When Reto launched the Kodak Ektar H35 last year, they must have thought they’d carved out a niche. There was quite buzz for the new half-frame. But with Alfie Tych launched on Kickstarter it looked like there was some momentum behind the recurrence of a historic format. And now Agfaphoto has entered the frame with a tweaked version of their Dubblefilm Show Clone shooting half frame.
Half frame cameras had their hey day in the 1950’s & 60’s with classic Japanese models like the multitude of Olympus PEN models covering everything from SLR to P&S. The small size & frugality and the of shooting twice the shots appealed. Although the format never completely died the rise of the ultra compacts like the Olympus XA and the relative cost of film and processing dropping meant that they fell out of fashion.
Even before the H35 arrived you could still buy a camera that did half frame. Notably Lomography produce a few models notably the LC-A wide and Diana Mini that offer it as an option.
The new kids
Reto launched the Kodak Ektar H35 last year. That was on the background of the traction they gained with the well received Reto UWS. The H35 shares the same lens and likely shutter box but is wrapped up in a very retro styled body with built in flash.
It seemed sensible timed with the credit crunch and rising film prices.
By the end of 2022 a high end half frame had been funded in the form of the Alfie Tych. This 3D printed pocket wonder hopefully will reach the streets this year and offers switchable lenses and a electronically controlled shutter with automatic metering or manual control
But in the early weeks of 2023 this arrived.
Agfaphoto Half Frame Film Camera
It’s clear Agfaphoto are going for the Reto end of the Market. And arguably they have been quite cunning.
If the camera looks familiar then it is. They’ve just reused the core of their existing Dubblefilm Show/Kodak M35 clone.
That’s my personal favourite of the class as not only does it have some retro styling nods to old Agfa but also is about the cheapest (bar the more hideous M35/M38) you can buy.
All Agfaphoto did was alter the film compartment box to mask for half frame and tweak the winder cogs. It is the same camera otherwise.
Nice retro styling two tone like it’s full frame sibling. There is no difference externally bar lens markings and the mask on the viewfinder which is oddly square.
The only model I have seen is black and silver like mines. I hope that Agfaphoto will release coloured versions like the full frame.
It is almost all plastic. It can creak bit but actually is well enough put together. I doubt it would last a decade or two with heavy use but I certainly would expect to more than a dozen rolls through this.
Like the full frame it comes with wrist strap and velour feel soft bag as well as some paper instructions.
Under the skin of the Agfaphoto Half Frame
The company have published a lot of specification on line and in the box but some of that is misleading and just wrong. That becomes obvious when you appreciate the only difference is the altered film gate and winder.
What is certain is it uses a single AAA battery to power the flash like the full frame model. That flash needs to be turned on manually and in doing so you move a Waterhouse stop out of the way widening the aperture. Just like the orginal
The shutter speed is given as ~1/120. Again that’s the same as the original. The film plane is curved to help sharpness – a common trick on cheap lensed basic cameras,
But is the lens data that things go awry
The eagle eyed amongst you will realise that this is the same lens fixed focus lens as the full frame (and pretty much every other Dubblefilm/M35 clone). That is listed as a 31mm 1:9 lens. The f/9 is the setting with the aperture wider on flash. the camera probably shoots at f/11or slightly more when the flash is off.
So in fact this should be the same ?
Well not according to the box. Agfaphoto claim this is a 50mm 1:5.6 lens .
But the lens is the same as the full frame and no where near 50mm. The aperture settings appear to be the same too.
So why did Agfaphoto goof ?
Accidental Non Equivalent
The word the company probably left out was equivalent to . Many folk use the x1.6 crop factor of most Canon APS-C sensors as it’s about the same (although true half frame has a a x1.414). That gives a equivalent focal length regarding angle vie as a 50mm full frame.
But the f/5.6 ? Well this is a bigger faux pas. And I get where it comes from. a smaller frame size with a certain aperture will have a much bigger depth of field compared to their full frame equivalent lens. So the 31mm half frame lens at f/9 will be equivalent to ~f/12 on a 50mm full frame.
What I think happened was they calculated the stop shift but widened the aperture to give f/5.6 rather than narrow. A simple schoolboy error but an important one.
