The Best Camera I Never Knew: The Agfa Karat IV

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It’s been a while since we had one of these! I’m sure some of you may have thought, “This guy ran out of cameras to review”…Ah, no my friends! I may run out of energy, run out of patience, run out of time, but never, ever run out of cameras. That would be sacriligious!

Ok, today I have a doozy for you. Now the few of you who recognize the camera from the title, I know what you classic camera connoiseurs are saying…Sam, don’t do it. Don’t do it Sam! 🙂

Sorry I hate to drag this camera in the mud, but after three copies I must let my opinion be heard. And if it makes you feel better, it is just my opinion after all.

THE AGFA KARAT 

The Agfa Karat series of cameras were folding cameras produced by Agfa of Germany in the 1930s. There were many, many models, but this article focuses on the Agfa Karat IV which was produced around 1956, near the end of Agfa’s production of the Karat series.

The Karat IV features the mythical Agfa 50mm f/2 Solagon lens. It takes a standard 35mm cartridge, unlike earlier Karats which used a special and specific Agfa Rapid film cartridges. Over the years, the Karat, especially the models with the Solagon have achieved cult status with users and collectors alike.

KARAT TIDBITS

The Agfa Karat is not a camera that most of the masses today would know. In fact, today, many would know little about the Agfa company itself, other than folks who will remember them for their film which in its day always played second or third or fourth fiddle to Kodak, Fuji, Ilford or even Konica. Not that Agfa film was bad. No, not at all. They made good, even great film such as the APX series which I enjoyed greatly back in the day. It was just that Agfa film was not the first film that came to most people’s minds when it came time to buy. Same can be said for their cameras. I’m sure there are people who don’t even know that Agfa once made cameras.

If you know about the Agfa Karat series, then I want you to pat yourself on the back for being a true camera afficianado!

Most people will come across this camera in three ways; one, they inherited it from their Great Grandfather or their long lost uncle or maybe even their Mama. Two, they came across the Karat by accident at a pawn shop or garage sale. Three, they got bored with everything else and seeked out “vintage camera” on eBay.

Oh there’s a fourth group…Folks like me who accidently read a thread about it on one of the forums. I suspect many of our readers found out about the camera this way (fist bump) 🙂

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

I’m going to cut to the chase. I had three copies of the Karat. One with the highly regarded 50mm f/2 Schneider Xenon lens. And two with the even higher regarded and ever so mysterious 50mm f/2 Solagon.

The first Karat I bought was the IV with the mythical Solagon lens. The dealer stated it had a “recent CLA.” I also bought two more Karats off eBay for $25 and $35 respectively. They were both Karat 36 models. Now this is not a case of camera hoarding ( but it may be!) but just know I bought the IV first since it had a CLA and I never thought of buying another one until I found issues with the IV.

Anyway, all you need to know is that all three of them, including the one that supposedly had a CLA failed to work properly.

Ok, first issue to look for in these cameras is a stiff winding lever. The grease that Agfa used turns into gunk over the decades and becomes stiff as a rock. In my case, the $25 and $35 Karat 36’s exhbited this issue. I was able to remedy this somewhat with WD-40. The CLA’d Karat IV did not have this problem, which gave me some hope that it was indeed CLA’d.

The next issue is a stiff focusing lever. One of my two Karat 36 cameras exhibited this issue. I worked it again with tiny dashes of WD-40 and it helped, but not completely. One Karat 36 had a fogged up viewfinder. It was so bad I could not see anything. Again, the Karat IV did not exhibit these issues, again giving me hope.

But as I pressed that finely tuned shutter button on that CLA’d Karat IV, I began to see a problem. The shutter was inconsistent. It was sticking at random times. I tried to remedy this with the isopropyl alcohol/ lighter fluid route which seemed to help at first, but alas it was only temporary as the problem came back. I retried again. Same thing.

I came to the conclusion that none of these cameras were reliable enough for me to waste any film on them. I sold the two cheaper ones and got my money back and got only a partial refund on the CLA’d Karat. It was pass the refund deadline, partially due to me not using right away, having faith in the dealer. Faith no more.

