Agfa Isolette. The best everyday medium format camera?

What do you do when you come across a medium format folding camera that you have always kinda wanted that has been CLA’d and fitted with a new bellows in your favorite color? Silly question- you buy it of course.

Agfa Isolette lll 3.5 Solinor (Tessar type)

IMG_3687

How about that symmetrical look?  The button on the left (as we look at it) is the shutter, the right releases the spring door.

I really enjoy using this camera.  It is small, well built, and simple to use.  By small I mean folded up it is probably close to a Leica M5 without its lens, but lighter.  Great for taking along for snaps or whatever.  It even has double exposure prevention that works.  Wow! I have the habit of always advancing the film just before I take a picture to prevent double exposures. This can however sometimes lead to blank frames if you think you are going to take a picture, wind, then change your mind at the last minute and walk off to find another scene only to wonder when you are ready to take a shot later if you have wound it or not.  So you wind it again. Well with this camera you can go ahead and try taking it. If the film hasn’t been advanced it you can’t trip the shutter with the shutter button.

It has a rangefinder which is better than nothing, but it is not coupled which means you have to transfer that distance to the focus ring.  Focus isn’t as critical as you move closer to infinity and most people would probably zone focus with these most of the time anyway.  For close focus or where the light levels don’t allow you as much depth of field (and don’t have your tripod) you definitely would want to be a bit more careful.

It doesn’t have an automatic film advance stop so you have to open the little window and watch for the next number to show up to know you have advanced the film the right amount.  Easy.  What some people would term as inconveniences are what qualifies this camera for a fairly high Slow Photography ranking:-)  If a Nikon F4 would be a 1 (since it has autoload, auto advance, auto exposure, autofocus, etc), and a large format field camera a 10, then this would probably sit somewhere around a 6.

I didn’t have much opportunity to take it out at first due to the rainy season which lasts for around 1 month, so I tried it inside my house on some willing subjects (my children) and a make-shift studio (bamboo curtain shade, umbrella reflector and flash).  Then the other day I took it on a walk out in the Chiba country not too far from a road the Shogun had built several hundred years ago to go out hunting in the country called the Onari Kaido.  We had some rain and sunshine and all sorts of changing light conditions which always makes it fun.

I have been experimenting a bit with HC-110 developer and I am not sure I have it nailed yet.. I think that a lens hood and yellow filter would help a lot.  They’re next on my list..

Best,

Jordi

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8 thoughts on “Agfa Isolette. The best everyday medium format camera?

  1. Jim Grey

    I got my first Isolette earlier this year and shot it, and found its shutter speeds are all off. You got such wonderful results from yours that I’m now eager to try to clean the shutter in mine in hopes of restoring its full function, and trying again with another roll of film.

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    1. jordi Post author

      I hope you are successful with that and I look forward to seeing the results! Well, these cameras aren’t so expensive usually so that even if you bought a couple to test the function and got one that was good you would still not be paying too much.

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    1. jordi Post author

      Thanks Moni I hope you do find a good one. Actually there are a number of really good medium format folders out there. I was just trying to start some controversy:) Voigtlander (Bessa, Perkeo models for example) and Zeiss Ikon (Ikonta and Nettar..) have some nice ones too and are relatively common.

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  2. dehk

    You found one, I’ve been looking for one of those. I had one but its the non RF version and I traded it for another camera. One day they will pop in front of me, they usually do.

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    1. jordi Post author

      The non RF version would be a bit more difficult to use in some situations, but on the other hand it would force you to improve distance estimation and zone focus. It’s interesting how we often come across things once we decide to keep an eye out.

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