Monday, 14 November 2011

Agfa Karat 6.3

1936 Art Deco Karat        -        1938 karat

 In many ways this is a very attractive camera.  It is small (22cm wide, 17cm tall and 14.5cm thick), not too heavy (for a metal camera) and simple.  It has two downsides - it uses a different cassette to other 35mm cameras and it is cheaply made.  The body is made from cast aluminium which is painted gloss black.  The controls all seem to grate a bit and although this camera is now around 70 years old, Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander cameras of this age do not grate.  The Karat 6.3 was introduced in 1936.  Two years later Agfa introduced an improved version - still called the Karat 6.3

Aesthetically, the camera is attractive.  It has a rounded body and has an Art Deco front panel on the lens board. Focussing and aperture controls are on the lens panel.  While these work well, I find them difficult to use.  The focussing knob is below the lens and moves from about 4 o'clock (infinity) to 8 o'clock (3.5 feet).  The aperture control is a milled ring around the lens with apertures from f6.3 to f22.  One of the problems I have with this camera is that altering the aperture means my finger hits the focussing knob making it difficult to move the aperture ring.  By the by, the maximum aperture of the camera - f6.3 - gives the camera its name "Karat 6.3", later models were Karat 3.5 and Karat 2.8.

The lens is a three element Igestar lens (Sometimes with a fancy "I" which makes the name look like Jgestar).  The view finder is a reverse Gallilean finder which gives a small image (the 'reverse' part of reverse Gallilean means it is like looking through a telescope the wrong way with a smallified image).  On the original Art Deco version, this viewfinder is not only rather small but is low down on the body, making it hard to use.

The camera is a folding camera - the lens pops out on a short bellows , it only moves two cm - released by a button on the top plate to the left of the viewfinder.  The lens panel simply pushes back in  when the camera is finished with.  The top plate of the camera is dominated by the film wind-on knob and the shutter release is very close to this.  Next to the shutter release is a sliding lever which can engage the shutter release when the B setting is used to hold the shutter open.  However, this is difficult to set while your finger is on the shutter release and almost certainly impossible to do without jarring the camera to some extent.  Also on the top plate is the frame counter.  This is quite small and recessed making it less than easy to see.  The frame number is rest by a small knurled knob next to the counter - the start of film is set to "A" and then the film wound on until frame "1" is reached.  There are also two strap lugs on the top plate - one of which is missing on my camera.

The back hinges open to allow the loading of film.  The film for this camera must be in one of Agfa's Karat or Rapid cassettes.  The original format was the Karat cassette.  This was revived in the 1960s as the Rapid cassette.  There is only one difference between them - the later Rapid cassette has a film speed indicator on the cassette in the form of a metal "T".

Karat cassette (left)        Rapid cassette (right)

Film loading is easy - insert the film in the left-hand chamber and fix the film leader under the two clips.  Close the back and wind the film on to frame 1.  Unloading the film is even easier - there is no need to rewind the film, you just take the cassette with the exposed film out of the camera.

The 1938 improved version is basically the same.  It has a raised viewfinder  - no bigger but easier to use.  It also has an external frame counter rather than a window to an internal counter.  The front fascia is plain and when extended has a lock to prevent the camera from being closed accidentally.  There is also an improved catch to the back and the strap lugs have been removed.  To off-set the lack of strap lugs, the case has been changed to an ever-ready type case where the camera can be used while in the leather case.  In the original Karat, the case was a drop-in case.
1936 original Art Deco case      -      1938 improved case