Bottom Line

To the folks who have a good copy of this camera, please do not be mad at me. I’m only telling it like it is. Consider yourself lucky and enjoy a great camera.

Yes, I do understand that vintage cameras need CLA’s and all that. I’m not even going to count the two cheaper Karats I got, but they do add to my experience of the Karat.

The Karat IV that had or supposedly had a CLA, I could blame the dealer (and I do somewhat) but I suspect based on reading other accounts that these cameras do need frequent work. And if you do get one, you better use it often because leaving them idle will make things worse.

The Agfa Karat is a legendary series of cameras, made my Agfa, a Camera Legend. But in the end, three models of the Karat gave me nothing but false hope and lots of heartache. The Agfa Karat is without a doubt one of the best cameras I never knew.

If you decide to get one, catch your breath, try to get it cheap and make sure you have a dealer with a good refund policy. And probably most important of all, test it right away.

If you got a good copy of the camera, I’d love to hear from you! And listen, I’m a fair man; if I do get my copy working properly or find another one that works (not that I’m looking), then I will do right by the camera.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

The Agfa Karat can almost always be found on eBay. However, the ones with the famed 50mm f/2 Solagon are not as common although there is one that has been hanging on the auction site for months.

If you’re looking for one of these, and I don’t think that’s a good idea, prices are trending from $30-125. Though people may ask for higher prices, I don’t think the camera is worth that much, even with the Solagon.

My advice? Unless it’s from a reputable dealer like KEH, B&H, or Adorama, I wouldn’t bother. Save yourself the headaches 🙂

***THE SONY A9 MIRRORLESS IS HERE!!!***

Now here’s a camera that won’t let you down. Heck, for the price it better not! 🙂

When Sony puts a “9” onto one of their cameras, it indicates that this is their TOP camera. Just when you thought the A7RII was their top dog, no friends, it is the A9. This camera has such a high burst rate that you may finally leave your top EOS or Nikon bodies behind for that once in a lifetime shot. Superb image quality is a given with the Sony E mount cameras so I have no doubts about this aspect.

I hope to procure one for review, but chances are some of you readers will get one before I do. Our good friends HERE will be able to get the A9 as soon as it’s in stock as well as everything else you might want to go with the camera. It’s all in the link. Thanks for supporting Camera Legend!

Digital Manipulation Part I: Should You Use Digital Filters?

A few postings back I showed a color image from the Leica M8 and said that with some post processing and treatment, I could maybe, possibly turn the photo into something more dramatic. Well, I had some time to play with it and here’s the before and after:

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Now I know it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s certainly more “dramatic” than the first photo!

Ok the color shot on top was a straight out of camera jpeg from the M8 with a 50mm f/2 Summicron attached. The bottom b&w image is the same image processed through Google’s Analog Efex using a wet plate filter. It’s basically a digital filter attempting to emulate the look of a wet plate film print.

Seeing the image from a photographer’s perspective, I would certainly choose the “Plain Jane” straight out of camera color shot, but I do have to say that I did like the b&w conversion too. But that’s probably me being partial to the subjects 🙂

Anyway, it got me thinking this…if this image was a true wet plate photo, I’d wager that most photographers, even analog only photographers would accept it, maybe even think it was cool with all its grit and drama.

But since it’s a digital manipulation, they’d probably dismiss it. I can understand this. First of all, a true wet plate print requires a lot of work and people can respect the process. And most will give your props for that. Digital manipulation, digital filters, etc, are much easier in comparison.

Digital photography “purists” may not accept it either as using filters seem “fake” and especially now when people are on the “no filter” wave. Technology has made life easy, but people still seem to prefer hard.

So you get no respect from analog photographers and no respect from digital photography “purists.” So who would be the audience for this kind of digital manipulation? Why I’d bet my money on social media! Your friends on Facebook, Instagram, etc. I think images using these filters would be perfect for social media.

