Agfa Isolette camera
5 frames with...

5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

May 28, 2020

In an April post, I bemoaned the lack of use of my Pentax 6×7 set-up. Whilst an amazing camera with wonderful optics, I drew particular attention to the fact the images produced are not what I am looking for in my output. Super sharp, pretty, medium format negatives are not necessarily for me. I even mentioned that I have a penchant for ‘imperfect’ photographs, probably influenced by a liking for pioneering photographers of yesteryear. That’s where my second liking comes in: that of vintage folders, such as the Agfa Isolette viewfinder cameras.

The Agfa Isolette was originally launched in the 1930s under the name Jsolette but it is generally associated with the 1950s with a whole series of models and model variants. Other names include Isorette and Jsorette, and the Ansco badged Speedex. Apart from the rangefinder versions with their tessar-like lenses and fast shutters, most of the series are fairly low spec.

London buildings 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette

My first ever medium format photo – St Pancras Square in London

Mine is the AGFA Isolette i, seemingly a basic entry model with a simple triplet f4.5 Agnar lens and Vario shutter topping at 1/200th. I like it’s focal length of 85mm for 6×6 negatives. I bought it cheaply (Β£20 maybe) in 2015 primarily for a trip to the Isle of Arran in Scotland, as I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to try out medium format. I did an initial test run in London with Ilford HP5, my first ever roll of 120 film. The condition of the bellows are always a worry when buying one of these. I think mine are relatively sound; light leaks generally seem to be limited to my first experiences which I have put down to novice handling of rollfilm.

jetty sea and land 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette

A simple shot but effective – Isle of Arran in Scotland

I guess this post represents my five favourite Isolette photographs thus far. The lens is not particularly sharp, but I don’t mind that, even try to utilise that fact i.e a different way of thinking about photography. I tend to use ‘top’ shutter speeds and smaller apertures for maximum depth of field, zone focus if you like. Sunny 16 rule for exposure. Keep it simple is best with the Isolette.

construction of buildings 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette

I really like the shadow addition – new construction at Kings Cross in London

tree tops

I call this one ‘Woodland bronchioles’ – local woodland shot with Fomapan 200

view of valley from hill

Zone focus and Sunny 16 – a windy day on the hill overlooking the valley

I have only put b/w film through my AGFA Isolette, but now that my Pentax 6×7 has moved on to a new owner, I really should use up all the Portra in my fridge. Is this film too ‘good’ for such a basic camera? Only one way to find out! Of course I could get a top of the range bellows such as the Super Isolette or another make altogether. I really like using bellows cameras. I appreciate their simplicity, ease of use, pocket-ability and the fact that they are old vintage gear being given a new life. Indeed, as a fan of Agfa, I’m thinking I should really be seeking to acquire the Isolette’s 35mm folding cousin, the Solinette – but that’s another story.

Anyone else like these folders? Cheers, Rock

Some of my stuff at www.rocksreflex.com

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Richard
    May 28, 2020 at 10:28 am

    I really like the ‘vibe’ of these pictures, and now I want one too! πŸ˜€ Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Rock
      May 28, 2020 at 11:15 am

      They are very cheap Richard, plenty out there, everyone should have one!

  • Reply
    William
    May 28, 2020 at 10:43 am

    There’s a lovely warmth to these shots – probably from the slight softness of the lens? Pin-sharp lenses clearly aren’t essential for effective photography. Great!

    • Reply
      Rock
      May 28, 2020 at 11:15 am

      I tend to agree William.

  • Reply
    Stuart Clarke
    May 28, 2020 at 11:27 am

    Just got Isolette ii love it along with my ricohflex tlr nice results only doing black and white

    • Reply
      Rock
      May 28, 2020 at 4:22 pm

      I kinda feel that the age and nature of these bellows goes hand in hand with b/w, but I just try colour soon

  • Reply
    Roger B
    May 28, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    You might try one of the Zeiss Nettars. The range starts with a scale-focusing Novar on a Pronto shutter and a metal frame viewfinder, and improves in quality – and price – from there. Zeiss bellows, in my experience, stand the test of time very well.

