A few years ago, I picked up a vintage camera in really good shape at a flea market in Europe. I think it cost like 30 bucks and I picked it from a tale with at least a dozen other vintage cameras. And it has sat on a shelf with one of those boxy old cameras – a Kodak Six-20 brownie my daughter snagged at a yard sale some time ago.
But my youngest decided to investigate what kind of camera it was, and whether there is still film available to try and actually use it. She discovered it’s an Agfa Billy, manufactured around 1952, and it uses something called 120 format film. So we ordered two color and one black and white.
This week, we searched for user manuals online and successfully loaded the film and figured out whether it still works.
Now that we’ve all gotten used to modern digital cameras, it was remarkable to examine how this one works. My first camera was a Kodak “instamatic” back in the 1970s. Apparently the “matic” was pretty revolutionary at the time. So this Billy has a spring-loaded shutter where you have to load the spring yourself. In the photo above, it’s the middle knobby-thing on the right of the lens. If you decide not to take a photo, you press the lever on top of the lens and it releases without taking a photo. Then you can turn the dial to set the shutter speed – just a few options – and then we learned we had to turn the front of the lens to focus. This is not a camera where you look through the viewfinder and focus so that the image is sharp – instead you estimate how far away your subject is, and then you rotate the lens, which screws or unscrews partially to change the focal length. You turn the knob which manually moves the film until you see the little number in the window, and press down on a lever on top of the bellows cover.
So we went ahead and did that. Eight times. Because there are eight pictures on a roll. And now we’re going to take it down to our local photographer guy and probably pay him a fortune in the hopes that maybe or two of the photos will turn out…interesting.
I’ll be sharing the photos here regardless how they turn out – stay tuned!