Back in late Feb of this year, I happened to stumble across another awesome camera store, this time down in San Mateo, CA, that also had a full range of film and digital camera offerings and accessories for me to lust over. This Shangri-La of camera collectibles is none other than Kaufmann’s Camera on 25th Ave just off of El Camino Real. Although the part of me that remains loyal to Adolf Gasser’s screams all bloody hell every time I set foot in Kaufmann’s, I’ve found ways to appease my tendencies and have been favoring both equally. Sometimes its just as easy as whether or not I want to drive into the city or take the easy route into the Peninsula.
It’s at this treasure trove that I have come to find refuge in the vast knowledge of Ron Kaufmann, the original owner’s son, and where I cross paths with today’s blog topic. While perusing in the extensive used film camera display cases that contain many consignment and store owned pieces, I came across a very unassuming folding camera tucked off to the corner and amongst other cameras that called out for much more attention. I asked to see the camera and was quickly attended by the staff.
Although I won’t bore you with the gist of the conversation with the salesperson about the camera that almost certainly has become exaggerated in my mind and ends in my getting a complete steal for a camera that I undoubtedly knew would be an incredible hit, I’ll just say that I was shown how to work it and was offered a deal I couldn’t turn down. If I remember correctly, I paid no more than $40 dollars for it.
I brought it home and instantly jumped on Google to find out as much as I could on it. What the hell did we do before the internet??? That doggone, fandangled Google!! Anyway, I found an online manual, figured out how to take it apart, clean everything, put it back together CORRECTLY (ha!) and adjust the focus ring to correctly match up with the markings. I won’t go into the process since a simple Google search will undoubtedly lead you to the same tutorial that I followed, but perhaps I’ll make comments in a future post.
The Agfa Isolette was an inexpensive camera made by the German film company, Agfa, who was trying to capitalize on market share away from Kodak by offering a cheaply made camera with decent optics to promote their film and keep customers coming back for more. This particular model was manufactured between 1952 and 1960 and sold for approximately $65 dollars in the early fifties according to a Popular Photography magazine I happened to come across. At the time, most medium format camera were being sold for nearly two to three times that amount, which is why the Isolette was such a bargain. The camera takes 120 and 220 spool medium format film, shooting a 6 cm X 6 cm image frame size with an Agfa Agnar 85mm f/4.5 lens with 3 coated elements. The camera also feature a Pronto shutter capable of 1/25 to 1/200 of a second with no double exposure prevention, for all you artistic double exposure types. The flash sync was at 1/25 and no flash option was available, although a provision atop the camera was made to allow the mounting of a few accessories. The camera measures 143 x 96 x 39mm (closed) 143 x 96 x 99 ( open) and weights approximately 520g.
So, I now have what I presume to be a fully operational medium format camera that shoots 6X6 frames for a total of 12 images per roll of 120 film. What am I going to do next? Test it out, of course!! The following images are the results of the first roll of film I put through the Agfa Isolette I. Keep in mind that these images are a result of a completely manual camera that required the use of a light meter app on my iPhone for correct exposure settings and my best guess on focusing using the estimated distance gauge found on the rotating lens. All images were shot on Delta Pro 100 b&w film, scanned using my Canoscan 9900f mk II and passed through PS for auto everything just to clean up the images. Not bad for my first time shooting a camera at least 64 years old!!
There will be plenty more to come from this little treasure. Enjoy!!!