Street scene at Norwich, using a folding camera and expired film. Agfa Isolette I. 1954 medium format folding camera. Ilford FP4 Plus film. Expired 2001. Developed in ID11
What can I rave about today? How about my medium format pocket camera? Yes, that’s correct, medium format that fits in your (large) pocket. I bought an Agfa Isolette I at a car boot sale last Autumn. It was in pretty good condition, clean, and cost me around eight quid. Photo below:
My Agfa Isolette I. Taken using a Sony A200 DSLR
A folding camera made in Germany circa 1954, the Isolette I was the economy model in the Isolette range, with a plain jane Agfa Agnar f/4.5 lens, and a max shutter speed of 200. After purchasing it I read online, to expect the old bellows to leak light. Although there are instructions and even a template online, for making new bellows, it looked too craft-like for my ten thumbs. Neither could I justify paying for them. I tried a film in the camera anyway, but on processing the film, I made a goof and didn’t add enough developer solution to the tank. Sure enough the result was awful, but I wasn’t sure how much was down to my developing goof, and how much was down to light leaks on the camera. I lost interest in it, and reverted to using the Lubitel for my medium format work. Later purchase of the Bronica pushed the Isolette further to the back of the camera cupboard, near to the box cameras.
My Agfa Isolette when folded. Fits nicely into a coat or jacket pocket.
But it’s such a pretty and clean camera, so I kept pulling it out again. Then around a month ago, I decided to try another film in it – only to develop it better this time. Ok, I plumped for a very expired old roll of Ilford FP4+ that was probably ready for the bin anyway. I used up the 12 6 x 6 square exposures on the roll of 120 film. After processing the film – no visible light leak damage. It works.
Now I see the benefits to a camera like this. Ok, the lens isn’t Carl Zeiss and the body isn’t Hasselblad – but it fits in a coat pocket, and it takes reasonable (better than a Chinese plastic toy camera) medium format photographs. Not only that, but every time that I unfold it, I get a kick. Even folded, it feels good in the hand – like a stylish flask. It certainly solicits attention from the general public, but in a positive way, not in an annoyed way. People with low technical knowledge, of all ages, recognise it as vintage. Something from another age. It’s the bellows that do it for them.
My Isolette as I said, is very clean, and very mechanically sound. A press of a button, and I need to catch the bellows cover as it launches out horizontally, else wise the lens pops out almost violently. Focusing is purely manual, without a range finder, although the camera does sport a conventional viewfinder. Max shutter speed is a very slow 200, while aperture opens f32 to f4.5. Shutter needs to be cocked prior to being fired, just like the Lubitel.
It’s replaced the Lubitel as my back up medium format camera to the Bronica. The Lube TLR is a good back up, but it’s flattened by the sheer style and potability of this folder. It’s as near to 35mm portability as medium format photography can get. It means that I can take it places discreetly, where I don’t want to take a big chunky serious looking Bronica.
The top photo of the young man watching a couple was taken using very expired film, outside of the Forum in Norwich. I call it the watcher. Pleasant young man with an African accent. He asked me about my camera. It can start a conversation and even solicit voluntary models.