I’ve been revisiting the Land of the Misfit Toys: my collection of weird, marginally functional, or broken cameras I have on a bookshelf. The goal is to resurrect everything I can. I’ve previously talked about the Agfa Isolette II on the blog. You can read that here.
I still have a need to have a small, pocket-able camera that shoots medium format that is lightweight. I want big negatives of my hikes. I want medium format chromes of the sunsets and leaves in the fall. I love those big negatives. What I really don’t love is the inconvenience of lugging a medium format camera on my back. Enter the Agfa Isolette II.
Sure, I could carry a plastic camera in to the backcountry, and I often do. But I worry about their survivability. They are not the most sturdy things. And while I love the dreamy effect of a simple plastic lens, it’s not always what I want. The Isolette is sturdier than a plastic camera, and about the same price, which is why I bought one.
The problem with all the Agfa Isolette cameras is the lubricant the factory used. After time, it turns green and and the focus sets up like concrete. I had tried just about everything to get this camera unstuck. Penetrating oil did nothing. I didn’t try heat because I didn’t want to disassemble the camera. Lighter fluid did nada. In fact, all the classic fixes did squat. It went back on the shelf and sat for a while.
I then happened across the suggestion to use 91% isopropyl alcohol. It’s cheap, and a good solvent. I had nothing else to try so I had at it. I soaked the lens housing for a few days, dripping it down behind the focus ring and letting it saturate the area. After few days, the focus moved. It had been stuck at 3 feet since I got it, and now I could get closer focus. Neat, but still not there. A few more days of soaking and fiddling did the trick. Infinity focus was achieved. I immediately ran a roll through it.
It’s a good little camera. Sharpness is respectable if not top-notch. The shutter speeds are spot on and the bellows is light tight. it’s a nice, useable walkabout camera, which is what made the Agfa Isolette II such a popular seller.
I should have quite while I was ahead.
There was a bit of a squeak left in the focus, so I went at it again with the penetrating oil. Apparently, I let a drop of the oil hit the lens without noticing. The penetrating oil, well, penetrated. So now there’s oil on the back side of the front element. It shows up in every picture. Which means I’m going to have to disassemble the camera, and get the front element off of the lens assembly and clean that out.
So yes, another situation rife with learning opportunities. This is why I call myself a camera hacker, not a camera repairman. At least, after I get everything sorted out, I’ll have achieved the goal. I’ll have a small, light, backpack camera for the fall, and will have rescued a Misfit Toy in the process.