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I decided to run a test roll through the Agfa Karat 36 that was given to my wife by her Great Aunt Eileen years ago. Aunt Eileen bought the camera in the early 1950s in West Germany where she was stationed as a senior NCO in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. The camera had been sitting in a drawer unused for a long time. I was always curious about the capabilities of this camera and if it would produce images at all after all these years. Every shot on the test roll came out. Here are the best of the bunch.

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All shots were taken at Red Bank Battlefield Park in National Park, NJ. This photo was taken on the upper level near the ruins of Fort Mercer where the Colonial Army forced the Hessian soldiers to retreat after the fierce battle of Red Bank on October 22, 1777. This shaded nook looks out over the Delaware River. I picked a good day for a shoot. The lighting is perfect.

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This photo is looking north where you can see part of the remains of the ditch which surrounded the now gone earthworks. You can see two of the original cannon near the center of the picture. I like the dappled light and shade in this shot.

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This is the front of the James and Ann Whitall house, the centerpiece of the park. This house served as a military hospital after the battle. I think the Karat acquitted itself well in the very contrasty midday summer sunshine.

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The upper level has a nice walkway lined with benches. I caught one guy relaxing the shade while another strolls along. This is where I take mom when we visit the park. You have a great view of the river because of the height. I counted the 28 steps leading down to the lower level the other day.

The Agfa Karat 36 is a folding camera that takes standard 35mm film casettes. Earlier Karats used a proprietary Agfa 12 shot casette. The lens is a 50/2.8 – 4 element Agfa Solinar. It’s the same design as the Zeiss Tessar created in 1902. According to the Agfa manual, this lens was coated.

The camera focuses by moving the entire lens assembly in or out. Agfa used a green grease on these cameras that’s notorious for hardening. The focus moved but not easily. I was able to clean the lens helical without taking the camera apart (I’m not qualified to attempt taking this baby apart). I used Q tips and lighter fluid to loosen and clean out enough of the old hardened grease so the focus moves freely even if a bit stiff.

The camera has a coupled rangefinder that seems accurate. It’s a small split image viewfinder that’s a pain to use so I zone focused all my shots. The camera has a mark between f8 and f11. Set the aperature to that mark and set the distance scale at either 10 ft or 30 ft. At 10 ft, everthing between 7 1/2 and 14 1/2 feet should be in focus. At 30 ft (the setting I used) everything between 14 1/2 feet and infinity is in focus. Much easier and it worked out quite well for me.

Light meter? Nope. I used my hand held spot meter in averaging mode for all my shots. They came out well exposed too. I used Freestyle Legacy Pro 100 film (it’s really Fuji ACROS) because I have a lot of it. I wonder if a modern high tech film like ACROS is the best choice? Next time I’ll try a more traditional emulsion like Ilford FP4+ or Kodak Tri-X. I would have used FP4+ but that stuff is expensive and I only have two rolls left.

This experiment was a lot of fun and when I repeat it I’ll be sure to share the results.

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