Topic – A Second Agfa Billy Clack

This my second Billy Clack. The first one had a broken spring in the shutter and was reduced to a 6×9 pinhole camera. During its modification I found out how it was supposed to work but did not take any photos of its intestines. The other week there was a good looking specimen at an online auction site and for a mere £5 it was mine!

Some art déco for you:

AgfaBillyClack (6)

As always with such an old camera the lenses are not entirely clean, and in this case the aperture selector was stuck, so I took it apart and when reassembling it I also, for once, took some photos of it. Here I present the photos in reassembly order should you find any incongruities:)

Below actually is just after the first reassembly step. The shutter assembly is completely contained in this metal cassette, which is removable. The cassette can be seen here to occupy all space until the two viewfinder boxes along the far edge. It can be lifted with a pair of pliers to reveal the fixed aperture holes.

When reinstalling the cassette, be sure not to push it down too much or the aperture control (black out-of-focus vertical lever at the far end in the picture) will jam! That turned out to be the only problem here. When the cassette was removed the aperture was not jammed any longer. The aperture mechanism is simply a metal plate with three different sized holes in it, which can be slid into place with a lever. Just for measure I dropped a tiny amount of lock oil on its rotational axis and turned it to and fro several times until it was entirely lubricated and easy to move. After which the shutter cassette was put in place.


The shutter cassette in place as seen from above. The two viewfinders are removed for cleaning.AgfaBillyClack (1)

The leftmost 2/3rds show the shutter cassette. The black lever mid-right is the aperture setting. Here the viewfinders (one vertical, one horizontal) have been polished with soft paper tissue and reinstalled. With a small screwdriver one can pry the metal with the hole in them. From there first give the lens a slight nudge and it will loosen , then also take out the mirror (which actually is a shiny piece of metal). Reassembly is in the opposite order.

AgfaBillyClack (2)

This is the rear side of the shutter cover. It houses a front lens which can be shifted in place with a pull of the upper left lever. Presumably the lens is “on” for short focal distances and “off” otherwise, though I have not tested it. Perhaps it is the other way round? The lens itself had some tough dirt on it. Here it is clean again. The mechanism was lubricated in the 1930’s and does not need to be further dealt with. First picture with the lens in the “on” position (note the clever – but inadvertent – use of the “@” for creating a time clash):

AgfaBillyClack (3)

…and then in the “off” position (note the upper left lever’s position too):

AgfaBillyClack (4)

The shutter cassette back in place. It is held in place with just one screw, the one along the left side. Also shown are the small round viewfinder lenses in place. The front lens is yet not in place. First there is a small washer, then the lens (convex side facing outwards), a circular retainer spring to hold it in place and then the round “AGFA BILINAR” decoration. From here it is simply a matter of screwing the front plate back into place. The plate uses the four small screws in the corners.

AgfaBillyClack (5)

Final result where the small foot has been folded out for keeping the camera in the vertical position. There is not equivalent foot for horizontal shooting unfortunately… It will tilt forward and down a bit in the latter case.

AgfaBillyClack (7)

I have not found a manual on the net so here is to use it. First shutter speed setting. There are two speeds here, one short blink (sounds and looks like 1/40 or so) or a bulb setting. The indicator below  pointing at the dot is set in the timed mode, when shifted up to the dash it is bulb mode.

AgfaBillyClack (8)

On the other side of the camera are two controls. The lower is the focus distance setting, “far” or “near”. It pulls out towards the viewer in this picture, not up/down. Testing with a piece of matte tape instead of film shows that it should be pulled out for far object’s focussing and left pushed in for closer ranges.

When in Bulb-mode the shutter is open as long as it is engaged. For convenience the shutter, once opened, can be held open by squeezing it with the upper horizontal hook. So, first set the indicator on the other side to the dash mark, then  pull the trigger and then lock it in place with this metal hook. Closing the shutter is by pressing the lower end of the hook lever.

The shutter itself is on top of the front box, here just barely visible in the picture.AgfaBillyClack (9)When taking a picture you pull the trigger up. Through the way it is constructed it is not an even movement. It is tougher first, then it suddenly yields. I found it very hard to use without accidentally rocking the entire camera, and specially the front where the lens is… This resulted in blurry pictures when handheld. Use a tripod or fold out the the vertical foot always!

Gallery | This entry was posted in All, Topics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Topic – A Second Agfa Billy Clack

  1. Tyler says:

    Excellent write up of this delightful camera and it’s rather unique operation!

    I am in the process of fixing up a Billy Clack of my own and was wondering if you could enlighten me as to the function of the pivoting black disc towards the top of the frame above the lens opening in the 5th and 6th pictures in your post. As near as I can tell, it acts as some sort of shutter guard? Whenever I compress the bellows (fold up the camera) the added pressure seems to prompt this disc to slide into place behind the front lens. However, with my particular camera, the folding out of the bellows does not remove the disc from behind the lens, making the camera inoperable. Any thoughts here? I would very much appreciate any insight since there is not much information about this camera on the web. Best of luck with your future photography odysseys as well!

    • jabcam says:

      The mechanism apparently jams easily. On both of my cams the aperture selector was stuck more or less. I would not hesitate to take it apart and oil or whatever is necessary to to get the metal plate/shutter guard moving again. It is not that difficult, if you are careful.

  2. Mike Eckman says:

    Reading your review and seeing the trouble you’ve gone through with both of your Billy-Clacks, I really appreciate how lucky I was that mine was in perfect working condition other than needing a general wipe down. I took the front plate off, cleaned the lenses and viewfinders and loaded film and thats all. What a wonderful camera though, and its great to read someone else’s thoughts on theirs!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s