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

Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex

Zeiss Ikon IkoflexZeiss Ikon IkoflexZeiss Ikon Ikoflexes are close copies of Rolleiflexes.  For some reason, they do not have the good reputation of the Rolleiflexes even though they use the same lenses and shutters – both, incidentally, made by Zeiss subsidiaries.
 My specimen is an Ikoflex II and has a lens serial number that dates from mid 1936 and a shutter serial number that dates from late 1936.  The camera has a focussing lever rather than knob – this was changed to a knob in 1937.  Together, this suggest a date for my camera of late 1936 to early 1937.   My specimen has a serial number of B17187 – this is found on the base just under the tripod thread.  I am told by the Zeiss Ikon Collectors group that the B serial numbers date from 1936 so I am confident that this camera body was made in 1936 although it is possible that the body, lens and shutter were put together in 1937.
The 1937 Photographic Almanac has a description of this camera and suggests that my camera – Carl Zeiss Tessar lens and Compur Rapid shutter – cost £20-10-0 and a cheaper version – Carl Zeiss Triotar lens and normal Compur shutter – cost £14-15-0. Both versions required quite a good salary to being able to afford one.
The picture lens in my camera is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar f3.5, 7.5cm focal length and the focussing lens a Terona Anastigmat also 7.5cm focal length (pre-WWII, Carl Zeiss lenses had their focal length stated in cm and after WWII in mm).  This picture lens is as good as pre-war lenses get and pretty much as good as lenses get altogether.  The shutter is a Compur-Rapid leaf shutter which has speeds down to 1/500 of a second.  That is as fast as we go with a leaf shutter – any faster and you need a focal plane shutter ( I am told by experts that the actual top speed reached by a Compur-Rapid was nearer to 1/300 than the nominal 1/500).  This shutter has neither flash synchronisation nor delayed action.
Focussing takes a bit of getting used to.  You look down onto a ground glass screen and the image is reversed left-to-right.  As you move the camera to refine the composition, the image moves in the opposite way to that of the camera and slight tilting of the camera will put all the verticals out of kilter.  On a more positive note, the viewing screen is large and there is a magnifier to magnify the central portion for critical focussing.  Focussing of the lens is carried out with a lever – this was replaced with a more conventional knob in 1937.  The focussing lever is actually quite easy to use and moves across a distance quadrant which allows you to read off the depth of field at any given aperture.
The aperture control is partially hidden by the focussing lens and the f16 and f22 settings are hard to see.  To offset this, the lens is a very fast lens for the time – f3.5 fully open.  With a range of speed of 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250 and 1/500 seconds as well as B and T together with apertures from f3.5 to f22, this camera can cope with dull weather and bright sunshine with both slow (ISO 50) and fast (ISO 400) films.  The one big drawback here is if you hold the camera too firmly (i.e. holding the front plate as well as the body) it is not possible to focus as the front plate with both lenses moves to and fro to achieve focus.
This camera is easy to use two handed.  The left hand both focusses and cocks the shutter while the right hand releases the shutter release.  After the picture is taken, the film needs to be wound on before the shutter can be set again.  One draw back here is that the film can easily be wound on too far, there is no ‘stop’ as the film is wound on far enough – something we 35mm photographers take for granted.  As well as the waist-level finder, there is also a direct vision finder.  The centre of the front plate of the waist-level finder can be pushed out of the way, and the picture composed through a small hole in the rear plate.  As this is direct vision, there is no reversing of the image, but it is also not possible to use this finder to focus the image.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex
When loading the film, the film passes over a roller that “counts” the film.  When the first number appears in the red window, a small lever on the side resets the film counter to “1” and from then on, you must use the film counter and not the numbers in the red window.  If you forget and use the numbers in the red window, you will get eight negatives only with large gaps between them – the series of numbers used are for 6 x 9 cm negatives.  This camera takes twelve pictures on a roll of 120 film (or BII as Zeiss Ikon call it.) – each negative being 6 cm x 6 cm.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex
There in one tripod bush on the base (there would be no point in having two bushes on a square format camera).  It is a standard 1/4 Whitworth bush.  This is unusual in my 1930s Zeiss Ikon cameras which usually have a 3/8 Whitworth bush with a removable 1/4 Whitworth insert.
Really, there is no a lot more to say about this camera.  It is not sophisticated (as later models in the range were) but has a good lens and a good shutter and as a result it takes excellent pictures.  What more do you want from a camera?
6e047-lincolnzeiss1-tif
The following is an advert from the Wallace Heaton Minitography and Cinematography catalogue from 1939 (this is a slightly updated version of the camera I have described – the focus lever has been replaced with a focus knob but otherwise the same camera):
Ikoflex1939 008

Zeiss Ikon Icarette

 The Icarette (sometimes mistakenly called a Jcarette because of the fancy “I” used) is a very old line of cameras, first produced by ICA before the mergers that formed Zeiss Ikon in 1926.  ICA itself was formed in 1909 by an amalgamation of Carl Zeiss Jena and others.  My Icarette has a lens serial number of 1089397, a body number of Q***42 and a shutter serial number of 1065884.  This means the lens was made towards the beginning of 1930, the body in early 1929 and the shutter in mid 1929.  This suggests that this particular Icarette was made in 1930 – 1931 at the latest.  The design is fairly old-fashioned for this date – not self-erecting and the focussing is on the baseboard, not the shutter assembly.  It does, however, have a rim-set leaf shutter which was very much state of the art for 1930.

