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.
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11 thoughts on “Agfa Optima Sensor Flash Review – By Bal Camp”
Whenever a camera from the Optima Sensor Electronic series appears on 35mmc I always comment how they seem to get exposure just about right. I don’t trust other auto only cameras in this way. I bought my first one about 5 years ago for more than 40 pounds (no flash, no number), used it all the time, loved it and duly dropped it! Kaput. Luckily I picked up the Flash version for a mere 3 quid and it’s even better as per your review. And if I can master it like you have done…well, I am jealous of your photography, to be honest.
I’m glad you have five of them, there can’t be too many around.
Great images Bal, thanks for posting. Cheers, Rock
First of all, I’m puzzled as to why you thought that the 70+ year old guy in the camera shop would not be much help to you or, the mere mention of age was relevant ?
I agree totally with your sentiments on the Agfa though. I had one back in the day and the results were as amazing as the camera build quality. I recall the shutter had a bit of a ‘squishy’ sound, but like your images here, the flash was always spot on. I have a mju (or two) and T4 in my arsenal and agree that the Agfa can prop up the bar with both. I found the tripod socket on the side ideal for portraits when using a small Hamer ‘pocket’ tripod. At the time, Agfa also made decent 110 format models in the ‘sensor’ stable. Interesting body of work in this post – certainly a change from the norm.
I’m a big fan of the Optima sensor series, have the 1535 and this camera (which I don’t use enough tbh). Word of warning, the wires connecting the flash unit can be quite flakey, I’ve been through a couple over the years so take it somewhat easy mate!
Great photos and love the whole attitude towards what you do
These are really great little cameras. I love “click” when you open the flash up it’s so satisfying. Unfortunately the rear lens element of mine is full of fungus which makes everything look like it’s shot in thick fog, and not very photogenic fog either.
Some great pics right there! And finally some real love for flash on this site, as most other flash talk on here seems to be about how to disable it with some hack, or the ever-green complaint of the flash being on by default when you turn on your P&S camera 😉
How does this camera compare to something like the Konica C35 EF3? Seems quite limilar. Someone gifted me that camera, but unfortunaltly the flash didn’t work so I’ve never tried it.
I really want to try a flash on my optima 1535 , do yu set the aperature manually on this model?
It’s funny and lame to say but I think a camera chooses its photographer. In the past year I have owned about 50-60 cameras. I haven’t shot anything as legendary as a Leica or a Hasselblad. I own a MJU-II but the thing hates me. I have a Nikon F3HP but, and I’m going to get hate for this, I hate it. I know that it is the top of the line professional film SLR of its time, and my results are great, but we don’t mesh. I love the Bronica ETR, I’ve own 3 and 2 broke, still love it. Why? Who knows, and why does it matter. You found a camera that works for you. Seems to fit your style well too!
Great job on this review. I can tell youre a freaky dude by the hot chick pics except youre not afraid to lay it all out there like I am lol.
Excellent stuff Barry! I use the 1035 and 1535 and find them superb. Never got round to getting one with the built in flash but now you have convinced me! That is if you haven’t already bought all of them!
p.s. that is not a tripod socket on the side of the camera, but where the original equipment wrist strap screws in. But now that you mention it, perhaps it could serve that function!
Nice review ! I just buy a AGFA Compact also knowed as the AGFA optima 935. Can’t wait to test it !
It is build like a tank and is as compact as a Minox !