Agfa Iso-Rapid IF

This is a small, light and simple camera. Superficially, it resembles a Kodak Instamatic – I suspect intentionally. The camera sports some basic controls. There are two shutter speeds 1) sunny (1/80) and 2) cloudy or flash (1/40). In addition, there are three apertures available: f/8, f/11 and f/16. f/11 is marked with a sunny icon and I think Agfa’s intention would have been for you to use shutter speed sunny and f/11 in good, sunny weather, f/16 being reserved for head-and-shoulder portraits with flash (more later). The apertures take the form of Waterhouse stops – moving the aperture lever rotates a disc behind the lens with different size holes in it. In 1965, this camera cost £5-5-0 (in old British money, or £5.25 in modern British money).

Agfa Iso-Rapid IF

lens:  Isinar
focal length:  42 mm
apertures: f/8, f/11, f/16
focus range:  fixed
lens fitting:  fixed
shutter:  Parator
speeds:  two, unknown
flash:  built in for bulbs
film size:  35 mm in rapid cassettes

Agfa Iso-Rapid IF

Both the shutter speed lever and the aperture lever are on the lens mount in time honoured manner as is the shutter release which is a relatively large lever actuated by the right hand. The lens itself is an Agfa Isinar lens – according to Sylvain Halgand on his Collection Appareils site, this is a 42 mm lens. I have tried to angle the lens in the light to get a reflection off each glass surface so I can count the number of elements (no. of reflections divided by two) but I can see three reflections so either a single element plus a spurious reflection or two elements with a missing element. I am thinking that it is a single element lens.

The shutter is an Agfa Parator shutter and is a very simple everset shutter such as you would find on an old box camera. The film advance is a wheel on the back which is coupled to the shutter. The film must be wound on to set the shutter. 

The Agfa cassettes hold 16 shots (you get no choice here) and once all 16 shots have been taken the shutter is disabled. The cassettes are Agfa’s Rapid cassettes which are an updated version of the Karat cassette of the 1930s. These can only hold a short length of film – enough for 12 standard 24 by 36 mm frames or 16 off 24 by 24 mm frames as in this camera.

Agfa Iso-Rapid IF

There is a frame counter on the top of the camera which is reset to A when the camera back is opened. The counter counts down from 16 to 1 (there are two frames between A and 16 to allow for the fogged film leader). Once the counter reaches 1, the shutter mechanism is disabled. At this point, you need to wind the film advance wheel a few times to get the exposed film into the take-up cassette – it is not possible to over do this part.

These cassettes are not the usual cassettes introduced by Kodak in 1934 but Agfa’s own design – the Rapid cassette (and hence the name of this camera) of 1964.  These Rapid cassettes were Agfa’s answer to Kodak’s 126 Instamatic cartridges and were virtually identical to Agfa’s Karat cassettes of 1936. Film is no longer available in Agfa Rapid cassettes but can easily be decanted from a modern cassette.

The film in Rapid cassettes only came in one length. This was 12 ‘standard’ pictures of 24 by 36 mm. This camera produces square images of 24 by 24 mm so you get 16 photographs rather than 12.  This makes this camera produce the same results as Kodak Instamatic cameras with the benefit of potentially higher image quality as Instamatic images were subject to the quality of the injection moulded cartridge.

Agfa Iso-Rapid IF

Loading film is easy with Rapid cassettes. You put the new full cassette in the camera on the right, an empty Rapid cassette on the left, make sure the film leader is over the sprocket shaft and close the back. There is no need to fix the film to anything. Once the back is closed, take two dummy photographs until the frame counter points to ’16’. This pushes the film leader into the empty cassette. When the film counter reaches ‘1’, the shutter release no longer works and you need to wind the film advance a couple of times to get the last of the exposed film into the take-up cassette. The exposed film in the left hand cassette can then be removed for developing.

The top of the camera, as well as the frame counter, sports a built-in flash gun. This takes individual flash bulbs. this flash gun is raised by turning a vertical wheel on the left side of the back. This raises a reflector (and presumably turns on the electronic circuit). The flash is powered by a battery held in the base of the camera. On the back of the camera, beside the eyepiece, is a chart giving distances vertically and film speeds horizontally allowing the user to read off the appropriate aperture. Film speeds offered are 50 ASA and 100 ASA. These were normal film speeds at the time this camera was made.

In use:

There is not a lot to using this camera. You either select sun or cloud/flash on the right side of the lens and either f/8, f/11 or f/16 on the left side – f/8 is indicated for sunshine. There is no focus to worry about. My test film was Agfa Vista+ 200 ISO film so I used the shutter speed at cloudy/flash for most of the test film. This is 1/40 seconds so I might have a bit of camera shake – we will see. I used all the combinations of shutter speed and aperture in the course of the test shoot.

