Agfa Optima Parat

Agfa Optima-Parat

Agfa Optima-Parat

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Agfa Optima Parat

Half-frame 35mm cameras have become hip these days, but they were even more popular in the 1960s. In those days, Olympus was probably the best known maker of these cameras with its well-regarded Pen series. Canon got into the game with its weird Dial and more conventional Demi cameras. Ricoh made the Auto Half and Minolta made the Repo. The Agfa Optima-Parat was one of a handful of half-frame offerings from that German maker.

The camera uses a 30mm f/2.8 Color-Solinar lens set in a Compur shutter. The manual is silent on the shutter’s range, but if it’s a typical Compur of the period, it runs from 1 to 1/250 second. Perhaps Agfa didn’t say because exposure is fully automatic. Stick a coin in the slot of the ASA/DIN control, twist to select your film’s ISO, and let the selenium meter do the rest of the exposure work. Unfortunately, there’s no manual-exposure option, meaning that the meter’s death renders the camera inert.

Agfa Optima Parat

An ahead-of-its-time feature of this camera is that you can half-press the shutter button, and a red dot turns green inside the viewfinder if the camera can make a good exposure. Agfa figured out this feature 30 years before it became common on cameras! But Agfa’s system is fully mechanical.

Agfa Optima Parat

The Optima-Parat focuses from three feet. You can use the distance scale on the bottom of the focus ring, or the zone scale on the top. Portrait is at 6 feet, groups are at 12½ feet, and landscapes are at infinity.

To load the camera, move the lever on the bottom to Auf, which is German for “open.” The back and bottom come off the camera. Insert the cartridge, pull the film across, hook it in the takeup spool, wind. An exposure counter is on the bottom; set it to the number of frames on the roll times two. It counts down as you shoot. Pro tip: don’t forget to set it. A roll takes a long time, long enough that you will wonder, “Isn’t this thing done yet?” Knowing where you are in the roll is reassuring. When you’re done, put the back/bottom on and move the lever to Zu (closed).

When you’re finally done with a roll, press the button atop the camera that looks like a |, pull out the crank, and rewind.

The lens barrel accepts 25mm screw-in filters, a nice touch. I find UV and polarizing filters available still today in 25mm.

The Optima-Parat was a luxury item costing $129 upon its introduction, which as best as I can tell was in 1964. That’s equivalent to more than $1,300 today. Mine cost me a cheeseburger and a couple beers — Mike Eckman stopped by, we went to a pub, and he gave me this camera.

By the way, if you like 35mm viewfinder cameras, check out my reviews of the OG Agfa Optima (here), the three Kodak Ponies — the original (here), model B (here), and model C (here), and the Tougodo Toyoca 35-S (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I began testing the Optima-Parat with Ilford Delta 100, which I developed in Rodinal 1+25.

Stone wall

I have shied away from half-frame photography for many years because I hated using my first half-frame camera, a Canon Dial 35-2. I thought my test roll would never end. But the Dial’s kooky usage turned me off, too. The Optima-Parat was pleasant to use

Climbing

That’s not to say, however, that I didn’t grow weary of shooting this roll. Am I done yet? I didn’t set the frame counter properly, so I had no idea how many frames I’d shot. The Optima-Parat isn’t so pleasant as to overcome fatigue as you head toward 48 or 72 frames.

Net shadow

At least the Optima-Parat’s usage is standard for 1960s viewfinder cameras. On my example, all of the controls were smooth and sure. The shutter button’s placement on the camera’s face, rather than on the top plate, took no time to get used to.

Tempest

The Color-Solinar lens was among the best Agfa fitted to its cameras. A four-element modified triplet, it was capable of excellent sharpness. Good thing, too, given how small the half-frame negative is — 18x24mm.

IND R/W

As so often happens with viewfinder cameras, what the viewfinder sees doesn’t perfectly match what the lens sees. When I framed this image, I took great care to make sure the outer electrical wires ran precisely into the upper corners of the viewfinder.

Power tower

I kept going with an expired roll of Kodak High Definition 400, which I shot at EI 100. This time I set the frame counter right, so I always knew how many frames were left. This 24-exposure roll still felt like it took forever to finish.

Tempest lights

Halfway through this roll I was getting bored. I shot anything colorful just to get the roll over with.

TT

To be fair, I was rushing so I could get scans so I could write this review. That’s probably not the right frame of mind when shooting half frame. This would be a fine camera for casual shooting where you just leave the roll in the camera however many days it takes to get through it.

Umbrella

I’m glad I shot the fresh Delta 100 first, as it showed me the lens’s capabilities. The expired color film’s degradation takes away from the fine detail in these images.

Tree

Here’s more viewfinder inaccuracy in action. When I framed this image, the Civic filed the viewfinder horizontally..

Civic

The Optima-Parat was nothing to carry around on my photo walks. I just held it in my hand as I went. The camera came with an leather case, but the strap was far too short to sling over my shoulder. I took it off while using the camera, and put it back on after. Keeping a selenium meter in the dark when not in use appears to extend its life.

Gas sign

To see more from this camera, check out my Agfa Optima-Parat gallery.

At the time I’m writing this (spring of 2024), I find Agfa Optima-Parat cameras on eBay for no more than $100. That’s not bad – some of the Olympus Pen cameras go for two or three times more. Given this camera’s good lens and pleasant usability, it’s a winner for sure among half-frame 35mm cameras.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Hi, I’m Steven, a Florida native, who left my career in corporate wealth management six years ago to embark on a summer of soul searching that would change the course of my life forever.

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