The Isolette is a compact horizontal-folding camera for twelve 6×6 cm (2¼-inch square) pictures (or sixteen 4.5×6 cm (2¼×1⅝ inch) pictures, with the first model of the camera) on 120 film. It was made by Agfa Kamerawerk AG, Munich, Germany, from 1937, and the series of cameras continued until about 1960.
|The cameras are as follows:
There was also the Super Isolette (1954-60), a coupled-rangefinder camera.
This first model (1937-42) is a dual format camera. It has hinged masks in the film chamber (they pivot around the spindle of the film rollers on each side of the film gate), to change it from the 6×6 cm format to 4.5×6 cm. There is also a mask for the viewfinder, put in place with a selector lever by the eyepiece.
It first came on the market as the Isorette (embossed in the leatherette of the front door/lens bed as JSORETTE ), but the name was changed to Isolette (again, marked on the camera as JSOLETTE) within a year, with no significant change to the camera itself.
One of the distinctive features of the camera is the top housing, made of a plastic called 'Trolitan'; the post-War camera has a cast aluminium top housing. The Trolitan-topped camera also has metal loops to attach a strap, the only version of the Isolette to have these.
Different lens and shutter combinations were available, allowing a wide range of levels of specification. All have front-element focusing. The shutter release is on the body. Film advance is by a wide, flat knob, using a red window; there are two red windows in the back, one for each film format, and a swivelling cover for the upper (4.5×6 cm) one. There is a swing-out spool holder on the supply side of the film chamber. This model was called the "Soldatenkamera" (soldier's camera) in Germany during the War.
- Year of release: 1937
- Film Format: 12 exp. 6x6 or 16 exp. 4.5x6 on 120 type rollfilm.
- Shutter: Vario, Pronto, Prontor II, Compur or Compur-Rapid.
- Lens: 8.5 cm f/6.3 Igestar, f/4.5 Agnar, f/4.5 Apotar or f/4.5 Solinar.
- Viewfinder: reverse-Galilean viewfinder
The earliest cameras have Vario shutters which are not labelled as such.
|Isolette, first model, about 1937, with Igestar anastigmat and Vario shutter.|
The first post-War model was made from 1945 till 1950. It is not adjustable to 4.5×6 cm format. The top housing of this model is cast from Hydronalium (Nüral: an aluminium alloy). There were less lens and shutter combinations, offering only the higher levels of specification (no Agnar, nor Vario or Pronto shutters). Most of the lenses are still uncoated. Some of the shutters available are synchronised. The camera has an accessory shoe (above the viewfinder). Like most of the post-War Isolettes, the camera takes 30 mm push-on hood and filters.
|image by OZBOX (Image rights)|
- Year of release: 1945
- Film Format: 12 exp. 6x6 on 120 film.
- Shutter: Prontor, Prontor-S or Compur-Rapid.
- Lens: Apotar 8.5cm f/4.5 or Solinar 8.5cm f/4.5.
- Double exposure prevention.
- Viewfinder: reverse-Galilean viewfinder
The Isolette V, made from 1950 to '52, has Agfa's entry-level f/4.5 Agnar triplet lens, and only low-specification shutters (Pronto or Vario). However, the lens is now coated on many examples, and the shutters are synchronised, with a PC socket. The camera's top housing is now of pressed, bright silver metal: this finish is retained for the rest of the series. The accessory shoe is either on top of the viewfinder or to one side of it (on earlier examples). There is no body-mounted shutter release.
The Isolette I (1951-58) is, like the V, a rather low-specification model. It has a coated f/4.5 Agnar lens, and a synchronised Vario or Pronto shutter. Unlike the V, it has a body shutter release. There are two versions of it:
- 1951-54: the early version has a disc-shaped depth-of-field calculator, mounted in a position matching that of the film advance knob, but on the right of the camera.
