Vintage and Classic Cameras
Voigtlander Vito B survey

Please read this thoroughly before carrying out anything at all, there are several warnings to be heeded. The Voigtlander Vito B is a mid 50s well built, completely manual camera of West German origin.
In normal working condition all controls are light and smooth, save for the wind on lever which has a ratchet mechanism which emits a noise during operation.

Before expending a perfectly good film in an old camera, it is wise to check out that it is working properly. Normal problems are sticky shutters, particularly at the slow speeds. On the Prontor SVS fitted to this camera this will become evident at speeds of 1/15sec or slower - if it has this problem. However this is not the end of the camera. You can either ignore it, and work round the problem - or have the shutter mechanism professionally cleaned, which normally solves it.

Surveying the camera.
Ensure no film is fitted....
Holding the camera in both hands, pointing away from you, wind the film advance lever. It's action should be light with a pronounced noise from the ratchet. Assuming this to be the case, and the disc on top left of the camera stays still, the camera is empty. If it is stiff and the disc on the top left of the camera rotates at the same time - a film is definitely fitted, and still has to reach its end. If the lever is very stiff, it is likely that a film is fitted and has reached the end. In this case the film needs to be rewound into it's cassette and removed.

Rewinding and removing a finished film.
Camera pointing away from you, rotate camera so that you are looking at the left edge. Just at the junction of the black body and the silver top housing is a knurled button. Using the index finger of your left hand slide this lightly backwards. The rewind capstan will emerge from the top housing. After 45 years it is likely to be a little sticky, but they usually come up after a second or so. Unseen, inside the camera this action has also de-clutched the film take up spool, allowing it to rotate freely during the rewinding process. Holding the camera in your left hand turn the extended rewind capstan with your right. Counting off the full revolutions as you go, a 36 exposure film should come clear from the take up spool after about 34 revolutions. This is worth noting as a matter of course on all 35mm cameras - as it gives a guide as to any problems.
When you hear a distinct noise from inside and the winding becomes lighter, the film is free and it is safe to open the back. Black and white users are advised to stop winding at this point, or you won't be able to get the film leader easily.
To open the back, turn the camera upside down, facing you. There is a very neat arrangement on left hand side, that makes film removal and loading very easy. A small catch lever is recessed into a hinged hatch. Prise up this small lever and rotate clockwise, then pull upwards. The hatch hinges open and releases the back at the same time. The film cassette will now drop out easily.

Continuing the survey.
Looking in the back of the open camera, you will notice the exposed black shutter leaves. There are five. They should be neatly folded closed. They are very delicate and should never be touched with anything. If there is noticeable dust in the camera it should be blown out gently with a rubber blow bulb. Turning our attention to one of the Vito's notable features, still with the rewind capstan extended, gently roll the take up spool on the right hand inside backwards. It should rotate with a bit of friction, but smoothly. Advance the wind on lever, the ratchet mechanism should now be silent on the advance, and click as it returns on its spring. Never let the lever snap back unrestrained (again good advice for all cameras). Press the rewind capstan back down, it will click and lock into place, the small knurled button will retract at the same time. Now try to rotate the take up spool backwards again, it should resist. Advance the lever, it should now click in both directions. Please note that if you depress the shutter release button, nothing will happen. This is quite normal in Vito B's, a film must be present to cock the shutter.
Which brings us to another of the Vito B's features. Looking in the back of the open camera, at the top of the film gate you will see the teeth of the sprocket wheel that engages with the film perforations. When you advance the film it is the film engaging with this wheel that cocks the shutter. To test the shutter, roll the sprocket wheel around from left to right. It should be fairly stiff and some pressure will be required, you will also need to advance it some way to get an audible click that denotes the shutter is cocked. Don't roll past this click (although this shouldn't cause any harm if you do). Check to see which shutter speed is selected, then release the shutter. At 125th/sec the shutter should make a delightful "schick" sound that means everything is as it should be. Repeat this exercise for all shutter speeds. Note that the shutter speed selector and the aperture are locked together. In order to change the relationship between the two, grip the two knurled probes on the aperture ring, one will move in - disengaging the aperture ring from the shutter speed selector ring and enabling it to move independently. When you get to the shutter speed marked "B" release the shutter and keep it down, the shutter should stay open and this will give you the chance to check the rear of the lens for dust. Take this opportunity to blow out the inside (use a rubber bulb, don't be tempted to blow in there, one spot of saliva on the shutter blades may well spell disaster). Let the release button up and the shutter closes. Now check the delayed release mechanism. To do this cock the shutter again as above, then turn your attention to the front of the camera - a small lever is located next to the 125th and 300th/sec shutter speeds on the selector ring. Against this lever are three coloured dots and a letter, as follows:
Yellow = M (use this setting to use flash bulbs, the reason for a different setting is that a flash bulb takes a fraction of a second to come to full brightness, this setting fires the bulb slightly before the shutter opens to compensate). Red = X (this is the setting for electronic flash) and lastly V = Green (this is the setting to set the delayed release, it is impossible to set this unless the shutter is cocked, this is handy - as it saves the embarrassment of running over to join the group photograph to find that the camera doesn't fire at the end of the delay!) Okay, move the lever to the V position. Release the shutter, hopefully you will hear a clockwork mechanism winding away...after about 15-20 seconds the shutter ought to release. At this point it is worth pointing out that this is the principle weakness in these shutter mechanisms, it is likely to be stiff, due to dirt, age and lack of use. Should the whole thing be suspiciously silent, rotate the camera vigorously about the lens/shutter, this should gradually free up the clockwork mechanism inside and after a few minutes the shutter will fire. PLEASE NOTE< IF THIS MECHANISM SEIZES UP, THE SHUTTER WILL NOT FIRE, IT WILL HAVE TO BE OVERHAULED TO FREE IT UP - IF YOU DON'T EXPECT TO EVER USE THIS FEATURE - DON'T RISK IT. It is worth noting a slight design shortcoming - it is impossible to use the delayed release with flashbulbs. Last check on the inside is the film counter. Roll the sprocket wheel backwards, the film counter (small window on front of camera located centrally above the shutter and lens mount) should count UP as you do so.
This completes the inside survey, assuming all okay - you can use the camera with little worries.
Close the back of the camera and, whilst keeping light pressure to keep it from popping open, now rotate the base hatch closed. Finally rotate the small lever anti-clockwise and snap it back into the recess. The final part of the inspection is to gently clean the front of the lens with a NEW lens cloth and wipe the whole body over with an old one.

Having completed this you will have become quite familiar with the camera and should be able to use it successfully.

One further thing, loading a film requires you to tuck the film leader onto a slot on the take up spool, best practice is to crease the film to give it a bit of a grip and to advance one or two frames before closing the back. After closing the back move the film counter to the little diamond symbol using the exposed knurled ring at the base of the camera. Note also that in use the camera counts DOWN, so if you put in a 24exp film set the counter to 26 at this point. Advance and release two frames, covering the lens as you do so, you now have unexposed film in the gate.

Keith South, 2nd Nov. 2001


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