I also have an earlier Icarette, from around 1919, made by ICA and a further ICA Icarette from 1925/6.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette

The Icarette is a thin camera when closed (35mm), but measures 180 mm long by 85 mm wide.  This makes it far too big to be a pocket camera.  To open the camera, you must press a slight bulge in the leatherette close to the film winder.  When opened, the base board has to be brought down to its position by hand – no springs here.  Then the lens/shutter has to be pulled forward until it locates on the focussing control.  The focussing control is a lever on the side of the base board which moves the shutter a total of less than one cm giving a focussing range from infinity to somewhere around three feet (the nearest marked position is for seven feet but the lever moves beyond this).

This camera has two viewfinders – a small brilliant finder and a cruder Newtonian finder with the far frame attached to the lens so movements of the lens are accounted for.  I do not find brilliant finders very easy to use but they have the advantage of allowing the camera to be used at waist level – much more discrete for candid or street photography.

The lens has a rise and fall mechanism and if you use this, the Newtonian finder is essential.  The rise and fall mechanism is there to allow the photographer to photograph tall things like trees and buildings without tilting the camera.  This means that there will be less distortion in the final picture.  The fact that the camera has a rise and fall mechanism means that the image circle must be much larger than the negative, which in turns means that vignetting will be minimal.

As mentioned above, the lens is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens made in 1930.  This is the classic Zeiss lens which is still in use today.  It has an aperture range from f/4.5 to f/32 and focusses from around three feet to infinity.  The shutter is a Deckel Compur rim-set shutter made in 1929 with speeds of 1 second, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/250 seconds as well as B and T (B keeps the shutter open while the shutter release is depressed, T keeps the shutter open until the shutter release is pressed again).  The shutter also has a self-timer but as the general advice is not to use these on old cameras, I do not know how long the delay is.  I would suspect around ten seconds.  This shutter is the crème de la crème of shutters and still works well over eighty years after it left the factory.

The camera is fitted with two tripod bosses – one the base board close to the hinge and one part way along one of the edges.  Both are 3/8 inch Whitworth threads with a 1/4 inch Whitworth insert – the insert being held securely in place by a grub screw.  With my sample of this camera, someone has tried to remove the 1/4 inch insert without removing the grub screw damaging both the insert and the grub screw – they did this to both tripod bosses.  However, both still fit my modern tripod and hold the camera securely.

This camera takes 120 size film (or BII as Zeiss call it).  The spool carriers are hinged which allows easier loading of new film (and removal of exposed film).

This camera after a quick clean:
Zeiss Ikon Icarette

Some sample pictures:

These are fairly soft.  This is partly because focussing is inaccurate – the entire lens standard moves on a track and the distance between one metre and infinity is very small.  Helical focussing which became the norm soon after this camera was made gives more control.  Partly it is soft because it did not matter.  Photographs were normally printed as contact prints so the picture would have been 6cm by 9cm (a bit smaller than I have them here).

Zeiss Ikon IcaretteZeiss Ikon IcaretteZeiss Ikon Icarette

Agfa Billy Clack

Agfa Billy Clack

This is really little more than a pretentious box camera. However it is distinguished by its excellent design. It is a camera of the 1930s and it is an Art Deco camera. It folds into a compact (very compact for a 120 size camera) slim box which easily fits into a pocket. It also is light enough to carry in a pocket – some other (Zeiss Ikon) folders fit in a pocket but are so heavy, they pull your clothing to one side.

The 1937 edition of the British journal Photographic Almanac has a piece on two ‘new’ Agfa cameras. These are called the Agfa Speedex Clack cameras but the smaller one is clearly this Billy Clack. The price given for this camera is 32/’ or £1-12-5. This is a cheap camera but still represents a significant purchase for a working man – about a week’s wages.

The front panel comes forward on “lazy tongs” struts which hold the camera very steady. The controls are minimal. There is an aperture adjustment – a disc in front of the lens with three holes of various sizes. These are known as Waterhouse stops. They are cheaper to make than an iris diaphragm is and more reliable – there is only the one rotating disc – but necessarily offer a restricted number of aperture options. On the Billy Clack, the options are ƒ/8.8, ƒ/11 and ƒ/16.
The other adjustment is the shutter speed. This can be either long – basically “B” where the shutter remains open while your finger is on the shutter release – or instantaneous – actually about 1/30th second. These are good enough to produce well exposed pictures with Kodak 160 ISO colour film in good/bright sunlight.
There is an inbuilt yellow filter designed for use with orthochromatic or the new (at the time this camera was designed) panchromatic films. As my trial film was colour, I was not able to judge the effectiveness of this filter in use, but as it appears to be a mid-yellow, it will surely increase contrast in skies with most monochrome films. The only other control is a shutter lock which is well worth while as the simple shutter is easily tripped while handling the camera.
On the rear of the camera are two red holes for winding on the film. This camera uses the series of numbers on the film backing paper intended for cameras producing 6cm x 9cm negatives by using each number (1 to 8) on the film twice – once in each hole – and so is a half frame camera. The camera will give 16 6cm x 4.5cm negatives on one roll of film. This is nearly four times the area as a standard 35mm negative and means that even a poor lens will give acceptable results. In use, the red holes are covered by a swivelling cover to prevent fogging with panchromatic films.
There are two viewfinders. One is for portrait aspect pictures and the other for landscape aspect pictures. These are of the “brilliant” type with two lenses at right angles and a sloping mirror between. in bright light, these are hard to see through, and I found I needed to shield the top of the viewfinder with my hand in order to see the image. Personally, I would prefer a direct vision Newtonian finder – the crudeness and inaccuracy would more than compensated for by ease of use.
The last thing to note with this camera is the design of the front panel.  There are two viewfinder lenses and the taking lens on a black plate with rather pleasing Art Deco lines painted on. Visually, this is an excellent camera. Indeed, my decision to buy this camera was entirely aesthetic.
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