Friday, 18 February 2011

Medium Format Snapshooter

My early 1950's Agfa Isolette II with f4.5 Apotar and Prontor-S
I’ve had this Agfa Isolette 6x6 folder for nearly a year. But to be honest, I haven’t been getting on with it. As a medium format camera, I’ve been trying to make it do what my Rollei TLR does, and it doesn’t do that well. With no focusing aids and just the 3 element Apotar lens, crisp and sharp is quite a challenge. The viewfinder is pretty crude and framing is a little vague. Add to that the the old style shutter speeds of 1 1/2 1/5 1/10 1/25 1/50 1/100 1/300 and the metering gets hard to fathom. My meter tells me I need 1/60 or 1/125 and I’m struggling to work out which way to go.
Who'd believe thought this is in Plymouth. I Need to work on my leveling!
But I’ve decided these problems are all in my head.  After all lots of people are getting on just fine with their Holgas and Dianas. Sure they have vignetting and ultra soft plastic lens to give that arty look to everything thet're pointed at. Embrace the camera’s shortcomings and just get on and shoot. So what if I use the old Agfa like a Holga instead of like a Rollei. What happens then? I know I won’t get Holgaeque pics, but I don’t want that. I could have had a top end Holga for half the price of this. The Isolette is a real grownup’s camera with a proper lens so should surely blow the ‘toys’ out of the pram on image quality. So I'm in Plymouth with half an hour to kill and give it a go. I loaded up a roll of HP5, set the shutter to 1/100 and the aperture at f8 shot it like it was a Holga. I wandered around town shooting whatever caught my eye, using just the 3m and 10m focus settings which are helpfully marked in red on the dial. No meter. If all I’m after is a bunch of 4”x4” or 5”x5” prints from the black & white film, why get all stressed out about focus. HP5 takes a little exposure inaccuracy in it's stride. 12 snaps later, the Agfa back in my pocket, I’ve I roll of film to develop.
Part of the forces memorial on Plymouth Hoe
I’d planned to develop in Rodinal, 1+100 for an hour and see what happens. Developing like this gives huge tolerance to bad exposure. But just to prove that nothing ever goes quite to plan, while typing this post, I realise that the negs had been gently cooking in 1:50 with 45 minutes on the clock. Twice the intended strength. Eeeek, panic! Dump the dev, rinse, fix and hope. Despite my stupidity, negs came out looking pretty good. Maybe a touch dense, but nice and contrasty. Easy enough to scan.
Cobbled street, barely wide enough for a car
Scanning was done quickly. Just 1500x1500 pixels, scanner pretty much on automatic. No more than a quick levels adjustment in good old photoshop and that's what you see here, downsized for web. I want to print them 5x5 from my scans and see how they look, so 1500x1500 is all I need. Not much more than a 2x enlargement once on the print at 300ppi. Anyway, here's the whole film, all of which came out just fine, if a little lacking in artistic qualities!
'Contact' sheet
The Isolette's a nice little camera. Medium format that fits in a pocket and easy to use. Just don't go thinking it's a Rollei!

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