Topic: Voigtlander Bergheil 9x12cm, 1933 (or so)

Pics first.
DSC02768_1 by SteveFE, on Flickr
DSC02770_1 by SteveFE, on Flickr

What may be a funny or a completely boring story. I have a local antique dealer place (sort of a cooperative) that often has old cameras scattered around the place, mostly non-working junk just because it looks nice. Anyway, I went in last Saturday, Yashica D around my neck not to pose but because I was finishing off a roll of 120 and couldn't be bothered to put it away. First guy I see says "Ooh, nice camera!" and we start chatting, then he says "What do you think of this?" and shows me this rather rusty and battered looking LF folding camera. So I have a look and it's a Voigtlander (just vaguely discernable on the beaten up leather) and more to the point it has an ƒ/4.5 Heliar lens in a 1/200 Compur rim-set shutter. "Oh!" I say, "It's a Voigtlander, I like those!" (having not too long ago got a nice 6x9 Bessa).

Now I know next to nothing about LF Voigtlanders or LF anything really, but I remember reading that there was a 9x12 model called an Avus, so I start talking about Avus, and he, being the canny antique dealer he is, promptly looks up what else but eBay listings for Voigtlander Avus cameras (this is how antiques dealers work these days - looking in a book is a bit too much like hard work for them).

And we start a bit of good-natured haggling. I've ascertained that the important bits look good. The lens is dusty but not fungussy. The shutter runs on all speeds although they all sound slightly lazy and the aperture opens and closes. The bellows look light tight from cramming most of my face inside them, and holding them up to the light. But the camera itself looks beaten up to hell. The leather's very tired looking and dried out. The groundglass is intact but a mess. The black paint is all chipped everywhere. The carry strap is so dried out it half falls off while I'm holding the camera.

But but but ... it's a Voigtlander, it looks like it'll work (it also has a couple of filmholders) and it has that Heliar lens (which antiques guy is a little hip to, he knows enough it seems from eBay searches that Heliar is a magic word but not quite how magic). So we start at him saying, being coy, "What's it worth to you?" I say "It's not something I need and it's a beater but it is nice, £40?" And he says "I've had a look at Avus cameras with Heliars and I think it's more like £200, and anyway I just paid £40 for it." And I say "I'm not spending that, but I'll have a walk around and think about how much I want it vs how much I need it", which I do, and return and say (still thinking it's an Avus) "I think it's worth £75 max to me, as a tool for experiments and to use, because it's a mess as a display piece but it does look usable. And I'll walk away from it if you want more, happily, because I don't need to spend more but I also don't want you to think I'm trying to rip you off". And we agree. And the deal is done.

The kicker being of course, when I get home and start looking up the len/shutter combos, then actually looking at what's stamped on what's left of the leather carry strap, it is actually a Bergheil and not an Avus at all. A rather higher grade of camera and more collectable and with a generally considerably higher collector price. Excellent ones going for pretty silly money, four figures, and even just goodish ones going for quite a lot more than I paid. I've even seen just the Heliar/Compur lens unit sell for £200+ (unusually it's a bayonetting, removable piece and Voigtlander also made a telephoto lens of some sort that could be easily swapped). None of which really matters to me because I just saw it, was aware it had a good looking Heliar on it and decided the time was right for me to lose my large format virginity. But I think I may have stolen it off him without really knowing how or why. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing?

Oh, and does it take pictures? Yes, it does, eventually. But cut me some slack. Large format is a whole new learning curve. Loading film holders (with print paper, which I had to hand but no film because why? I've never had a need for cut sheet film before) is a trial. I loaded and exposed several sheets backwards so that they exposed through the paper rather than onto the emulsion before I worked out what was going wrong. Then my guesswork exposures for ISO3 or so print paper were way off and I was estimating whole numbers of seconds, lots of seconds rather than the 1/5 to 1/10 it actually needed at ƒ/8. So I was grossly overexposing the paper and getting it as far as solarisation.

So the one single, half decent result of a picture from a Sunday afternoon spent messing about, was a portrait, appropriately enough, of my daughter's photo nut boyfriend. It's in focus. It's exposed about right, if on a tilt. And he was impressed enough to say "Wow, those antiques really can actually take sharp photos!"
bergheil011 by SteveFE, on Flickr

Oh, and a pic of a Fender Strat:
bergheil015 by SteveFE, on Flickr

I am so early days with it. One afternoon's playing about does not constitute mastery by any means or even a beginning of it. But it's such a fascinating, slow photography process that I just know it's going to become a regular summer weekends thing and hopefully I'll start to be able to demonstrate to myself and anybody else, that I can do this  and the results are something special.

Canon EOS30D, Sony NEX-3
Favourite M/F lenses: Nikkor 50/1.4 pre-AI, Zuiko 50/1.4, Flek 35/2.4, SP 35-80/2.8-3.8, Macro-Tak 50/4 preset *NEW* Jupiter-8 and more rangefinder lenses to come!
Favourite (and only) AF lens: Sigma 12-24

Re: Voigtlander Bergheil 9x12cm, 1933 (or so)

It turns out that 10 or 15 years ago I performed the same experience with a camera which looks like yours , in fact more mundane : no markings on the camera except on the folding hood of the ground glass : LIPS ? ? .The shutter has only 3 speeds 1/25 , 50 , 100 + B and T , ; the lens is an anastigmat Fulgor 6,3 f 135 .
I shot 2 or 3 sheet of photographic paper and as you did , I over exposed   the paper    but the scene was sharp . My problem was to get a positive . It was before the era of digital camera ...

I am a Pentacon and kiev( MF and35 mm) user,and also :contaxII,III,IIa  ,contaflex , contarex bullseye ,voigtlander ....

