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Agfa Karat 35 mm folding viewfinder camera

The Karat series of cameras was made by Agfa from the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s. The model I am describing here is the Agfa Karat 3.5, which was made just before the second world war.

My Agfa Karat Camera

I found this camera on eBay in an auction and bought it, in an unknown condition, for £6.30.

The Karat is a camera which I’d seen in various ‘buy it now’ sales, but they always seemed to be priced at silly prices. For a camera which is about 75 years old and in unknown condition, I couldn’t justify paying £50, so I was pleased that I could get this example for such a reasonable price.

When I received it, I was pleased to find that the cosmetic condition is pretty good. There are some patches of rust on the catch which holds the front standard in its collapsed position, some white corrosion at the bottom of the film chamber catch and some paint work has had some chips and knocks, but considering its age I think that is understandable.

Mechanically the only real problem is the focus helicoid which is completely seized up and  won’t turn at all. I did some research and found that a bit of warmth from a hair drier can get it moving again, and then it’s a question of trying to wash the old grease out with lighter fuel. I’m going to try that and see how I get on. The good thing is that the exposure system seem fine with the shutter at each speed sounding about right, and the aperture blades opening and closing without a problem.

Obviously I’m going to need to clean the camera up quite a bit, but I’m hoping with a bit of care and attention I can get to run some film through it again – once I obtain some film cartridges.

Pictures of the Agfa Karat 3.5 viewfinder camera

Agfa Karat Description

The title of this piece says that the Agfa Karat is a 35 mm viewfinder camera, and that is true, but the camera doesn’t take standard 35 mm film cartridges. Instead, Agfa supplied 35 mm film in smaller cartridges which were fitted into the camera in pairs, with the film being transferred from the full cartridge to the empty one as the pictures were taken. A full film was shorter in length than a standard 35 mm roll and only consisted of 12 exposures, which is reflected in the count shown on the top panel frame counter.

When bought new, every camera would have been supplied with an empty cartridge, but unfortunately my camera has lost its, so I will need to find two in order to try the camera out. The same system was later used by Agfa in the Rapid series of cameras, as Agfa’s answer to the convenience of 126 ‘drop in’ film cassettes, so it is not too difficult to find them. As a historical note, they were never as simple to use as 126 film and didn’t really succeed.

Fortunately, it is possible to feed film from a standard 35 mm reel into the Karat film containers (in total darkness, of course), so I’m trying to locate a couple of empty cartridges to get me going.

In design, the Karat is similar in shape to the Finetta 88 with it’s rounded body, but this is a folding camera, so the lens can be ‘popped out’ and pushed in to save space. The controls are very simple; There is a film advance knob and frame counter fitted either side of the central viewfinder. On one side of the camera is the shutter release and a threaded cable release socket, on the other side is the button to release the lens.

All the exposure controls are set on the front of the Compur Rapid shutter, with the shutter speed set with the outer dial and the aperture set with a small pointer. The manual focus is set by turning the lens element, with distances engraved on the outer edge of the lens.

The frame advance control is coupled to the shutter release so that you can’t accidentally make multiple exposures, and although the shutter has to be manually cocked, it is also not possible to advance the film until the picture has been taken. A neat feature of the shutter is that the cocking lever sits in front of the viewfinder, so it’s possible to see that the camera is ready to take a picture.

I had an idea what the Karat was like before it arrived, but I have to just finish this short description by saying I had no idea that it was so small and compact or how attractive the camera is ‘in the flesh’. It really is a cracker!

Agfa Karat Specifications

  • Agfa Karat 35 mm viewfinder camera
  • Special film cartridges required
  • Compur Rapid shutter, offering 1sec to 1/500sec + bulb
  • Frame counter
  • Body mounted shutter release
  • Manual shutter cocking required
  • Agfa Solinar 50 mm f/3.5 lens
  • F/3.5 to f/22
  • Lens Serial No: 870702
  • Body Serial No: GV 9479
  • Manual available at CJ’s classic cameras

About

I’m a software developer by profession but I’ve been taking pictures since I was about 8 years old. In that time I’ve owned cameras of all types and sizes from 120 roll film thro’ 35mm to my current Pentax K-5, Ricoh GXR + P10/S10/A12 28mm/A12 50mm, Canon S95 and recently acquired Sony NEX 6.
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