Voigtlander Perkeo IIIE: pocket rocket


Once upon a time Voigtlander wasn’t just a subsidiary of Cosina. They were one of the big players in photography and already manufacturing some really neat stuff.

At the time the quality of their products actually wasn’t far off, or possibly was even better, from what you could expect from Leica.

One of their now “forgotten” cameras was the medium format Perkeo IIIE. Version I & II are much more common, while the IIIE is a tad less easy to find and commands higher prices – roughly 3x or 4x more.

All models shoot 6x6cm frames on 120 film, and are more or less the size of a small compact 35mm camera. Now, before you fly in droves to one of the auction sites hunting for one of these, be aware of the limitations first: there are no ways to check the focus.


Here you can see the Voigtlander Perkeo IIIE in comparison to the famous Nikon L35AF
A Nikon L35AF, by the way, is almost exactly the same size of a Fujifilm X100T

Model I and II both have a simple optical viewfinder, not a rangefinder, so either you guesstimate the focusing distance where your subject is; you buy an external rangefinder; or you measure the distance with some other device like the “Human Rangefinder Card Generator”, – that works a treat, by the way.

Model IIIE instead has an uncoupled rangefinder – that besides resides in a separate window, not in the same one of the viewfinder. “Uncoupled” because when you focus the lens there is no connection with the rangefinder, so you will not see the split image changing. The correct procedure to use it is to first focus the rangefinder, then look at the distance indicator on the top of the camera, and finally transfer this distance on the lens itself.


Meadow alongside the “Strada delle Vette”, just under the peak of Curcio Mountain
Ilford FP4+ 125 Iso, Rodinal 1:50, 15′ @ 20° C, normal agitation

Needless to say it’s not a super fast procedure, but: if you’re shooting landscapes, and/or you’re using a tripod, it’s not a problem at all; if you’re shooting street you will be most likely working with hyper-focal distance anyway, so again not a big deal. If instead you want to shoot portraits with a super shallow depth of field or toddlers at full aperture, this is not the camera for you.

While model I has a different lens (if I’m not mistaken), the II and IIIE both sport a wonderful Color-Skopar 80mm f/3.5. This lens, even if it’s a front cell focusing unit, it is super sharp, and with a wonderful rendering (even in color, for what I’ve seen from others; sadly my color films are still in the fridge because I haven’t had the time to develop them…).

My reason to buy one of these is that I often wanted to carry a film camera alongside the digital, main, kit. But the bulk often made me renounce. Now, with a camera that takes the same space of a bologna sandwitch, I have no excuses!


Rating: ★★★★½ With a coupled rangefinder it would have received 5 full stars