The Bessa R2A is essentially a Bessa R with two major upgrades: it replaces the Leica Thread Mount with a Leica M-mount and adds aperture priority and exposure compensation. These are quite expensive, averaging around $900 on eBay at the time of writing. Not quite as expensive as a Leica, but prices have been going up in trend with other film cameras and film supplies.
For over a year I was put off by the price, but after seeing the image quality I was getting out of my Bessa R with Voigtlander lenses, I decided to go for the upgrade to experiment with other higher tier M-mount glass. As a huge fan of wide angles, I was keen on finding an R4A, which has frame lines for 28mm and 21mm lenses, but gave up because these are even more rare and run around $1,500.
Aesthetics and feel.
There are some slight changes to the body design, with more metal pieces and an overall more sturdy feel than its predecessor. To me it feels more premium, but at the expense of weighing a bit more. Like the Bessa R, it feels good in the hands, not too big or small. Many small details are improved; the shutter dial is easier to turn, film advance and rewind cranks operate more smoothly and feel more robust.
Where Voigtlander cut corners, again, is the paint on the outer shell, which scratches off easily. I don’t put it in my backpack without wrapping it in something to protect it from something rubbing against it enough to leave a mark in the finish. My other Bessa was already quite worn when I received it, but this R2A is still in fairly good condition so I hesitate to use it the way I use my Bessa. I put some scotch tape above the strap lugs to prevent the strap from rubbing the paint off.
Lastly, and the possible dealbreaker for me, is the position of the strap lugs. I mentioned this in my review of the Bessa R, and unfortunately Voigtlander didn’t correct it in the Bessa R2A, or any other Bessa R iteration that I can see. In short, if you shoot any small voigtlander wide angle lenses, such as the Color Skopar 35mm f2.5, Color Skopar 25mm f4, Color Skopar 21mm f4, Super Wide Heliar 15mm f4.5, etc, the camera will not hang when using a strap. This is because the strap lug positions are optimized to balance with heavier lenses. Any compact lenses like those listed above aren’t heavy enough to counterbalance the body, so the camera will hang tilted back. It is a huge annoyance, but there are a couple of work arounds I detailed here.
This is probably my newest reusable camera, so it is in perfect working order. The light meter is accurate even in high contrast settings.
I am using Voigtlander’s 21mm f4 and 35mm f2.5 on this camera. I find I use the 21mm more often because of how easy it is to shoot. On a sunny day, I just set focus to infinity and aperture to f11 and let Aperture Priority handle the rest. This means everything from about 1 meter on will be in focus. The R2A doesn’t have frame lines for 21mm, so I use the entire viewfinder as a rough estimate when composing.
The 35mm f2.5 is a stellar performer as well, but it takes longer to compose and focus, so I don’t use it as often. Both of these lenses are in the top 5 I’ve ever used, and are better than anything I’ve shot on an SLR. I generally shoot a Minolta X700 with a 24mm f2.8 Rokkor and 45mm f2 Rokkor, both great lenses but certainly not in the same league as these.
I really want to love the Bessa R series, but can’t get over the issues with the strap lugs. It seems Voigtlander would have offered some kind of solution, considering how many of their lens offerings are compact designs.
Whenever I develop a roll from this camera I’m reminded why I put up with it. With the strap issue aside, the R2A is everything I’d hoped for; it takes almost everything that was good about the Bessa R and improves on it. The R2A is a good midway point for those getting deeper into rangefinders but not willing to spend a small fortune on a Leica.
I am considering going for the Bessa L, which was designed for use with wide angle lenses and external viewfinders. It doesn’t have Aperture Priority nor a built in rangefinder/viewfinder, but it is smaller and presumably won’t have the balance issues that the R series does. We’ll see…