Our resident rangefinder expert analyzes three leading models and explains
why clicking these shutters is good for the soul.
The Bottom Line
If you were asked to boil all this down to a single paragraph explaining the major differences between the three cameras, it might go something like this. The Bessa 2A is a business like, well-made, utilitarian camera with speeds 1-1/2000 sec, no TTL flash, manually set viewfinder frames showing focal lengths between 35 and 90mm.
Zeiss Ikon ranks highest on beauty scale, is a more sturdy camera, has finer tolerance specs, same speeds as Bessa 2A, auto setting frames including 28mm, accurate focuses 135mm lenses and incorporates the best viewfinder by a hair.
The Leica M7 has auto setting frames 28 to 135mm, aperture priority speeds 1/1000 to 32 sec, manual to 1 sec., TTL flash, best viewfinder information, quietest shutter, subdued but readable markings, superb construction, great reputation. Owning one and clicking its shutter occasionally will be good for your soul.
Now comes the financial fun. In order of ascending bucks for bodies, here are the Bessa 2A, Zeiss Ikon and Leica M7: $550, $1580, $3,500. Roughly speaking you could get nearly seven Bessas for one Leica or over two Zeiss Ikons. Gosh.
On to the lenses. I have separated them from the bodies since the lenses can be bought separately as explained before, and put on any of the three bodies you wish. The 50mm f/2 Heliar (focusing to 1 meter, half stops to f/16) is $550; 50mm f/2 Planar (focusing to 0.7, meters, one third stops to f/22 ) $800, and the 50mm f/2 Summicron focusing to 0.7 meters, half stops, to f/22.) $1,600.
Of course price for many photographers, as well as closest focusing, minimum aperture and fractional stops are secondary to quality. To let you browse through our SQF (subjective quality) results and draw your own conclusions, here are the charts and other essential information.
Surprised at how nearly equal the three lenses are in terms of optical quality? I think you would find the same with the lensmounts. Superb craftsmanship. You could put the Heliar on the Leica M7 with few if any qualms in terms of results, but many photographers, myself included, might think it was sacrilegious to do so. One caution: If you plan on buying a Leica M8 digital camera, keep in mind that only Leica lenses are or can be fitted with the six bit code which allows the M8 to apply the software providing vignetting correction. M8 users tell me this correction is only necessary with 35mm or shorter wide angle lenses.
Besides the .72X magnification Leica we tested, the M7 is often available with different magnifications, which you may want to check out. If you're a wide angle buff you might wish to investigate the Voigtlander R4M (mechanical shutter) or R4A (electronic shutter), which have viewfinder frames for 21, 25, 28, 35 and 50mm lenses. Owning a Bessa R2M or R2A and a R4A would let you cover more focal lengths than any two other camera bodies.
When we asked a number of our editors to choose which camera they would choose between the Zeiss Ikon and Leica M7, they were about equally divided between the two. Best buy? Bessa 2A.
Where to buy? From an authorized dealer. I've heard too many stories of purchasers buying from non-franchised dealers and then finding they don't have official warranties. Most major camera stores are franchised for Leica and Zeiss Ikon. If in doubt, call Leica at 201-995-8666, or Zeiss Ikon at 914-681-7502. Voigtlander has but two authorized dealers: www.PhotoVillage.com (212-989-1252) and www.CameraQuest.com (818-879-1968). CameraQuest is almost exclusively Voigtlander, fun to read on its website and recommended.
But don't have sleepness nights worrying over a camera or lens choice. Instead of counting sheep, substitute seven Bessa bodies jumping over the fence. That oughta knock you out.
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