Whenever my girlfriend and I see antique stores or vintage markets, our eyes light up. Her eyes are lit up with dreams of bone china tea sets and antiquated woodworking, whereas mine are bright with visions of a dusty Hasselblad in a forgotten corner, or spools of unprocessed and antiquated film. On a Sunday morning in sunny Englandshire recently, my lady-friend and I went for breakfast and on returning to our car, saw a small sign for a vintage pop-up market.
The Tale (Part 1)
I truly have no idea if the concept of "pop-up" things are as prevalent as in London, but in essence, they are fully fledged markets/restaurants/shops, but for a limited time only. We exchanged glances and off we skipped in to a poorly lit hall before steaming off in different directions like crows each with our own shiny attractions. After a disappointing initial scan, I spotted an oddly shaped leather camera case on a corner table, piloted by older two ladies. I gave them a British smile and nod hello and proceeded to open the leather case carefully to reveal a beautiful Voigtlander Vitomatic II, and it really is beautiful. Beguiled by its weight and, in a call back to my crow simile, its shininess, I stared lovingly at it while turning it on all sides. The ladies turned out to be sisters and they explained the camera had been their father's who had recently passed. He had been an engineer by trade and as often seems to be the case with that generation, he had been good with his hands and used that in a hobby. His hobby had been to collect old, broken cameras and restore them back to working order.
I know I'm not alone in how much I revere that man, even with no other facts about him. I inferred that he used to sell the born-again cameras once he had them firing on all cylinders, so why had this one survived the ordinary process of mend and vend? His daughters weren't sure, all they knew was this particular camera was his favorite and he kept it his whole life.
Intermission: Voigtländer and the Vitomatic II
I love history and the history of photography is certainly no exception and so I write about it whenever the opportunity arises. When it comes to photographic history in particular, Voigtländer has arguably the richest vein there is. They were founded in 1756 (yes, you read that correctly) and have been prevalent in photography and optical lenses for most of camera-history. Their past is intertwined with Zeiss and they worked together from the 1950s after various mergers and takeovers. I implore anyone who likes learning about photography's roots to research Voigtländer as it's a very interesting read.
As for the Vitomatic II, there's a lot to love about it. I was struck by two things straight away: its weight and its relatively small size. For the 1950s, it was a small camera but due to the bulk of the body and lenses being metal, it weighs about the same as my 6D and a lens! It is of course 35mm with a rangefinder and electronic sync flash bulbs as well as a hot (cold?) shoe for accessories. A potential drawback is that is has a maximum shutter speed of 1/300 s. After some research I discovered that's because it's a leaf shutter and it allows it to sync with a flash at any of its shutter speeds. The lens on mine is the Voigtländer Prontor SLK Color-Skopar 50mm f/2.8.
It's a fantastically well-built camera and its design has not only stood the test of time aesthetically, but cosmetically and functionally too. A big high-five to the West Germans behind this creation.
The Tale (Part 2)
The two lovely ladies asked about me and I told them that photography is my job, but realistically, I underplayed its importance. It consumes most of my life in various ways and I am by no means resentful of that fact. I told them about the other vintage cameras I have which have origins spanning the entire of the 1900s (although I'm yet to crack in to the 19th century!) and how they have become an obsession of mine. On the one hand, I love shooting film with all the practical limitations and worries stripped away. On the other, my goal is to build a glass cabinet filled with old cameras as they make for fantastic ornaments (to my eyes at least) and they really show an evolution in design and technology.
Upon hearing this, the ladies gave me the camera before I had even asked the price, pleased that it would go home with somebody who genuinely cared for it like their father had, as opposed to a bargain hunter looking to make a few quick coins on eBay or to end up in a loft forever more. I was touched by their sentiment, but due to other folk milling around the tables looking to feast on a number of this gentleman's remaining possessions, I left promptly. In hindsight, I wish I'd taken their details to thank them properly in writing and show how it's being appreciated and used. Also, being British, I tend to hide all emotion whether feverishly excited or wallowing in a pit of rage, and so I hope they could tell I was grateful for their offer and sincere in my interest.
I would love to know a little more about the history of this particular camera and its owners, through no motivation other than curiosity. On one side is an address that has been written and then crossed out, showing nothing more than Wellington St. On the other is words or abbreviations I don't recognize and can barely make out. If anyone can translate, let me know in the comments. Here is my rough approximation of what it says:
"DIN PERO 12 13.GEVA
AGFACOL 15 ANSCO
KCDACAR II 15 ILFAC
LKTA HS 23 ADOX - 18
So there you have it, a little wholesome tale of a vintage camera, restored and cherished for a man's life and then given to me by his two daughters upon his passing. It's a beautiful little camera with unparalleled build quality. Do you have a Voigtländer Vitomatic II? What are your thoughts?