    • Reply
      Rock
      May 28, 2020 at 4:23 pm

      But could get addicted to buying lots of them!!!!

  • Reply
    Zvonimir
    May 28, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Other advantages: It is not likely to vanish from your cafe table or your hotel room–no market value. It is quite impervious to damage when folded.

    Tip, if more resolution is needed: stop the lens down to f11.

  • Reply
    Hank
    May 28, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    I have an Isolette III, with the Solinar lens (tessar) and the uncoupled rangefinder. It’s fancy!
    It also makes great photos which can rival my Hasselblad. And it’s a lot lighter to carry around.

    The big downside to the Agfa folders is the poor state of the bellows – Agfa used very cheap material and most of them now have holes. I had those replaced on my copy, and it should be good to go for years and years.

  • Reply
    Gorpalm
    May 28, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    Got one a month ago or so – completely pristine still in the box. When you pop the lens it automatically flexes open the full 90Β°, that’s how little it’s been used! Does a great job with Lomo 400 colour, despite lack of coatings on the lens. I find focusing is something to get used to – indoors I open up the lens to 4.5 or 5.6, and you have to be super wary of DOF at closer distances – I’ve had a few shots of flowers at the Back of the bunch being in focus, or with a sitting figure, the sweater being in focus but not the face. Overall its a great, simple, decent, Cheap way to try out 120 with a real glass lens.

    • Reply
      Rock
      May 28, 2020 at 10:21 pm

      I don’t really focus mine, tend to rely on dof. I have got a portable rangefinder so should really use it

  • Reply
    Andrew Karlson
    May 28, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Great look at a neat camera, thanks! As it happens I’ve had an Isolette III languishing in my “eventual repairs” pile for a couple years; it’s in great shape except for focus completely frozen at infinity. The other day I found myself lamenting that nobody had ever made a proper panoramic p&s, just those weird masks over the frame, and Adam (of Shitty Challenge fame) suggested using 35mm in a Holga. I don’t have one, but I did have a roll of Kodak 400 kicking around, and hopefully the fast film will let me maximize DOF enough to compensate for the stuck focus! So far it’s been a joy to use, once I remembered that the shutter cocks on the top of the lens..

    • Reply
      Rock
      May 28, 2020 at 10:26 pm

      I should run a roll of 35mm through mine, now that you can get cheap 3d printed adapters – sounds like a good challenge. I do have another Isolett e that been converted to pinhole so will try that first

  • Reply
    Donald Qualls
    May 29, 2020 at 1:52 am

    Portra is definitely not “too good” for an Isolette. I’ve shot it in my Speedex Jr. (a folding box camera, more or less) on several occasions, with excellent results. Might have to try Ektachrome; it worked in my Baby Brownie back in 1973…

  • Reply
    Eric Auer
    May 29, 2020 at 2:12 am

    Portra 400 is lovely with the Isolette, I have a few samples here from my Isolette II https://flic.kr/s/aHsmNeyhMJ
    Thanks for the article, Isolettes are great cameras and very fun and easy to use.

  • Reply
    Adrian Cullen
    May 31, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    Perhaps I’ve been lucky but the original bellows in my Agfa Isolette II and Super Isolette are just fine. Both have Solinar lenses which are really outstanding.

    • Reply
      Rock
      June 1, 2020 at 12:41 am

      The Solinar does seem to be the best of the bunch in terms of optics.

  • Reply
    Ben Garcia
    June 3, 2020 at 12:42 am

    Great shots, here, with a wonderful feel! This kind of look drew me to medium format, as well. I have an Agfa Billy Record I folder that is 6×9 but seems about the same as the Isolette. I’m amazed at how sharp these lens are (assuming you find a good one), and how pleasant they look even not quite in focus.

    • Reply
      Rock
      June 3, 2020 at 12:46 am

      Glad you like the photos Ben. I have a 1930s Billy 2 that’s not in great shape, feels a bit fragile. Some TLC needed, not gonna give up on it.

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