Sunday, 16 October 2016

Agfa Clack

Agfa Clack, Fuji Velvia 100

Let's have a look at the Agfa Clack. It's a simple, toy-like camera from the late 1950s, essentially an update of the company's box cameras, but with an eye-level viewfinder.

It's cute:

Shown here with a red Rollei bayonet filter, which fits neatly over the lens, although it doesn't stay on unless you use blu-tak. The Clack shoots in 6x9cm format with standard 120 film. The shutter speed is around 1/30 second, plus bulb, and it has two selectable apertures - apparently f/11 and another one, either f/13, f/16, f/12.5 depending on who you ask. There is also a close-up lens. There was a flash unit, which attaches to the metal prongs on top of the camera.

The inside of the camera advertises Agfa's film:

In my experience any black and white film will produce usable images in daylight; don't worry about that. I shot a mixture of Ilford 125, Fuji 400, and even a roll of Ilford 3200 and they all came out fine. I stand developed them with Rodinal. I haven't tried colour print film.

I shot some Velvia 100, which was overexposed in bright sun but spot-on in the shade. If you plan to shoot slide film on a sunny day use Velvia 100 with a polarising filter, or Velvia 50 without a polarising filter. Remember to shade yourself from the sun, and also remember that a technically wonky image of something interesting is far better than a technically perfect shot of something boring.

The Clack's image quality disappointed me. Not because it's awful, but because it's too good. The Holga has a cult following because of its ropy plastic lens, which is sharp in the middle but soft and dreamy around the edges, with tonnes of distortion and vignetting.

In contrast the Clack's simple lens is pretty good. It has mild vignetting, no obvious distortion, and it's decently sharp across the whole frame. With colour film there is noticeable CA but in Agfa's defence they probably didn't think people would use expensive colour film in their cheap camera. Contemplate the following:

With a sharp eye you can pick out the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Here's a 100% crop from the middle of the image, which I have sized down to 3000 pixels wide:

And here's the extreme corner:

Optically that's excellent for a cheap box camera. As the internet is wont to point out, the Clack's box doesn't hold the film flat, instead the film curves to fit the chassis, which apparently helps combat field curvature of the lens. I had always assumed this was internet rubbish, but perhaps it is true.

Marino Marini's "The Angel of the City", photographed with a Moto G. You have to wonder if Peggy Guggenheim ever... you know, test-drove the sculpture. I imagine it was cold.

The 6x9cm format takes eight shots on a roll of 120, so it pays to develop your own film. The Clack's only other control is a winding knob, and as with the Holga you have to check the film count by looking through a small red window at the frame numbers on the back of the film. If you forget to wind the film on, you get multiple exposures:

Do I have anything else to say about the Clack? You can fit four rolls of 120 film inside the camera - one in each spool and two in the light chamber. With a bulb setting and a tripod mount the Clack is a popular pinhole conversion. It's surprisingly hard to press the shutter button without jogging the camera. There is a tiny handstrap running along the left side of the case, but it's too small to use unless you have tiny hands. My Clack's shutter was intermittent at first, so I opened up the lens and fixed it. The shutter is triggered by a piece of metal sliding along another piece of metal, so I polished the two pieces of metal and then it worked.

Also, the Agfa Clack is one of the few cameras named after a sound. The only others I can think of are the Konica Pop, the Canon XapShot, and the short-lived Nikon Crackle-gurgle-bang-hiss-roar-throb, which was pulled from the market in the wake of 9/11 for obvious reasons. Have you ever read about the Italian futurists? They were hot for noise-sounds. Luigi Russolo's 1913 essay "The Art of Noises" envisaged a future in which musicians could use all kinds of sounds to make music - not just the melodic scrapings of violins, but also whispers, animal noises, and hissing, and today we have Bjork. How could they have known?

Furthermore, in his classic work "Zang Tumb Tumb", published in 1914, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote "pic pam pam crépitation d'incendie TOUM TOUM couchez-vous c'est le Brion quit tire ssssrrrrappnells... PIIING... sssrrr zit zit zit PAAC", and that is all I have to say about the Agfa Clack.