Agfa Isolette I

Medium Format 6x6 Folder. 1952 - 1960. Agfa Agnar f4.5 85mm 3 element lens. Vario shutter to 1/200 second. With reasonable quality build and light weight, the Agfa Isolette 1 makes an excellent walk around camera. The build quality isn’t superb but it is adequate. It seems to be made from aluminum with a leatherette covering of some sort. The lens and shutter mechanism is certainly well enough made to be giving good pictures after 50 years of service. The bellows are not the best but after some simple maintenance they can be made serviceable (see below).

The controls on the Agfa isolette 1 are very simple. On the body you have two buttons and a dial. The smaller button is for releasing the fold down front cover - it is always best to lower these covers down gently and not let them pop open under the full force of the spring. The other button is the shutter release and the dial (on the far right in the picture above) is for winding the film on.

On the lens assembly, you have the shutter cock and the aperture slider and the front element rotates for focussing. There is also a screw thread which takes a standard shutter release cable and a flash connection socket. The shutter speed itself is set with the large knurled ring. Make sure that the arrow is lined up with one of the shutter speeds - in between speeds can be set but the shutter will not work correctly.

So to take a picture with the Agfa Isolette 1 you cock the shutter, set the focus distance, set the aperture, set the shutter speed, look through the viewfinder and compose your shot and then press the shutter release button. Easy! Then, remember to wind on the film ready for the next shot. This is important with this camera! There is no double exposure prevention mechanism. It is best to sort out a procedure and stick to it, so with all my folders, I wind on the film AFTER a shot, ready for the next shot. Since you have to manually cock the shutter this is relatively safe to do.



Bellows and light leaks

One of the most common problems with old folding cameras like the Agfa Isolette 1 are light leaks in the bellows. It is not always obvious and if you look at the first picture below, you cannot see any problems. However, the bellows below do need fixing. In order to see the problem you have to shine a torch inside the bellows in a dark room and look carefully for pin pricks of light. To show the problem, I set up my Agfa isolette 1 on a tripod, with my Canon 20D on another tripod with a macro lens attached. First I took the picture that you can see below and then I shone a torch inside, turned off the lights and took a second picture with 30 seconds exposure (ISO 200 f6.3). If your browser allows javascript to run, you can see the dark picture in place of the light picture by moving your mouse over the image. Otherwise, the dark picture is also shown below by itself. The pin pricks of light coincide with folds in the bellows. And it can be seen that 30 seconds lets a reasonable amount of light through so if you use this camera as it is, you are likely to get fogged images. And in fact this camera had several other holes in the bellows so it definitely needs to be fixed before use.



Fixing the Bellows

There are many solutions to this problem and a search on the internet will show fixes such as using glue mixed with boot polish, or making completely new bellows yourself. In this case I have used insulating tape on the problem corners as shown below, until the torch shining test showed that no more light was leaking. This fix has lasted quite well so far with normal use shooting several films.