I’d wanted to try shooting medium format film for a while, but was put off by the price of buying into even a relatively cheap medium format system such as the Zenza Bronica ETR. But then I discovered that old medium format folding cameras & even some twin lens reflex (TLR) cameras go very cheaply on auction sites.
So for the grand sum of £20 I bought myself a late 1940’s Agfa Isolette V folding camera, which is completely different to any other camera I own as not only is it medium format, but it’s also a folding design with bellows spacing the lens & shutter assembly from the film plane.
As when buying any ‘vintage’ camera there are certain things to look out for, such as whether the light seals have degraded & disintegrated allowing light to leak onto the film. But with old folding cameras the bellows are the most likely source of problems. Because they stretch & compress every time the camera is opened & closed it isn’t surprising that 60 years on they might not be light proof anymore as cracks & holes appear. A good way to check is to unfold the bellows, open the back of the camera & in a dark room shine a powerful torch into the bellows from the back of the camera. Sure enough when I did this in my bathroom I found that most of the corners of the bellows on my Isolette had pinholes that would let light in & ruin the film.
Instead of building an entire new bellows from scratch, or buying a replacement, I decided to try just patching up the holes. According to several photography forums there is a certain brand of nail polish in America that achieves this very well, but I couldn’t find it for sale in the UK (& felt a mite silly asking about it in Boots). Instead I used a product called Plasti Dip, which is almost like paint but dries to form a flexible rubbery coat. So after 2 coats I re-did the bathroom check & all of the holes seemed to be gone! I don’t know how long the fix will last, but I have an entire tin of Plasti Dip so I can redo it many times…
The good news is that it seems to have worked, as the results back from the lab don’t seem to have any light leaks on them. The bad news is that my scanner doesn’t do medium format, so to digitize these I resorted to a somewhat low-tech approach – using my DSLR to photograph the negatives held in front of a white computer monitor using the cardboard envelope that they were posted in. Hardly an ideal solution, but an adequate stop-gap until I invest in a better scanner! (Sorry for the cellphone photo, but obviously I couldn’t use my DSLR.)
The Isolette V is a viewfinder camera, so there’s no focus assist whatsoever & you have to guess the distance to your subject & ‘zone focus’ by thinking about the depth of field at the selected aperture.
The viewfinder isn’t particularly great either so framing shots was a bit hit & miss. Of course there’s no light meter, so it was Sunny 16 all the way.
I know I shouldn’t be shooting an uncoated (or at least only primitively coated) lens into the sun, but it only seems to glare slightly.
Same bridge as in my recent Canonet post
, though I think I should’ve rotated this one slightly more counterclockwise.
Same house as in the Canonet post as well. Quite different trying to frame it for a square mask.
Obviously the cardboard negative holder isn’t ideal & because they weren’t necessarily straight-on to the camera they’re skewed so impossible to crop properly. So I choose to crop loosely & leave the borders of the film in – all the cool lomography kids are doing that anyway.