Friday, December 28, 2012

Agfa Optima 1a

On this post, we're going to look at the Agfa Optima 1a.  The Optima 1a is also known as the Agfamatic, which is a Scale Focusing 35mm camera that actually has a built in AUTOMATIC mode that is completely powered by the Sun.  It has a Selenium power-cell that uses the light from the Sun to set the shutter speed and aperture size in accordance to the amount of light, vs the film speed.

With film speeds for 10ASA to 200ASA it actually is a fairly versatile camera.  Equipped with an Agfa Agnar 45mm ƒ/2.8 lens, which is coated for colour correction, and to help against flare. 
It is a very basic camera, with a viewfinder with Parallax markings, advance lever, and shutter release, which is mounted beside the lens.

Although it is a basic camera, do not let that fool you.  The lens is remarkably sharp, it has a hot-shoe for an electronic flash, or a flash bulb, is very simple to operate in all types of weather.  Can be used indoors (with the help of a flash) or outdoors.
The automatic mode can be over-ridden using a dial on the side of the lens mount.  Turning it to one side, with the little lightning bolt, goes into flash mode.  This mode sets the camera to 1/30s and whatever aperture setting you wish to set it at. Turning it the other way puts it into BULB mode for long exposures.  There is a threaded shutter release on the top of the camera for a cable release for long exposures. 
Also, looking at the top of the camera, you will see the film rewind crank, and the film advance lever.  Beside the lever is the film speed setting, from 10ASA to 200ASA.  Beside the rewind crank is the hot-shoe.
I was more than impressed the first time I really used this camera.  I took it out, loaded with my favorite film, Polypan F 50, and decided to use it in bright daylight.  It suddenly came alive in my hand as I just grew more and more excited with the camera.  Sure, I didn't take anything fancy with it, just random photos around the neighbourhood, but it let me get acquainted with this camera. 
In the photo to the right you can see the shutter release lever on the lens mount, and just beside that is a honeycomb window that is the Selenium cell which powers the camera.  The blue window on the left of the camera is the viewfinder.
Toward the top of the camera on the side is the frame counter dial, which is marked up to 36 frames of film.  Upon loading the film you will wind the dial to 0 to mark the start of the roll of film.
Opening the camera is very easy.  It opens from the bottom by turning the locking release which causes the entire back of the camera to become released from the camera.  Made almost entirely of plastic, save for a few parts, like the base plate, top plate, and lens mount which are metal, the camera is very light and can be held for hours in hand without causing you to become fatigued from holding it.
Directly beside the film back release lock there is the standard threaded tripod mount socket so that you can mount it to a tripod or monopod for long exposures.  There is no self-timer, so no photos of yourself with this camera.
 Focusing is done by turning the front ring  of the lens which will allow to you focus from 3¼ feet (1 meter) to Inf.  There are different symbols on the camera to make it easier to focus using the viewfinder and gauging the distance.  First is 3¼ feet, then two-heads (about 5-8 feet) then 3 people for group shots, which is about 8-15 feet, and lastly is the mountains, which is from 15 feet to Inf.
It is very easy to know when you have focused the ring as there are actually detent stops at each setting. 
This camera is almost like a Program AE camera, except it isn't quite that sophisticated.  Close, but not quite. 
Like a predecessor to the Program AE cameras of today, it was a step forward in time for auto-exposure cameras for weekend shooter who wanted to take a photo or three of the family, or around the house, on vacation, or just someone who wanted to step back and away from metering light, setting the aperture and shutter speed to match light conditions, and just get out and shoot some photos.

Yes this camera does make you go out and enjoy the thrill of taking picture after picture in vivid colour, or beautiful B&W.  Whether you're using Colour Negative, B&W print, or Transparency film, this camera will not let you down. 
Who needs batteries for the shutter, when you have this camera, through the power of the sun (even 50 years later) you can take one beautiful photo after the other.

The Agfa Optima 1a (Agfa Agfamatic 1a in Canada) is a beautiful camera to hold, and an even better camera to use!


Do you have an Agfa Optima 1a, or another 35mm camera, and not sure what film to get?  Check out the Film Photography Podcast for your source of 35mm film.  Want more?  Sure!  They have Polaroid film and cameras, The Impossible Project film for your Polaroid 600 or SX-70 or even your Spectra camera.  They also have Fuji FP100C, FP100B and FP3000B peel apart film for your Polaroid Pack camera.  They have 35mm, 110, 120, and even 4x5 film!
120 cameras, like the Plastic Filmtastic Debonair.  Check them out, at the Film Photography Project now!

Until next time, keep those shutters firing!


  1. Hi I'd bought one from eBay and totally had no idea about how to use it until I saw your instruction! It's very useful! Thanks!

  2. "Upon loading the film you will wind the dial to 0 to mark the start of the roll of film."
    No, the film counter counts down. Set the dial to the exposure count of the film.

  3. awesome blog, i have some more idea related optima scales.

  4. My late father bought it in 1964. We have use it for many many years.... A lot of family photos were taken with it.

  5. I put in a roll of 36 ex and it seems to still be going passed the counter resetting 36... not sure what is going on.