessa L when it came out, and the Voigtländer (Cosina) 12mm lens to go with it. That camera has no viewfinder (like the T) and no rangefinder! ..With a 12mm lens you just set the ‘zone’ focus on the lens, and pretty much everything’s in focus! But the ‘L’ DOES have a built-in exposure meter, like the ‘T’ ..just the absolute minimum of settings.

    The ‘L’ is a noisy, clunky ‘bare bones’ camera – with an echoing metal shutter! – but it gets the job done.

    It was cheap, reliable, and – of course – can take any Leica-screw-fit lens ..so I later bought the 15mm screw-fit, too. It’s been terrific: sharp, contrasty, ‘rectilinear’ (not distorted like a curvy fish-eye lens) and so as long as you don’t have people at the edges of a photo, no-one looks too stretched. Small, light, handy, and cheaper than the Leica ‘Tri-Elmar’ 16-18-21mm lens (which itself is a brilliant lens).

    I can certainly vouch for the 15mm ..a real bargain, giving terrific results!

    • Dear David,
      thanks for all the additional info! I fully agree, as a carrier for ultra-wide lenses, the Bessa L is quite capable despite extensive usage of plastic and lower manufacturing standards. The 15 screw-fit lens seems optically identical to the M mount Super-Wide Heliar I was using (in fact, the M mount lens appears just to be fitted with an adapter but I was not able to remove it by sensible means). I think especially the two images with snow are showing how good this lens renders when used for film photography.
      And as to people: There were not many of them at the places where I and my familiy spent our spare time in the last year. You know how much I like documenting everyday life, but there’s not much of it left in the winter of 2020/21 in public. I do hope some normality comes back soon.


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