Here’s a curious camera from 1966: Agfa’s Isoflash-Rapid C, which meant to compete with Kodak’s Instamatic but failed miserably. I showcase the camera and tell its story here.
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 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.
The camera inside looks unused, though the spent flashcube inside the box suggests otherwise.
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.
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’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.