The Agfa Billy-Clack, an Art Deco strut-folding camera, 12 November 2023

The Agfa Billy-Clack, an Art Deco strut-folding camera, 12 November 2023

I've been good recently, really good, but recently a long sought after camera appeared on the Kamerastore website. It was probably overpriced, and not in good condition according to the description, but I added a new Clack to my growing collection. This time an Agfa Billy-Clack.

The Agfa Billy Clack is a strut-folding camera made by Agfa from about 1934 to 1940. There were two models; the Billy-Clack No. 51, which takes sixteen 6x4,5cm photos on a roll of 120 film, and the Billy-Clack No.74, which takes eight 6×9 cm pictures on a roll of 120 film. Both models were nearly identical, the body of the Billy-Clack No. 51 was slightly smaller, featuring a single shutter speed of about 1/30s (and 'B') and three aperture settings (f8.8, f11 and f16), which are set with a lever on the front of the camera.

The model on the Kamerastore website was the Billy-Clack No. 51 and was described as having, 'rust on the body. Fungus, haze, and dust inside the lens. A bit loose and worn throughout'. I felt this was going to be a long-term project, but when the Agfa Billy-Clack arrived, it was lovely. This is the later version with the vertical lines on the front leatherette, which suggest that it dates from 1938-40..

The condition of the Billy-Clack was better than I thought, though it certainly needed a good clean. The leatherette and the front plate was dirty, the front lens was full of haze, and inside the film chamber and rear lens was full of haze and dust. The 'brilliant' viewfinders on the front plate for landscape and portrait image orientation were anything but, they were filled with dust and haze. On the top of the Billy-Clack is a sports finder, that opens up and allows the user to frame an image without using the mirrored viewfinders. However, on mine this was broken, so I'm going to keep it closed.

I gave the Agfa Billy-Clack a good clean of the outside with a gentle wipe and on the inside with a cotton bud soaked in methanol. The cleaned the film chamber and the rear lens quite nicely. I lot of dirt and grime came out of the metal film holders and the places where the film and take-up spool sits and I reckon they had not been cleaned in a long time. On the front of the Billy-Clack I couldn't get into the 'guts' of the camera because there was a rusty screw firmly stuck in the plate. I was able to clean the front glass and the viewfinders though, which now look really 'brilliant'. There was one minor hiccup, for a few minutes I lost a tiny screw from the front plate.

One thing I did discover while cleaning the Billy-Clack is that the take-up mechanism isn't compatible with some modern plastic spools, at least with my camera. Sometimes the spools are just too big for the metal guides, which have a little circle of metal that protrudes out and catches the smooth top of the plastic spool, making it stick. Looking at older spools, there is a little indentation in the flat circular part that fits snugly into the frame and allows the spool to turn smoothly. Fortunately I have a few older metal and wooden spools, and some plastic ones that work, but I'm going to have to be very careful with making sure that I get them back from the lab when processing.

On the back of the Bill-Clack is a long swivelling cover, behind which are two red windows. The Billy-Clack No. 74 only has one window, because it is a regular 120 film camera, but because the Agfa Billy-Clack No. 51 is a 6x4,5 frame camera it uses two windows to align the frames properly on the get 16 exposures from a normal 120 film. The film is wound on until a number appears in the first window, and an image is taken. The film is then advanced until the same number appears in the second window, when another image can be taken. Then the film is wound on until the next number appears in the first window for the next image until all 16 images have been taken. Of course, with a 120 film the frame numbers don't go to 16 but to 8, because the windows are in the same position to read numbers for a camera taking 6x9cm images.

Now that the Bill-Clack has been cleaned it looks much better. The viewfinders really are brilliant now and the front glass and rear lens are clear of dirt and haze. I'm hoping that the lens inside the camera has also been protected, but unfortunately because of the stuck screw I could not get to it. Typically, film available at the time would have had an ISO of around 30-50, and according to what I have learned with a modern 100 ISO film I can use an aperture f16 for sunny conditions, f11 for hazy days and f8.8 for cloudy conditions. My first test will load a roll of Lomochrome Purple that I had sitting around for a while and will see how that works. But that will be a post for another day.

If you are on Mastodon, you can now follow this blog directly. Just go to Mastodon and follow my WordPress account at All new posts will be automatically updated to your timeline on Mastodon.

#Agfa, #BillyClack, #BelieveInFilm, #Camera, #Clack, #Experimental, #Film, #FilmIsNotDead, #Fomapan, #FrugalFilmProject, #Retro, #ShootFilmBeNice, #Vintage, #ArtDeco,