Let me introduce myself a bit…
My association and familiarity with folders began when growing up in the early fifties. The family camera was an Agfa Isolette II with an Agnar f4.5/85mm lens. Our life was recorded by that camera… including coming to America from Newfoundland Canada in 1957. When my dad graduated to one of those newfangled SLRs, the venerable old Isolette became my first camera. It took me on innumerable Boy Scout trips, including to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and all through college. After college I too succumbed to the SLR and used them almost exclusively till about 5 years ago when I rediscovered the lore of the folder… as I said to Darrell Young, a “folder in your pocket.” I was attending camera shows and saw many many folders, almost always in terrible condition, like some forgotten towel in a coal bin. I got the urge at that time to start using an Agfa Isolette again, bought one and fixed it up. Well, one thing led to another and pretty soon I was buying almost any folder I found and started repairing them. I have had some 20 years of background in making and repairing classical firearms — from raw steel and wood (hey, they both “shoot!”). So, while I started each repair with a bit of trepidation, working with and making small gun parts was decent training to begin working on these purely mechanical cameras. I should tell you that in the beginning I did “sacrifice” several Isolettes to the learning curve. Though folders are a pretty straightforward mechanical/optical machine, you can botch them up very easily. So unless you’re willing to sacrifice a few, it’s best to have someone who’s familiar with the mechanicals of these cameras to fix them for you.
OK, back to my short history. During the last five years then, I’ve been buying and restoring folders. One of those ended up in the hands of the aforementioned Darrell Young who proceeded to create a website about folders based on his “experimenting” with his “new” Isolette III w/ Apotar lens and an “interview” he did with me. That web site, cleanimages.com, seems to have really helped fuel the interest in folders of all kinds… and this time not just for collectors, but for real honest to goodness users, people who value the neat attributes of the “folder in your pocket” that these cameras offer. With this resurgence of interest in folders, my life had become rather busier than it already was. For the past five years I have been going to work at 5:30 in the morning, coming home around 6 or later and then spend the next 4+ hours working on my cameras. Needless to say, my wife was not happy.
Thus after 33 years teaching history and then Tele-Communications in our local high school… as well as serving as the Visual Media Co-coordinator, and putting together a slide show (1000+ slides) to chronicle the school’s yearly events each of the last 18 years. I also started and coached our school’s Boys AND Girls soccer programs since 1978! On June 13th 2003, I finally decided it was the right time to retire. I figure I will now have enough time to leisurely spend with my favorite “other” hobby — photography, and most particularly, fixing folding cameras.
About the rest of the site
Let’s get to the “nitty-gritty” as older folks often say! People email with many questions about folders and hopefully, many of them may be answered on this website. However, this site IS not the definitive page on the subject. What you will read here are my observations and feelings on the subject of 120 film folding cameras.
I often get asked, “what is the best folder?” The answer is really quite simple. Whatever anyone tells you is the best, is that person’s prejudice for this or that camera, period. All the folders from the big names like Zeiss, Agfa, Balda, Voigtländer, Welta, Dacora, Certo, Adox, and a couple of Japanese firms like Konica, Olympus, and Mamiya all had very excellent cameras with more than competent optics. Some appear a little more “cheaply” (bad word, let’s say more economically!) made than others, but all are serviceable cameras even 50+ years after they left the factory. Then as now, cameras were made to a price point. The objective of any camera company (except maybe Leica) is to make cameras that someone can and will buy. For that reason, you find a myriad of camera models then and as now. Would you rather have a Nikon F5 or an N65? A Leica M7 or a Voigtländer (Cosina) R2? It’s all a matter of what you want to pay for, use, or be seen with! The results from a lower priced model will, for the most part be little different from a higher priced model… it all depends on what you want to do.
Another factor here is that though these mechanical marvels of yesteryear were also made on the assembly line, they did receive a final check out by a human being who made final adjustments… a tweak here and a tweak there to make sure the camera functioned correctly. Each lens/shutter had to be adjusted individually before it left the factory. Machines, unlike today, did not do that operation. That is also why today, you should not mix and match lens elements from two different lenses. They were matched at the time of manufacture. It is possible to sometimes get away with doing so, but overall is not a good practice.
As I stated above, the “best” camera is the one you find comfortable in using and gives you the pictures you are happy with. What is my favorite? Well, I have several, it all depends on the mood I’m in and what I feel like carrying at the moment. I will discuss the 10 cameras I took with me to Spring Lake this August and talk a bit about their strengths and shortcomings as well as show some of the pictures taken with these cameras. All the cameras were loaded with either Agfa Optima 200 or Fuji Reala 100 Print films. Exposure was in the main by the sunny 16 rule which usually works very well for me… especially here at the Jersey shore.