The Voigtlander Bessa R3a was introduced in 2004. The Voightlander name is used under license by Japanese manufacturer Cosina.
The Cosina company has been a contract manufacture for lots of companies and has such iconic cameras as the Minolta S7II to their credit. They also release cameras under the Cosina name. The Cosina CX-2 was copied by LOMO as the Lomo LC-A that launch Lomography. In 1999 Cosina secured the rights to use the Voigtlander name and started producing both cameras and lens under the brand.
The R3a was released in 2004 as a Leica M mount rangefinder. The R3a features selectable frame lines for 40/50/75/90mm. The viewfinder is a bright 1.0 magnification (the first for a M mount). It also features an aperture priority setting, like the M7. But unlike the M7 (and M6 TTL), they manage to keep the shutter speed dial turning in the normal (other Ms) direction. Like the M7, the R3a has an electronic shutter that is battery dependent. The same year the R2a was also released with the same functions as the R3a but with a .7 magnification and frame lines for 35/50/75/90mm.
I have been aware of the Bessa line for sometime but had never used one. My perception was that they were Leica knock-offs so why bother. True they use a Leica M mount (other models also came in a few different mounts) and are about the same size as a Leica M (just a bit taller), but they are not just trying to be a Leica copy. In the hand if does not feel like a Leica. It is significantly lighter than a Leica body. That is a good thing if your going to carry it around all day. Light, but still has a quality feel. It feels and looks like a well built camera.
Shooting the R3a was fantastic. The viewfinder is bright and clear. The 1.0 magnification is very usable. People still love the M3 because of the .95 bright view finder so why not go 1.0? The one down side to that viewfinder is, I don't think it would work as well if you wear glasses. It also meant that I had to be looking just right to see the led read out for the meter. On Auto it will display what the shutter speed will be so you can adjust if you wish. On manual it shows the selected speed as a solid readout and the suggested speed is a flashing readout. The meter readout is my least favorite thing about the R3a. Meter is usable and not a deal breaker for me. I mostly used it on aperture priority. That is after all why you get the "a" version. There is also a R3m that is fully mechanical, including the shutter. So if you are worried about the collapse of the world supply of batteries, you have an option.
The real comparison has to be with the Leica M7. Would I take the Bessa R3a over a Leica M7? If you are going to give me one or the other, I'll take the M7 sell it and buy the R3a and a sweet lens or two. I you are asking me to put up the cash, I like the R3a for the money.
I shot the R3a with a 50mm lens but I think, long-term I will use it with a 40mm most of the time. If you want to use a 35mm, get the R2a, If you want to use wider lens, there is a R4a that goes as low as 21mm. If you don't want aperture priority and battery dependence - look at the R2m, R3m and R4m. Unfortunately Cosina seems to have stop production of the Bessa line.
Lens: Carl Zeiss C Sonnar T* 50mm f1.5
Film: FujiColor 100