Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C

Kodak’s 1963 Instamatic was a sales juggernaut for simplifying loading film into a camera. Agfa tried to get in on the action with its Rapid system. The Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C was one of the early cameras in this system.

You might not think this would be a killer feature. But for the average person, stretching roll film with its backing paper was a giant pain. 35mm cartridges could be easier to load depending on the camera. But the Kodapak, which was the original name for the 126 film cartridge, was easiest of all: drop it in and close the film door.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C

Agfa thought it could mine its past to compete with the Instamatic. In 1964, reintroduced and renamed its 1930s-vintage Karat film system. Karat and Rapid were easier to load than roll film or even 35mm cartridges, but were not quite as easy to load as the Kodapak. The Rapid system coiled 35mm film into special metal cartridges. You dropped a full Rapid cartridge into one end of a camera, an empty Rapid cartridge into the other end, and closed the camera. When you wound the camera for the first photo, the camera threaded the film into the empty cartridge. As you shot the roll, the camera coiled the film into the takeup cartridge, which you then sent for processing.

I’ve been curious about Rapid cameras for some time, but never so curious as to lay out  money for one. But then an old friend who shares my interest in vintage cameras came across one in its box at a thrift store for $1.31. He scooped it up and immediately placed it on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C

The camera inside looks unused, though the spent flashcube inside the box suggests otherwise.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C

Agfa introduced the Isoflash-Rapid C in 1966, though I haven’t been able to find out when Agfa quit making it or how many were made. It sold for $14.95, which doesn’t seem like much until you consider that this is almost $100 in 2010 dollars. It shoots the 24mm square exposures typical of the Rapid camera family (although a couple Rapids shot 24x36mm exposures). Its fixed-focus Isitar lens operates at f/8.2; its Parator shutter has two speeds, “sunny” at 1/80 sec and “shade/cloudy” at 1/40 sec. So the biggest mistake you can make with this camera is to forget to set the shutter speed to match the sky.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C

The Isoflash-Rapid C’s ability to take flashcubes distinguishes it from the earlier Isoflash-Rapid, which used AG1 flashbulbs. A battery hidden under the removable bottom plate powered the flashcube. My camera’s circa-1966 battery was still inside; I’m amazed that it never leaked! I can’t tell what size battery it is, but I understand that some people have successfully fired the flash after stacking four SR44 button batteries in that compartment.

The box also contained a roll of Rapid film that expired in 1968. Dig that crazy aluminum film canister! I wonder whether the film is exposed. I’m not sure I’m willing to have it developed to find out. I understand it’s possible to spool modern 35mm film into a Rapid cassette, but I’m not up for that. I think I’ll let this Isoflash-Rapid C sit on the shelf and look good.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C
Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C

Agfa’s Rapid gambit didn’t pay off in the face of Kodak’s muscle. Few manufacturers other than Agfa signed up to make Rapid-system cameras while nearly every camera manufacturer made 126-cartridge cameras. Agfa eventually decided they couldn’t beat ’em, so they joined ’em, turning out their own 126 cameras. The Rapid system faded away, and Agfa quit making Rapid film sometime in the 1980s. It leaves this Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C as a curious footnote in photographic history.

I’ve showcased a couple original Kodak Instamatics, too, here. Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

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18 responses to “Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    What a story. :) What a find, too. It’s funny just how onerous photography once was; I was talking about that with a friend just Saturday. Double-loaded slides, flipping them over, 24-36 shots for the day, setting it all up in the dark. What a labour of love. It’s a wonder there are as many old photographs as there are, frankly. Even the system you’re describing as a chore must have seemed like heaven to someone at some point. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      My first camera was a Brownie Starmite II, and I well remember loading the film in a closet and having the backing paper curl on me. My dad bought me a cheap Instamatic knockoff shortly thereafter. It was a lousy camera, but I used it anyway for many years simply because you could just drop a 126 cartridge in it and get shooting.

  2. Mauricio Sapata Avatar

    Great article…

    I’m about to load a 35mm film inside one of those cassettes. I had a camera for years but with only one cassette, now I finally got the second cassette.

    I’m kind of jealous… you have such a nice kit, even the film inside that cool canister ! ;)

    1. Jim Avatar

      I hope you’ll share your results with all of us here in Internetland! I did get very lucky to come by my kit.

  3. Ted Kappes Avatar

    It is pretty easy to load some bulk film into one of these cassettes. I think I will try taking some film out of a roll of color film when the weather gets a little warmer.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I don’t develop my own film; is any lab out there set up to deal with printing or scanning these negatives with their square images?

  4. Peter Davies Avatar

    I was given one of these by myGrandparents as a Christmas present when I was about 8/9 yrs old. It seemed very complicated when compared with the Kodak instamatic cameras that some of my friends had. I ended up only ever using one roll of film and I remember being quite disapointed with the photos. In particular, the colors were all washed out.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for this experience report! Sure seems like the Instamatic would always be the easier camera to load.

  5. Frank Theaker Avatar
    Frank Theaker

    Wonderful cameras these Rapids, nothing hard about loading the cassettes in the cameras if you were logical enough to notice where the film sprocket cog wheel side was inside the camera, and the square format – saves having to buy a 120 film size rollfilm camera. Pity the Rapid idea was never exploited into the realms of the Single Lens Reflex type of camera except for the Mecaflex camera which was made in the 1950`s and used a standard 35mm cassette.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for weighing in, Frank! I keep meaning to spool some 35mm into mine and try it out.

  6. David Avatar

    Hi – my first ever camera was a rapid, and I just bought another one this week – Loading 135 into the canisters is easy (you need two though) and when you’re done you just load it back into the 135 canister and off you go. When I took mine to the lab they said I could have brought it in the Rapid – even easier! Lots of youtube vids on this

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      With ingenuity and drive, you can shoot most old cameras today! Nice that it’s easy enough to load 35mm film into Rapid cartridges.

  7. Jeff Bosie Avatar

    Thanks for this! I have one but will now need to track down the canisters!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      eBay can probably find some for you!

  8. Randy Koger Avatar
    Randy Koger

    You couldn’t be bothered to cut a 12” piece of 35mm film and thread it into an empty spook?
    Your article on this camera is a total cop out.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Didn’t your mother teach you that if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything? Sheesh.

  9. Ed inVestal Avatar
    Ed inVestal

    I used to load Kodak 35mm into RAPID cartridges all the time. with the lights on trim the 35mm leader square and round the corners (a nail clipper works fine, or just eyeball it. Go into the darkroom/closet with your camera and an empty spool on the “takeup” side and turn out the lights. Pull about half the 35mm out and cut it, then roll it up so that the rounded corners are on top, run them over the sprockets and close the back. Then just wind/release shutter (in the dark) until you have run the film into the RAPID cartridge. Turn on the lights and you can remove the loaded cartridge and round the leader corners. Move it to the “feed” side and put an empty cartridge on “takeup” and you are ready to go. I loaded many rolls that way into a pretty art-deco KARET back in the 1970s, you could get almost all of a 20 exposure Kodak roll into the cartridge. Rounding the corners is important. I loved using that camera and shot many indoor pictures on TriX Pan at f6.3 and 1/25. Good Luck!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This is really helpful. I no longer have this particular camera but I do have a different one as well as an older Karat camera that I intend to try one day.

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