Thursday, 4 August 2011

Agfa Billy Clack

This is really little more than a pretentious box camera. However it is distinguished by its excellent design. It is a camera of the 1930s and it is an Art Deco camera. It folds into a compact (very compact for a 120 size camera) slim box which easily fits into a pocket. It also is light enough to carry in a pocket - some other (Zeiss Ikon) folders fit in a pocket but are so heavy, they pull your clothing to one side.
The front panel comes forward on "lazy tongs" struts which hold the camera very steady. The controls are minimal. There is an aperture adjustment - a disc in front of the lens with three holes of various sizes. These are known as Waterhouse stops. They are cheaper to make than an iris diaphragm is and more reliable - there is only the one rotating disc - but necessarily offer a restricted number of aperture options. On the Billy Clack, the options are f8.8, f11 and f16.
The other adjustment is the shutter speed. This can be either long - basically "B" where the shutter remains open while your finger is on the shutter release - or instantaneous - actually about 1/30th second. These are good enough to produce well exposed pictures with Kodak 160 ISO colour film in good/bright sunlight.
There is an inbuilt yellow filter designed for use with orthochromatic or the new (at the time this camera was designed) panchromatic films. As my trial film was colour, I was not able to judge the effectiveness of this filter in use, but as it appears to be a mid-yellow, it will surely increase contrast in skies with most monochrome films.
The only other control is a shutter lock which is well worth while as the simple shutter is easily tripped while handling the camera.
On the rear of the camera are two red holes for winding on the film. This camera uses the series of numbers on the film backing paper intended for cameras producing 6cm x 9cm negatives by using each number (1 to 8) on the film twice - once in each hole - and so is a half frame camera. The camera will give 16 6cm x 4.5cm negatives on one roll of film. This is nearly four times the area as a standard 35mm negative and means that even a poor lens will give acceptable results. In use, the red holes are covered by a swivelling cover to prevent fogging with panchromatic films.
There are two viewfinders. One is for portrait aspect pictures and the other for landscape aspect pictures. These are of the "brilliant" type with two lenses at right angles and a sloping mirror between. in bright light, these are hard to see through, and I found I needed to shield the top of the viewfinder with my hand in order to see the image. Personally, I would prefer a direct vision Newtonian finder - the crudeness and inaccuracy would more than compensated for by ease of use.
The last thing to note with this camera is the design of the front panel.  There are two viewfinder lenses and the taking lens on a black plate with rather pleasing Art Deco lines painted on. Visually, this is an excellent camera. Indeed, my decision to buy this camera was entirely aesthetic.