Sunday, March 13, 2016

6x6 Folding Cameras

Agfa Isolette 4.5

6x6 Folding Cameras

When I first started getting serious about being a photographer, I picked up a medium-format (120 film) folding bellows camera for something like $15. It was an early version Agfa Isolette which surprised me with the quality of the images I got from it. That was back around 2000-2001, and the camera was probably given to someone over the years. I have had a few other 6x6 and 6 x 4.5 folding cameras, as well as 6x9 folders. In my opinion, a 6x6 folder is the optimal MF pocketable camera. You get the full benefit of the square negative, portability, and 12 exposures/roll. While a 6x9 cm folder will give you more film real estate, you also have a larger camera, and many of the cameras available are quite old, with problematic bellows, and the additional problem of anything Kodak probably needing 620 film. There are a plethora of folding cameras out there by Balda, Franka, Certo, Voigtlander, Zeiss-Ikon, Kodak, and Agfa, to name a few. Here, I want to focus on only 6x6 folders, which I believe offer the best value and ease of use.

For some reason, there are fewer choices for 6x6 folding cameras, and your most common examples available are those made by Agfa and Ansco. Most of the models are post WWII, made from 1946-1960.

Ansco Speedex

The Speedex B2 and Standard and the Speedex Jr. were made in USA. The Speedex B2 (B2 was the Ansco film size = 120) appeared in 1940, and featured ½ sec - 1/250 shutter, + B.

  • The standard Speedex appeared ca. 1950, and featured an f/6.3 - 22 lens, B, ½ - 1/100 shutter speed, and a black plastic top deck. 
  • Speedex Special - ca. 1952, had an Agfa Apotar f/4.5 lens and Prontor shutter. 
  • Speedex Jr. - 1945-48, 1 shutter speed. Basically, a folding box camera. 
  • Super Speedex - 1953-58, couples rangefinder, Solina 75mm f/3.5 lens, Synchro Compur shutter with 1 sec - 1/500 (same as the Agfa Super Isolette). In 1953 it sold for $120. 
  • Ansco Titan - Ansco Anastigmat 90mm lens with f/4.5 lens, 1/2 sec - 1/400, T, B. 1949. 

Agfa Isolette (sometimes spelled Jsolette)
  • Agfa Isolette - The original model was made from 1938-1942, and was dual format with a mask and two red windows for 6x4.5 and 6x6 negatives. There are various lens and shutter combinations. 1960 was the last year of manufacture. 
  • Isolette 4.5 - (1945-1950) 6x6 only. Apotar f/4.5- f/22, 8.5 cm lens in Compur-Rapid or Prontor-S shutters. 1-1/500 sec, T, B. 
  • Isolette I - (1951-58) Vario Shutter, B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/200; Agnar 85mm f/4.5 lens. PC sync on rim of shutter. 
  • Isolette II - (1950-1960) Prontor-S shutter, B - 1/300, Apotar f/4.5 85mm lens. 
  • Isolette III - (1952-1958) uncoupled rangefinder, Solinar or Apotar lens, Synchr-Compur (B, 1- 1/500 sec) or Pronto shutter, B - 1/25 - 1/200 
  • Isolette V - (1950-52) 85mm Agnar f/4.5 lens, Vario Synchro shutter, B, 1/25, 1/75, 1/200 sec. 
  • Isolette L - (1957-1960) can use 35mm or 120, uncoupled meter, Pronto Synchro shutter, Apotar f/4.5 lens, B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200 sec. 
While many of these cameras are quite usable, the one single problem that most have is the green grease that was used on the focus helical has solidified. This usually requires some dis-assembly, and use of Naptha to free up the helical. In some cases, you may think the helical is working, but you are only turning the lens via loosened mounting screws. Once you have a free-moving helical, and if the lenses are clear and shutter is firing properly, you’ll have an excellent pocket 120 film camera.
Ansco Speedex, ca. 2003

Things to check for in buying any folding camera:
  • Pinholes in the bellows 
  • Fungus or haze on the lenses 
  • Properly working shutter 
  • Focus mechanism 
  • Clean interior. 
  • Winding knob turns freely. 
Using a 6x6 folder is quite easy - press the release button to drop the bed and the self-erecting lensboard pops up and extends the bellows. Figure out your distance, aperture and shutter speed for four situation, cock the shutter and fire. Advance film to the next frame, and repeat. While these lenses are not as fast as most TLR cameras, they are probably going to produce excellent results at F/8 and smaller apertures, anyway. Most of the Ansco/Agfa 6x6 cameras feature a “cold shoe” on the top deck, which can hold a rangefinder attachment or a flash with a PC connector. The Isolettes have an array of lens/shutter combinations that often have a PC connector for flashbulb, and later, X-sync. Any single model will have several variations.

Ricoh Six Image

Other Manufacturers

Balda, Certo-Six, Franka Solida, Ricoh-Six, Voigtlander Perkeo, Zeiss Ikonta , Zeiss Nettar, Zeiss Nettax. There are as multitude of confusing names and features in the Zeiss-Ikon family, and the Ikonta B is a place to start exploring. Luckily, the majority of 6x6 folders were made in Europe, so 120 film usage is a certainty in those cameras.

Prices are all over the place for the Isolettes, but the higher-end models will always command more money. Most sellers do not know what model Isolette or Speedex they are selling, so carefully examine the images to see what model you are bidding on. Go to Certo6 and Camera-Wiki to get more information on the various models.

1 comment:

Jim Grey said...

I have a B2 Speedex here and have shot two rolls with it. The first turned out great, the second was misexposure city. But I can see that this lens is capable of great detail and contrast.

But the shutter is so limited! I'd use that camera much more often if it topped at 1/500 sec.