5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

By Rock

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 (£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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About The Author

By Rock
Rock shoots almost exclusively film, mainly 35mm just like he did when he first took up photography 35 years ago as a teenager. Has a collection of old cameras to try out and likes to mix it up a bit with different formats or alternative processes. Generally goes on walks and strolls photographing whatever he sees, rarely planned.
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Comments

Nick Hood on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 13/12/2020

Nice story, Rock. I have a Fuji GW 690ii "Texas Leica" that ought to get out more, but I find myself grabbing my other MF camera first. These are stunning little cameras, and very cheap: a great way to start with 120 film. I had the seals replaced on mine and still it cost me less than £25. Thanks for sharing :-)
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Rock replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2020

Thanks Nick. The Fujis do look like incredible cameras but I find I am heading much more towards lo-fi lo-spec vintage stuff in terms of medium format. I wrote a second post about my (now 2) Isolettes if you haven't managed to check it out yet - https://www.35mmc.com/21/10/2020/lens-versus-pinhole-battle-of-the-isolettes-by-rock/ Cheers, Rock

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Ben Garcia on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 03/06/2020

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 6x9 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.
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Rock replied:

Comment posted: 03/06/2020

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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Adrian Cullen on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 31/05/2020

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.
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Rock replied:

Comment posted: 31/05/2020

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

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Eric Auer on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 29/05/2020

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.
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Donald Qualls on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 29/05/2020

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...
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Andrew Karlson on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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..
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Rock replied:

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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

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Gorpalm on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

Got one a month ago or so - completely pristine still in the box. When you pop the lens it automatically flexes open the full 90°, 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.
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Rock replied:

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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

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Hank on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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.
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Zvonimir on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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.
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Roger B on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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.
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Rock replied:

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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

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Stuart Clarke on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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

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William on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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!
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Rock replied:

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

I tend to agree William.

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Richard on 5 Frames with an AGFA Isolette – By Rock

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

I really like the 'vibe' of these pictures, and now I want one too! :D Thanks for sharing!
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Rock replied:

Comment posted: 28/05/2020

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

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