Agfa Billy I

CameraCollection_199__DSC1503Agfa was a German manufacturer of cameras, films and photographic chemicals founded in 1867. Until 2004, Agfa had produced films in a large variety of formats, including 110 and 126 cartridges, 135 cassettes, 120 rolls and its own invention, the Agfa Rapid (easy-load 35mm film with a twin-cassettes system). As for film camera production, starting from the plate/pack film “Agfa Standard” series in 1926, Agfa made folding cameras, box cameras, viewfinders, rangefinders, TLRs, and SLRs in almost all film formats commercially available in the 20th century (110, 126, 120, 620, 616, 127, 135, APS, and Rapid). During the late 1990’s, Agfa also produced entry-level point-and-shoot digital cameras under the name “ePhoto”. Today, though the company had ceased operation, the name “Agfa” is still used on some licensed products just like another famous brand name,  “Polaroid”.

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The camera of this article is an Agfa Billy I. It is a 120 format, 6×9 folding camera introduced in 1950. This particular copy was manufactured in 1950~51 because in 1952, a tiny optical viewfinder replaced the metal-frame glassless one shown in top figure. Unlike the two Kodak folders (the No.2 Autographic Folding Brownie and the Vigilant Six-20) I have, the Agfa Billy I only has one tripod socket on the “lens cover” plate and none on the bottom. This makes shooting horizontal photos on tripod more difficult as the camera body might interfere with the movements of the tripod head. However, its film loading mechanism is a bit more advance and secure than the two pre-war Kodak’s (as shown in the figure below) and like the Vigilant Six-20, it has a metal cover for the red window that is used to read frame counter on the film’s backing paper.

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Most Agfa Billy I has an Agnar 105mm f6.3 lens with a Vario shutter (as shown in the figure below) though some with the same lens has a Pronto shutter with an additional speed at 1/100 seconds. According to an online resource, the Agnar is a 3-element/3-group design which resembles the more well-known Cooke Triplet. Beside the cable-release socket at the lens, the standard shutter release mechanism is connected with a metal-rod so that the user can depress a lever close the camera body to fire the shutter. This is not shown in the figure because the photo was taken after I dropped and broke the camera (the lever/rod is shown in the “broken camera” photo at the very end though). There is also a PC-sync socket but it was designed for flash bulbs and thus it will not sync with modern electric flashes.

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Though a simple 3-element design, the Agnar 105mm f6.3 still performs pretty well from f/8 onwards. This is, of course, partially because of relatively large image area of the 6×9 format. Below is a 100% centre crop from a 2400dpi scan taken with Ilford HP5+ at f/8 and its full-frame correspondent.

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Two more sample shots are shown below. Both are taken with Ilford FP4+ with the upper one shot at f/6.3 and the lower one at f/8.

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My Agfa Billy I

This camera was bought before my summer vacation this year but unfortunately, not long after the vacation, I accidentally dropped the camera. Due to the lens and its bellow being bended, it creates an effect similar to a front-standard swing from a view camera which I captured after the drop. Finally, though I could not repair the shutter firing lever, I restored the camera to working order and now acting as a nice display on my cabinet.

broken_billy

The Other “Billy’s”

There are a total of 8+ cameras from Agfa with the name “Billy”, most of them are pre-war. To clear the confusion a bit, here are some brief descriptions:

  • Billy Zero – pre-war 127 format folder, 75mm lens, Pronto/Compur shutter
  • Billy Clack – pre-war 120 format 645/6×9 strut-folder, simple doublet lenses
  • Billy I Luxus – pre-war 120 format 6×9 folder, 105mm f8.8 lens, also called Billy Igetar 8.8 or the “pre-war Billy I”
  • Billy II – pre-war 120 format 6×9 folder, 100mm f7.7 lens
  • Billy Record – pre-war 120 format 6×9 folder, 105mm f8.8/100mm f7.7/105mm f4.5 lenses, f4.5 model has Pronto shutter
  • Billy I – the camera of this article, the “post-war Billy I”
  • Billy Record II – post-war 120 format 6×9 folder, 105mm f4.5 lens, Pronto shutter, optical finder, cold-shoe with PC socket on lens
  • Billy Compur – 120 format 6×9 folder, produced before/after WWII, 105mm f4.5 lens, Compur shutter, post-war version has double-exposure prevention

Status: In Collection

 

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6 Responses to Agfa Billy I

  1. Jim Grey says:

    I’ve eyed these from afar many times, but have yet to buy one. Thanks for the useful writeup, and sorry yours got damaged!

  2. Shaun Nelson says:

    I currently have GAS for a 120 folder. Great post!

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  4. Adam Paul says:

    Nice write up of the history of the brand as well as samples, though I am sorry to hear of your misfortune. I have two Billy’s (a deluxe Compur with a Solinar and this model with the Agnar) and actually much prefer the photos I get from this camera. It has its limitations, but for decent daylight situations, works dependably every time for me. I’m adding the “Baby Billy” to my own ‘camera cabinet’ soon and hope to share a write up of this Billy’s cousin/child.

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