New (Old) Camera Day!

An old 1933 Voigtlander Brilliant just arrived at The Daily Lumenbox!


sonny rosenberg

3/1/20235 min read

Why is it that every story I have to recount is extremely convoluted? I think that's a bigger question than I can answer right now, but it remains in the back of my mind.

This all began when my lovely little Sawyer's Mark IV 127 twin lens reflex (which was recently gone through by Mark Hama) started to experience transport issues. Unexpected multiple exposure, extreme difficulty in winding on, things like that. Since I consider myself far too ham handed to attempt repairs on a shutter as complex as that of the Sawyer's, I thought it might behoove me to begin searching for a replacement in the event it fails.

I've come to love the form factor and ergonomic flow of shooting with this little TLR and didn't want to be without a twin lens reflex camera, ideally a 127 camera. This led me to ponder exactly what it is that I love about the Sawyer's, what I don't love and what I would want in a perfect (for me) twin lens reflex camera.

Here are the criteria I wound up pondering:

1. Compactitude. I love the small size of the Sawyer's. I enjoy small cameras in general and an ideal TLR would fit comfortably in the palm of my hand.

2. Simplicity. I don't need or want a lot of bells and whistles in my cameras. I also hope to become brave enough to attmept simple repairs on my simpler cameras. I thought a very simple TLR might be a good place to start on this.

3. Age. I admit that I'm fascinated by cameras and somewhat of a gear head in that regard, but it's older cameras that really attract my attention. It's hard to pin down exactly why, but I'm particulary fascinated by cameras of the 20s (1920s that is) and 30s.

4. The ability to take intentional multiple exposures.

5. Being able to natively use 127 film.

As I was searching and researching for info about older twin lens reflex cameras (particular thanks to Mike Eckmann and Peggy of Camera Go Camera) two cameras kept on attracting my attention, both Voigtlanders. The Voigltander Superb is a beautiful and sophisticated 120 twin lens reflex, and while I found it quite compelling expecially aesthetically, in the end it seemed far too complicated for me, with too many things that could go wrong. I doubted that my incipient repair abilities would ever be up to tackling such a seemingly complex camera.

The other camera that kept drawing my eye was the Voigtlander Brillant (or Brilliant for the English speaking market). The Brilliant is a very compact pseudo TLR in that the viewing lens does not focus. The taking lens is focused on it's own and the viewing lens only provides a view.

The two things that initially drew me to this camera were that it is very small for a 120 TLR (no 127 for this camera I'm afraid) and all the examples I'd seen have a very bright viewfinder. Also many models (and there were many variants) had very simple shutters that it seemed like even I might be able to attempt repair on.

The first Brilliants date from 1932, in 1937 they went to a Bakelite body. I wanted a metal camera as I'm more confident metal can endure my ham handedness.

Therre were several lenses employed on various Brilliants. The lowest of the line used the 75mm f/7.7 Voigtar lens, the top of the line used their illustrious Heliar lens and some used their Skopar in various apertures.

I was quite taken with many of the Brilliant shots I'd seen, most taken with the Voigtar lens. The Voigtar tends to be sharp in the center and then fall off quickly towards the edges. A quality I find endearing. The Skopar and Heliar shots that I'd seen seemed to be sharper in general, but more importantly for me, seemed to have somewhat higher contrast.

When It came down to actually shopping for a camera there was no shortage of Briliants to choose from. Me being inherently picky though, allowed me to quickly thin the field. I wanted one that was in cosmetically good condition, hopefully without any or much corrosion. It disn't so much matter which lens it had. One important factor for me was that the seller take returns. I didn't want to be stuck with a dud.

The choice came down to two cameras one with a Voigtar lens and the ostesnibly better, but much more complex Compur shutter. The other with the rarer Skopar lens, but a much simpler shutter.

I decided to inquire about the second camera. I was a little disappointed when the seller informed me that the view through the finder was quite dim. I was hoping to avoid having to replace the mirror, I knew that those old first surface mirrors are not very amenable to cleaning. When the seller offered me a discount though, that was enough to push me over the edge and I ordered the camera.

It was coming from South Africa so I expected a bit of a delay, to my surprise it was at my door in just a few days. I did have a little trepidation as I was expecting this camera to by quite the project, but I was up for the challenge.

To my surprise the little Brilliant (this is a Brilliant for the English speaking market, not a Brillant) was in extremely good condition. The view through the finder is quite bright! The shutter seems to fire correctly at all 3 speeds and the lens looked quite good except for some dust inside. Either the seller was on crack or was looking at another camera when he described it. I'm really happy that I took the chance on this one.

I immediately took the lens apart and cleaned the elements (I hope I put it together correctly and it focusses ok!) and loaded it up with a roll of Ilford Pan F+, a seemingly appropriate film for a camera with shutter speeds of 1/25th, 1/50th and 1/100th and apertures of f/6.3, 11 and 22. This 1933 Brilliant has 3 zones of focus, 20ft to infinity, 7-20ft and 4-7 feet. Since the front face shutter/lens assembly is so brassed and the engravings are difficult to read in some light, I took the liberty of color coding the focus zones with tiny dots of paint.

I didn't have any light seal material on hand, so some light leaks won't shock me, but the old felt style light seals seemed to be in decent shape.

In any case, I'm quite enamored of this new to me little jewel of a camera. There are so many things that just seem so right about it. It's tiny size, it's obvious high quality (even though this was a low end camera for Voigtlander), it's simplicity. Overall there is just a gestalt to this camera that makes me want to go out and shoot pictures with it. Even if I totally botched the lens reassembly and nothing works, I'm determined to bring everything up to spec on it. I think it will be worth whatever steep learning curve ensues. But for now and for the future, I have high hopes!

Unfortunately, even though it's fucking March, the weather seems as if it came directly from the artic circle. It's hideous outside. Things in Reno though can change dramatically even in a few hours. I'm hoping for better weather sometime soon.

I had fully intended to show some shots of the inside of the Brilliant, but then I reflexively loaded it. Doh! Maybe inside shots soon?