Voigtlander Perkeo II
6x6 Medium Format Folder
What a joy to finally put my hands on this little medium format Voigtlander from the early 1950s. Perkeo means pigmy and for a medium format machine it is really small. Closed it is 125mmlong x 85mmhigh x 50mm deep. Easy to keep in your camera bag or even in a large coat pocket. This year it will be 66 years old. I doubt many digital cameras from today will be around in 66 years time. One word to describe the condition – superb. Precision German engineering from that era stands out. This example can’t have seen much use since it’s birth as cosmetically and operationally it is near perfect. Well, now it has come of age, and it is going to be carefully used. Everything works as it should with the film loading a little different from the 35mm rangefinders I am used to. Some of these differences are to do with the Perkeo’s medium format design, some to do with loading 120 roll film rather than the standard 35mm from a cassette. It is actually a bit easier than some 35mm cameras.
I loved my first Perkeo so much that I have invested in a second, but this time with the Synchro-Compur shutter which increases the shutter speed range from 1/300 to 1/500, giving a little more scope under bright conditions. That these Voigtlanders have survived over 60 years of working life is tribute to their manufacturing robustness.
The Perkeo produces a 6 x 6 transparency on 120 roll film giving 12 images, or if you’re careful 13. The empty take up spool goes into the left hand spool recess with the new film on the other side. Before placing the new film in place gently release the paper film retainer being careful not to let the film unravel. There is quite a long leader on these films so there is no immediate danger of exposing actual film. It would have to unravel quite some way before this could happen. The Perkeo II has an ingenious mechanism to prevent double exposures. Once the film leader is securely inserted in the take up spool and the film is running true, before the back door is closed the film counter mechanism lever should point to the right, allowing the film to wind freely. Close the back door, open the red film number window and wind on the film slowly until #1 comes into view. Wind very slowly paying close attention to the film window as it is very easy to wind on past #1. Close the red window and move the counter lever to the left. Now the film can only be wound to the next exposure, the next frame # appearing in the frame counter window on the right of the top plate. And so on until the last frame at #12. Importantly the shutter will not release until the film is wound on to the next frame, thus preventing double exposures.
Focusing is old school, zone focus, or as Voigtlander characterises it ‘snapshot settings’. There is no inbuilt rangefinder or light metering. If you are street shooting preset the lens to the triangular mark which is for subjects from 2.5M – 5M. For sufficient depth of field to achieve sharp focus the aperture should at least F8. Good daylight is needed to allow a suitable hand held shutter speed, 1/30 minimum. Slower shutter speeds require firm camera support, preferably a secure tripod. For more distant subjects from 5M to infinity set to the round distant focus mark keeping the aperture to F8 or smaller. The larger the aperture number, the smaller the aperture opening and the greater the depth of field. A handy accessory for the Perkeo is an external rangefinder which will slip into the accessory shoe. Larger apertures can then be used with confidence of sharp subject focus. Another very useful accessory is a hand held light meter. You probably already have one but if not I can recommend the Sekonic Twinmate. Small, simple and quick to use. These 2 accessories are not truly needed to successfully shoot the Perkeo but they give confidence that each frame will have sharp focus and be correctly exposed.
The Perkeo is a well made, engineered camera with all parts precision fit, yet it is not hard to damage with careless use. The bellows are the obvious weak point, but this can be repaired or a new bellows fitted. The open/close mechanism for the baseboard is solid, durable and will be troublefree so long as care is taken to investigate any stiffness – never force the baseboard to close.
The Voigtlander Perkeo II is a beautifully made precision instrument and deserves to be used and treated with care.