Re: Voigtlander Bergheil 9x12cm, 1933 (or so)

In theory I should be able to contact print from the paper negatives. That's a project for a weekend though, because knowing me I know how long it'll take to get anything like a result :-)

Even more theoretically, it's supposed to be possible to reverse the original negatives by a procedure of develop (but don't fix): bleach (using specific chemicals): fog by exposing to light: redevelop and then fix. It's quite a well known way of getting b/w slides directly from negative films (and is supposedly the way old b/w transparency films like Agfa Scala were processed) and there's information on Ilford's website about how to do it with FP4, and some old hands have informed me it should work with paper as well as film. I'd like to try both ways as I can imagine a 9x12 b/w transparency would look quite something.

Canon EOS30D, Sony NEX-3
Favourite M/F lenses: Nikkor 50/1.4 pre-AI, Zuiko 50/1.4, Flek 35/2.4, SP 35-80/2.8-3.8, Macro-Tak 50/4 preset *NEW* Jupiter-8 and more rangefinder lenses to come!
Favourite (and only) AF lens: Sigma 12-24

Re: Voigtlander Bergheil 9x12cm, 1933 (or so)

Well done Steve great result!, I know what you mean about the new breed of "Antique" dealers using t'internet to value items many are correct with their prices if they are in decent condition but there's a hell of a lot who are in fairy land and deserve to get stung now and again lol
I have seen loads of these folding cameras over the years in charity/junk shops and always ignored them because getting film was supposed to be impossible locally but i guess its easy to obtain via the web.... can you get it processed easily?.
I can't see myself using one but if i spot one again i will try and get it as cheaply as possible and give you guys a shout on here to see if any of you want it.
Regarding the photo's above I bet you can guess which is my favourite ? lol and they look pretty sharp to me.
On the subject of very old cameras is there any value in original lens caps/hoods/cases etc as i see plenty of them at car boots here and usually around 50p a go and it would be a shame not to get them if any of you old timers 9-) want them to complete your collections.
Right got to go as my arm/hand has gone again and virtually useless today (semi paralysed) so its a tripod day today!

Re: Voigtlander Bergheil 9x12cm, 1933 (or so)

Steve, congratulation for this great story.

I really like it when people can tell somewhat more of their gear purchases or related backgrounds.

And I am not fishing for complimentes when I say that your writing has a very good style.


Re: Voigtlander Bergheil 9x12cm, 1933 (or so)

Brian - I'd love a yellow or orange push-on filter and hood for it - I have them to fit the Skopar on my Bessa but oddly, this Heliar although longer in focal length is ever so slightly smaller - OD around 36mm as close as I can measure it. It also has a threaded inner which I have no idea how to measure accurately!

I haven't found any sheet film for it, or looked yet really, but I guess you must be able to find 9x12cm online - there are still lots of cameras using this European size around and working. It's probably not as common as 5x4" though. My 5 x 3½" multigrade paper is a perfect fit widthways in the holders and just requires folding a few mm flap of paper over inside the sprung end of the holder, and print paper is easy to tray-develop; I even use my smartphone as a safelight - just made a deep red plain solid JPG in Photoshop to use as a desktop wallpaper! It gives just enough light to see how the print's developing without fogging it. I've heard you can develop sheet film in Paterson tanks with special holders, or else you can just tray develop it in complete darkness (but that sounds a right faff; I'd be the idiot that put it straight into the fixer tray!)

I'm a bit gutted that Harman have discontinued their direct positive paper (for now anyway, it was all produced at Ilford Switzerland which has gone bankrupt although Ilford UK are still healthy). From my experiments with it in my homemade LF box camera, I know it'd have been absolutely ideal for this rather more precise instrument. Can't beat positive prints straight out of the camera, every one an absolutely unique artefact.

As regards getting a usable camera ... I'd say if the mechanical stuff looks OK (no holes in bellows, the focussing and movements etc work, the lens is clean or at least cleanable, and the shutter fires on most of its speeds and the aperture works), and, for sheet film or plate cameras like this, that you have filmholders included and you can actually fit and remove them from the back, and you have an intact groundglass, well, there's nothing to stop you using the camera to make pictures. LF cameras aren't the most complex of things even if they look it, and most of them were very well built.


Hanoi, thank you very much! I just tend to write the same way i think and speak, so it's fairly colloquial and conversational. I hope it's still easy enough for non-native English speakers to follow. To our undying shame, most educated Europeans can write more correct English than most English people these days! It always amazes me how good a grasp of the language most of my French, Dutch and especially German acquaintances have. Yet English people who have a solid grasp of any other language are rare indeed. I used to regard myself as quite good at French at school, but that was a very long time ago! I'd really struggle to carry on a conversation in it now.

Last edited by SteveFE (2014-04-03 17:36:15)

Canon EOS30D, Sony NEX-3
Favourite M/F lenses: Nikkor 50/1.4 pre-AI, Zuiko 50/1.4, Flek 35/2.4, SP 35-80/2.8-3.8, Macro-Tak 50/4 preset *NEW* Jupiter-8 and more rangefinder lenses to come!
Favourite (and only) AF lens: Sigma 12-24

Re: Voigtlander Bergheil 9x12cm, 1933 (or so)

I personally feel that your conversation style is really on the right point. For me it is a great pleasure to communicate with native English speaker, in English, so I can still learn a lot. But I also like the conversation with our non-native English speaker here.
I think that one of the greatest benefits from the "modern" world is that people are able to talk to one another, regardless where they live, regardless which nation they belong to. Internet makes it possible. I hope that I am not be too romantic or let me say native when I believe that internet communication helps that peoples will understand each other in a better way.