Agfa Ambi Silette + Color Solinar 50mm f2.8 Short review and test shots

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by maciek_stankiewicz, Mar 12, 2012.

  1. Here are my first (and second) impressions after playing with "new" Agfa Ambi Silette...

    For those who don't know Ambi Silette:
    Agfa Ambi Silette is a "system" rangefinder introduced in 1957. It was a high end rangefinder with switchable frame lines in the viewfinder and line of five beautiful lenses:

    - Standard: 50mm f2.8 Color Solinar
    - Wide: 35mm f4 Color Ambion
    - Standard: 50mm f2 Color Solagon (for rich people)
    - Tele: 90mm f4 Color Telinear
    - Tele: 130mm f4 Color Telinear

    My example is in VG+ condition. Everything works together with 1 second and the self-timer.
    Quality and feel:

    Camera is quite heavy, with nice feel. Very well built, You can feel it especially while cocking the shutter, hearing the sound of expensive Synchro-Compur shutter, looking thru the viewfinder...
    But there is more details that shows QUALITY: Rangefinder cover's inner surface is covered with black suede (velvet), and the part sliding on the lens' collar transferring the movement to rangefinder: It's like a big ballpoint pen!!! It's not only a metal tip, sliding on the flat surface, it's like a ball bearing! Now, that's luxurious!
    Nice big switch on the top is switching frame lines for a particular lens (35 - 50 - 90).
    Another thing (don't laugh)... On the cold-shoe plate is a engraved serial number... I don't know if it's engraved, stamped or whatever... Lines are thinner than human hair and without any pressing or engraving marks... That's quite thrilling... No money saving here...
    On the winding lever there is a nice round frame counter counting backwards (frames left).
    On the rewind knob you have a window where you can set film ISO, just to remember.
    One more thing; Under the lens, by the lens release bytton, there is a small plate that You can pull-out for additional camera support, especially when longer lenses are attached. Nice!
    Winding action says QUALITY, with spring being quite strong. Shutter release is very soft, actually too soft for me, like very weak spring, but that's fine, no complains here...


    50mm f2.8 Color Solinar lens have the opinion of an excellent lens. Agfa had different lens classes, from inexpensive Agnar, thru the more luxurious Apotar to high-end Solinar. Solagon was the highest quality lens, very rare and expensive, like Voigtlander's Color-Skopar being High-end and Ultron being the highest-end.
    My example is very clean, with clear glass and rings rotating nicely. There is a small dent on the filter's thread...

    Lens' Performance:

    For the test I used (as always) fresh Fuji Superia 100, Very good, inexpensive film made in Japan.
    Exposure was metered with trusty Canonet GIII or digital P&S Canon S90.


    Well, I'm quite disappointed with this lens...
    First what suprised me was a vignetting... At 2.8 this lens vignettes as hell. Also corner sharpness is not that good... Something You might expect from old F2 lens, not f2.8... Vitomatic's Color Skopar is much better... I got two Vitomatics IIa, and they got excellent lenses...
    The good thing is that center of the picture is always tack-sharp, from f2,8. But center of the image isn't everything... After composing and shooting with excellent SLR lenses (Minolta MD, Konica Hexanon) it's clear, that this lens isn't excellent...
    I think optically it's well adjusted. I did a simple test setting lens at 1m and measuring distance between object - film plane with measuring tape. Picture (business card) came out fine. On the same picture You can see very nice bokeh...
    I may sound like I'm complaining about this lens, but when stopped down to f5.6 it delivers excellent results. I know, at f5.6 every lens should perform nicely... But knowing that You can have very high quality out of this lovely system...
    Especially last image ("Sunny day") shoot at f5.6, maybe f8 looks excellent.

    Bottom Line...
    If You fall in love with this camera and remember to stop-down the lens to f5.6 You will be more than happy. Agfa Ambi Silette is a High-end camera that will probably never let You down...

    OK, now the pictures, for Your Viewing Pleasure:

  2. Top, with a film reminder, frame-lines switch, cold-shoe, frame counter showing "14"
  3. Close focus / Bokeh lens test...
  4. Lens' corner sharpness test. (Scene metered with digital Canon s90).
  5. Corner sharpness test @ f2.8 (100% crop, no adjustments) - Bad...
  6. Corner sharpness test @ f4 (100% crop, no adjustments) - Better
  7. Corner sharpness test @ f5.6 (100% crop, no adjustments) - Nice
  8. Corner sharpness test @ f8 (100% crop, no adjustments) - Very Nice!
  9. Corner sharpness test @ f11 (100% crop, no adjustments) - NOW WE ARE TALKIN' !
  10. Old City, Warsaw...
    (metered with digital Canon S90)
  11. Old City, Warsaw @ f8 Original size.
  12. "Sunny Day" (f5.6, maybe f8)
    This picture suprised me a lot... Excellent sharpness, no vignetting, excellent quality.
    Scene metered with Canon Canonet GIII rangefinder. hand-held.
  13. Full size (original scan).
  14. OK, That's all. I hope You enjoyed the review...
    Please share Your opinion about this fine camera.

