Camera Stories Chapter 2: The Voigtländer Vitoret 110 and the Wannabe Secret Agent

March 11, 2024  •  1 Comment

Being a child of the 1970s has its advantages, although now being in my fifties is not what I’d consider to be one of them.  I think I grew up during a very special time, however. An aspect of my childhood that I remember, the informative years being the dawning of the 1980s, was the innovation.  I don’t wish to cast aspersions on the current technological age, far from it.  In fact, I was recently walking around an old stately home while on holiday, and found myself standing in a very grand library, full of hundreds of leather-bound volumes of texts that covered classical literature and ‘modern’ science.  I turned to my wife and remarked that this was how the 18th Century educated classes and the aristocracy engaged with the world beyond their immediate 4 walls; they collected knowledge and kept it a big room.  People of the 21st Century by contrast carry a much vaster knowledge around in their pockets, in the form of a mobile phone which, when you think about it for more than a minute, is mind-blowing.  Thing is, that knowledge, in the form of the internet, has been available to us for nearly 25 years.  The remarkable innovation lies in the evolution of how we access and consume it.  What I mean by the innovation of the 70s and 80s is that there were some completely new things happening.  I mentioned home computers in Chapter 1 as an example of something nobody had ever seen before.  The same could be said of Industrial Light and Magic, the company formed to innovate special effects in Star Wars that  were totally ground-breaking.  That mobile phone that I mentioned earlier was first seen as a real product on the big screen in the 1987 film Lethal Weapon, and it was the size of a small lunchbox.  Nobody cared that it was so large, because we’d never seen a real go-anywhere phone outside of fictional depictions in earlier films.   Why am I talking about this here?  Well, because through the eyes of a small boy, this era was full of wonderful gadgets and technology that I imagined I would somehow get to use at some point in my life.  It brings me onto a camera that I first saw in a 1979 film that I immediately thought was cool.   The film was Moonraker, one of the James Bond series, and the camera was his 007 ‘spy camera’.  The super spy carried this camera, which was disguised as a cigarette lighter, so that he could photograph the contents of the bad guy’s filing cabinet or any blueprints that happened to be lying around.  I was too young to notice or care that said lighter had ‘007’ written down the side of it, which would now strike me as an odd piece of self-promotion for a man who operated in the shadows, but we’ll gloss over that for now.  I was stunned that a camera could be so tiny and so cool.

Taking pictures and lighting ciggies.  (Source: James Bond Wiki

At the time, I was using my Halina 110 to shoot anything and everything, but at some point there must have been a conversation with my Dad which resulted in him lending my a much cooler camera.  Alas, no matter how hard I try to recall that time, I cannot remember how I ended up with the Voightländer Vitoret 110, but it was just the coolness I was waiting for.

The small but beautiful Vitoret 110

Although shooting the same 110 format, this little camera could not have been more different from the Halina.  For a start, the body was made from a much higher-grade plastic, which just felt more like metal and was much nicer to hold.  The lens was a huge improvement too with Voightländer’s Lanthar glass making an appearance which, despite not being comparable to their legendary lenses made for SLR cameras, still suggested that the Vitoret meant business.  Controls were similar to the Halina though, with selectors for weather conditions and ISO that altered the aperture for a fixed shutter speed, but now it offered 4 settings that had their corresponding focal distance associated with them.  I didn’t know this until much later, but for a given aperture and focal length of lens, you get a specific range of focus where subjects are perceptibly sharp.  At those focus regions, the fixed lens will obviously have a field of view, which means that a camera can offer what are called focus zones, suited to different situations or subjects by selecting an aperture with the flick of a switch.  You may have noticed these in the form of symbols printed on an old film camera such as a single person (portrait), group of people (group portrait) or a mountain (landscape).  The idea is that for each situation, you can get your subject in focus by standing at the right distance to frame it.  The little Vitoret had these distances, so in theory this would make me a better photographer without even trying.  That wasn’t the coolest feature of it, and neither was the way you could add a flash interface to one end of the body to take the magic flash cube, an iteration of the exploding strip I mentioned in Chapter 1.  No, the coolest feature was how the shutter was cocked.  The Vitoret’s film advance was a slider that did 3 things: open the protective windows that covered the lens and viewfinder, wound the film on and cocked the shutter ready for a picture to be taken.  Gone was the need to remember to wind on the camera, just to use that one action to get ready to take the shot.  This also meant that you could shoot frames in fairly rapid succession, which is what I used to do with it.  Picture a pump action shotgun being fired and you’ll get the idea.  Add to that the more compact design that could slip into the pocket of my jeans, and I had camera that made me feel like I was 007. 

The Vitoret 110 did have more impact on me than just fuelling my imagination, though.  It had a frame guide in the viewfinder which, along with the selectable focus distances, prompted me to start thinking about composition more than previously.  Up until that point, my subjects had the habit of part falling outside of the frame or having the tops of their heads cut off, which instead of looking like artistic licence, was actually just a bit rubbish. Solving this problem could be considered the first thing I really learned about photography, and I have that little camera to thank for it.   That’s not to say that my photography was any good, though; I still ran around shooting through film like there was no tomorrow.  However, unlike with the Halina, some of those pictures still exist and when I look at some of them, I do see the beginnings of improvement.  

Our family dog Kirsty.  Slightly blurry, but in the frame (along with my finger) - scanned from negative

Landscape Mode.  No idea where this was taken, but starting to get a sense of where to put things in the frame

I used the Vitoret 110 regularly until I acquired my first SLR and have no idea what happened to it, which is a shame because it wasn’t actually mine.  However, I recently picked one up for the collection, which I’ve yet to shoot because it needs a minor repair.  It’s one of those jobs that goes on a list that never really gets finished, so it’s debatable as to whether the camera will ever be used.  Also, it doesn’t hold the same special memoires for me as the Halina.  How could it? One 110 camera is very much like the next, particularly when the ability to change settings and be more creative are generally so limited.  Perhaps the Vitoret 110 holds more of a special place in the collection for its design.  I recently read a review that used it as an example of how compact camera design is always sexy, and I have to agree.  Despite being 40 years old, the Vitoret 110 doesn’t look like it belongs to that era, and when we consider Lomography’s new 110 camera that has recently been launched, that compact form factor is still appealing in a world of sleek mirrorless offerings.  As for Bond, he used spy cameras in other movies that were just as cool.  Cooler than smoking, that’s for sure.  



What a lovely looking piece of kit!

Sadly I think the smart phone will negate any need for new and innovative camera designs.
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