Agfa Billy-Clack - An Art Deco Masterpiece

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by ralf_j., Nov 14, 2008.

  1. I came across this Agfa Billy-Clack and could not resist its Art Deco charm. The black enamel face with gold intersecting lines definitely earns this unit a place of honor in the art deco period of the 1930s. This particular unit is model nr. 74 and was produced in 1934. It yields 6x9 negatives on regular 120 film. The decor on the body was not in top shape as the front standard was, as part of the enamel had already peeled off, nevertheless the remaining chrome/enamel combination still had some of its charm very much alive.
    As a camera it is very similar to the Kodak Jiffy, its direct competitor, however it lacks the simplistic range focusing that the Jiffy offers. It has two shutter speeds, Time and Instant, accessed through a swing lever behind the front plate with the instant setting indicated by a period and the timed setting by a dash(curious indeed). The instant shutter speed is somewhere between 1/30s-1/40s. It also offers three aperture settings by the way of three waterhouse stops from f/11-f/22. Unlike in the Jiffy, Agfa took out the guess work and clearly identified the aperture values on the front plate next to the lever that activates them. The lens is a doublet type with two elements and obviously, uncoated. The focus is fixed and the images are sharp from 8 feet to ∞
    Part of the fun when getting a simple camera like this, is the servicing and cleaning part. The seller was honest and had advertised the positives and the negatives properly. The aperture lever was stuck and the haze and dust had to be cleaned out of the body and lens surfaces.
    I removed the 4 screws on each corner and took off the front plate. That gave me access to the shutter, landscape and portrait viewfinder mirrors, and the stuck aperture lever. The front element also came loose in my hand as well. The aperture lever was simply stuck due to the common effect of metals binding together from extended period of non use. A couple of droplets of lighter fluid made the lever move again with slight pressure, and a tiny-tiny droplet of watch oil was applied to the moving joint. This ensured a smooth operation. The same process was followed with the shutter's tension spring after the ancient grit was wiped off. I cleaned up the mirrors, and both lens elements on both surfaces with Zeiss lens fluid. Once finished, I assembled it back together and had it ready for an outing. All photos were taken at the Coney Island boardwalk on Bergger 200 film.
    Coney Island Parachute Tower
    1/30s, f/22 through Walz Yellow(Y2) filter on Bergger 200
    Astroland Park
    1/30s, f/16 through Walz Yellow(Y2) filter on Bergger 200
    The School Bus Depot
    1/30s, f/16 through Walz Yellow(Y2) filter on Bergger 200
    A Dreary Day over 5th Avenue
    1/30s, f/16 on Bergger 200
    While I like the tones on the French made Bergger 200, the film base coils into a tight tube which makes the scanning process a nightmare. Just thought I'd let you know.
  2. Beautiful camera and beautiful pictures from it. The Biliar lens certainly seems sharp enough.

    Nice work, thanks for sharing

  3. Thank you for the kind words Chas, much appreciate it.
  4. Nice work with that neat old camera. The close similarity to the Kodak Jiffy can't just be a coincidence,
    but I suppose the details of that story are buried in corporate archives. That eye-level finder is a nice
    feature that the 620 Jiffy didn't have, though Kodak did stick one on the little bakelite 127 model. Being
    able to shoot 120 film is also a plus.<br> &nbsp;&nbsp; I'm curious about the lenses on these cameras.
    My Jiffy's Twindar is also a two-element design with the shutter in the middle. That is the same
    configuration as the Rapid Rectilinear which was a very capable optic. I guess it's time I put some film
    through mine.
  5. Delightful post.
  6. Fantastic. Thanks for sharing the pictures!
  7. Excellent Ralf! I love the pictures of the camera (which does look just like the Jiffy) but I really like the pictures you took with it. This is a pretty capable camera, isn't it? The way that last shot is composed and shot it looks like it was taken 50 years ago...nice job with all of these.
  8. Nice shots with a great looking camera Ralf. I used to use Efke 25 which curls up the same way as the Bergger, drives you crazy. I proof my films by just laying them on the paper and placing the glass on top, a real challenge with your films bouncing around the darkroom!

  9. You're doing beautiful work.. those shots just jump!! I love the cloud effects. I have a similar Kodak
    Jiffy that due to film compatibilty is waiting.. your post is just super!! I can't get over how clean and
    shiny the camera comes across.. love that Bilinar.. lens!! Clack Clack Clack!!
  10. VERY nice!
  11. Hi Mike - thanks for the nice comments and your thoughts. I have had some fun with the Jiffy too, I just think the Billy-Clack is built a little better.<p>

    Thanks Gene; gotta try the Jem Jr. next ;-)<p>

    JD - thanks for the nice comments, one of my satisfactions in life is sharing photos with you folks here in our classic forum.<p>

    Andy - thanks for the pleasant comments. The camera is pretty, but limitted, and it is that limitation which offers some of the charm, because you have to plan your shoot around the limitations of the camera, such as using slower film, or a filter to cut down the light transimission due to the slow shutter, smallest aperture, etc etc. <p>

    Thanks Tony - Bergger looks very similar to Forte and curls up just the same. I swore, I would not buy another roll of it again, but then again, I don't want them to disappear, so I will support them when I can and hopefully they will come to their senses and use a different film base.<p>

    Thanks Chuck - The Yellow filter did help and i think it is a must for these shoots. I search the world wide web over and over and could not see samples taken with the Bilinar, so I made my own experience with it; thanks again.
  12. Thanks for the comments James.
  13. Absolutely terrific post. I'm surprised your bellows were okay -- that's what I always worry about with Agfas of this period, and the main reason I shy away from these. Anything that pretty might be worth the gamble, though. Wonderful photos.
  14. August - thanks for the nice comments. I agree with what you are saying about the bellows, I have seen quite a few of them with consumed corners, but I think these occurrences were more with the post war Agfa folders like the Isolettes. I have 3 Agfa Billies now, from the 1930s era, and all of them seem to have much higher quality bellows(possibly leather) and have certainly fared a lot better than their descendands of the 50s and 60s. The Billy-Clack was worth every penny of the $10.99 I paid for it, 1) for the pleasant experience it provided in the outing, 2) for the sheer satisfaction to restore it back to working order. Regards
  15. Beautiful camera, Ralf, and an interesting restoration project. As a lover of most things Art Deco, it would win a place on my bookshelf, and the fact that it works is a bonus. Thanks for sharing. A more modern equivalent design icon which I currently have in a place of pride is a tan and chrome Polaroid SX-70....Both cameras, to me, typify an era of design.
  16. Thanks for the comment Rick, I encourage you to get one, they are quite pretty.

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