Agfa Isolette III: A Well Deserved Tribute

001 Isolette III_TriX_006

This is the fiftieth post of this blog! It is now two years since I started shooting again with film. And to do that, I have from time to time, let fascinate by many “vintage” cameras  which, in during the late 70’s/ early ’80,s when I was a young photography enthusiast I would have considered old and obsolete, not up to fulfill my alleged. ..talent. Obviously, the inexperience led me to consider the modern (at the time) Nikon F2, Pentax Lx, Olympus OM1 etc. as the only ones capable of producing high-end images. Of course I was wrong and I understand it … thirty or more years later, during my second analog life. One of the cameras that gave me the most satisfaction was an humble medium format folding made in the ’50s: the Agfa Isolette III.

The folding in general and especially the medium format, fascinate me a lot. I like in fact the idea to bring with me a compact camera, often pocketable (and the Isolette it is), but with lenses of good (if not excellent) level and in the case of medium format, with the possibility of obtaining large negative. The Isolette III is a 6×6 M.F. , equipped with an Apotar 85 mm f / 4.5 lens, mounted on a central leaf shutter Prontor SV (with speeds from 1 sec. to 1/300 sec. + B) and a non-coupled rangefinder. I tell you right away that the yield of this lens was to say the least, surprising. The camera is sturdy, well built and pleasant to use. But when you buy make sure that the focus ring (through the rotation of the front lens) is not blocked, a very frequent defect, caused by a poor quality lubricating grease used at the time of manufacture. Another component that deserves attention is the bellows that, very often, has pinholes in it. I was lucky and my Isolette arrived in good condition and without any defect.

001 Isolette III_Rpx400_007

001 Isolette III_Rpx400_004

001 Isolette III_Rpx400_006_bis

The Isolette III, apart from the  Apotar lens, could be equipped by more modest Agnar and the most prestigious Solinar. Given the Apotar results … I can not imagine what could be the yield of Solinar!

001 Isolette III_TriX_010

001 Isolette III_TriX_005

001 Isolette III_TriX_008

002 Isolette III_TriX_007

002 Isolette III_TriX_003

002 Isolette III_TriX_006


Now is a bit I do not use it, since the … collection has grown a lot over time…. so, for this post I decided to choose a mix of  meaningful photos, taken with different films and that clearly show how powerful this camera is.

(Versione Italiana)

Questo è il cinquantesimo post di questo blog! Sono ormai passati un paio d’anni da quando ho ripreso a scattare con la pellicola. E per farlo, mi sono di volta in volta, lasciato appassionare da numerose fotocamere “vintage” che, negli anni 70/80, quando ero un giovane appassionato di fotografia avrei considerato vecchie ed obsolete, non all’altezza di soddisfare il mio presunto…talento. Ovviamente, l’inesperienza mi portava a considerare le moderne (di allora) fotocamere Nikon F2, Pentax Lx, Olympus OM1 etc. come le uniche in grado di produrre immagini di alto valore. Naturalmente sbagliavo e l’ho capito bene… trenta e più anni dopo, durante questa mia seconda vita analogica. Una delle fotocamere che mi hanno dato le maggiori soddisfazioni è stata una “modesta” folding medio formato Prodotta negli anni ’50: l’Agfa Isolette III.

Le folding in genere e specialmente le medio formato, mi affascinano molto. Mi piace infatti l’idea di portare con me una fotocamera poco ingombrante, spesso tascabile (e l’Isolette lo è), ma dotata di ottiche di buon (se non ottimo) livello e nel caso delle medio formato,  con la possibilità di ottenere negativi di ampie dimensioni. Nel caso dell’Isolette III si tratta di una M.F. 6×6, dotata di obiettivo Apotar 85 mm f/4,5, montato su un otturatore centrale Prontor SV (con tempi da 1 sec. a 1/300 sec. + B) e di un telemetro non accoppiato. Vi anticipo subito che la resa di questa lente è stata a dir poco, sorprendente. La fotocamera è robusta, ben costruita e piacevole da usare. Quando la si acquista però bisogna assicurarsi che la messa a fuoco (attraverso la rotazione della lente frontale) non sia bloccata, difetto questo molto frequente, causato da un grasso lubrificante di cattiva qualità usato all’epoca di fabbricazione. Un altro componente che merita attenzione è il soffietto che, molto spesso, presenta dei buchi. Io sono stato fortunato e la mia Isolette è arrivata in ottimo stato e senza alcun difetto.

Le Isolette III, oltre all’obiettivo Apotar, potevano essere equipaggiate dal più modesto Agnar e dal più prestigioso Solinar. Visti i risultati dell’Apotar… non so immaginare quale possa essere la resa del Solinar!

