OK, before we get started I need to make clear this isn’t a simple review. It’s a love letter to the Agfa Optima Sensor Flash, an evangelical sermon, a story of trolling turned right and maybe even evidence of manifestation. Two and a half years ago I went into a camera shop while on a trip to Arundel, a quintessentially English castle town in West Sussex, it’s called Arundel Photographica and well worth a visit if you’re ever in that part of the world.
While within that lovely Aladdins cave of cameras I felt a bit overwhelmed. I don’t claim to know loads about gear, although I know a bit, but I wanted something that would work well for what I do and not sure asking the 70+ year old guy who works there would be much help, even though he is an absolute gem and font of knowledge.
I was looking through their impressive collection ordained with their cute hand written labels and behind another camera I spotted it, the camera that would transform my photography and change my life. The Agfa Optima Sensor Flash.
The Agfa Optima Sensor Flash looked cool, it didn’t look like anything else on the shelves and it was fifteen quid. That was in my budget so I picked it up and had a feel of it, when I had it in my hands I just knew it was meant to be and when I flicked that flash up I knew it was just ridiculous enough to be perfect for my needs. It felt cosy in my hands and sturdy enough to take a bit of a battering. I handed over the dosh and took my new baby home.
Right, before we get into it let’s run through the technicals – the Agfa Optima Sensor Flash has:
- Solitar 40mm 1:2.8 lens
- Built in flip up flash
- Shoots iso 25-400, manually adjusted by a dial surrounding the lens
- 0.9m-infinity manual range focus
- Aperture 2.8-22
- Shutter 1/45-1/1000
The shutter/aperture are both automatic and mysterious, I think it’s shutter priority but it’s a bit weirder than that and somehow figures it out itself. The Agfa Optima Sensor Flash has a manual thumb lever film advance, this also is the film rewind which is a bit weird but a nice quirk. The shutter release is super soft and a big red circle, which as we all know automatically makes a camera better. The viewfinder about as big as a cinema screen.
The Agfa Optima Sensor Flash powered by 2 x AAA batteries, which the ease of finding in corner shops has saved my bacon on many shoots. It weighs about 300g or something and fits into a jacket pocket without any drama and a trouser/shorts pocket if you don’t wear your clothes overly tight.
I think there’s two types of photographers: the ones who are more content focused and there’s the ones who are more gear focused, there’s artists and there’s technicians. Both are equally valid and necessary, I personally think mastery of both is the goal but I’d say I’m firmly over in the content side and sometimes inspire contempt from both.
I like sharing my work and I know that most places demand you explain your gear as it appeases both camps. I knew my gear would be either mocked or ignored by most as the Agfa Optima Sensor Flash is neither known for its technical abilities (although it should be) or a well loved meme compact camera like a T4 or mju (although it should be) so my answer to this was when posting on Facebook photography groups I’d simply add “best camera ever made” after the name.
I didn’t think much of it other than it was a bit of a jokey troll and that I would entertain every debate that came up about it and attempt to explain away why it was better through pathetic but true arguments in favour like “I can’t fit a Hasselblad in my coat pocket though” for example.
This led to much mischief and rifts and frankly used to make me laugh every time. After over a year or so of this and multiple FB group bans I’d shot tens, then scores, then hundreds of rolls through this impeccable camera and I’d come to realise that I wasn’t joking any more, the Agfa Optima Sensor Flash actually is the best camera ever made.
Over the 2.5yrs I’ve owned the Agfa Optima Sensor Flash I’ve had the pleasure of trying out or owning lots of cameras but nothing comes close and none bring me the usability or joy of using the Agfa. The only one that comes close is my Pikachu camera, but that’s a story for another day.
When I do a shoot with a model I always take it with me and often use that as the sole option. I have an absolute confidence in the camera almost to the point where I feel a symbiosis with it. Once you get your head around the range focus the ease of use is unbelievable, the clearness of the viewfinder even allows you to frame a subject in almost total darkness, something that I’ve found can be a hit and hope with something like a mju-ii. I’ve used it in rough environments and it never fails: snow, parties, graffiti trips, in the sea, all sorts.
Every time I’ll get usable work. I find you normally get 39-40 out of a 36 film thanks to the loading method, super handy of you’re poor like me. A pair of AAAS will last you about 10-12 films even if the full roll is on flash. The only weird thing about the Agfa Optima Sensor Flash is that the tripod mount is on the side not the bottom, not sure why anyone would use it on a tripod but proper weird decision by the designer.
Either way in summation it is my belief that the Agfa Optima Sensor Flash is the best camera ever made, that it outperforms any other compact and that every photographer who wants to shoot direct flash should own one. I own five of them just in case my beloved one ever needs putting into retirement.