Time to take a closer look at the first of the three vintage cameras I was recently given – the Agilux Agifold. As I said, when I first saw it the “Ag” made me think it was an Agfa product, but in fact it was made in England by a subsidiary of Aeronautical and General Instruments Co. of Croydon. It came in a sturdy leather case in and aside from a bit of dust on the exposed metal it looked to be in good condition, but what was it exactly?
It obviously took a medium format roll of some kind – popping the back revealed a 120 spool and a 6×6 frame mask. The lens, attached to a bellows in very good condition, is a 75mm f/4.5 Anastigmat with only three or four elements and a built in leaf shutter. Focus, aperture and shutter controls are all on the lens, but the viewfinder contains a rangefinder, although it’s obviously not coupled to the lens focus. I pointed it out of a window at some trees at the end of the street, and found that the rangefinder wasn’t lining up on infinity, which was a bit of a worry, but after a bit of trial and error, found that adjusting the screw in the centre of the rangefinder dial allowed me to calibrate it.
There is an interesting sort of basic exposure meter too. Another window on the top of the camera contains a set of numbers with each being in front of a different density filter. I think the idea is that you take the brightest number you can discern and set that number on the exposure calculator masquerading as the rewind knob, where you can then set the film speed (in British Standards Institute numbers – equivalent to ASA) and then read off shutter speed and aperture combinations.
At first I thought there was a problem somewhere as the shutter button on the top of the camera didn’t seem to move, and neither did the lever it would normally press. Then I found a second lever on the other side of the lens, which armed the shutter and allowed it to fire, although the shutter button still wasn’t moving. Eventually I discovered that turning the film wind knob allowed the shutter button to be depressed, so it was some sort of double exposure prevention mechanism at work.
I gave the lens a quick clean, and adjusted the aperture and then noticed that one of the aperture blades appeared to be stuck, so that the shape of the aperture became a teardrop shape at high f-numbers. Not a big issue, but it might have some interesting side-effects on image quality. The shutter seemed ok at first, although repeated firing at longer shutter speeds turned out to not be very consistent – at half a second or over it seems it is likely to stick open. Again, this isn’t too much of a problem, provided there’s enough light. Presumably it’s just a bit of dried up lubricant on the blades causing both these problems, but unfortunately, there’s no easy way to get at either shutter or aperture to try and clean it as they are both in the middle of the lens.
But for all these issues, there’s really only one way to really know what a camera can do, and that’s to load a film and shoot it. I fished a roll of FP4+ out and loaded it up. The Agifold has neat swinging lugs to make seating the roll very easy, and red window with a sliding cover makes it easy to see the frame numbers on the backing paper, but with no risk of stray light. I then went for a stroll around Hursley before work to get some test shots. Unfortunately it turned out much gloomier than I’d anticipated, and the FP4 wasn’t quite fast enough for the early morning heavy overcast. As a result a lot of the “landscape” type shots I tried suffered from too much shake – but that’s hardly the camera’s fault.
However, those aren’t really the sort of photographs I would use this for. What was more interesting is the effect of close focus and a wide aperture. I wasn’t honestly expecting much, but the little lens is reasonably sharp. Also there’s a beautiful swirl effect caused by the only barely large enough image circle. As you approach the edge of the image circle, out of focus points of light that would normally be circular become flattened into ellipses. This is best illustrated in the “pedestal” image, where the dense foliage of bamboos around the bird-bath turn to arches of light above it. Even the foreground swirls a little. I realise it’s not to everyone’s taste, but personally I love this effect, and it’s the main reason I’ll be running more film through this body.
I apologise in advance for the inevitable repetition of subject.