Suburban banalia

I began Operation Thin the Herd with my Agfa Clack because it was handy. I’d just moved into my new house and my cameras were all still in boxes. The Clack had been on display in my home office and so got packed into a box of office stuff. It was unpacked early because I needed my home office set up pretty much first thing.

Agfa Clack

While unpacking it I remembered very well how pleasant it was to shoot and what lovely results it returned. I’d always shot black-and-white film in it before, slower stuff like Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and Ilford Pan-F Plus 50. So this time I spooled in some color film, Kodak Ektar 100. I blew through the whole roll in 20 minutes without ever taking more than ten steps from my new house.

Suburban banalia

These colors are a little washed out, rather than showing Ektar’s signature vibrance. Perhaps I needed to shoot on a cloudy day. Or maybe I’ll just stick with black-and-white film in the Clack from now on. Here, take a look at how Pan-F 50 performed on an earlier shoot.

Crew Carwash

I now live in typical modern suburbia. My previous neighborhood of 1950s-60s brick ranch homes was typical suburbia for its time. But in my old neighborhood, owners had placed their individual touches on their properties over the years. Here, the HOA makes sure every home always looks just like every other. Property values, don’t you know. Stultifying sameness.

Suburban banalia

And what is it about modern home design that makes giant exterior walls of vinyl, punctuated only by random tiny windows, seem like a good idea?

Suburban banalia

Oh, and our home overlooks beautiful and scenic I-65. See the big green sign there through the brush? This is suburban living at its best, folks. The retention ponds do nothing to blunt the relentless traffic noise. Fortunately, I stopped noticing it after just a couple weeks. One positive: this unblocked westerly view has shown us some spectacular sunsets.

Suburban banalia

But back to the Clack. It was just as much of a joy to use as ever. It’s a glorified box camera, but it’s so much easier to carry and use than a boxy box. It’s small and light. It’s easy to frame subjects in the bright viewfinder. It offers a few easy settings: apertures for cloudy and bright days plus a built-in closeup lens and a yellow filter. The only downers: the lens is soft in the corners and there’s some pincushion distortion.

Suburban banalia

But as soon as I finished this roll my mind started thinking of other eight-photograph monographs the Clack and I could make. Imagining a future with a camera: is there any better sign that it should stay?

Verdict: Keep.

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25 responses to “Operation Thin the Herd: Agfa Clack”

  1. davidvanilla Avatar

    “And what is it about modern home design that makes giant exterior walls of vinyl, punctuated only by random tiny windows, seem like a good idea?’”
    Efficiency. Not pretty but efficient. My newer house at 30% greater floor space presents heating bills 40% lower than the older home I had for years.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sure the not-pretty-but-efficient window placement is one part of your newer home’s efficiency. Better insulation and a highly efficient furnace probably play a big role too! I don’t know yet what my new home’s heating costs will probably be on par or less than my old place’s costs. It was 40 years older, had single-pane windows, and poor insulation.

  2. DougD Avatar

    You know, I never knew about HOAs until during university I went to Perrysburg OH for a weekend with a classmate, whose parents lived there.
    I was floored to hear that they couldn’t build a fence, hang out laundry to dry or have an asphalt driveway. I’d never heard of such things, isn’t this the land of the free?

    The other big shocker was dozens of people walking down the street with blankets and picnic baskets. “What are they all doing?”
    They were going to a highschool football game. People actually go to highschool football games, who knew?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve never wanted to live in a neighborhood with an HOA yet here I am now. Love will make you do crazy things.

      Yes, HOAs limit what you can do on your property. A condition of buying in an HOA-controlled neighborhood is that you sign a covenant with the HOA. You typically agree that you will get HOA approval for exterior changes to your home, such as fences and sheds, or even on exterior paint colors.

      A buddy of mine one day came home to find his HOA had installed a new mailbox in front of everyone’s house — and then at the end of the month got a $125 bill from the HOA for the privilege. The HOA wanted all the mailboxes to match, you see. Holy hell, I installed a new mailbox at the street at my old place for $40.

