Friday, 26 September 2008

the Bessa RF

The Bessa RF is a 6x9 120 film format folding camera. You might not be so keen on a 1942 camera (even if it is cheaper) so stay tuned for developments on this front, as it appears that there will be a release of a new Bessa III in 2008. That camera will be by Fuji, and if you find this camera to be interesting that one will undoubtedly address every niggle and problem I have with this camera. Very exciting stuff, but anyway back to this camera, the RF.

A while ago I bought a Bessa I and was impressed with the camera despite its limitations. Although the RF is an older camera I was eager to see if the RF would be a better tool for making images than the I.

Despite being older than the Bessa I it has a couple of features which are not found on the I (although can be found on the more expensive Bessa II)

  • focus is by rack
  • there is a coupled range finder to assist with focusing the camera

For people brought up on SLR cameras (where a mirror system allows you to see what is focused) these cameras are more like the point and shoot digitals with only a small peep hole on the side of the camera to allow you to point it in the right direction when taking a picture. Focus (since they didn't have auto focus in 1942) is done by the photographer.

If you're not familiar with Range Finders they are a tool for determining distance. If you know the distance you can then set the focus by positioning the lens. You can see the focus knob more clearly in this image. Its that knob on the bottom there (which when holding the camera is the left hand side)

It works by moving the lens (by that chrome arm there) back and forward, just like you do with a view camera. The main difference (aside that its much smaller) is that you can't view the image on the ground glass to confirm focus.

The camera has three small windows along the top. The one on the left (of this picture) is the view finder, just like my Bessa I this is what you use to roughly point the camera at what you're taking. Then left and right of the bellows (second and third along from the left) you can see the two range finding windows that the system uses to help you to focus.

You may notice a tripod mount over on the bottom corner of the front cover (swung to one side) . This is a tripod mount for portrait orientations. The whole thing folds down neatly to a compact package not much bigger than your hand. Its smaller in all dimensions than a VHS cassette (remember them?) and weighs about 800 grams.

Its slim and easily fits into the side pocket of a backpack. I've found so far that it makes VERY good images (when you get the focus right). Unlike many 6x9 cameras you actually get very nearly 6cm by 9cm, now, if you consider that 4x5 sheet film is about 10cm by 13 cm it means that you can take 3 images with this and stitch them together in your favourite stitching program (mine is PTGui) to make the equivalent of scanning a sheet of 4x5.

Well, I took my 4x5 out the other day, and set up with my 90mm lens (about the same as 28mm on a 35mm or Full Frame DSLR camera). This is a little shorter than the focal length of the Bessa, which is 105mm making it slightly wide of normal, but when you combine three images to make one larger image (as I mentioned above) they are almost exactly the same.

The image to the right is a screen grab of the scans I took with both cameras. To me the top one stands out as being sharper than the bottom one. Well folks the bottom one is from the 4x5 and the top one from the Bessa RF.

Hot dam that's sharp!

These are scans at 2400 dpi using my Epson flat bed scanner, which is right at its limits at this sort of detail (some say slightly past them ... but anyway). But still, both are scanned on the same gear, so if you get a better scan with a better scanner, then both will just look better!

Assuming a little overlap on your images when you take them this will make an image that is 14,000 x 8000 pixels in size. Thats around 100 megapixels if you want it!

I hope your PC is grunty.

So if you're a landscape photographer, and presently using a compact digital camera but are not satisfied with its image quality (even though it might say its 10 megapixels). Then keep taking your compact with you as its an excellent light meter (and for the snaps too) and add a Bessa folder to your pack! The other weekend I took this image (which I've even scalled back here from 5200 x 7700 pixels) if you click on it (like all the images on my blog) you'll see a bigger one (though not the full size).

its not all roses though. I've had some issues with the camera, so stay tuned (or if you're in the future search on the Bessa RF key words.

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