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.
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.
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!