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Film Camera Review, Voigtländer Vito BL 35mm Viewfinder Film Camera

Voigtländer Vito BL 35mm Viewfinder Film Camera Review
A quick look review of the Voigtländer Vito BL, a highly sought-after classic vintage 35mm viewfinder film camera.

The Voigtländer Vito BL, another classic vintage 35mm viewfinder film camera highly sought after by vintage film photography enthusiasts, was introduced in 1956. The camera was based on the earlier Vito B Mark II, the version with a larger Albada-type finder and larger camera top housing. The larger finder provides a natural-sized image at 1x magnification and comes with bright frame lines and parallax marks. The camera is fitted with an uncoupled light meter.

The taller top housing update, however, gives way to many enthusiasts and camera collectors who felt that the version is top-heavy and the design update misses out on the compactness and intent of the original design. 

Voigtländer Vito BL, View

Like all other Vito models, the Vito BL may come in many variants. The lens could either be the highly acclaimed semi-legendary 4-element 50mm 1:2.8, or 1:3.5 Color-Skopar, and the uncoupled meter could be a Bewi-Automat or a Bertram (both made by Ernst & Wilhelm Bertram), and the viewfinder could come with or without a bright-line frame. Most cameras, however, have a 9-speed (300-1s plus B) Prontor or Prontor SVS shutter with an EV indication.

The version I had for this review comes with a 50mm 1:3.5 Color-Skopar, a 9-speed Prontor SVS shutter, an Imperial distance scale with zone focus icons, the Bewi-Automat light meter, and a bright-frame viewfinder. Other than the shutter cock lever which seems a bit sticky, and some minor stains on the viewfinder eyepiece, the camera is otherwise clean and almost pristine, with all mechanical functions working well.

Basic Camera Features

A case in point to remember is that the shutter system of the Vito BL is cocked when the film forward lever is advanced with film loaded in the camera. The shutter will not cock when the film is not loaded, which will make it seems that you have a non-working camera.

To test the shutter release manually, that is without loading the camera with film, advance the sprocket wheel located just above the film frame window with your fingers until the film frame counter clicks to the next film frame number, then release the shutter.

Voigtländer Vito BL, Front

A simple and elegant front, with only the viewfinder window, film frame counter, and the selenium cell window populating the front of the top housing. The viewfinder window is large when compared to the minuscule film frame counter window which is located just above the lens mount housing.

The lens itself is a multi-tier cylindrical construction with the frontmost being the rotating focus and distance scale elements, and depth of field indicator rings, followed by the light value scale ring, the shutter speed dial, and the base of the mount where the flash synchro lever and self-timer lever is located.

Located just below the lens mount is the film counter setting ring which is used to reset the film counter number once the film is loaded and the camera is ready for use.

Voigtländer Vito BL, Top

The top plane of the camera is populated by the pop-up rewind knob and film indicator dial, which sits almost flush with the top of the camera, the accessory shoe, with the shutter release button and exposure meter dial located to the right.

The film rewind knob is 'hidden' until you pull back the reversing lever located on the left shoulder of the camera top. Pulling this lever back pops up the film rewind crank disengages the film transport system, doing away with the film rewind release button as seen on other film cameras.

Voigtländer Vito BL, Back

On the back of the top plane is the biggish viewfinder eyepiece, the rapid winder lever is on the right of the film back, and the exposure meter activation button is located above it. The lower part of the camera back is the plain non-interchangeable hinged film back.

Voigtländer Vito BL, Bottom

Different from what we are used to with later film cameras, the bottom plate of the camera is fitted with a hinged flap with the base plate hatch located at the end on the smaller end of the flap. The longer part of the flap carries the tripod bush towards its end. Located just under the lens mount housing is a toothed gear of the film counter setting ring.

Voigtländer Vito BL, Film box

The film box is also a straightforward design with the film canister chamber located on the left of the film box, and the take-up spool on the right. The sprocket gear, the mechanism that cocks the shutter, is located above the film frame window.

Film Loading and Rewind

Film loading is simple and straightforward once the bottom plate latch is released and the film back is opened. First, pull down and twist the arced locking tab on the flap end of the camera button to unlock the latch, which, in turn, will allow the rest of the bottom plate and the film back to open.

Voigtländer Vito BL, Loading film

Insert the film canister into the canister chamber on the left of the film box, pull the film tab across the film back, crimp the end of the film tab slightly, and insert the crimped end into the slot on the take-up spool. Make sure that the film surface is properly tensioned across the film back, with the upper perforation aligned to the shutter cock sprocket gear, give the film forward lever a half wind to ensure that the film is properly loaded, and close the back.

Voigtländer Vito BL, Loading film

With the back closed, forward the film advance lever until its click stops, release the shutter, and advance the film forward again to bring the unexposed film to the shutter window. Next, reset the reverse-run film frame counter to the number of frames on your film roll (normally 36 or 24) and you are all set to start using the camera.

To rewind and unload the film at the end of the roll, first, pull back slightly the reverse lever located on the left shoulder of the camera body, and this will release and pop-ups the film rewind knob. Rewind the film roll by turning the rewind knob clockwise until the film roll is wounded back completely into its canister. Open the back, and take the film roll out for processing.

Using The Bewi-Automat Meter

The Bewi-Automat meter had no pointer needle and readings are based on Exposure Value (EV). First, set the dial on the top plate with an ASA or DIN film set to the red dot index mark. Next, frame the image you want to capture through the viewfinder, and then press the button on the back of the camera top plate to activate the meter. Press the button for at least one second before releasing it slowly.

Voigtländer Vito BL, Using the Bewi-Automat meter

The action will cause the aperture and shutter speed dials to rotate and align the meter dial to the EV value for the reading. Next, rotate the EV dial on the lens mount itself to the value shown on the meter dial. The value corresponds to the equivalent shutter speed and aperture opening combination, with the aperture reading pointing to a value between the F3.5 and F22.

Next, rotate the shutter speed dial to the speed you want to capture the image with, and you will notice that the aperture opening setting will move in tandem for the correct exposure - the slower the shutter speed, the smaller the aperture opening.

Using The Imperial Focusing Scale

For the uninitiated, the chart below is a simple and quick guide on how to set your mind to the feet-inches distance measure. The image is sourced from, with thanks.

Imperial- Metric conversion chart

The focusing scale on the Vito BL is set to (in feet/approximate metric distance) 3.5 (1.1 meters), 4 (1.22 meters), 4.5 (1.37 meters), 5 (1.5 meters), 6 (1.83 meters), 7 (2.13 meters), 8 (2.44 meters), 9 (2.74 meters), 12 (3.66 meters), 15 (4.57 meters), 20 (6.1 meters), and 60 (18.29 meters).

Voigtländer Vito BL, Distance scale

For fast candid or action shots, the distance icons on the focusing scale are set to the equivalent distance of 8 to 17 feet (2.44 to 5.18 meters) for the triangle icon, and from 17 feet to infinity (5.18 meters to infinity) for the circle icon. To get the adequate depth of fields for the setting, set the lens aperture opening to F5.6 or lower. 

Camera Bodyweight

Voigtländer Vito BL, View

The camera's body weight, on my kitchen scale, is 638 grams without film.

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