  15. Hi, Maciek Thanks for an interesting post! I'd like to make a couple of points, being an Ambi Silette owner myself. Firstly - do you find the flap over the RF window a d**m nuisance? Some folks did, and even went so far as to remove it. Secondly, I think you're wrong about the F2 Solagon being an option additional lens for the Ambi Silette. AFAIK, the F2 Solagon was an option for the Super Silette, but fixed to the camera. The matter of just why the six elelement F2 Solagon wasn't supplied with 1/c lens mount for the Ambi has come up before on the Forum, and the concencus was that its FL would have had to be lengthened to maybe 60mm to endable the rear elements to clear the shutter leaves. There just wasn't enough space to cram all that glass in! Lastly, I'm surprised you're getting such a vignetting problem with the F2.8 Solinar at wide aperture settings, as it's a highly regarded lens and ws offered as an option for several AGFAs including the Karat and Super Silette. Maybe it needs some close examination to see if something isn't quite right? Firstly though, you should try and borrow another F2.8 Solinar and try a film out with various large aperture settings to see if you get the same vignetting. Clearly if you get clear and sharp photos right to the corners, the finger must point at your lens having a problem. By the way, I have an original Ambi Silette IB so if you need any pages scanned, jsut ask. (Pete In Perth)
  16. Peter, Thanks for Your comment.
    I didn't find rangefinder cover annoying, It's OK, I don't think Ambi Silette is for fast snap-shots. If I prefer to be ready, I would keep cover open, no complains here :)
    Yes, I checked several different resources and You are right, Solagon was designed for different cameras.
    My apologies here.
    Speaking of Vignetting... That 1m close-focus test shows that lens is properly assembled, and there's no marks on the screws... If someone would disassemble and mess with lenses, then lens wouldn't pass that tough 1m test (lens set at 1m and object 1m from the film plane).
    Looks like most of beautiful pictures from Solinar were shoot at higher apertures. I performed a test with mint example of the lens and looks like I can expect more...
    Remember that it's hard to judge the lens without test-shots, just showing nice pictures... I like to do it by testing, with the tripod etc... I shoot the same scenes with Voigtlanders so I'm sure they are little better than my example of Ambi Silette... But the build quality of Ambi Silette showing that it may be one of a greatest workhorses among classic cameras...
  17. Maciek,
    An interesting and comprehensive review. I was unable to find a test of this camera but did find an ad in Modern Photography Sept 1958.
  18. Well done.
    Nice report, nice camera, nice examples.
  19. Interchangeable lens leaf-shutter cameras have to deal with the problem that the hole in the leaf shutter is SMALL. That's not a problem when the shutter is in the lens at the aperture plane. That's a big problem when the shutter has to be behind the rear element of the lens. I'd say that's the root cause of the optical limitations of the lens.
  20. I have a couple of these cameras with the 35mm and the 90mm lenses. They are great little compact cameras with very good lenses. The only gripes are that viewfinder cover, which I don't like, and the film advance lever which is hard to grab and a little sharp as well.
    The Solinar is a Tessar type lens, which even in the best iterations, is not going to be much good wide open. Needs at least 2 stops down to shine, as you have found out. Great report and excellent shots of that beautiful city.
  21. Great documentation, Maciek. Like Tony, I have an Ambi Silette or two, though both of them have suffered the customary loss of plating/paint on the flap and look a little unsightly. I really like the solid build of the camera and the precise handling, though the lenses, other than the Solagon, are adequate but not startling. The Solinar crops up on a variety of cameras of that era, and is certainly a decent performer in the mid-stops, as you've ably demonstrated. Thanks for a fine post.
  22. I found this listing for the camera in a 1960 catalog from a German dealer called Photo Rahn.
  23. the main cause of vignetting is due to the shutter being of the behind-the-lens leaf type.
    the shutter blades position and varying open/close speed through out their travel, are the culprit.
    I expect similar effect on the kodak retina-retina reflex cameras, but have no direct experience.

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