Agfa Billy Record

In my collection of folders there is an old Agfa Billy Record. It takes 120 film and produces large nice 6×9 cm negatives.

From TheCameraSite we learn that the camera was manufactured between 1933 and 1942, so we are dealing with a 70 – 75 year old piece of photographic antiquity here!

It shows some signs of old age but generally works well. My first roll of film in it was a failure though. The negatives came out with a strange “glow” on them as in this shot:

Disregard the dirt on the film for the moment. There is no sharp limit between light and dark areas! The lighter areas sort of glow into the darker ones. This, it turned out, is what many small dots on the lens did.

This was the first time I encountered the famed mold (I’m not 100 % certain it was mold in my case, but the effect and remedy should be the same) on a lens. It could actually clearly be seen when looking through the lens towards a lamp or open sky: a layer of something like minute greasy stains on the lens. Efforts to clean the lens both from the outside and the inside of the camera were useless, the stains were really inside the lens. Oh, well, time to bring out the screwdriver.

I haven’t any shots of the camera when in pieces but it was a straightforward task of unscrewing the front lens element only to find out that it was as clear as one would want it to be. From inside the bellows I then removed the big nut holding the inner lens. That was the one that needed cleaning badly.

A soft cloth dipped in some alcohol, some careful wiping and it was as new. Reassembling the lot and it was ready for a new film. But before that I decided to check its focus just in case. It turned out I had inserted the rear lens backwards. Hmmm! So back to the workbench for a while and it seemed ok.

The focus distances on this camera are rather generous: 2m – 5m and 5m- ∞. With the latter position and pointing the camera at the bright moon gave a sharp and fine image on a piece of 3M matte tape.

I actually removed the entire shutter assembly, and took it apart, just out of curiousity. That gave me a chance to clean the inner mechanism and put some light oil on the moving parts. But that was not really necessary.

With the camera in as mint condition as I had the opportunity to make it, it was time for another roll. This time in colour (Kodak Portra 400 most likely). One nice shot that came out of this roll was taken an early autumn morning at Alvastra, the ruins of a monastery:

Alvastra Monastery – Agfa Billy Record

I am really happy with this shot. The colours are warm and the detail is, at least to me, surprising given this a circa 75 year old camera. And I processed the film in the kitchen sink too.

So how would a modern digital camera capture this? As it were I had my Canon EOS 5D2 ready as well and within 60 seconds (I know it was within seconds, as we were leaving for home and were in a hurry) shot this one:

Alvastra Monastery – Canon 5D2

There is no doubt in my mind which one I like the best – Agfa wins. It is really odd that the red glow, so visible in the Agfa shot, is not to be found in the digital version. The light can’t have changed that quickly this morning. Film is sensitive to other light wavelengths, perhaps that is the clue? Or by pluck the kitchen sink developing failed in a right way?

They apparently knew how to make cameras back then, too!

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