Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Agfa Silette-L: It's 1962 all over again

Clean and simple design
 The nineteen-sixties saw a lot of innovation in cameras, and as photography became ever more accessible and affordable, we saw the simplicity of the Kodak Instamatic with its Kodapak 126 cartridge, and an ever-increasing level of automation in the 35mm camera world.  However, in 1962, cameras with Selenium meters were quite common, as consumers wanted more features that helped them take better photos.  While a coupled meter is ideal, uncoupled meters still give you enough information to set your camera to the desired exposure. This Silette L, while being fairly simple, is still capable of good images.

Top Deck of camera
Agfa sold a number of 35mm cameras with the Silette name. The series was first introduced in 1953 and the line ended around 1975, when cameras with more automation (Optima Sensor series) were becoming more desirable.  In its heyday, several million Silettes sold within the first few years, with a long series of models with designations that reappeared at various dates.  The first Silette L appeared in 1956, with an uncoupled Selenium meter and a Color Apotar 45mm f/2.8 lens.  This model, is the 1962 version with a Color Agnar 45mm f/2.8 lens and a Prontor 125 shutter.  The shutter speeds are B, 1/30, 1/60, and 1/125 sec.  Not exactly a big range to choose from, but certainly workable.  The minimum aperture is f/22. The Selenium meter is read from the top deck of the camera, and adjusting the dial to the left of the match needle to center the needle gives you the shutter speed/aperture combination to set the exposure to.  Or, you can ignore it and use mostly the Sunny-16 rules for your exposure.

In practice, I found the meter to be accurate outdoors, and the ISO setting dial has an amazing range of 10 to 3200!  Of course, with a shutter a max shutter speed of 1/125 sec, I can't imagine trying to use high-ISO film.
film counter placement

Other than the limited shutter speeds, this camera was fun to use, and I am impressed with the non-coupled Selenium meter.  No batteries ever required.  I suspect the meter was in such good shape because the camera had been kept in a never-ready case for many years.

I loaded a roll of Ilford FP-4+ b&w film and shot the 36 exposures over the course of a few weeks.  I generally went by the metering suggested, though in bright sun, I just used f/16 at 1/125 sec.  I developed the film in Rodinal at 1:25 dilution for 9 minutes.  The frames were very evenly spaced, and the negatives had slightly rounded corners.  All of the exposures looked great.  I didn't tax the camera too much, as I did not try it with a flash or dimly-lit situations. Although the camera has "guess" or zone focus, most of my shots were spot on because they were 25 feet away. The lens focuses from 1 meter to infinity. The Agnar lens is a triplet, and most of my shots were with the lens stopped down to f/11 or smaller. Everything looked quite sharp.
Pittsfield Twp. erection

Inside playground equipment

Dexter, MI

Dexter, MI

Dexter, MI

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

In a nutshell, I found the Silette-L easy to use, and it worked very well.  Any film from ISO 25 to 200 should be usable, given the range of shutter speeds.  Price? Mine was free, but expect to pay between $10 and $40 for one on ebay.  There are many different Silette models, some of which are simpler than this one, so look carefully before you buy.


Jim Grey said...

Nice work with your Silette. I've never found cameras of this body style/type to feel good in my hands so after trying a couple I've shied away. But your good results with yours make me think I should try again.

DaveW said...

Very nice results with this camera for the masses. I just was given one and your results encourage me to see what I can do. I really enjoy your blog and your appearances on the FPP.