Agfa Silette
Photos & Projects

Shooting Mum’s Agfa Silette with a Roll of Kodak Gold 200 – By Stuart Watchorn

November 24, 2022

1964. My parents had just sold their service station / taxi / towtruck / mechanical repair business. They decided to take a 12 month sabbatical and dad had bought a caravan shell and was busy fitting it out for a trip to the “mainland”, that big island north of Tasmania.

In anticipation of all the wondrous sights we would see, Dad had bought mum an Agfa Silette for her birthday fitted with the Color Apotar 45mm f2.8 lens and Pronto shutter. He even had mum’s initials embossed in gold on the leather case. It was a very stylish and well made camera but unfortunately mum never really got a chance to use it. I am reminded of the old TV advertisement where the husband buys the wife a power drill for Christmas. Mum was adept at using her box brownie but took one look at the knobs and dials on the Agfa and handed it back to dad.

Well played Dad !

Steve and family arrive at Brisbane Airport

Nearly 60 years later

It was probably a good move because dad had an innate understanding of all things mechanical and took to photography like a duck to water. I remember him having an exposure meter at one stage but it was rarely used. He preferred to use “sunny 16” and focussed by estimating the distance. Whenever a roll of Kodachrome was mailed off for processing the whole family would wait in anticipation for its return. After a few sneaky peeks in the hand held slide viewer we would settle down after dinner to see the images projected onto the lounge room wall. This would often turn into a marathon session as we would insist on seeing some of the older slides and cack ourselves laughing at the images and memories of our younger selves.

Beach scene, Coloundra

After the mainland trip the Agfa was used mainly on family holidays and bbq’s until my brother and I received Kodak instamatic cameras one Xmas and gradually took over the photographic duties. But it was print film and the colour and impact of life size images on the wall had been lost.

The Agfa was put away in a cupboard to collect dust bunnies.

Sue at hotel

Moving on a few years things had changed. I was close to becoming a teenager, life was challenging and our family had been through a few tough times. Occasionally I went to that cupboard and played with the Agfa and became more intrigued with it. I remember keeping it in my room and i would lie in bed and pretend to wind on a film with that silky smooth ratcheting advance lever and then press the almost silent shutter release. “snick“. I must have done it thousands of times and it became my catharsis.

Happy Family

I loved that camera but I still didn’t know what all the knobs and dials were for. As usual, instead of asking I had to work it out for myself. I went to the local library and took out some books on photography and learnt about apertures, shutter speed and film ASA. When I thought I knew what I was doing, I bought some print film to take photos of my second love in life – motorcycles. I learnt how to take pictures of bikes at speed by panning, take arty still shots by using depth of field and take snapshots of my friends at parties getting drunk. I also learnt that a 45mm lens and a maximum 1/250 sec shutter speed were not going to cut it for action shots so I started eyeing off SLR cameras with those big ass telephoto lenses. I eventually settled for a Pentax MV1 with a 50mm f2 and a cheapo Hanimex 80-200 zoom. This combo lasted for many years, took some great shots and left me with a soft spot for Pentax cameras and lenses.

The Agfa went back into the cupboard with the dust bunnies.

Coloundra

The next 40 odd years went by and the camera was still stored in a box or cupboard somewhere. No one gave it much thought apart from when a nephew needed a camera for a school project and it was dragged out of retirement for one roll of film and then shoved back into its box.

Years passed and I found myself searching through an auction site when I spotted the exact same camera which was unusual because the Silette came in so many different guises. I bought it for $20 thinking that it may be good for spare parts one day. Well that day came 12 months ago when I had a hip replacement and was off work for 3 months. I got the two cameras out and found one looked great but the shutter and film advance were jammed and the other was scratched up and battered but worked perfectly. Are you thinking what I was thinking ?
Bingo ! Make one good camera out of two old beaters.

Brothers

Brothers fooling around like kids again

I set to work not really knowing what I was doing. I removed the top plate off the non working camera and found a truck load of sand in amongst the gears and springs. Well, to make a long story short I was able to rebuild a working camera and it looked and felt wonderful. The film advance lever and shutter release worked and sounded exactly how I remembered them and gave me the same feeling of contentment as they did 50 years ago.

