Boulders and Filfla

Boulders and Filfla (170110)
Boulders and Filfla. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

This week I’m sharing one of the photos I took recently (i.e. about a month ago) with the Agfa Isolette II to test it out. This camera has some history: it was manufactured in Germany somewhere in the early 1950s, and was originally my grandpa’s. My dad seems to be the one who used it most, as he has a ton of negatives and prints (neatly laid out in albums) from when he (and my mum, her sister, and their friends) were studying. I gather he was the photographer in the group, and I know he used to do development and printing in college. So while clearing some stuff at home, when this camera (and an old Zenit TTL he bought in Rome) surfaced, he asked me whether I was interested. I was, of course, how could I resist?! I remembered the Zenit from when I was a kid, learning on it what an SLR was and how to use it. The Isolette, on the other hand, was something I had not seen before.

It took some effort to get it into working order again. It was kept in really good condition, with clear optics and no major issues. The only problem was that the focus ring was completely stuck. Apparently this is a common problem with these lenses, where the lubricant actually seizes after a few decades. I had to take the whole thing apart, and separate the lens elements after long generous dunking in alcohol. Unfortunately one of my tools slipped at one point, resulting in a ding on the front element’s holder. Nothing significant optically, but it’s a pity nonetheless. I also cleaned up the entire body and bellows with alcohol, and inspected the bellows to make sure they were light tight. For good measure I applied some black nail polish to the corners of the bellows’ pleats. The tricky bit involved calibrating the focus distance on reassembling the lens.

The shutter seemed fine, so next thing to do was to test the camera. I bought some expired rolls of Fujifilm NPZ 800 while picking up some prints at our local Fuji store. This is a professional grade colour negative portrait film, and in a sense it’s a shame my plan was to cross-process myself in Rodinal. Perhaps the next roll I’ll get developed in C-41 chemistry at a lab. In any case, this first roll I shot entirely outdoors at 1/200 f/22, which I calculated would be the correct exposure on a sunny day, at the film’s exposure index of ISO 800. The narrow aperture would help give me more depth of field, making it safe for me to just set the focus at 30ft and get everything from a few feet to infinity well within acceptable sharpness, even if the focus calibration was off.

This is one of the frames from this first roll of 12. I took the photo on a climbing outing at Lapsi, while waiting for my friend and climbing partner to arrive. The experience of using the camera was rather odd. Overall it’s a joy to use, really simple to operate, particularly with the constraints I set myself. It’s also supremely quiet, with no motorized movements. My only real niggle is how awkward the viewfinder is, particularly for someone like me who can’t see much without glasses. When the roll was done, I unloaded it and immediately transferred it into the developing tank in a changing bag. I developed using my already-tested cross-process routine for C-41 films: 15 minutes in Adonal 1+50 with 5 inversions at the start of every minute, a water stop bath, fixing for 8 minutes in Adofix 1+9 with the same inversion pattern, and finally a water wash using the Ilford method. And of course, overnight drying.

I scanned the film with my usual method for 35mm, now adapted for 120 negatives. I’m still not entirely happy with the process, the scanning focus does not seem as good as it can be. I have a few things I’d like to try instead, I’ll post about them when I try them.


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