It is always so fun to bring to life a camera that you thought was dead junk. This Voigtländer Brillant from 1933 is probably the oldest camera I have. It is mainly a simple light-tight box with a lens. But it is still capable of taking some very nice photos in 6×6 format on 120 film.
Field report under development.
This is the early metal version of this camera (pre-1937, probably 1933). Later versions are bakelite and I think they were the inspiration for a number of Russian Russian bakelite TLRs. It is quite small compared to a Rolleiflex but still well-built in metal. It is also very light as it does not have much of technology inside. It is a metal box with a lens!
You put the film in a similar manner to a Rolleiflex. At the bottom of the camera there is a hole with red glass where you need to watch for the number 1 while you roll the film after installation. Once the number appears you reset the counter on the side of the camera to 1 and start shooting. (I think I followed the right procedure but I ended up with my last frame being only a third of a frame. Need to check the manual.)
The camera has five settings for shutter speed: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, T and B. The aperture is from 6.3 to 22 and does not have stops in between. This means that, even if the shutter settings are limited, it is in fact possible to get a quite accurate exposure by setting the aperture closest to the measured value. I am actually quite happy with the exposure on the photos I took, although this is definitely not a camera for sports photography. (Note that the camera of course does not have a light meter. I use external light meter.)
Brillant looks like a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) but is actually not a pure TLR, it is a “pseudo-TLR.” The viewfinder lens is not coupled with the taking lens, and the camera does not use a focus ground glass because there is no focusing in the viewfinder. Focusing is done by measuring distance and focusing the lens, separately. Some people call this zone focusing. In fact the camera has portrait (1.2m), group (2m), and landscape (6m and longer) zone markings around the focus ring as an aid in focusing. In a real TLR like a Rolleiflex you can focus precisely via the viewfinder.
Pros and cons
- Lightweight and small. A beautiful camera. It’s a pity that the writings are not very visible anymore. Its a piece of Art deco!
- Very bright viewfinder. Actually that is why the camera is called Brillant, a brilliant viewfinder.
- Very few parts and easy to open and clean the lens. I cleaned the lens in mine.
- Decent optical quality and old-fashioned feel and bokeh with 3-D pop. The corners are quite soft even at F/16. In F/22 they look OK.
- A very decent entry to the worlds of medium format and TLR.
- Probably can be found for a reasonable price, though I read online that this was not a cheap camera when it was sold new in the 30s..
- Not comparable to e.g. my Rolleiflex 3.5A with respect to build quality and ease-of-use. Probably not the film camera you would want to use daily.
- No focusing aids. OK for a city walk and probably landscape but for portraits and still life you need some external rangefinder.
- The viewfinder is very bright but you need to really look at it from a precisely vertical angle otherwise the walls around the mirror obscure the view (at least in my copy). Can be annoying.
- Maximum 1/100 seconds shutter speed can limiting.
Conclusions and some photos
I have not used this camera a lot. Only one roll so I can see if it is working. Besides some minor light leaks (first and last frames!?) it seems to be in order. It was nice to get some decent photos out of this 90-years-old camera. It is a nice camera to have for a 35mm shooter who wants to take some occasional 6×6 medium format photos. But for me, having 6-7 other 6×6 cameras including a Hasselblad with excellent glass, this will most probably stay on the shelf or maybe sold. Maybe someday I will try it with a Lomo Metropolis film before I sell it to another analog photographer!
Below are some photos taken with this camera:
Other online resources
- Wikipedia page for the Brillant family of cameras with a lot of useful links.
- See Mike Eckman’s excellent review of an f/7.7 version, as usual for Mike’s reviews this review has everything you need to know about the background of the camera.
- This web page (don’t know who owns it) has an excellent overview of all the models. According to this page mine is a “Second metal model” German version produced in 1933: “E254XXX (1933) – 6×6 Film, Shutter 1/100 – Voigtar 6.3/75mm, Classic focusing adjustment by rotating ring. Film window near the tripod bush. Higher than earlier models.
- Camerapedia has also a dedicated page for this family of cameras.