Test film is back from Snappy Snaps – the photos are dreadful! First, the scratches – I decanted new film into old Rapid cassettes. These are not easy to clean and I suspect that the light seals had enough debris in them to cause these scratches. It certainly was not the camera. There are also a lot of dust on the film. Again, part of this is down to the old Rapid cassettes and part of it is down to the film having a slight static electricity charge which will have attracted all and any dust inside the old camera. I did clean this as best I could but I generally find that the first film through an old camera has a lot of dust on it.

The lens is very susceptible to flare – see the first photo. Definition is poor in all images which is down to the cheap lens. Most of the images were rather over exposed giving dark negatives, the rest were under exposed. None of them were exposed well.

I have run these images through Affinity after scanning them and some are not too bad regarding exposure and colour cast. But some are very bad. I have not tried to do anything about the dust marks or the scratches as these are a part of the test.

Back in the day, these would be presented to the owner as smallish prints – something like 75 mm square where the defects would be much less visible. These images here are about four times that size. There is an example of a smaller image further down.

Agfa rapid (3)
Agfa rapid
See next photo
Agfa rapid small
The above photo at the size common when the camera was in use.
Agfa rapid (8)
Agfa rapid (6)
Agfa rapid (7)
Agfa rapid (5)
Agfa rapid (9)
Agfa rapid (4)
Agfa rapid (2)

Agfa Silette

Agfa Silette
Agfa Silette

Agfa used the name ‘Silette’ for a large range of camera over many years.  Mine is the Silette type 4 from (I think) 1958.

It is a basic 35mm camera which seems to be well made.  It has a Pronto leaf shutter and an Agfa Color-Agnar f2.8 lens.  It has a double viewfinder – the opaque window adds brightness to the frame lines in the clear window.  There is no light meter nor a rangefinder in this model although both were available in other cameras in the Silette range.
As this is a typical basic camera, there is little to say.  The shutter is a Pronto four speed shutter – 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/250 seconds plus ‘B’.  It also has a timer delay which works well (even though the general advice is not to try the self timer on old cameras).  On a fifty-plus year old camera, this shutter seems to be at least adequately accurate.
The lens is an Agfa Color-Agnar lens – not a lens I have come across before.   This is a Crooke’s Triplet lens – originally designed in 1893 in England but still in use today.  My camera came with a cassette of film already loaded, so I tried the camera out with that.  The results were decent – especially when I removed the cassette and looked at the inner surface of the lens which was very dirty (but without any trace of fungus).  This lens is clearly coated – there is a blueish/purplish hue to the glass – but the lens is very susceptible to flare.
One fault with this particular specimen is the light seals.  These have obviously failed at some point and have been replaced with black wool.  This is not a technique that works.  I shall shortly replace the wool with black foam.
The viewfinder is clear with bright-lines for framing the picture – including parallax lines for close-ups.  There is a film speed reminder on the rewind knob.  This is not as easy to adjust as it could be – you need to lift the rewind knob (as if rewinding the film) and turn a knurled ring underneath the knob.  A sign of the age of this camera is the range of ASA speeds that are available – 14, 16, 17, 40, 100, 250, 650 – you would be hard pressed to find ASA 16 film now.  Kodachrome slide film was made as ASA 16 in the 1950s – the time of this camera – and Kodacolor print film was ASA 32.  Ilford monochrome film of the time had a speed rating of about ASA 160.
The exposure counter in at the centre of the base showing on the back of the camera.  Alongside this is the serial number – VI 2457 in my case.
The camera is marked as “Made in Germany” (i.e. West Germany).  There is sometimes confusion about Agfa cameras as Agfa sold the rights to the names and designs in North America to Ansco who continued to make “Agfa” cameras for some time separately from Agfa Germany.  This is not an Ansco camera.

Agfa Billy Record

Agfa Billy Record
Agfa Billy-Record
Agfa Billy Record
Agfa Billy-Record landscape format

This is a fairly standard full frame 120 film camera from the mid 1930s.  I think this camera is a grey import – no “made in Germany”, distance scale in metres and the tripod socket is continental rather than UK or USA. The 1937 Photographic Almanac refers to this camera as the Speedex Record but it is clearly the same camera. The suggested price is £5-5-0. As the average working wage in the UK in 1937 was around £1-10-0, this was around a month’s wages so really a middle class camera.

The camera takes eight pictures on 120 film which makes it an expensive camera to use.  There are two finders: a brilliant finder and a two frame Galilean finder.  I can never get on with brilliant finders – too small mostly.  The shutter is a Prontor II leaf shutter from Gauthier and the lens is Agfa’s Apotar 10.5 cm focal length and f/4.5 maximum aperture.  This lens performs very well – with colour as well as monochrome.  Lenses from the 1930s were usually colour corrected even though colour film was unusual.  This is because the new (for the time) panchromatic films were sensitive to all colours and non-colour corrected lenses would produce a very soft image.
Shutter speeds on the Prontor II are 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/150 as well as B and T.  1/25 and 1/50 seem very slow by modern standards. but the 6cm by 9cm negatives would be unlikely to be enlarged.  For most people, contact prints would be normal.  The lack of flash synchronisation and the 1/150 maximum shutter speed date this to the first Prontor II design and so dates the camera to between 1934 and 1938.
The lens focusses down to less than one metre to infinity.  On my camera, the lens will not focus to infinity – either because the grease on the focussing thread has solidified (something Agfas are notorious for) or because someone has attempted a repair (also common on old cameras).

