27 June 2009

Agfa Isolette: focus ring reborn

A few weeks ago I picked up an Agfa Isolette II, a wonderful German 120 folder from the early-mid 1950s. It all seemed in relatively good condition until I did a bit of research & found there are a few common problems which plague these cameras: the bellows leak, and the focus ring gets stuck.

Fortunately, the first was solved by a liberal application of liquid electrical tape, and being super gentle when folding/unfolding the bellows (if I fold them up at all, which I try to avoid).

The second wasn't so urgent, as the focus ring still moved with a fair bit of pressure. Bit annoying when you want to take up-close photos as well as landscape shots, though. So last night I thought I'd have a go at fixing it myself. Virtually all I did was use a very fine paint brush (and a bit of folded card) to scrape away some of the Agfa "green gunge" (the grease used to lubricate Agfa cameras tends to turn into a thick, sticky green gunge over time), then used the same brush to apply olive oil to the thread. Mind you, I used the tiniest amount of oil possible, as I have heard that the oil can get into the lens or (much worse) onto the aperture blades, causing major problems. Then I just worked the focus ring a few times between close-up & infinity to get the oil into the right spots.

It seems to work fine now, quite smooth - and no oil on the lens or aperture/shutter.

NB: I take no reponsibility if anyone tries this method to fix the focus & it turns out badly! I was doubtful it would work at all, I'm pleased with the result but still expecting I've fucked up somehow that I just haven't realised yet.


leona said...

Hi 'me', this is a bit of a discovery for me. In fact I am a bit speechless about it, it's so much of a discovery. I have an Agfa Isolette II and all I wanted was to find film for it. Discovering your blog was an unexpected reward. You have such fine taste in film and music. That's quite rare in my experience. I am an artist. I 've been using a digital camera for photography. Now I have been invited to spend 3 months next year in Germany and show my work there, I want to use the Agfa Isolette II which my father gave me. He has senile dementia and when I told him I might be going to Germany for 3 moths, he said 'you have to take me with you because I speak German'. So I am thinking about making a photography project with these ingredients. Memory/dementia. (but not amnesia). A poetic, photographic, soup. I have been told it is impossible to find film for Agfa Isolette II. Please, send me an email so we can talk, to: leonadodig@yahoo.com I can send you some of my work, I would appreciate your comments on it, seeing as you have fine taste, young man. Or suggest another way of communicating, or just tell me where to get film for Isolette, if you 're too busy otherwise. 06.07.09.

me said...

Hi Leona. Thanks for the kind words, I like my taste in things too!

Your project sounds very interesting, and Germany is an amazing place (my wife & I only had three weeks there, but it was just magic) - I'd move there if I knew more German than "ich mochte ein bier, bitte". I'd be interested to see what comes out of your project, especially as you have a strong personal link to your idea.

Despite their age, film for Isolettes isn't too difficult to find. The film is called 120 or medium format, and it produces negatives/slides much larger than the much more common 35mm film - Isolettes take images of 6cm x 6cm, so being a square format it's a bit different to "normal" images.

You should be able to find 120 film in most specialist photographic shops, as well as a lot of places online. Try Freestyle Photographics if you're in North America, Vanbar if you're in the Australia/Asia-Pacific region, or Fuji Pro Film lab if you're in Europe/UK.

Good luck with your project.