Why? You might think I’d say that the audience there don’t know any better, but I’m not saying that. Being on social media for many years, I can honestly say that while there are a lot of non photographers posting photos, there are also many, many hardcore photographers posting there as well. And many of these folks are very knowledgeable and would know that the photo has received some kind of “artificial” treatment.

The wonderful thing about social media though vs the photo forums is a general sense of acceptance for almost anything. The folks tend to view images on a broader scope, accepting the image as it is first. The process too sometimes helps to get the votes, the likes, etc, but if you didn’t mention it, they probably wouldn’t care and they’d probably accept it as is. But we photo geeks care about the process, don’t we? 🙂

On the negative side, there’s also a drive for votes and likes, so your followers will likely “like” your image anyway, whether they really like it or not.

Please understand, I am just using this image as an example, not because I think it’s a great photo or not. I love the photo because of the subjects, but I’d honestly say that to the general public it’s probably not a very interesting shot, even processed.

If it were me looking at this from an outsider’s eye, I would say there’s no way this is a real wet plate photo. Real wet plate photos are rarely ever this clean nor this sharp, though I have seen some sharp ones. They do tend to be dark, and the Analog Efex did a good job there.

In the end though, it has always been my belief that digital b&w started out of a desire to emulate film. As things evolved, it was no longer just about film but about achieving a look that is unique and different from everyone else. The incredibly high saturation of photographers in today’s world drives this desire even more.

All I can say is…

If you shoot film, continue to shoot it. You will always be a little different in today’s world and part of a wonderfully amazing and passionate brotherhood. But film can only take you so far in and of itself. Content is most important.

Content to me is subject, composition, and the overall “interesting-ness” of the photo. Technical quality is usually second. You can have a technically perfect photo that’s boring as hell and not many people will like it.

If you shoot digital, that’s awesome too but try to make your mark by content first. Again content is key. Interesting photos will always win over filters. And if you want to use filters, I have nothing against that. Just know that filters get old pretty fast so use them sparingly.

There is room for everybody and every style in the wonderful world of photography so let’s not lose any sleep over this. As long as you’re having fun, I’d say that’s good enough for me and it should be good enough for you 🙂

Future Flash: “Bright Eyes”

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Hello everybody. I’ve been away for spring break with the kiddies the past week, sorry I haven’t been able to get to you but you betcha I will!

Instead of a Flashback Friday posting, sometimes I like to do what I call “Future Flash” which I use to show a photo from a camera we are currently testing.

Today’s photo was shot with a Sigma DP2 Quattro. Yes, the funky looking thang from Sigma. Had it on loan for about a week and based on my experiences with Sigma cameras before, and based on the shots I have with it, I think it was enough to develop an opinion which I’ll share with you soon. Sorry this image does not demostrate the details and sharpness this camera and its fixed lens can do, but I do love the subjects 🙂

Anyway, want to wish you all a blessed Good Friday and a Happy Easter weekend. Even if you are not religious, even if you need more spiritual guidance like I do, we could all use a little more love, ain’t that right? 🙂

***THE SONY A9 MIRRORLESS IS HERE!!!***

When Sony puts a “9” onto one of their cameras, it indicates that this is their TOP camera. Just when you thought the A7RII was their top dog, no friends, it is the A9. This camera has such a high burst rate that you may finally leave your top EOS or Nikon bodies behind for that once in a lifetime shot.

I hope to procure one for review, but chances are some of you readers will get one before I do. Our good friends HERE will be able to get the A9 as soon as it’s in stock as well as everything else you might want to go with the camera. It’s all in the link. Thanks for supporting Camera Legend!

Photo Of The Day: “House On Greenwich Street”

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“House On Greenwich Street” 2009. Rolleiflex 2.8C, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar lens, Kodak T-Max 400 in T-Max Developer in NYC.

About eight years ago I was down in Greenwich Village and just happened to walk by this amazing home that seemed almost completely covered in leaves. It caught my eye and it’s hard to miss. I grabbed my trusty Rolleiflex 2.8C and took a photo of it.

