Agfa Isoly I Review : The camera that launched a 1000 clones

Agfa Isoly I
Later Agfa Isoly I

The Agfa Isoly is perhaps one of the most influencial basic 120 point and shooters there has ever been, setting the scene for the Diana cameras and their more recent re-birth with LSI’s Diana F+. But how does this classic stack up ?

The isoly first arrived in 1960 with its Achromat(ic) simple lens. The series expanded with better lensed variants (the first Isoly became known as the Isoly I). Confusingly most cameras in the series just have Isoly marked but the original can be seperated by the Achromat 1:8 label on the lens. It is widely believed that the Isoly I was the inspiration of Hong Kong’s Great Wall’s cheap Diana which would become more iconic and in turn have given rise to the modern Diana + and Diana F+ cameras from LSI.

Down the lane
Dumfries July 2014. Taken on Agfa Isoly I with Kodak Porta 160.

Compared to the Diana F+  and the build quality is a lot better. The camera comes with a scale focus simple achromatic lens  (some variants had scale markings), a choice of 2 apertures and 3 shutter speeds including Bulb (B). Unlike the current Diana F+ that bulb speed is useable out of the box with a built in cable release.

Diana F+ Specs

  • Lens: 55mm Achromat
  • Focus: Scale
  • Metering: None
  • Aperture: f/8 & f/11
  • Shutter : 1/30, 1/100 + B
  • EV 100asa : 11-14
  • Shot Mask : 16 frames of 4×4
  • Filter-Thread:  none
Up to The Cathedral
Carlisle 2014. Agfa Isoly I with Ilford Pan F+

The camera also comes with mechanism to prevent double exposure and a standard hot shoe mount for flash. The shutter is also better placed on the top plate. Unlike the Diana F+ it has a curved film plane which was done to improve focus for such a simple lens. Ergonomically & built quality-wise it’s a better camera than it’s modern pretender.  But when I had to make a choice between the two, who won out ?

Sundown
Dumfries July 2014. Taken on Agfa Isoly I with Kodak Porta 160.

In the end, the Diana F+ is still sat here but it was a close call.  It might be me but the Diana took more consistently useful images probably due to the fact it works with smaller apertures and hence better Depth of Field (3 zone focus versus scale probably helped a wee bit too). Okay when the Isoly worked well it has less blurring at the edges and is a bit sharper. The Diana allows you to use both 16 and frames a roll. Ergonomically the Isoly is better and has a out of box cable and standard flash option but  the Diana F+ is a system camera with interchangeable lens, backs & frame masks and can shoot more widely available 400asa film including Ilford’s C41 B&W XP2 and can tolerate slower speed films too.

Back Alley
Dumfries July 2014. Taken on Agfa Isoly I with Kodak Porta 160

Later isolys like the II, III & Mat are different beasts with more serious shutters, apertures and better optics and are fine cameras but the Isoly I sadly I feel has been trounced by it’s modern clone despite being being built and looking better. The Junior Isoly (Jsoly) is a  more basic simple fixed focus, shutter and aperture camera. The Isoly name was later used on the Agfa Isoly 100 a 35mm fixed focus camera made in Spain in the 80’s. I’ve reviewed that camera on Lomography in the past

George Hotel
Penrith 2014. Agfa Isoly I with Ilford Pan F+

The Isoly I is pretty cheap to get on eBay. I got mines for £6.99 and sold it later for £4.99 and this seems to be around the ball park for most recent private sales. Case should come with it  (you may need to replace the strap) which might be a consideration if you want a case. Weirdly Great Wall Diana’s often go for a lot more

Alternatives

  • Diana F+ – LSI’s modern system camera re-interpretation
  • Isoly III – The top notch in series with good lens and shutter
  • Halina 6-4 – Haking’s Metal  rival with switchable frame sizes
  • Diana Mini – Fun 35mm with similar styling cues

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