A mysterious member of Agfa’s 35mm Optima family from early 80’s packs a nice f/2.8 lens, automatic exposure, flash, and a huge orange button. What else do you need, really?
A little ago I spotted a particularly clumsy looking and even clumsily named Agfa camera at a second hand store. I had never seen a camera quite like it, and not even a quick google on the spot brought any clarity of its pedigree or quality. But, it was only 8 Euros, so I picked it up, not even expecting it to work, because the shutter seemed to need batteries to work.
It has a 40mm f/2.8 Solitar lens. The focal length is really versatile, as it’s not as tight cropped as 50mm, letting you shoot easier in closed spaces and indoors, and the wide maximum aperture lets you shoot at ease, even with inadequate lighting. It can focus as near as 0.9 meters, and around the lens is a ring for adjusting the ISO setting, from ISO 25 to ISO 400. The shutter is electronic however, so the Optima needs batteries or it’s completely useless. Fortunately, all it needs is two regular AAA batteries.
My favourite thing about the Optima is a massive, incredibly bright viewfinder that lets you compose delicious shots with ease. The viewfinder also has a little red light on that indicates whether or not you should use a flash or not when you press the shutter halfway down – however, it’s very much on the edge of the viewfinder and disappears easily if you look from a wrong angle. I couldn’t even notice it while shooting my first roll! The flash itself is a big bulk sitting on top of the camera, it’s hinged and you need to “open” it up to prepare it for use. Oh, and it has a tripod mount on the side, rather peculiarly.
The insides of the camera are even more peculiar. Unlike most 35mm cameras, the roll is loaded on the right, and the tail is slid through a little opening into a sealed chamber, where all the exposured frames sit safe. I only assume this is to prevent light messing the film up if you accidentally open the back. However, this would also let you purposedly leak single frames, leaving the rest of the film that you have already shot untouched! After finishing a roll, you must very awkwardly push down and rotate a button under the flash to engage rewind mode. Then just crank the film advance lever repeatedly to wind it back into the canister!
The Optima, which I had very low expectations of, surprisingly impressed me throughoutly after the first run! Not being sure if the little thing was even functional and afraid of pulling out a blank roll of film from the developing tank, the pictures turned out very nicely and the f/2.8 lens took care of even the darkest situations on heavy overcast day. This one is a total keeper!