I keep searching for a fun, easy medium-format camera that delivers good results, and the Agfa Clack just might be the one.
Many cameras in this category take 620 film, which has been out of production since 1996. It’s the same film as 120, just on a different spool. You can still buy 120 film, so you can respool 120 film onto a 620 spool in a dark bag (instructions here) or buy pre-respooled 620 (one source here). But for me the hassle of the former and the expense of the latter have lost their charm. Unfortunately, most of the simple medium-format cameras take 620.
Because it takes 120 film, the Agfa Clack has long been on my radar. It was a hugely popular family snapshot camera in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Because the Clack didn’t catch on in the US, they can be hard to come by – and they command tall prices. I routinely see them go for $60 and $70 on eBay. For a box camera! I decided I would pay no more than $30, and I waited a year before I found one at that price.
This camera is a paragon of simplicity and functional design. It’s so German! And since it’s German, you pronounce the As in this camera’s name as ah. Ahgfa Clahck. This camera just has to be named after the sound its shutter makes as it opens and closes.
In many ways, the Clack is as simple as it gets – light-tight box, single-element lens, single-speed leaf shutter. But it offers some surprising features and clever engineering. On the lens barrel is a lever that slides three aperture masks into place – the first for closeups, the second for overcast days, and the third for bright sunlight. The closeup aperture includes a magnifying lens that’s supposed to focus from 3 feet. Without it, the lens focuses from 10 feet. The sunlight aperture includes a yellow filter, which adds contrast to skies when using black-and-white film.
The first and third apertures are slightly smaller than the second, though there’s wide disagreement about what f stops these apertures actually are. f/8 and f/10? f/10 and f/11? f/11 and f/13? Nobody seems to agree on the shutter’s speed, either, with guesses ranging from 1/35 to 1/60 sec. But specs in this range are in line with the slow-speed, wide-latitude black-and-white films consumers bought in those days.
The camera’s ovoid shape (when viewed from the top or the bottom) was not just styling. There’s no pressure plate in the Clack to hold the film flat. Instead, the film flows along the curved back, which matches the curve in the single element lens to yield an undistorted image.
The Clack is two pieces that come apart for film loading. You twist the mechanism on the bottom toward AUF to open it; the top pops up and you pull it out. All of the camera’s works are in the top piece, and you spool the film around the back of it. When you drop the top back into the bottom, twisting the mechanism to ZU draws the top down and locks it tight.
In the middle of the open-close mechanism is a tripod socket, an unusual feature on such a simple camera. The Clack pairs it with a cable release socket, which is on the lens barrel below the shutter lever. These two features make it possible to eliminate camera shake for the sharpest photos the lens can deliver.
By the way, if you like box cameras also see my reviews of the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here), the Kodak Duaflex II (here), the Ansco Shur Shot (here), the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), and the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
The Clack’s lens can deliver remarkable sharpness for its simplicity. I loaded a roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and spent a very sunny afternoon in South Broad Ripple. This little retaining wall had taken a tumble.
A sticker inside the Clack recommends DIN 17 film, which is equivalent to ISO 40. I shot ISO 100 Acros confidently, however, because of its exposure latitude. It was a mistake; the Clack overexposed the film. Fortunately, Photoshop Elements let me correct exposure on each shot.
No matter, I had a great time shooting the Clack. Given that a roll of 120 produces just eight exposures in the Clack, it didn’t take me long. Shake was a bit of a problem though.
I got spot-on exposures when I put a roll of ISO 50 Ilford Pan F Plus into the Clack. I took it out on a day of errands and photographed the places where I stopped.
The Pan F really brought out the Clack’s best, with good sharpness and rich tones.
Another time I spooled some Kodak Ektar 100 into the Clack and shot it around the yard. I’ve had good luck with Ektar in box cameras.
I thought the colors and the sharpness were a little off this time. But I had my usual good time with the Clack, so who cares?
Finally, as I was teaching myself to develop black-and-white film I put a roll of ISO 100 Kosmo Foto Mono through the Clack. I overdeveloped the roll, but that’s not the Clack’s fault.
This is the photo that turned out best from that outing. This is about as close to anything as you can focus the Clack, unless you use the Portrait setting in very good light.
You’ll find more photos of and from this camera in my Agfa Clack gallery.
In this camera’s heyday, images were usually contact printed from the negatives, resulting in 6 by 9 centimeter photographs. Contact printing gives crisp results when there was a little camera shake or when the lens itself was poor. But the Clack’s lens is surprisingly good for as simple as it is. The corners are slightly soft, but everywhere else detail and sharpness remain good.
The Clack is a winner.