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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
Please don’t revoke my man card, but I like to shop. Even a weekly trip to the grocery store delivers a dopamine rush. And when my weekly trip takes me to the big-box store — ohhh yes, I can spend an hour just wandering the aisles looking at things I didn’t come to buy.
The big-box groceries are squeezing the local players out. Marsh is the last local chain standing. I seldom do my weekly shopping here, as the big boxes offer compelling prices. But I’m suspicious of the big-box meat. Hamburger shaped into a rectangle? Pork chops shot full of “15% of a solution?” No thanks. I prefer to buy my meat at a butcher shop, but it’s a special trip. Marsh’s meat counter is convenient and respectable, and so gets a lot of my business.
But I wonder how much longer that Marsh will be open now that Walmart’s Neighborhood Market is in the area. It became my main grocery store the minute it opened last summer. It’s just around the corner from my home! And their prices are just too good to ignore. Marsh feels that pinch — since Walmart opened, I get a lot of direct mail from Marsh, sometimes with coupons for $10 off the total bill.
My routine shopping is about more than groceries, of course. I fill my prescriptions at a CVS across the street from Marsh. That’s pretty much all I do at CVS — for the non-pharmacy items they carry, pretty much any other store beats their prices. I used to have my color film processed here, but they took out their 1-hour lab a couple years ago. What a sad day.
I’m not as crazy about shopping for hardware and home-improvement items. Maybe it’s because I’m usually trying to quickly pick up one or two things so I can finish a project. The little Ace Hardware near my home closed ten years ago, so I switched to a smallish Menards that was only a little farther away until it, too, closed. I’m left with Lowe’s and Home Depot, both longish drives from home, both enormous and bewildering. Woe betide me when I need something small, as I did this day. Three different employees scratched their heads over where I might find the thing I sought. I ended up searching for a half hour. In a big store, small items might as well be invisible.
I choose Lowe’s over Home Depot because this Goodwill Store is next door. Sometimes they have an interesting old camera for a few dollars. Believe it or not, I bought my favorite suit here for $8.
This Walmart Supercenter is around the corner from Lowe’s and Goodwill. When I went through my divorce, I lived on next to nothing and this Walmart’s prices let me afford to feed my family. In those days, this store was filled with rude staff and angry customers. I hated shopping here. But then Walmart built a new Supercenter nearer my home, and overnight this Walmart became orders of magnitude more pleasant. I can’t explain it. It’s like all of the problems migrated to the newer Supercenter. It’s a war zone over there.
When the shopping is over, I sometimes treat my car to a wash. Works Wash please, and no, I don’t want the extra-cost tire shine. This gives me a few weeks’ respite from a super annoying body squeak my car has developed. It was a tip from my mechanic, who said that an underbody wash is a good, cheap lube job.
It feels good to drive a clean car. And it feels good to wrap up the routine weekly shopping.
Photographed July 14-28, 2015 with my Agfa Clack on Ilford Pan F Plus 50 film.
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.
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! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
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