Here’s one I’ve been meaning to review for a while, and it’s quite possibly my favourite camera to use at the moment. The VF101 (made by Rollei in Singapore) is a beautiful little chunk of a camera with a coupled rangefinder, horizontal parallax correction and aperture priority automation. Rare atributes for a German rangefinder. It’s a pretty unique and very useable camera that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, so I’ll try to make this a fairly in-depth review.
- Type – Rangefinder
- Exposure – Aperture priority
- Shutter – 1/500 – 4sec
- Aperture – f2.8 – f22
- Focus – Coupled rangefinder
- Lens – 40mm f2.8
- ASA – 25 – 400
- Size (mm) – 73 x 102 x 35
- Other stuff – Hot shoe, horizontal parallax correction, built in lens hood, cool battery compartment modification
From Germany With Love
My first experience of the VF101 was a poorly described auction site copy that ended up being totally knackered, but despite this I was enthralled by the camera’s compact form and set of features. All the little details like the sliding, removable film door and flip-up pressure plate, and the solid crank feel of the advance lever, all made me determined to find a working copy.
After posting on Rangefinder Forum to try and get tips on repairing the buggered VF101, a kind German chap offered to make me a trade for his working copy in exchange for some black and white films. The camera turned up faster than UK first class post somehow (efficient German postmen).
The VF101 carries its batteries in a fancy little removable rack that fits inside the film take-up spool which is awesome, but it uses old mercury batteries which is not awesome. The copy I received from Nice German Man already had it’s battery compartment modified to take CR123 batteries, but I’ll try and explain how it’s done, as I succeeded on making this change on the broken unit.
The battery rack can be unscrewed from the battery lid and dismantled easily. It comprises a red plastic rack and a metal disc attached to the battery lid. Once the metal disc is removed from all the other parts, it then needs re-attaching to the film door on it’s own. This required clipping the 3 screws that hold it in place a couple of millimetres short. Once this is done, a CR123 battery can be dropped into the battery compartment (+) side first, and the new battery lid will contact the (-) side of the battery with the 3 screws. The fit is perfect and the voltage matches that needed by the camera!
The VF101 has a coupled rangefinder with a surprisingly bright rangefinder patch, focusing would have been quick and easy if it weren’t for the rather stiff plastic focusing ring (pretty much the one thing that lets this camera down for me) but locking in on focus is still very achievable even in low light. The focus ring itself pops outwards to act as a sun shade, and also to reveal the aperture selection and depth of field scale. Aperture is stepless and chosen via a little nub on the underside of the lens, which I found very easy to use.
The viewfinder is an alright size but the information shown is excellent, aperture is displayed along the top of the frame and the automatically selected shutter speed is shown to the right. The viewfinder has horizontal parallax correction and shifts sideways as you focus. I have one qualm with the viewfinder, and that’s the shape of the eyepiece. It’s excessively angular and I’ve nearly given myself a black eye on a couple of occasions of over-excited picture taking.
The camera has a really nice weight to it, and despite some plastic components it feels very solid and tightly packed. I’ve got fairly average sized hands and I found it comfortable to use all day.
I found myself using the VF101 as a point-and-shoot, setting the aperture to suit the daylight, hoping the auto exposure would be fine and estimating focus distance. Unless I want shallow depth of field, this works great for most shots and I actually only use the rangefinder about half of the time.
As I’ve said in other reviews, a big part of using a camera for me is the feel of it and the ‘experience’, usually more than any other factor. The VF101 (ignoring the fact it was made in Singapore) feels very German. The wind-on crank is solid metal and feels wonderfully industrial. The shutter button too feels very solid and the sound the shutter makes is loud and well defined. A proper metallic click. Shooting with the VF101 just feels quite fun.
Loading the camera is fun too. The back slides away after turning a tab on the underside, and inside the film pressure plate is hinged. Film wraps around the battery compartment, clinging to a ring of tiny claws that hook in to the film sprockets. There’s very little chance of the film popping off the claws once attached, and due to the camera’s tiny size you can get 40 photos on a 36 roll.
I’ve probably gone on enough to warrant a conclusion, so in summary I love this little camera. It simultaneously feels like a toy and a weapon and its features suit my photography style perfectly. Depth of field is nothing spectacular with the 40mm lens, but isolation is certainly possible at closer distances. I wish the focusing ring was metal.
So if aperture priority, an f/2.8 lens, parallax correction, rangefinder focusing, pocketable dimensions and good looks are on your checklist, give the VF101 a go… If you can find one.