At that time I was posting to photo forums and I titled it “House On Mockingbird Lane” as a tribute to the spooky Munsters television show. That’s the first thing that came to mind since the eery house seemed to be in the process of being “eaten” by the growing leaves. I’m a big fan of these homes covered in leaves and this was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

It was many years later that I discovered the house actually belonged to the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz who was still the owner at that time! She has since sold the place, which I think consisted of three buildings and was called a “compound” by the local papers. As you may or may not know, Annie has photographed Kings and Queens, pro athletes and presidents. She has done it all in photography.

If you want to look at more pictures of the place, search for “755 Greenwich Street.” Quite awesome to see that place in person and then to learn that it belonged to a world famous photographer. That’s why I say…always carry a camera! 🙂

 

Photo Of The Day: “EyeZ”

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Always trying to improve my digital black and white images. Digital photography spawned from an attempt or desire to escape the giant shadow of film, but as they say “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” Lots of people genuinely miss the look of film, but not the work involved to shoot, process and develop it, thus since the early days of digital, people have been attemting to create “film-like” images on this modern platform.

I’ve shot film for a long time and I’ve come to accept that you just cannot duplicate film completely, it’s got its own special thing, but digital black and white can have its own charm as well. I’ve so far resisted the urge to use popular software such as Silver Efex Pro, instead I try to tune each pic to my taste by playing with the levels, curves, etc, in Photoshop. I’m not quite happy with my efforts on the whole, but I’ll keep trying.

One thing I can tell you that works well for me is to use old or older lenses on my digital cameras in this effort. I find it gives me a head start. This one was shot with the original Canon EOS-1Ds 11mp camera introduced in 2002 and reviewed on these pages. The lens used was a Contax 50mm f/1.4 MM  Zeiss Planar. If you like using “alt” lenses as I do, that’s cool and you know it’s incredibly fun! I’m going to try to do an article for you on this subject. And as I said, I’ll keep trying to find the best formula for filmic digital black & white, even if such a thing might not exist. If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun! Have a great day good peeps and get out them cameras 🙂

***DEAL ALERT***

From time to time, our media affiliates will send us deals they have going on and since I do not want to burden you good people with advertisement, I decide whether or not to tell you about it. And believe me, the majority of the time I choose not to plug it, much the chagrin of our media friends 🙂

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“Standing Strong” 2013. Fuji X-Pro 1, Canon 35mm f/1.8 ltm. I’ve used the Fuji X-Pro 1 for some time. It’s an outstanding camera with its native Fuji lenses, but is a pain to use with legacy manual lenses such as the Canon I used here. The Fuji X-T1 that I’m talking about in the article is a much better body for this purpose.

Just like you, I know no one likes it when you plug an ad or ask you to click a link, but you should know too writing and equipment reviews take a lot of time and cost money, most of which I spend on my own to give you the best info I can and I do this for free. No one ever sent me a piece of equipment to write about. But that’s ok, I love this thing, that’s why I do it and I can and will always remain objective.

If you buy anything through our links, I don’t get much, if at all, but every little bit adds to help this site grow. And it costs you nothing to do so. Especially if you’re planning to buy the stuff anyway, it’s a win-win.

Anyway, today we got some screaming deals!! Sometimes you get deals and sometimes you get duds. This is a real deal yes! Most of you will know that the Fuji X-T1 is an awesome and capable top end camera that produces amazing pics and it usually goes for $1299. For a limited time, you can now get it brand new for $799!! Ho! $500 off plus other savings through our partners. If you ever wanted to get the Fuji X-T1, this is it. Check out this and other Fuji Deals and if you do get one, drop back here and let me know how you liked it. I bet you’ll love it! Thank you very much, I appreciate your support.

Also a sale on the superb Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 HERE

And instant rebates on the hot new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Photo Of The Week: “Trumped”

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“Trumped” 2016. Fuji X-Pro 1, Fuji XF 35mm f/1.4 lens.

Here’s a photo that I think best sums up the week. This is not meant to be a photo award winner nor is it a technical tour de force in any way. It’s just a photo that best sums up my week 🙂

Now it’s not my place to take sides or even talk about politics here on a site like Camera Legend, but ah what the heck…

It was amazing, though actually not surprising to see President Trump’s failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, which is in no way perfect either. Health care is tough.

