The Agfa Clack

Alfred's Camera Page

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The Agfa Clack is one of those cameras that are in danger of being overlooked by the collector fraternity because of their normalcy and ubiquity. Though it's true that Clacks were never very expensive nor very rare, and never found their way to professional photographer's equipment pools, they were household names for many, and as such deserve a place in our collective photographical memories.

In the years between 1954 and 1965, Agfa Camera-Werk AG in Munich must have churned out thousands of these small black boxes. One of them found its way to Amsterdam where it was bought by my grandparents, who passed it on to my dad, who put it in the closet where I found it.

I'm not an Agfa specialist and I found all this information on the Web myself, so my story is necessarily incomplete and brief. For more information, visit one of the linked websites below.


First, a bit of history. I find that collecting cameras is interesting on multiple levels. There's the mundane level of technical specifications and manufacturing procedures, but there's also the often much more interesting dimension of user interaction and time and place of origin. In the case of the Clack, we're talking about the German Wirtschaftswunder ('economic miracle') of the 1950's.

Just after the war, Germany was a big mess. Most of its factories had been destroyed, as well as most of the main infrastructure. The allies could have humiliated and poverized Germany, but considering that this approach indirectly paved the path for Hitler after world war one, they decided to restructure Germany into a modern state instead. Not only would that pacify the German people, but it would also create an effective buffer between western Europe and the east, where the Red danger was expanding rapidly.

It was in this climate of funded industrial rebuilding that Germany incorporated the newest technologies into brand new factories, thereby quickly regaining its position of highly advanced technological nation. (Ironic though that most of their chairmen were the same industrials who backed Hitler fifteen years before.) Many camera factories took advantage of the economic boom to create virtually countless types of small (and sometimes large) cameras. This camera revival lasted till around the 1960's, when the German industry learnt the hard way that the Japanese renaissance of the same era was slightly more successful. Anyway, in the 1950's the sky was still the limit, and that's probably the climate in which Agfa Munich started producing its Clack, as a camera for the many millions who prospered from the high tide.

The camera

The Clack is a very simple camera. In essence it's just a box with a lens and a shutter, that comes apart in two pieces. One is the body with the shutter and the lens, the other consists of the base plate and the entire back wall. The body is made of plastic; the shell-like enclosure of steel. The parts slide into each other, and are locked together by a large key on the bottom that, in Leica fashion, reads "Auf" (open) and "Zu" (closed). Both halves are embossed with a leather-like pattern, complete with irregularities.

The inside of the Clack reveals two 120-film holders, one for the roll-off spool (right) and one for the roll-on spool (left). The film is gradually transported from one spool to the other by a large, ratcheted silver-colored knob on top of the camera, that is linked one on one to the roll-on spool. The "exposure counter" is a good old red window that permits a glance upon the frame numbers on the film's paper backing.

The Clack shoots eight 6×9cm pictures on a standard 120-film. The negative size is that large and ostensibly uneconomical, because in practice Clack negatives were not enlarged, but contact printed. (The Klomp photo album is full of tiny, frilly-edged 6×9 contacts.) Though nothing prevents you from loading 220 film, it wouldn't be wise, because without the paper backing of 120 film, it would be fogged immediately by the red window. The Clack furthermore has no explicit provisions for different film sensitivities, but considering the era it was made in and the camera's slow shutter speed, I think a 50 or 100 ASA film is implied.

The Clack has a small viewfinder on top that consists of a plastic lens and an ocular. The world as seen through the viewfinder is tiny and barrel-distorted. Like most viewfinders it does the job if you're forgiving enough, but it's far from ideal.

The Clack has two shutter speeds: B and M. B is the Bulb setting: the shutter stays open for as long as the photographer keeps pressure on the lever. The M setting is the standard snapshot setting. I presume the 'M' stands for 'Moment'. It's not really known what speed 'M' equals to, but an f/11 lens at 50 ASA make something like 1/30s or even 1/15s seem plausible. It has to be a speed around that range, because the only film I ever shot in this Clack came out all motion-blurred.

The Clack's shutter is triggered by the spring-loaded shutter release lever to the side of the lens barrel. The downward motion triggers the shutter; the upward spring-powered motion cocks it. That way the amateur never had to remember to re-cock the shutter.

The Clack has two aperture settings: f/11 (overcast) and f/12.5 (sun). The aperture holes are punched in a plate that rotates in front of the shutter at the flip of a switch. There is a third hole that contains a small positive lens: for pictures in the range of one to three meters.

And that basically sums it up. Complicated isn't the word. Though I would have a lot more to write if cameras could talk, because I'm sure the Clack has some strong stories to tell...

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