What this means in practice
So this camera operates just the same as it’s bigger frame brother. To load push down catch lever on side of camera and insert cartridge and pull fill strip over to catch on small hock on take up roll and wind on iuntil secure. And shut the back and a couple of blanking frames and you’re good to go.
On the plus if charge the flash and decide against it turning off the flash does nmean turning off. Unlike many cheap cameras this does not flash if charged but turned off. You can also drop the battery out and get an extra stop by setting to flash.
On the down the view finder is just wrong shaped a square not the 4:3 portrait it should be as shown below.
On the left is an image captured on the camera using Kentmere 400 but on the right is an approximation of the view in the finder from a crop of my smartphone taken at the same spot. It is at least roughly central. Like all basic finders it suffers considerably from parallax error for closer objects not surprisingly as it isn’t central
Cost and rivals to the Agfaphoto Half Frame
This enters a class of new plastic-fantasic half frames which now numbers 2. I’ll exclude Lomography Diana Mini from that as it just takes quirk and then hangs a left making it even more lo-fi.
It is a straight shoot out between lenses designed for the leading lo-fi shooters – VUWS v Dubblefilm
Very similar to Reto’s offering. The lens which is (a) plastic and (b) designed for a lo-fi full frame, is pushed here. So the images are not tack sharp but neither are the H35’s.
But the H35 is sharper overall. Not surprising as VUWS images centrally are clinically sharper than Dubblefilm show images, The sharpness does fall off a little on long shots but not as noticeable a difference as with the H35. That said due to the already softer nature there is little difference
Again better centrally with some drop off towards the long edges and corners. Radial distortion is evident but pretty mild and there is some fringing.
As discussed already if you drop to the flash setting things soften a bit more. Flash is okay for what it is but there is no red eye protection.
Look the results as good as the average disposable which is a credit. It can’t quite match the best of those and I think the Reto is better.
One thing in the Agfaphoto’s favour is cost. At the moment you can pick it up on the bay for £26.95. That’s more than £20 the cheapest new H35 I could find on the Ebay at the time of writing this. That’s the cost of 3-4 rolls of B&W. Or means you only need to sell one kidney for a roll of colour
Funnily I was remined when looking on the bay you can pick up excellent vintage Japanese half frames. Like the Olympus PEN EE or Canon Demi models within the price range of these 2.
Oh Agfaphoto you strike again.
For a lo-fi half frame this is a good camera. It really is a niche product for lovers of the plastic fantastic but it holds up okay. It holds up against the established model and optically it is a close call. I prefer the Ektar H35 images just. And think it oozes more retro style but this is way cheaper and looks good too. It also has the advantage of the droppable stop
It was a bolt out of the blue and a clever move from Agfphoto. And you know a bit of competition does no harm.
I just wished they’d not goofed the finder,
Obviously you can get a much better vintage half frame for the same money. But for lo-fi shooters that isn’t the point. And like disposables these feel good cameras to take into situations you might not take a decent camera.
And for the Naysayers
Now I got some moaning (you know who you are) when I posted about the H35. To paraphrase ” ..these are just plastic rubbish eco disasters and will end up in landfill”
I note those comments were largely made by folks whose usual weapon of choice begins with a L. Look I’m sorry Leitz didn’t give you the cheaper M that we were all expecting. But to spout off about cameras that aren’t your flavour of tea these misses the point. For starters both this Agfaphoto and H35 have a lifespan measured likely in the 1,000s if not more shots. This makes them a much more eco choice than a disposable. The H35 is based off the VUWS and my old dirty Superheadz clone has shot well over 30 rolls.
And these are gateway cameras to new folk. They are cheap enough to give a go and have a lo-fi aesthetic that we know appeals.
And before you say “but they could get a better second hand camera”, you’re missing the point. No one is going to start making new cameras that they can’t sell due folk buying second hand.
Wanna apply that to Leitz recent outputs ? And you know that’s right. The old M6 TTL is better to shoot than the relaunched non TTL version and is cheaper. But neither you or I will critique Leica for bring it out.
Companies like Reto and Agfaphoto need to be applauded not critiqued. Cameras like this have increased demand and got folk like Ricoh/Pentax interesting in making cameras again. And it’s notable that Pentax are not going to start to make the high end elite SLR you want. They’re starting with a simple P&S.