You may be wondering why we are talking about a vintage viewfinder camera. Well the reason is simple: because the Agfa Isola 1, much like many other vintage Agfa cameras, pop up left, right and center and are easy to find if you do the merest google search for them. So whilst this is a camera from back in the day, it is still very much available. And let’s face it, a well taken care of vintage Agfa is still a better camera than a lot of contemporary medium format alternatives (and likely cheaper too).
Point in case: I found mine for the grand total of € 2,50 (yes, two euros and fifty cents) at the local thrift store. I took it home because it looks pretty and wanted to use it as home décor but then a friend gave it the once over and declared it to be in perfect working order. And my story of how I came to own a cheap, working, vintage camera is not an isolated one.
The Agfa Isola 1 is the iconic Agfa camera that Lomography supposedly used to create their Holga. But unlike the Holga, you aren’t getting cheap contemporary plastic, you are getting sturdy Bakelite with a proper lens and settings that actually work.
The camera comes with three different settings: bright weather, overcast and the funky build-in yellow filter. You can change the distance, and that’s pretty much it. Aside from that, it has a tripod slot, and you can install a cold-shoe flash.
Now, whilst the camera is easy enough to use and pretty self explanatory, it does have it’s quirks. It has double exposure prevention, so whatever you do, even if you’ve not pulled out the collapsible lens, don’t click the shutter button unless you are actually taking a photo. Else it will register that shot as being used, and if it hasn’t been, it’s lost.
If you like double exposure, this is probably not the camera for you.
And for the love of whatever deity plaguing humanity, use the settings, because if you don’t, it will not end well for your picture.
It’s also a pain to load, lacking the easy loading system of other 120mm (medium format) film and more recent 35mm film. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to take absolutely lovely square photos with it. And frankly if you can load this, I’m fairly certain you can load anything.
Medium format film isn’t the easiest to find, but most proper photography stores and even bigger chains such as FNAC (the Antwerp FNAC carries it) carry 120mm film. And if you have a Lomography store near you, they are good sources for film (I’m no fan of their cameras, but I’m not arguing with the quality of their film, it is solid).
The Agfa Isola 1, being produced between 1957 and 1963, is firmly rooted in the black and white photography era, and if you look at photos online taken with color film, you can see that black and white film is definitely your friend for this camera.
If you are more into color than black and white, I would suggest the Agfa Click instead.
In short, the Agfa Isola is a great camera, embodying everything what made medium format so fantastic, and looking cool to boot. Aside from that it is also a reliable and sturdy little machine, which is always a bonus (although I wouldn’t recommend dropping it). To top it of, there is a pretty big community out there focused on vintage Agfa cameras, so you’ll never want for advise or help should you need it.
Found an Isola 1 but don’t have a manual? Click here.
And for those curious, for the photos that go with this review I used a Kodak TMY 400 film. But I’m looking into getting my hands on Fujifilm Across 100, Ilford Pan F Plus 120 or Lomography Earl Grey for future use.