As was normal until the mid 1950s, the shutter release lever is on the shutter housing.  As was also normal from 1930ish, Agfa provide a secondary shutter release on the camera body which is connected to the lever on the shutter housing by an articulated link.  This is a seriously weak link and barely works on my camera.  When opening the camera, there is a significant danger of the release link missing the lever on the shutter housing.  Agfa actually stress the importance of this in the manual for the camera.  The long term effect of this link missing its proper location is that the link has bent and frequently dis-articulates itself.

There are the two tripod bushes we would expect on a camera of this format and date.  One is on the base board – centrally placed which makes fitting a tripod easier than on some cameras – and one near the centre of the base.  Both are 3/8 Whitworth which is larger than most tripods use.  My other cameras from this era have a 1/4 Whitworth insert and these may well have been present at some time.

Sample pictures:

Agfa Billy Record
Stamp End, Lincoln
Agfa Billy Record
Lincoln Cathedral

Agfa Karat 6.3

Agfa Karat 6.3
1936 Art Deco Karat        –        1938 karat
 In many ways this is a very attractive camera.  It is small (22cm wide, 17cm tall and 14.5cm thick), not too heavy (for a metal camera) and simple.  It has two downsides – it uses a different cassette to other 35mm cameras and it is cheaply made.  The body is made from cast aluminium which is painted gloss black.  The controls all seem to grate a bit and although this camera is now around 70 years old, Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander cameras of this age do not grate.  The Karat 6.3 was introduced in 1936.  Two years later Agfa introduced an improved version – still called the Karat 6.3

Aesthetically, the camera is attractive.  It has a rounded body and has an Art Deco front panel on the lens board. Focussing and aperture controls are on the lens panel.  While these work well, I find them difficult to use.  The focussing knob is below the lens and moves from about 4 o’clock (infinity) to 8 o’clock (3.5 feet).  The aperture control is a milled ring around the lens with apertures from f6.3 to f22.  One of the problems I have with this camera is that altering the aperture means my finger hits the focussing knob making it difficult to move the aperture ring.  By the by, the maximum aperture of the camera – f6.3 – gives the camera its name “Karat 6.3”, later models were Karat 3.5 and Karat 2.8.

The lens is a three element Igestar lens (Sometimes with a fancy “I” which makes the name look like Jgestar).  The view finder is a reverse Gallilean finder which gives a small image (the ‘reverse’ part of reverse Gallilean means it is like looking through a telescope the wrong way with a smallified image).  On the original Art Deco version, this viewfinder is not only rather small but is low down on the body, making it hard to use.

The camera is a folding camera – the lens pops out on a short bellows , it only moves two cm – released by a button on the top plate to the left of the viewfinder.  The lens panel simply pushes back in  when the camera is finished with.  The top plate of the camera is dominated by the film wind-on knob and the shutter release is very close to this.  Next to the shutter release is a sliding lever which can engage the shutter release when the B setting is used to hold the shutter open.  However, this is difficult to set while your finger is on the shutter release and almost certainly impossible to do without jarring the camera to some extent.  Also on the top plate is the frame counter.  This is quite small and recessed making it less than easy to see.  The frame number is rest by a small knurled knob next to the counter – the start of film is set to “A” and then the film wound on until frame “1” is reached.  There are also two strap lugs on the top plate – one of which is missing on my camera.
The back hinges open to allow the loading of film.  The film for this camera must be in one of Agfa’s Karat or Rapid cassettes.  The original format was the Karat cassette.  This was revived in the 1960s as the Rapid cassette.  There is only one difference between them – the later Rapid cassette has a film speed indicator on the cassette in the form of a metal “T”.
Agfa Karat 6.3
Karat cassette (left)        Rapid cassette (right)
Film loading is easy – insert the film in the left-hand chamber and fix the film leader under the two clips.  Close the back and wind the film on to frame 1.  Unloading the film is even easier – there is no need to rewind the film, you just take the cassette with the exposed film out of the camera.
The 1938 improved version is basically the same.  It has a raised viewfinder  – no bigger but easier to use.  It also has an external frame counter rather than a window to an internal counter.  The front fascia is plain and when extended has a lock to prevent the camera from being closed accidentally.  There is also an improved catch to the back and the strap lugs have been removed.  To off-set the lack of strap lugs, the case has been changed to an ever-ready type case where the camera can be used while in the leather case.  In the original Karat, the case was a drop-in case.
Agfa Karat 6.3
1936 original Art Deco case      –      1938 improved case
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