- 1955-58: the depth-of-field calculator is now absent; some (but not all) examples have DOF brackets marked on the face-plate of the shutter, around the focus scale of the lens. This model also has a slightly different cold shoe.
The Isolette II (1950-60) was sold alongside the 'I'; it is an alternative model offering higher specification than the 'I', not a successor to it. The camera was available (for at least some time) with coated 85 mm f/4.5 Agnar or Apotar or 75 mm f/3.5 Solinar lenses; however, most examples seen have the Apotar. McKeown gives a very wide range of shutters (Vario, Pronto, Prontor-S and SV, Compur Rapid and Synchro-Compur). This reflects changes in the specification over the period the camera was made (i.e. not all of these shutters were available at the same time): for example, a user's manual (of unknown date) only lists the Pronto and Prontor SVS. The range of shutter speeds is therefore variable between examples. Some of the shutters have a delayed action. Most are synchronised (some have switchable M and X-synchronisation). On some examples of the camera, there is a shutter locking lever on the back of the top housing, to provide 'T' shutter by locking the release button down, where the shutter itself does not have a 'T' setting.
|fast Solinar lens|
image by Fernando Soares (Image rights)
Unlike the Isolette I and all the preceding models, the film advance knob is on the right. The camera still has a swing-out spool-holder on the supply side of the film chamber.
There is a double-exposure prevention interlock; this engages after releasing the shutter, and is disengaged by advancing the film. It has a red (locked) or silver (unlocked) indicator in a hole in the top-plate, next to the advance knob. Like the 'T' lock, this interlock acts on the body release button, so if the lock engages accidentally, or a double exposure is desired, it is still possible to release the shutter by pressing the linkage on the shutter itself (or with a cable release, on versions of the camera on which the cable attaches directly to the shutter, not the body release; they vary in this respect).
Like the Isolette I, early versions of the II have a disc-type depth-of-field indicator on the left of the top plate. On later cameras this is replaced with a film-type reminder, and the DOF scale, if any, is on the shutter face-plate.
|Isolette II with Compur-Rapid
shutter (1 - 1/500 second plus 'B')
|Top plate, showing disc-type DOF scale|
and double-exposure indicator.
|Images by Dries van den Elzen (Image rights)|
|The lever to the right of the viewfinder
switches 'B' shutter to 'T'.
|The Isolette II was sold as Ansco's|
Speedex 4.5 Special in the USA.
|Image by Dries van den Elzen (Image rights)||Image by Dirk HR Spennemann (Image rights)|
|Isolette III with f/4.5 Solinar lens and Synchro-Compur shutter,|
and with DOF calculator on the top housing.
image by Hans Kerensky (Image rights)
The Isolette III (1951-60) is the best-specified Isolette, with an uncoupled rangefinder. The rangefinder is operated with a small knurled thumb-wheel on the right hand of the raised part of the top housing, and the distance is read off and transferred to the lens, which has front-element focusing like all the Isolettes. The lens is either an 85 mm f/4.5 Apotar, with a Pronto or Prontor SV or SVS shutter (all of these are synchronised), or a Solinar, which can be either an 85 mm f/4.5 with a Synchro-Compur shutter in earlier cameras, or a 75 mm f/3.5 with a Prontor SVS or Synchro-Compur in later ones. Some of these f/3.5 Solinar lenses take 32 mm accessories, not the 30 mm ones that fit other Isolettes.
Later cameras also have a film reminder on the left side of the top housing, where the older model has a depth of field indicator.
