I have had 2 Bessa cameras now I find that I like them. I found that I prefer the simplicity of the Bessa I over the Bessa RF cameras and some time ago sold my RF. Sadly I made an attempt to service the shutter on the first Bessa I I bought (blog post on that here) but ended up damaging the threads of the lens when disassembling it. I have been variously distracted in the intervening time with things that some readers of my blog will be familiar.
For some time I have been looking for a Skopar lens version on eBay and recently I picked one up. Its a tidy camera with everything in largely good order (except that the shutter is a bit sticky, but I'm not going to touch this one ... yet).
I put my first film through it this week and was stunned by the results. I uses a roll of Fuji Superia X-TRA 400 through it and scanned the results on my Epson 4870 flatbed scanner.
The camera is not without issues (who isn't) and light leaks interfered with a number of the images, and operator error interfered with a few more. However where I didn't screw it up (not withstanding the light leaks, which were probably operator error too) the stunning shallow depth of field on what is essentially a mild wide angle showed me just why it was I loved this format.
Further the sharpness of the lens from side to side is (in my view) sharper than the Vaskar lens on my earlier one.
I was so impressed with the sharpness and detail I went and took another shot of the same scene as one of the negatives (without a flaw) with the GH1 so that I could make a comparison. It is this which I wish to show you in more detail.
Bessa I - overview
GH1 - overview
Anyone who has done much with colour negative knows that scanning colour negative to get exactly what a digital camera gives is nearly impossible, so please forgive the colour differences.
However firstly I'll point out that the 6x9 camera produces an image which is a ratio of 2:3 where the GH1 produces one of 4:5 (well in this setting). I happen to like 6x9 as its the same image dimension ratios that 35mm is.
I set the zoom on the GH1 to give the same horizontal width as the angle of view of the Bessa.
I scanned the film at 1200 dpi. Both cameras thus produced an image which was more or less 4000 pixels wide. Of course I could probably get 2000dpi out of the scanner without difficulty and looking at these images I'm inclinded to believe that I would indeed get more detail out of the film ... it would not just be the scanner equuivalent of 'upscaling'
So, lets have a look at the details:
Bessa - segment 1
GH1 - segment 1
Dam that's close ... ok, lets look over to the skyscrapers in the LHS background
Bessa - skyscraper segment2
GH1 - skyscraper segment 2
I think that the Bessa is actually resolving the details in the buildings better than the GH1 is. That's astounding as at this level (100% pixel view) we are clearly at the limits of the GH1s capacity and yet there is scope for better out of the Bessa negative
Bessa - segment 3
GH1 - segment 3
Well again (forgetting tones) the Bessa has done a better job of resolving fine details in the leaf (particularly that fresh frond that is vertical and as yet unspread).
If you disagree that there is enough in it to call, then that means that simply this is a tie. So I will go as far as saying that this digital camera which was released in 2010 has caught up to what 6x9 film cameras with box brownie film could achieve back in the late 1950's. Certainly when I did this with my Canon EOS 10D the Bessa with the Vaska lens was its equal.
This does not mean that I'll stop using the GH1 (or any other digital camera for that matter) but does re-enforce why I keep using the Bessa. For there are times when Negative can capture a better image than digital can (such as high contrast situations). My initial view of what to use the Bessa for was for those times when I wanted to have something light weight as a backup camera and didn't want to drag the large format camera around with me.
For me this shows that if you are wanting to use a 6x9 folder for some images, that you don't have to feel that you are not going to get top notch results. If you aren't getting results like this out of it, then you are doing something wrong or you have not set your camera up properly (AKA doing something wrong)