Again, it’s not my desire to take sides or get into any political debates. Just speaking for me, Republicans/Democrats, they’re pretty much the same to me. Just like the late great Lemmy once said…”You win some, you lose some, it’s all the same to me.”

They may have very different agendas, but in the end they all produce about the same crap, and a lot of it 🙂

The “closer,” the deal maker par excellence was not able to cut this deal. They tried to blame the Democrats, but that won’t fly with majority Republican control on the Hill. They actually pulled the bill because he didn’t even have enough Republican support! How about that? Personally, I think it was rushed and perhaps Ryan can be blamed for that, but when you’re President, the bottom line lies with you.

I think the President learned a very hard lesson this week and it is this…

No one can change how Washington D.C. is run. Many have tried, none have been able to get it done. Yes Virginia, there is a reason why you sometimes need to be a politician to make deals in Washington. I’m betting after four years the President will be a politician par excellence! Then what will happen? We’ll just have another politician in the White House, as it was always meant to be 🙂

***DEAL ALERT***

From time to time, our media affiliates will send us deals they have going on and since I do not want to burden you good people with advertisement, I decide whether or not to tell you about it. And believe me, the majority of the time I choose not to plug it, much the chagrin of our media friends 🙂

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“Standing Strong” 2013. Fuji X-Pro 1, Canon 35mm f/1.8 ltm. I’ve used the Fuji X-Pro 1 for some time. It’s an outstanding camera with its native Fuji lenses, but is a pain to use with legacy manual lenses such as the Canon I used here. The Fuji X-T1 that I’m talking about in the article is a much better body for this purpose.

Just like you, I know no one likes it when you plug an ad or ask you to click a link, but you should know too writing and equipment reviews take a lot of time and cost money, most of which I spend on my own to give you the best info I can and I do this for free. No one ever sent me a piece of equipment to write about. But that’s ok, I love this thing, that’s why I do it and I can and will always remain objective.

If you buy anything through our links, I don’t get much, if at all, but every little bit adds to help this site grow. And it costs you nothing to do so. Especially if you’re planning to buy the stuff anyway, it’s a win-win.

Anyway, today we got a screaming deal!! Sometimes you get deals and sometimes you get duds. This is a real deal yes! Most of you will know that the Fuji X-T1 is an awesome and capable top end camera that produces amazing pics and it usually goes for $1299. For a limited time, you can now get it brand new for $799!! Ho! $500 off plus other savings through our partners. If you ever wanted to get the Fuji X-T1, this is it. Check out this and other Fuji Deals and if you do get one, drop back here and let me know how you liked it. I bet you’ll love it! Thank you very much, I appreciate your support.

Flashback Friday March 24, 2017 Edition: M8 Pic & The End Of Pop Photo Magazine

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“Shout For Spring” 2016. Leica M8, 50mm f/2 Summicron-M.

Spring just arrived this week. I’m not sure about you, but I just don’t get to take many pictures in the winter. Not for a lack of things to take pictures of, but I just don’t find myself going to places that would make me want to take photos. Spring is more my thing! Hopefully, we’ll get to try some stuff we’re wanting to review and come back with some decent pics.

The above photo was taken last spring with a Leica M8 and 50mm f/2 Summicron-M. This is just straight from the camera. With a little post-processing, one could possibly turn this into something more dramatic and if I were still posting to photo sites, I might have done that but I find it too time consuming these days.

The M8 raw files or even jpegs have a crisp, chrome like quality when shot in color and can be very filmic in black and white.

Knock on wood, the M8, she looks fragile at first but has proven to be one heck of a durable and reliable camera. Knock on wood again!

I’m sure many of you wouldn’t mind another M8 review, just as I wouldn’t, and I’m going to try to give it to you someday. But let me just say when I first got it in 2010, I truly did not think I’d have it this long or that it would even last this long! Don’t wait for me, if you find a good deal at a good price with a good warranty go for it. M8 rocks!

