A visit to the Land of Misfit Toys- the Afga Isolette II

shoot-146I have a shelf I call the Land of the Misfit Toys. It has several cameras on it. Some are dead. Some marginally live. Some are just flat-out weird. This one is marginally alive.

There are several hikes in this great state that require distance. Getting to a cool spot is the work of a couple of days of plodding along to get to something worth seeing. What spurred buying this camera was hearing about an epic hike to an abandoned power plant way up in the mountains. It was once accessible by a bridge, but the bridge collapsed. The only route now is a dozen miles of bushwhacking up a steep walled valley followed by a tricky ascent to the buildings. Not the sort of thing you want to do carrying, say, a 35 pound view camera.

So I began to look around for the best combination of big negative and light weight. After a fair amount of fooling around, I settled on buying a folder. True enough, folders are problematic. The bellows rot and hole with age. They are distance focus, and those are not the easiest method even when they’re properly adjusted.  They’re rarely properly adjusted. The Isolette III is a rangefinder, but this one is not. This camera is not exotic in the slightest. Which is OK, because that means it’s cheap.

The model I have has the Prontor-S shutter which has a better record of reliability than the other offerings. It has the Apotar lens. The 85mm focal length is a little different from most medium format lenses. Usually they’re 75 or 80 mm. It’s not all that noticeable, but I do wonder what prompted the decision to choose that focal length. The film is wound separately, then the shutter cocked on the front of the camera. A release is provided on the top. The other button opens the spring-loaded door over the lens when it is folded up. shoot-147

These cameras have some nice touches. The classic red window tells you when to stop advancing the film by showing you what exposure number is up. They did supply that red window with a sliding metal cover to keep it light tight. The bellows might leak, but not the back will not. The lens has a well deserved reputation. It’s very nice, for all it’s hardly a top of the line optic. And it did achieve the desired goal: it is the lightest 6 by 6 camera I own that’s not made of plastic.

So why do I not carry it more often?

Well, the focal ring on the front of the lens is jammed at 3 feet. If you shoot something at that distance, it produces a good image. I haven’t been able to get it to budge, so I’m going to need to take it to my local repair guy. Of course, the repair is likely to cost as much as a new one. So until I decide which way to jump: repair or trying for one in better shape- it’s an inmate of the Land of the Misfit Toys.


  1. Features-wise, this sounds a lot like my ancient Voigtlander Bessa. It’s not light, though, and it’s a 6×9. I’ll have to write it up on my site soon. Would love to see some shot you made with this guy!

    • Andrew
      July 10, 2014

      I got through the test roll with it and couldn’t get the focus unjammed, so that’s all I’ve done. I need to take this thing down and have it fixed.

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