Agfa Isolette III

The Agfa Isolette, built around 1955 in the Agfa Cameraworks in Munich, is my smallest and lightest medium format camera. So light it is a pleasure to carry it with you on hikes, bicycle tours or - as i do quite often - pack it as a surplus 6x6 camera into your camera bag that houses a 35mm film camera or some digital equipment. 

The light weight and slender build of the Isolette comes at a price, though. In order to achieve this amazing compactness the engineers had to sacrifice a faster lens (which would have a greater lens diameter) and features of convenience like a coupled rangefinder or an automated frame counter like my other 6x6 folder, a pre-war Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta 530/16 with an uncoated 2.8/80mm Tessar. Compared with the Isolette the Super Ikonta is a big and heavy behemoth of a camera that really drags you down when you have it slung over your neck. 

Taking pictures with the Isolette III is a rather basic and sometimes a bit cumbersome experience. You transport the film from frame to frame by watching a number on the backing paper appearing in a little red window and if you want to determine the proper distance to your motive you have to turn a little wheel on top of the camera. This wheel provides you with a number you have to transfer manually to the meter-scale of the lens. 

The pictures the Isolette takes once the distance is properly set are beyond any reproach, though. The 3.5/75mm Solinar is the best lens Agfa had in its portfolio for medium format cameras, a four element Tessar-type calculation that takes pictures at the same level as the best examples of this lens type like the Tessar, the Xenar or the Leitz Elmar. 


When i got my Isolette it suffered from two weaknesses almost every specimen of this breed is inflicted with: First thing the fat that was used to lubricate the moving parts of the camera had dried to a lump of hard, green substance that blocked the front lens helicoil as well as the rangefinder mechanism. After investing a little repair work that involved removing the old fat with lighter fluid and re-greasing everything with technical vaseline that problem was solved. The other Isolette-sickness is not so easy to remedy. Sixty odd years ago Agfa used a synthetic material that nowadays shows little pinholes at the corners on most Isolettes i know, including mine. I tried to fix the defect with black tape, but i think sooner or later i will have to look for new bellows for the camera. There is a guy in England who makes them in a variety of colors. Red would be nice, maybe.