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A 35mm Twin Lens Reflex
The 1960 Agfa Flexilette (sold in the USA as the Agfa Reflex) was the penultimate 35mm TLR: a short-lived and doomed epoch in camera design, which aimed to combine the popular film format with an outdated photographic device. Production ceased in 1961, and the model was replace by the Agfa Optima Reflex.
The Flexilette has a body of similar size to a conventional 35mm viewfinder camera of the time, and is cited by McKeown's
Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras as having been based on the 1950s Silette, but made a little taller to accommodate the extra lens. Personally, I think it far more closely resembles a 1958 Agfa Agfaflex. The image below shows an Agfaflex on the left and a 1957 Silette SL on the right.
Regardless of its ancestry, the Flexilette is a true TLR with a viewing lens that is optically matched to the objective lens, and the two are focused synchronously (45mm three element triplet Color-Apotars with a maximum aperture of f/2.8).
It has a chest-level viewfinder, which forms a laterally reversed image on a ground glass screen with a split image rangefinder, and fold-out fine focus magnifier. The closeness of both lenses supposedly minimises parallax errors. The front of the folding viewfinder hood can be opened to form an eye-level direct vision reverse telescope (often incorrectly described as a sports finder).
The leaf shutter is a Prontor with ten speeds from 1 second to 1/500th, plus B. The film advance lever and rewind knob are located on the underside of the camera body.
In the course of researching this model, I've noticed two variations. The first (on the left below) has chromed lens surrounds, silver engraved lens information on the plate surrounding the lenses. The second, which I'm going to call the
Panda (on the right), has black rings around the lenses, and black engraved lens information on the plate surrounding the lenses.
The Flexilette originally sold for £33 - 18s - 10d, which would have been roughly two weeks average UK pay.
The Flexilette is a curio, and likely to be the one and only example of a 35mm TLR in my collection (because other manufactures' offerings are rather expensive). I bought my Flexilette in February 2019 for £23.00 - way less than the £100+ sellers have been asking in recent times.
It's pretty much in working order, except for a missing frame counter setting switch (the underlying count-down setting mechanism can still be operated with a small screwdriver or similar item). The Flexilette logo that should adorn the front of the camera is also missing, and the film reminder setting dial is locked solid.
When seen in isolation, this camera looks much bigger than it really is. In the hand it's actually a comfortable size and has a reasonable weight (757g). The viewscreen is bright and big at eye-level, which is pretty much a necessity for fine focusing using the magnifier, but it becomes a bit small at chest height, and impractical at waist-level. Overall, it's a very likeable camera to operate.
Hands up … I
borrowed the animated GIF from www.zeitmaschinen.org: neat isn't it!
Some would consider my actions to be vandalism, but I could not resist giving this ugly duckling a make-over. I aimed to make the lens barrel look more typical by fitting a black vinyl cover to the front plate. The leatherette was replaced with burnt orange leather (from Milly's Cameras), including an insert to replace the missing Flexilette name-plate. I also made a cover for the viewfinder lid. I've seen a few photos of Flexilettes with the viewfinder lid covered in body matching leatherette, but the vast majority have no cover. Some look shiny, while others are discoloured, or quite gummy. Mine was discoloured, so I elected to cover it, and discovered that the metal top is a glued-on inset plate, so I assume the Flexilette never had leatherette here.
Other Agfa cameras in my collection
- 1956 Agfa Solinette II Folder
- 1956 Agfa Super Silette Rangefinder
- 1970 Agfa Selectronic Sensor &
- 1978 Agfa Optima Sensor Electronic 335 Viewfinders
- 1980 Agfa Selectronic 3 SLR
- 1981 Agfa Optima Sensor Electronic Flash Viewfinder