Ormai è un po’ che non la uso, dato che la… collezione è cresciuta parecchio nel tempo e per questo post ho deciso di scegliere alcune foto significative, scattate con diverse pellicole e che mostrano chiaramente quanto sia performante questa fotocamera.

Tech Data:

Camera: Agfa Isolette III – Lens: Agfa Apotar 85mm f/4,5 – Film: Rollei Rpx 400/Kodak Tri-x 400 – Developer: Adox Adonal (rodinal) – Scanner: Epson V550

9 thoughts on “Agfa Isolette III: A Well Deserved Tribute

  1. Now is the time to chime in, I think 😉 – The Agfa Solinar/Color-Solinar lenses are simply stunning in quality! I use both an Agfa Super Isolette (highly recommended due to its coupled rangefinder *and* the Solinar) and an Ambi Silette (35 mm, interchangeable lenses), and results are just gorgeous with both. Agfa created some great and undervalued cameras and lenses in their time. Having some old Leica lenses (not the Summitar, though ;)) for comparison I would put the Color-Solinar above (!) the Elmar, and far ahead of every Tessar I used so far.

    (The Apotar is a 3 elements Cooke triplet, the Solinar a 4 elements in 3 groups Cooke triplet like Elmar, Tessar and Skopar.)

    Besides technical aspects: I like your photos a lot, nice atmosphere (well, Italy, I guess … ;)).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep… I’ve always heard/read great comments about the Solinar (and Super Isolette too). Sooner or later I’ll have to get one… 😉 Btw. I got an Agfa Silette L with the Color Solinar 50mm f/2.8, still not used because the focus ring is frozen (what a new… isn’t it? 😉 ). Do you know if this lens is a great performer as the M.F. ones..?


      1. Well, I used a (borrowed) Agfa Super Silette L for one film, and you can have a look at the results here:

        Because it uses front-lense focussing, the image quality depends on the distance, but I found it quite pleasant. The whole camera is nice, though, but I already have to many cameras needing some love (it looks as if you have a similar problem).

        This is the greatest advantage of the Super Isolette and the Ambi Silette: They move the whole lens, not just the front element, for focussing. In theory, moving only part of the lens can be advantageous, but as far as I can see not if it is only the front element … 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re right… I have the same problem….. 😀 Your images are great… and the Solinar seems to make a very good work! Btw. I have a Super Ikonta 532/16.. which works the same way of Super Isolette. As I said…. sooner or later I’ll grab one… and one Iskra too…… 😉 😉


      3. Well, the Iskra is a little bit special, as far as I know (I found a series of articles about it, you can search on my blog, I linked them). It is kind of a Super Isolette clone; I fear that optics on Iskras will range from excellent to garbage (I have some experience with sovjet lenses when it comes to the Pentacon Six and Arsenal lenses – I always have to buy at least 2 lenses to get one with satisfying quality …).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a big fan of the Arsenal VEGA-12b 2.8/90 for the Pentacon Six (and I have a nearly perfect one – but it was the second lens I’ve bought of this type; with the VEGA-28b 2.8/120 it was the other way round: I thought the first one was bad, but actually the second one is worse …).

    There is this new Jupiter 3+ sold by Lomography that looks interesting. I didn’t find a real review so far, but I keep looking 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the great tribute! I have an Isolette III with the Solinar lens and I doubt you’d be able to tell any difference between my results and what I see posted here. Regardless, any camera I own is better than I am a photographer! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi I love your photos. I bought an Isolette III with the Solinar 4.5/85mm and Compur shutter for £20 (about $25), including the leather case. The rangefinder wheel is jammed because of the grease issue, but everything else is perfect – no pinholes in the bellows, perfect shutter timings at all speeds, easy focus, clear lens… I’m so happy with this little camera – I love it. I love the superb little features like the swivel-out film spool holder and just the sold build. The lens is superb. I may get the rangefinder wheel repaired with a general overhaul, but it’ll cost $130, so am using the 2-point focusing system built into the camera, when the light is good enough. Also, the rangefinder wheel is stuck at 10 feet, so I can always walk forwards and backwards until the viewfinder images overlap to know where 10 feet is. Anyway, so far I’ve had no focusing problems and just LOVE this gem. I have a Leica M3 with a 50 mm summicron and will now partner it with the Isolette – no need to drool over a Rolleiflex anymore.

    Thanks for your great post and inspiring images. I’m so glad I went back and snapped up the camera in the thrift shop.

    Liked by 1 person

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