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1959: Voigtländer Bessamatic + Zoomar lens

Although the Bessamatic was sold with a standard 50mm f/2.8 lens interchangeable with a range from 35mm Skoparex wide-angle to 350mm Super Dynarex telephoto, it is best known for one other lens with which it has become inextricably linked. It’s called the Zoomar, and it was the first commercially successful zoom lens.


The camera is a 35mm single lens reflex with match-needle metering in the viewfinder courtesy of a selenium cell above the lens. A split-image rangefinder aids focusing. The reflex mirror is lowered as the film is advanced, but does not return after exposure.


The Bessamatic uses a Synchro-Compur leaf shutter behind the lens with speeds of 1-1/500sec. To set the exposure, the shutter speed dial is first turned to the required setting. Then, while watching the needle in the viewfinder that moves according to the light, a knob is turned on the top plate. This activates the aperture control while moving a second indicator to meet the meter needle. When the two are aligned, the correct exposure has been set.


Shutter speed and aperture rings are linked so that changing one automatically re-adjusts the other to maintain the same exposure. The camera’s prime lenses also incorporate an ingenious system of twin pointers which move towards and away from each other to indicate depth of field on the focusing scale as the aperture is set.


The Zoomar lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, stopping down to f/22. It offers a respectable 36-82mm zoom range, which covers contingencies from wide-angle for landscapes to medium telephoto for portraits. The zoom is activated by a push-pull device around the barrel.

Left: The Bessamatic with Zoomar lens.

Above: View from the top with the standard lens fitted.

With the lens removed, showing the  Bessamatic's body mount

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