Camera Reviews

Agfa Clack

I keep searching for a fun, easy medium-format camera that delivers good results, and the Agfa Clack just might be the one.

Agfa Clack

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.

Agfa Clack

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.

Agfa Clack

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.

Crumbles

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.

Monon Fitness Center

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.

Signage

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.

Crew Carwash

The Pan F really brought out the Clack’s best, with good sharpness and rich tones.

Lowe's

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.

Suburban banalia

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?

Suburban banalia

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.

104

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.

Passsssssat

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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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30 thoughts on “Agfa Clack

    • Jim says:

      Thanks! I might experiment with color, but really, this camera is all about b/w. That built-in yellow filter cinches it.

  1. the camera is beautiful…but your images are delightful. the composition, the balance between objects…i’d say you have an artist’s eye.

    • Jim says:

      Oh thank you, thank you. I’ve never quite thought of myself as an artist, but I do like it when one of my compositions pleases others!

  2. The produce signs are my favorite shots… just so retro. By the way, Jim… I totally expect you to not be pleased, but I’ve added you to one of those lists of people to whom I’m passing awards. Feel free to ignore… but thought it might send a couple new readers to your site. And I only want to refer others to blogs I actually read and regularly enjoy!

    • I’m grateful to you for the award and the views I might get for it! I’ve never gotten anything like this before. I’m just glad you enjoy my blog!

  3. Mark says:

    The Clack is one of those cameras that defies expectations. Better than a Holga, and certainly more reliable than any of the plastic toy cameras from China. As you found, the results are satisfying! The other thing about using cameras such as these — nobody takes you seriously as a photographer, so you often end up with images you’d never get with the gazillion megapixel DSLR with the big lens.

    • Yes, I can very well imagine being ignored in a crowd when I’m carrying my Clack. I think it was just the medium-format camera I was looking for!

  4. Glad you are getting to experience the Clack. One thing that amazes me about this camera is that even though its shutter speed is slow it doesn’t seem to have as bad a problem with motion blur as other box cameras that I have used. Not sure why that is, however I have shot enough film with these to be pretty sure there is a difference. Imagine back in the day having a big supply of Verichrome Pan to use with a Clack.

    • The VP was even faster than my Neopan! But its wide latitude would have covered a lot of exposure sins. I found the Clack easy to hold steady, which helped a lot. But its tripod mount just goes the extra mile in that department should I ever choose to use it.

  5. pat waller says:

    What type of scanner do I need to scan negatives from this camera? They’re all single negatives – not in a strip. Any help appreciated.

    • You need a scanner that can handle transparencies. You also need one that can handle 120 (medium format) negatives — many scanners can take only 35mm negatives. Epson makes a nice line of flatbed scanners that handle transparencies; I have one and I like it.

  6. I just got one! With only 8 exposures and a corner number count on the back, is there a trick to advancing the film? I’m used to a center window count just winding to align the usual 12. Any help?

  7. Bill Bussell says:

    I continue to be impressed with all of your photographic pursuits. I would like to point out a link failing as I see it. Clicking on one of your gallery links on Flickr opens up a full page view of one picture on my Ipad. I cannot navigate away from that view, and it takes some time bring up on fast Internet. Therefore, I found you on Flickr. That is the only way it works for me on the pad. It might be helpful for some viewers to understand that Flickr is so much better than a blog or Facebook to see the quality of an image. I can pinch open a blog pix only to see pixels. It is different with Flickr. Cheers…

    • That link goes to a slideshow, which apparently isn’t supported on an iPad. I changed it just now to just link to the album page on Flickr. Yes, the advantage of Flickr is you can see the shot up to the resolution at which I uploaded it! Click any image in the post to see it on Flickr.

  8. Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz says:

    Excellent article and great sharp shots! What aperture and shutter speed would you recommend for pictures outside in lets say a bit sunny day? Yellow filter too? Sorry I’m new into analogues I dont want to waste my frames. I have bought Agfa Clack and B&W 120 ISO 100 film :) have not used it yet. Cheers from Poland :)

    • The Clack is practically foolproof. It has one shutter speed. It has three other settings: a closeup filter, plus two apertures, one for cloudy days and one for sunny days. Just set the aperture for the weather and get shooting! And use the yellow filter when shooting black-and-white on clear days so the skies have good contrast from the clouds.

      • Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz says:

        I see. I gonna try this week. One more question. Do you shoot on M or B shutter speed? Because if aperture is f/11 or f/14 and shutter is on M, shouldn’t the picture be super dark because shutter spped is very fast (i think ‘M’ may be1/35s)?? Cheers.

        • I shoot on M. B holds the shutter open as long as you hold the shutter button, which makes it useful mostly for low-light work.

          ISO 50 or ISO 100 negative film and a sunny day — that’s what I’d shoot. Next time I shoot my Clack, I’m using Ektar 100, as it is said to have very wide exposure latitude.

    • The Clack does have a standard-thread cable-release socket. I’ve not used it on mine – couldn’t even tell you offhand where it is on the camera. But I’m betting the K1000’s cable-release socket is standard thread too.

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