Examples: One from 1952 (Mark I):
- Objective: Agfa Solinar 1:4.5/85
- Shutter: Deckel Synchro-Compur type MX/CR00-126
One from 1954 (Mark I):
- Objective: Agfa Apotar 1:4.5/85
- Shutter: Pronto
Late model production run (Mark II):
- Objective: Agfa Solinar 1:3.5/75
- Shutter: Prontor-SVS
|Isolette III with f/3.5 Solinar lens and Synchro-Compur shutter,|
and with film-type reminder dial on the top housing.
image by John-Henry Collinson (Image rights)
image by Alf Sigaro (Image rights)
The Isolette L (1957-1960) is a viewfinder camera. It has an uncoupled match-needle selenium lightmeter mounted in the top housing. The lens is a coated 85 mm f/4.5 Color-Apotar, suggesting that the provision of a lightmeter was intended to cater for users of colour film, especially transparencies, concerned to achieve the more exact exposure this might demand. The shutter is a synchronised Pronto, giving speeds 1/25 - 1/200 second, plus 'B'.
The camera has some of the features of the Isolette II and III; the film advance knob is on the right, and has a double-exposure prevention interlock, with a red indicator spot in a tiny window. There is a film-type reminder on the other end of the top housing. Like other models, the camera has a swing-out spool holder on the left (supply) side of the film chamber. The button to unfold the camera is a smaller button on the left end of the top housing; presumably to make space for the meter in the top housing.
Like the original Isolette, the L has hinged blinds mounted on the film roller spindles, allowing it to be used for two different formats. However, the second format of the L is a very unusual 3×6 cm (strictly, a little smaller: 1×2¼ inch). The viewfinder can also be masked for this format, with a small lever beside the cold shoe. Perhaps it was intended that users might cut their films down and mount them as 24×36 mm slides; but the full panoramic format would be attractive to some .
|Isolette L film chamber with blinds folded out for 6×6 and in for 3×6 format.|
images by Hans Kerensky (Image rights)
Agfa also made a coupled rangefinder camera, the Super Isolette, which is clearly based on the Isolette series, and produced at the same time as the Isolette I, II and III. This in turn is the basis of the Automatic 66, which has a coupled rangefinder and a light meter coupled to give aperture-priority AE.
- McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). p25.
- The name is written as Jsolette simply because the capital "I" resembles a "J" in German typography of the time. The embossing on the camera was changed to a modern "I" in 1937. See: Old German Letters (archived)
- In fact, Trolitan Presswerk made products in many types of thermoplastic and thermoset resins (and still does; see the company website, retrieved July 2020). The company held patents for several moulded polymer products in the 1950s and 60s: see a list at Espacenet. The Isolette top housing is of a bakelite-like material.
- User's manual for the Isolette V at Richard Urmonas' homepage. The last page is a correction slip regarding the specifications of the two shutters, and the position of the accessory shoe, which had moved since the manual was produced. Interestingly, the slip gives the company as Agfa Camera Werk, München, US Administration; the Bundesrepublik (West Germany) had only just been formed.
- User's manual for the Isolette II at Richard Urmonas' homepage.
- Depth of field indicator on an Isolette II, at Roland and Caroline.
- Andrew Yue, in his notes on the Isolette L at his site at the University of Texas suggests that one can use the first warning dot between frame numbers, but warns that different makers' films have different markings.
- Hans Kerensky, in the caption to his picture of the Isolette L (shown above), speculates that Agfa may have marked some of their own film with frame numbers (or with other appropriate marks) for this format.
- Isolette article at German Wikipedia
- Isorette at Ken Lyndrup's website
- Agfa Isolette II at Matt's Cameras
- Isolettes at Roland and Caroline:
- Agfa Isolette II on www.collection-appareils.fr by Sylvain Halgand (in French)
- Agfa Isolette II Camera Manual : Photo-Manuals.com
- Agfa Isolette II pictures
- Agfa Isolette III at Sylvain Halgand's www.collection-appareils.fr (in French)
- Isolette III at Andrew Yue's site
- Camera Rebuilds and Repairs: Agfa Isolette (archived), by David Richert
- Agfa Isolette 4.5 PDF manual from www.OrphanCameras.com
- Agfa Isolette II PDF manual from www.OrphanCameras.com
- Agfa Isolette III PDF manual from www.OrphanCameras.com