Steve looking out to sea

I am now living on the big island north of Tasmania in the State of Queensland. My brother and his wife came up to visit a few months ago and I decided to try to recreate some of the holiday  beach shots that my father was so good at capturing. I was really pleased with the result and feel that I have done justice to the little Agfa that gave us so many great memories.

Lifeguard

P.S. The little Agfa is now packed away in its box again collecting dust bunnies because I have a new love – a Nikon FE and 50mm 1.4

You can find more of my film and digital work at https://flickr.com/photos/[email protected]

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Klaus Wirz
    November 24, 2022 at 10:12 am

    Great story and nice photos, Stuart. Good luck with the FE ! I have one dating back to the last century and just bought an FM3a so the FE has some company.. Both still going strong. Maybe the light traps need to be looked after sometime..
    K.

    • Reply
      Stuart Watchorn
      November 24, 2022 at 8:32 pm

      Thank you Klaus

  • Reply
    JB
    November 24, 2022 at 11:48 am

    Lovely memories, thankyou for sharing

    • Reply
      Stuart Watchorn
      November 24, 2022 at 8:31 pm

      Happy that you enjoyed it

  • Reply
    Gil Aegerter
    November 24, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    Wonderful essay on family history and photography. Thanks for the story and the imagery! (And good choice on the Nikon!)

    • Reply
      Stuart Watchorn
      November 24, 2022 at 8:31 pm

      Thank you

  • Reply
    Murray Kriner
    November 24, 2022 at 5:53 pm

    Gooday Stuart;
    While off for the holiday, I thought to finish your article and reply if needed. Find it curious that I just picked up a Pentax MV a couple of weeks ago to restore for a backup when the Nikon F100 isn’t filling the bill. Have a few Agfa Zone focus film Camera’s myself, but have to work slowly at getting all that congealed German Grease out of the helicoid for the focus, but usually find the leaf shutters well enough off to use again once the oils are off them, and the clockworks are cleaned and oiled up again. The self-timer being the biggest obstacle to good operation. Enjoyed your tails of slide nights with the family, always wondering where all those things went later on. Have a great Holiday. Very best wishes.

    • Reply
      Stuart Watchorn
      November 24, 2022 at 8:30 pm

      Thanks for your comments Murray. I think all that playing with the camera when I was young kept the helicoid grease stable. I did clean it out and apply some lithium grease. You have a great holiday too.

  • Reply
    Colleen C
    November 24, 2022 at 9:16 pm

    Wow 👌 thoroughly enjoyed reading that Stuart 👏 who would of thought that not only can you take great pics but write such great stories too. Well done ✔️

    • Reply
      Stuart Watchorn
      November 24, 2022 at 10:49 pm

      Thank you Colleen

  • Reply
    Shane Carroll
    November 24, 2022 at 9:33 pm

    Nice story Stuart,
    Brings back memories of that anticipation you felt when the film went into the chemist for prosessing and the family gathering to check the memories of the latest holiday.

    • Reply
      Stuart Watchorn
      November 24, 2022 at 10:47 pm

      Thanks Shane

  • Reply
    Scott Gitlin
    November 25, 2022 at 4:07 am

    Thoroughly enjoyed your presentation. Kind regards.

    • Reply
      Stuart Watchorn
      November 25, 2022 at 5:29 am

      Thank you Scott

  • Reply
    Gary
    November 25, 2022 at 8:00 am

    I enjoyed reading about these memories and the photos that preserve them. I’ve been shooting with my Nikon FM2 that works as well as when I bought it new. A compact jewel.

  • Reply
    Martin JONES
    November 25, 2022 at 5:46 pm

    What a great article. I’ve got a collection of Zeiss Ikon and Balda compact 35mm cameras. Cheap to buy and underappreciated, they usually require some simple TLC, but are lovely to handle and shoot. My Contina II can still meter and shoot to ISO 600. Whilst it’s not really the point, they can also produce excellent images with a little care. I really like the history that comes with a 60 year old family camera – where has it been, what has it seen? 🙂

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