It was in 1952 the first range finder camera with leaf shutter and interchangeable lenses. The Prominent offered expert picture quality, and was much cheaper than its counterparts, the Leica and the Contax. The camera never became very popular, it just gave users not the same feeling. Maybe now is the time to change that wrongful idea. The Voigtlander is an astonishing but stubborn design which is reflected by its “all is different” approach.
Heavy, yes. Almost 1 kg shining metal. Small, yes, round and rectangular at the same time. The rangefinder window differs from the viewfinder. Odd, but also charming. Two big knobs gueard the top of the camera, perfectly aligned at the corners. One to focus with the rangefinder, but it is the far left knob. Only the knob on the right does what it is suppose to do: winding the film. With two long turns. Underneath is the frame counter. The rangefinder is coupled but gives you also the distances so you can do zone focussing as well. By the way, focussing is not done by rotating the lens, but moving the lens elements, due by a sturdy spring in the lens! Be carefully if you want to dissemble the lens for cleaning, the spring has a lot of tension. On the top plate of the right knob you can of course also rewind the common 135 film.
The Prominent has a high fun factor. The first thing you notice is when winding the film with the right knob also cocks the shutter and a little hinge will start moving on the lens from right to left and right again, preparing all the events needed to make the actual photo. The shutter times are set with the big first wheel. The (clickable) aperture is manually set with the first wheel on the lens. In between there is still a movable distance wheel that you can use to determine the focus zone. What you see by the way is the Skoparon 35 mm F2.8 lens. Voigtlander ‘only’ produced five lenses for the Prominent: the famous Nokton 1:1,5/50
and Ultron 1:2/50, the Color Skopar 1:3,5/50, Skoparon 1:3,5/35, Dynaron 1:4,5/100 and Super-Dynaron 1:4,5/150. However, the viewfinder has no framelines and is fixed to a 50 mm view. If you want to use the 35mm and 100mm lenses, you have to buy the additional Turnit viewer, it offers both exact frame distances and also can compensate for the parallax effect (the difference of what you see through the Turnit and what the lens sees down under:).
The lenses are interchangeable by the releasing hinge on the side, what comes off however looks like a half lens. The (leaf-)shutter stays in the body. The lens although is complete, it is the special bayonet mounting system that looks odd when removing the lens. The shutter offers a range from 1/500 to B with the most common shutter times in between. The low speeds are vulnerable to age but can easy be restored to life by a little drop of oil inside the shutter by removing some rings and carefully clean and oil the springs and wheels. But who really needs 1/2 or 1 second. The other times normally are within an acceptable range of correctness. These old shutters are really mechanically clockwork and sometimes put to sleep and it needs time for them to wake up. Just firing the shutter repeatedly can already bring them back to life.
The Prominent has a PC connection for flash and because it is a leaf shutter, all times can be synced. There is also a connection for a cable release, but the incorporated time delay can also solve the problem of remote use of the shutter (and selfies). Just cock the shutter, put the cocking handle manually further back to the left and the timer is set. The rangefinder is small, but has a good visible yellow patch for focussing. It also serves as integrated viewfinder, but is limited to a 50 mm view. The Turnit is a must have with this camera. The Prominent was made from 1952 till 1960 (Prominent II) and had three versions. This is the original one without the lever winder that came later. The Prominent II had a large Albada viewfinder with bright-lines for 35, 50, 100 and 150 mm lenses. The camera has two Depth Of Field indicator scales, one below the focus knob and one on the lens. On the bottom plate there is the tripod connection and a filmtype indicator (e.g. black or white/color film). There is no ASA/ISO setting or light meter, for that you need an external light meter. There are a lot of accessories for the Prominent, ranging from push on or screwed (45mm tread) filters, sunhoods, close up ‘focar’ lensfilters up to the big particular ‘Proximeter’ that allowed focussing with the 150mm lens through a rectangular filter so the rangefinder could still be used.
Handling the Prominent is easy, the odd left placed focusring is not by any means annoying, it puts a distinctive mark on the camera. The shutter works flawless and it is enjoying to wind the roll and see visually how the shutter is cocked. It’s also a beautiful camera, to see, to hold and to make pictures with it. Holding a legend in your hands that was never acknowledged for the superior design and mechanical engineering.
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