Agfa Silette – Sound and inexpensive 35mm
Anyone interested in collecting and using old film cameras is bound to run into models from the Agfa Silette range in second-hand stores and junk shops. There are also plenty of them available on internet auction sites. These well made little zone focus cameras usually sell very cheaply. They are fun to use but are manual only so you will have to either guess correct exposure or use a separate light meter. See Light Meter Not Working for help and advice on using a meter-less camera.
Agfa Silettes were first made in Munich, Germany from 1953 onwards. Many different models were introduced with various features and shutter/lens combinations. Agfa continued the Silette name until 1974 though the later models bare little physical resemblance to the earlier models.
From 1955 Agfa also made Super Silettes which are rangefinder cameras. They look very similar but have a second rangefinder window.
There was even an interchangeable lens version of the Agfa Super Silette called the Agfa Ambi Silette made between 1957 and 1961. Agfa made four lenses for the Ambi Silette: A Color-Solinar 50mm f/2.8, and 35mm, 90mm, and 130mm lenses all with a maximum aperture of f4. From user reviews, I have read on the internet the Agfa Ambi Silette, and its lenses are excellent. But the camera has a few odd features like a wide shutter door that drops down to cover the viewfinder and an odd Ambi Silette lens mount system that obviously won’t accept lenses from other manufacturers. As I mentioned above all the Agfa Silettes sell for quite low prices compared to the cameras from other manufacturers of the day.
Getting back to the Agfa Silette in this article. This is a very basic camera. Lets start with what it hasn’t got that cameras usually have. Before loading the film, when you have the rewind crank pulled up above the top of the camera, you set the film speed dial so as to remember which ISO film speed is in the camera. Your forefinger turns a milled wheel under the knob to adjust the reading. You have to remember to do this before loading a film. The only problem is the film ASA speed range marks are 8, 40, 100, 160, COL ND, COL NT, COL RT, COL RD. This isn’t much use if you are using 400 films. I get around this by sticking a short length of masking tape to the back of the camera with the film speed details written on it. When I remove the film I tear the tape off.
When I got the Agfa Silette the Compur Rapid shutter was sticking badly. It was only firing intermittently. I spent an hour or so “exercising” the shutter by winding on and pressing the shutter release without film in the camera. A couple of hundred shutter clicks really loosened it up. Now it only sticks occasionally on the slower speeds below 1/8th of a second. Though not ideal I can live with that!
The tape on the back also reminds me that there is a film in the camera – a wise precaution if you won’t be using it for a while. I’ve lost count of how many times I have accidentally opened a camera having forgotten there was still unexposed film inside!
The film exposure counter doesn’t reset automatically when you open the camera back. Instead after loading a new film and closing the back you have to turn the inner milled ring on top of the rewind lever to the A position. Next wind on twice, pressing the shutter each time, until the number 1 comes in line with the index mark. Now you are ready to take your first exposure.
There is no hot-shoe for mounting a modern electronic flash.
The Agfa Apotar lens is a triplet (3 glass elements). Photographs taken with this camera are sharp with good contrast.
Lens: Agfa Colour Agnar F1:3.5, 45mm, Shutter: Vario.
Shutter speed range: B, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 250 and 500th of a second.
Available Aperture Settings: F3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, and 16.