THE END OF POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE

Well, it was announced about two weeks ago that Popular Photography, aka Pop Photo magazine would cease production after 80 years. They started in 1937 and was a mainstay at newstands here in the USA, and I’ve seen it in Asia too. Their sister publication American Photo has also been cancelled. I’m only talking about Pop Photo in this article.

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Popular Photography Magazine has come to an end. This 1997/1998 Buyer’s Guide was one of the last issues I actually bought. RIP Pop Photo!

I guess we should have known this was coming when they started changing to a bi-monthly publication recently, that’s never a good sign.

As a nostalgic fool, it saddens me a little to see them go. The magazine was very much responsible for keeping my interest in photography in the 80s and 90s. I loved those Nikon F3 and Minolta X-700 ads!

Then in the early 1990s, I remember spending hours in the college library reading nearly every copy of Pop Photo they had and it renewed my interest in photography, after a brief loss of interest. I know I should’ve been reading my school books instead, maybe this was the reason for my below-average grades 🙂

The magazine also served to fuel my G.A.S. even then as a poor college student. All those nice equipment photos, all those glowing reviews!

Yet it was those glowing reviews that made them lose some credibility to some people. I learned that the hard way. Back in the 90s Nikon came out with a headline grabbing super-zoom, the 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-D.

I got one based on one of their reviews. It was an impressive looking lens with its large 72mm filter size. After using it for a while though, I remember being very disappointed with this lens. Even with my then still learning eyes, I could tell this lens was sub-par on my N90s. I sold it and got the 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AF Nikkor which was a much better lens.

However, I still picked up the magazine or (actually if I may admit) looked at it every month at Barnes & Nobles, Borders, or whatever bookstore carried it. You got to remember this was pre internet days and this was one of the few ways to read about cameras, lenses, and photography back then.

I loved the articles from the late, great Herbert “Burt” Keppler. He was the main man at Pop Photo and a Camera Legend. He would write in this straight-up style that only a New Yorker could relate to. I remember I was over the moon when he sent me back a hand written response to a question I sent in. Sadly, he passed away in 2008.

As the years progressed, I would still look at the magazine, but it was usually for a quick glance and nothing more. I began to lose interest in the magazine as I could read better things online.

People used to trash them as a “rag” and only there to make money because of all those ads. In their defense, I would say come on now, they are Pop Photo after all and anything “Pop” is all about the masses. Just like pop music, yes they have to make some money.

They did attempt to give you reviews with some backup. They had this “SQF” (Subjective Quality Factor) thing on their lens reviews which were based on MTF charts I think. But it clearly stated “Subjective” so you had to be careful.

The thing with Pop Photo is that you had to read between the lines to figure out for yourself what they’re trying to say. They probably didn’t want to burn any bridges with their advertisers. For example, you might read in the article that a camera’s high iso was generally good, but look at their chart and it says “Unacceptable.” If you see that, then you know “unacceptable” is the real answer. It wasn’t that hard.

I found Pop Photo to be a much more enjoyable read than many other competing magazines. For example, if you compare Petersen’s Photographic to Pop Photo, there’s no comparison. Petersen’s reads like a rehash of the manufacturers brochure. Shutterbug was generally ok,  a little bit better than Pop Photo, but not much. My favorite photography magazines by far were those fancy British magazines and of course the awesome Japanese magazines. I can’t read a lick of Japanese, but I loved the photos!

Anyway, in today’s virtual world it should really come as no surprise to see Pop Photo go. Just like books, music, porn, etc, the internet killed everything real or “real” as we knew it. It’s still unclear whether they will continue as a website.

I hope they will, but speaking for myself, I never found their website engaging enough to keep my interest as the magazine did. Just like many old school companies, transitioning from the real to virtual world did not seem easy for Pop Photo. I think if they hired some real pros to refurnish their site, they could turn it around. They had a huge audience for their magazine, especially back in the day. It would be a shame if someone at the top could not capitalize on that and keep it running.

As it is right now, RIP Pop Photo. You were a great source of inspiration back in the day. Thank you.