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Voigtlander Ultramatic | by Howard Somerville
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Voigtlander Ultramatic

A slight oddball, but a true German thoroughbred, the Ultramatic was one of the first SLRs with an AE-coupled built-in meter. It also had (in 1963) state-of-the-art features such as an instant-return mirror and fully-automatic diaphragm, and shutter speeds and apertures visible in the viewfinder. When apertures are set manually, moving prongs indicate depth of field range on the distance scale. No costs were cut in its design! Retailing at £152 5s 9d with f2 Septon lens, it was expensive, but compared with the coeval Contarex, a bargain.


Less modern were its Bessamatic lens mount and leaf shutter. This type of SLR (extinct by the late 1960's) were more complex than those with focal-plane shutters - to protect the film between exposures, the mirror frame had to be light-tight and, at exposure time, the leaf shutter had to open and shut twice. Because of the long sequence of events initiated by the shutter release, the viewfinder blackout lasts around 1/30th second at the fastest shutter speed. Even with cameras of this quality, the light meters were the weakest point; ultramatics in full working order, like this one, are now rare.


I find front-of-body shutter releases awkward, especially those with vertical travel, but the Ultramatic's is sensitive and the throw short.


The verdict? One of the crown jewels of my collection. Carved out of the solid, with its weight, the languid "kerflupp" of its exposure sequence and the long, circular stroke of the wind-on lever it has a leisured, old-aristocratic feel. Yet it is as simple a Brownie to use; something to enjoy at leisure.

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Taken on October 28, 2008