  3. Mike Connealy Avatar

    The Clack developed quite a cult following for a time and was hard to find for under $40. I’ve seen them going for a lot less recently. I think it has the best ergonomics of any of my box cameras, and those 6×9 negatives are hard to beat.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My other favorite box is the Kodak Brownie No. 2. I think I like the images I get from it a little better than I like those from the Clack — but there is no question that the Clack is a lot more pleasant to use, with its smaller size, its carry handle, and its usable viewfinder.

  4. micheleannunziataMan Avatar

    The problem of the suburbs (americans only?) Is existential vacuum like movie “Metropolis” of Fritz Lang, It goes without saying.
    Sure Agfa…Agfapan 25 no? And Rodinal centenary…Portriga in Darkroom. Ah Agfa Uber alles


    Ps. New re-building my site is on line, again

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There is nothing about my neighborhood that distinguishes it, tells anyone where it is. It could be in almost any place in the United States.

      That said, we could afford it, and it’s quiet and safe.

      1. Man Avatar

        A contented mind is a perpetual feast, be happy with what you’ve got , no?

  5. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    I have almost stopped adding new (old) cameras to my collection, but I do still want a Clack. I like the idea of that curved film plane.

    Way back, I used to shoot 120 Agfachrome because it had black blacks rather than Ektachrome’s blue/black, especially on cloudy days. It got closer to a Kodachrome like color balance than Ektachrome did, and it has generally lasted better. Most of my 50+ year old Ektachrome has faded and color shifted a lot. Not so the Agfachrome. Also it was 50 asa rather than 32, half a stop bonus!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If you can pick one up for a good price, it’s definitely worth trying. It’s such an easy camera to shoot!

  6. pesoto74 Avatar

    I have heard stories of people in such suburbs going to the wrong house because they all look so similar. The Clack is one of my favorite box cameras too. It can take some very nice B&W landscape when it is held steady with a yellow filter over the lens.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I know this happened in the very early suburbs like Levittown as there were a small number of floor plans and very little to distinguish the houses externally. In my neighborhood the houses all have enough difference in external detail to make them distinguishable. Mine for example has this brown-green trim and gables where another with the same floor plan might lack the gables and have gray trim.

  7. dan james Avatar

    Reading the comments, now I have that song in my head, “little boxes on the hillside… and they all look just the same…” Kind of scary!

    Back to the photography, does the Clack use 120 film Jim? Good pictures for a camera of its era, and that b/w shot is really impressive. Funny how some cameras just seem to demand to be shot with certain film.

    I like the logic of your whole process here, put a roll through a camera, if you like it, it stays, if not, it goes. Will be interesting to read about cameras you’re more on the fence about, and what influences your final decision on whether to keep or sell them.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      One of the Clack’s many charms is that it uses 120 film — not that infernal boondoggle that was 620 film. And yes, it is funny how some cameras demand to be shot with certain film!

      1. dan james Avatar

        Jim, “infernal boondoggle” is the best phrase I’ve heard all month!

        I can’t recall if you’ve ever used a Holga 120? I wonder what you make of one, if not.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’ve not much enjoyed the Holga/Diana results I’ve seen around the Net, so I’ve not been drawn in to try one.

  8. SilverFox Avatar

    Interesting, never heard of the Clack before. I like the shot of the shadow on the side of the house.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, it’s my favorite too. But it shows this lens’s tendency to pincushion distortion.

  9. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    I too have been unimpressed with the combination of Ektar 100 with old lenses. You need to have pretty strong sunlight to get good enough contrast. Slide film, no problem.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I shot Ektar here specifically because I had good luck with it in an old camera. Check out the great color I got from my 100-year-old box Brownie!

      1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

        Yeah, but notice how sunny it was for those 2 shots! As soon as it’s gone the color just isn’t there anymore.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Yeah, that whole roll was shot on a sunny day. Your cloudy-day colors are definitely muted on the Ektar. Interesting.

  10. Rick Avatar

    “Oh, and our home overlooks beautiful and scenic I-65.” Is that better or worse than the beautiful and scenic Rose Hulman Muck Pond?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Definitely worse. The muck pond was quiet; I-65 is not.

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