Agfa Super Solinette: Lightweight Fun
The Agfa Super Solinette is a pleasant little folding camera that punches out great photos without getting in your way.
Arriving in the early 1950s, the Super Solinette is made of lightweight metal and came with several lens and shutter combinations. The top of the line Super Solinette featured a coated Solinar (Tessar variant) set in a Synchro Compur shutter. Other cameras had an Apotar (triplet) lens with either a Prontor or Compur shutter. I've also seen the Solinar with a Prontor shutter.
Here's one oddity about this Solinette series: I've seen the Super Solinette and the Solinette II, but I've yet to come across a Solinette I. Was there one? I don't know. A Web search turns up references to the Solinette, but the pictured camera always turns out to be the Solinette II. I'll keep looking and see if I can find one.
The Solinette series was very close in design to Agfa's Isolette 120-film cameras, and you can see the similarity by placing the cameras side by side. The primary difference (other than the film format) is the body covering. The Isolette tended to have a ribbed material, while the Solinette used a very thin leather.
Getting back to the Super Solinette, the design of the lens bed is very good, as the lens snaps securely into position. In fact, I've found it to be extremely rigid with zero play in the bed. And this is true of both Solinette models.
Focusing the Super Solinette is accomplished by turning a serrated dial at the base of the lens/shutter. The camera has a unified viewfinder and rangefinder, and objects easily snap in and out of focus.
The near symmetrical design of the Super Solinette is pleasing to the eye, and most of the controls are logically placed. Note that the lens bed release is on the side of the camera. The addition of the rangefinder components made it impossible for the release to be on the top deck, as it is with the Solinette II.
The shutter release is just where you would expect it and requires just the right amount of pressure and travel to release. On the back of the camera is the rewind switch, which also does double duty as the button for resetting the frame counter.
This particular camera uses the EV system. The shutter is nearly identical to what you'll find on the Retina C/c models. If you look in the top photo, you can see the EV numbers in red on the bottom of the shutter face. Overriding the EV system is very simple.
Using the camera is very simple. Open the door by pulling down the latch on the left side just below the lens door release. Pull up on the rewind knob, insert your roll of film and push the rewind knob down to secure it. Pull out the leader of the film and feed it into the slot of the takeup spool. Make sure the film engages the sprocket -- the shaft only has sprockets on the top. Advance the film about 1/4 turn and close the back.
Reset the frame counter by sliding the switch just to the right of the eyepiece and push the little silver stud to increment the counter (just in front of the accessory shoe) until it reaches "A." Now, wind the film until it stops, tension and release the shutter and repeat until the frame counter reaches "1." As with all film cameras, make sure the rewind knob rotates as you advance to frame 1.
I've found that the easiest way to use the camera is to hold it with both hands and use the index finger of your left hand and the middle finger of your right hand to push the focusing dial to the left or right. Your right index finger should be poised on the release. Remember that you'll need to manually tension the shutter before you can take a photo. Don't block the rangefinder window!
To rewind, move that little switch to the left and press and hold the small silver stud while turning the rewind knob.
To close the lens bed, hold the camera against your body and use your thumbs to press down on the two serrated protrusions on either side of the shutter. Use your index fingers to push the door upward and then close the camera.
That's it. There are very few surprises with the Super Solinette, and that's a nice compliment for any camera.
As is typical with nearly ALL Agfa cameras from this era, it is necessary to remove the hardened green lubricating grease in the focusing helical. Often, you'll have to soak it to try to soften this stuff -- not sure what other word to use to describe it. But it's very common for these cameras to not be able to focus at all until it's been serviced.
Check the bellows to ensure they are light tight. Some cameras might have leather bellows, but many will have plastic, and the plastic ones are notorious for developing holes in the corners.
As with any rangefinder system that uses mirrors, be very careful when cleaning the semi-gilded mirror. It's the one just in front of the eyepiece -- not the one off to the side. If you remove the coating, the rangefinder will no longer operate properly or at all.
The Super Solinette and the Solinette II use a unit-focusing lens, which in theory should give better results than a front-cell focusing design. Ironically, its bigger sibling -- the Isolette -- mostly used front-cell focusing.
I found this camera a real joy to use and to carry. Its light weight made it easy to slip into the pocket of a jacket and in a pinch into my jeans pocket. The somewhat quirky way of focusing wasn't an impediment. The rangefinder system is quick and easy to use.
As with most cameras from this era, the viewfinder has no frame lines, so you're pretty much guessing on framing, especially for closeups. Remember to compensate for parallax, if you can.
The Solinar is a very nice lens and works well with closeups without giving those round out-of-focus backgrounds that you often get with a Tessar. But like a Tessar, it shows plenty of detail right out to the corners. The coated lens did very well. I didn't get any flaring despite the front element sitting very close to the front of the lens. Even so, I'll probably use the lens shade that came with the camera on my next outing.
The leaf shutter is pleasantly quiet although not silent. And there is a muted click-click-click as you advance the film. On occasion, I forgot to tension the shutter, but it wasn't a big deal. You can't release the shutter without first tensioning it, so you don't waste a shot -- you just miss your shot. Hmm.
These are shot on Kodak Gold 200: