Agfa Billy Record 7.7

When fellow blogger and good friend Angi came to Cornwall to take part in one of my photo workshops, to my surprise, she had a gift for me.  The gift was an Agfa Billy Record 7.7 camera.  These cameras were produced between 1933 and 1942 so my new camera could be anything from 73 to 82 years old.  Given the war, I guess it’s more likely to be pre 1939.  It’s a real beauty.  The proviso that went with the gift was that I take some pictures with it.  I started by taking pictures of it with my point and shoot. See below.. :-)

The first film I put through the camera before Christmas gave me a few problems and I wasted the film but over the Christmas holidays, I got to thinking about film photography.  The gift had reminded me of my early teenage interest in photography when everything was analougue.  I can remember spending hours learning to wind a film onto a Paterson developing tank spool that my Dad had given me to practise with.  I never got around to actually following through, winding on a real film and developing it, so I set about ordering all I would need to develop the first roll of film from the Billy Record myself.

In for a penny, in for a pound, whilst shopping on ebay for used darkroom equipment I came across a listing for a Mamiya 645 pro medium format camera.  Having used the digital version last year (which costs around £30,000) the film version, for a few hundred pounds imported from Japan, seemed like a bargain not to be missed.  A new skill for a new year!

Agfa Billy Record 7.7spaceToday, I got around to developing the first film taken with the camera.  This was only the second time I’d developed a film (I’d already developed a test roll from the Mamiya) so I’ve been very pleased with the results on all counts.

The negatives are huge – 8.5 x 5.5 cm.  If you can imagine film to be the analogue equivalent of a digital sensor, this would be a very large sensor indeed.  The sensor in my Nikon D800 full frame digital camera is just 3.6 x 2.4 cm.  There are 36.8 million pixels packed into that sensor yielding amazing quality.  I’m sure the grains of silver halide on the film are larger than a pixel but the point I’m trying to get across is that this little camera has the potential for some fine quality prints.  The Agfa Billy is basically a medium format point and shoot.

The camera has two distance settings, 2m to 5m and 5m to infinity, three shutter speeds and three aperture settings.  The lens is simple, just three elements.  One thing it doesn’t have is an auto film advance.  So when a digital photographer like myself gets hold of a camera like this, the inevitable happens when said digital photographer forgets to wind on the film before taking the next shot, yielding a higher than acceptable number of double exposures. Still, these are the first pictures from this 80 year old camera, taken around my garden and I’m delighted with the results. Click on any of the images below to open a gallery.


By the way, just one more week to go in the DLR ‘Blowing in the Wind’ Photo competition! Submit a photo or three and you could win Topaz Labs’ Complete Collection.  Must be worth a peek in the archives and an email with some attachments! We look forward to seeing your entries! Click Here for more details



62 responses

  1. Ah . . . the romance of film.

    While I like old cameras (and own a few), my singular lack of desire to get back into film trumps any romance of that gone-by era.

    January 24, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    • I’ll not be putting my DSLR on ebay Emilio, that’s for sure, but it’s fun giving film a try. I’m finishing off what I started when I was 13. It’s cool being able to scan a negative and then work on it in Photoshop. I’ll be giving printing a try though, once I’ve managed to blackout my bathroom.

      January 24, 2015 at 6:05 pm

  2. poppytump

    Brilliant ChillB … a different kind of challenge with experimental works for 2015 has now begun . I know there were some tense moments at various stages ;-) but isn’t that fantastic to resurrect your earlier interest in film like this and see such promising results .
    I see LOTS of scope to furthering your creativity and personal input in the films you’ll be developing from these *new* old cameras . Marvejols ChillB ! xx

    January 24, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    • Thank you Poppy! Tense moments for sure but I’m really enjoying this new set of challenges and quite like the look and feel of the pictures taken with the Billy Record. Taking the pictures, mixing the chemicals, timings and temperatures and then the moment when you take the lid off the developing tank and crack open the spool and there they are, a long roll of negatives to be hung up to dry. Very different to plugging a memory card into a reader.. :-D x

      January 24, 2015 at 7:10 pm

  3. What a lovely gift and something to be treasured. I really like the photos you took. They look as old as the camera. :)

    January 24, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    • It was indeed Sylvia, especially as it opened up this whole new avenue of exploration.. The photos definitely have a vintage quality to them. I rather like that. :-)

      January 24, 2015 at 7:11 pm

  4. Great! :) Have fun with it!

    January 24, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    • Thank you Camilla, I am. Just about to develop another roll.. :-)

      January 24, 2015 at 7:12 pm

  5. What fun! Looks like you are getting to grips with this nicely…

    January 24, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    • Thank you Sue! It’s been going quite well so far.. fingers crossed! :-)

      January 24, 2015 at 8:05 pm

  6. A little romance in this beautiful box..Do you collect them ?

    January 24, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    • Thank you Lou! I think I might just start collecting them. Something very satisfying about getting a picture from such an old camera! :-)

      January 24, 2015 at 8:07 pm

  7. How exciting! Terrific post and I love the images, Chillbrook. Thanks.

    January 24, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    • Thank you Jane! New discovery is always exciting! I’m having a lot of fun with it all!

      January 25, 2015 at 10:14 am

  8. A great gift and with your gift for writing as well as handling the camera, a very enjoyable post, Adrian! :-)
    Best regards, Dina

    January 24, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    • Thank you so much Dina. It was a great gift! :-)

      January 25, 2015 at 10:19 am

  9. It’s great to go on a new adventure and enjoy every minute of it. It makes me smile knowing I was the one that set you off on this journey. I await your stunning images with your remarkable style running through them. Xx

    January 24, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    • Thank you so much Angi! You’re too kind! I’m having a wonderful time with it all and will keep taking the pictures! :-)x

      January 25, 2015 at 10:20 am

  10. Beautiful photos. Thank you.

    January 24, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    • Thank you Isabel! :)

      January 25, 2015 at 10:22 am

  11. That’s so cool, Adrian, what a beauty of a camera! Of course, I love the double exposure and all these images have a wonderful feel to them.

    January 25, 2015 at 2:40 am

    • Thank you Karen. I thought of you when I realised I’d made these doubles. You’ve shown what creative potential there is with them. I can see me making quite a few more, hopefully more by design than accicent.

      January 25, 2015 at 10:24 am

  12. I actually love the first photo. You have the knack with cameras Adrian. Fun fun! The world is filled with so much possibility! xo

    January 25, 2015 at 4:12 am

    • Thank you very much Marina! I’m really enjoying getting to grips with a couple of old new cameras and the developing is all alchemy to me and a such a fun process! :-)

      January 25, 2015 at 10:29 am

  13. Awesome b&w photo!
    Great camera – have a lot of fun with it!

    January 25, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    • Thank you Hans. I’m enjoying it so far! :-)

      January 25, 2015 at 12:54 pm

  14. Ah, the old black and white film…I often feel it achieves a depth in its images that is not possible in digital photography, which is tangible even in your pictures that had only a handful of settings available to them while shooting. Definitely worth exploring, if only temporary!

    January 25, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    • Thank you Sonja. There are programs out there that use filters to make digital photographs mimick film but of course they can’t, there really is something about film. I’m really enjoying taking the pictures and going through the process of developing them. The feedback isn’t immediate of course but when you’ve finished with all the chemicals and you open the developing tank, unfurl the film and reveal the negatives is really rewarding. All the better for having to wait. I will definitely keep taking film, it will compliment my digital work. :-)

      January 25, 2015 at 5:10 pm

  15. Wow Adrian, what a special gift! I love that you shared a shot of the camera as well as your results. The shots definitely have an antique quality about them. So amazing that the camera still works. Apparently is preceded the “planned obsolesence” era!

    January 25, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    • It was a super gift Tina, so much more than the camera as it’s turned out. There is definitely a quality to these photographs that isn’t there in digital. That’s not to say one is better than the other, just different, and the convenience of digital just makes it the obvious choice for the majority of one’s work. I will keep working in film and will be looking into printing my negatives next. Film will compliment my digital work quite nicely I think. :-)
      Our forebears were the original recyclers weren’t they Tina? They didn’t throw things away because they didn’t need to. Things weren’t designed to only last a year or two. Companies took great pride in producting a quality product that would last for years and if something broke, chances are it could be repaired. Our economies now rely on consumerism, it’s just the way things are unfortunately. :-(

      January 25, 2015 at 5:20 pm

  16. We could make a long list of things this camera doesn’t have, from auto-focus to auto exposure, and on and on. But you are quite right to say that the sensor is very impressive by our standards, and I had something like the big brother of that camera when I was just starting out, and got some very fine photos. Wish you much luck and much happiness, as you help your 80+ friend across the street.

    January 25, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    • Thank you very much Shimon! We’re enjoying getting to know each other. I think like most elderly relatives or friends, this old lady has much to teach.. :-)

      January 25, 2015 at 6:34 pm

  17. I still have my Dad’s old folding Kodak camera that looks remarkably like this. I think the film size was called 120.
    Fascinating to see how an old camera can still produce good results. what Scanner are you using?

    January 26, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    • Hi Andy, I’m using an Epson V600 scanner. I’ve been very impressed with the scans although getting to grips with the scanning software has been a bit of a chore. I started by using Epson’s own software but am now using VueScan which, while not being terribly intuitive, does get the job done. 120 film is still going strong. I’m using the same 120 film in the Agfa Billy as the Mamiya 645. It’s quite a bit trickier to load onto the developing spool being that much thicker than 35mm but I’m slowly getting the hang of it. I’m enjoying the new challenges of film a lot.

      January 27, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      • I still have my spirals and the enlarger – I was thinking of getting rid, but now my daughter is asking for them. She and I used to work together in the darkroom 20+yrs ago.

        January 27, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      • There is much to be said for film Andy. I don’t know if you saw the article in the January issue of the RPS Journal by David Penprase. I think he makes some very interesting points. I spoke to him on the phone the other day and he thought my interest in film was a very good thing for my development as a photographer and I think he’s right. He thought it’d be a slap on the wrist for me and I can see where he’s coming from. There is so much more invested in bringing a film photograph to print. Digital is in some ways perhaps, a little too easy. If we have to work for an image, perhaps we take a bit more care over what we commit to film with the click of that shutter.

        January 27, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      • I haven’t yet read through the Jan issue. It is very true that in the days of film each image had a ‘cost’ at the point of capture and therefore more thought went into deciding how to shoot. Digital easily makes us lazy but it also allows us to be impulsive and impulsiveness sometimes yields the best images.

        January 27, 2015 at 5:19 pm

      • This is very true Andy, couldn’t agree more. The beauty of it all is, we don’t have to choose one or the other. We can have our cake and eat it so to speak, utilising the best of both worlds. Always having a digital camera with us, at the ready, for those shots you describe cetainly broadens our scope. :-)

        January 27, 2015 at 7:08 pm

  18. That is so cool Adrian. I have my father’s old Agfa which looks like yours (although I have to check the model). I don’t even know if it works. You’ve inspired me to find out :)

    January 27, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    • Thank you Edith, that’s excellent. I hope that if you do put a film through the camera, you’ll post on your blog. It’s quite surprising how good the images from a camera with such a simple lens can be. I’m not going to be giving up my D800, that’s for sure, but it’s fun exploring how photography used to be for so many people. Fabulous photographers like Vivian Maier, worked with simple cameras. In her case a Rolleiflex, top of the range but still, very basic by our standards and the photographs are incredible. There are definitely things to be learned by taking a step back.. :-)

      January 27, 2015 at 7:18 pm

  19. What a lovely piece of equipment you have gotten hold of. There is something magical about those old film cameras, Maybe I should get out my old darkroom equipment again. It must be more than 15 years since last time I used it… Furthermore I see that the Digital Lightroom Photography Competition is coming close to closing date. I look forward to seeing the photos. :-)

    January 28, 2015 at 5:26 am

    • Thank you Otto. There really is something magical about these old cameras and the developing is quite magical too. It’s expensive compared to digital, in time and money but bringing an old camera to life again, taking similar pictures to those that our forebears were taking is really cool. :-)

      January 28, 2015 at 9:39 pm

  20. What a wonderful gift! …. and a very successful experiment! I really like the soft, muted tones and your double exposures, accidental or not, work well. I look forward to seeing your progression.

    January 28, 2015 at 11:17 am

    • A very thoughtful lovely gift to receive Noeline. I think the soft muted tones and a combination of the hazy lens and the Ilford PanF 50 Plus film. I’m noticing similar qualities though not to the same extent, with my other camera. I will keep experimenting! From my reading around, most photographers seem to have a favourite film and a favourite developing ‘recipe’ and then the same for printing.. Lots of different stages in which to expriment and find the ‘right’ way for me. It’s a tad expensive all this so it might take a little while or hopefully, I’ll get lucky early and hit on the combination that works for me. At least with the Internet, you can see and read what other people are doing..

      January 28, 2015 at 9:36 pm

      • The dark art of the dark room!

        January 29, 2015 at 11:01 am

      • Hmm.. :-D

        January 29, 2015 at 12:13 pm

  21. wow what a gift and as usual great images :)

    January 28, 2015 at 11:21 am

    • It was a fabulous gift! Thank you Joshi! :-)

      January 28, 2015 at 9:30 pm

  22. Crna svijetlost

    Great photos. Beautiful thems. I like them. This photos inspire me that and I start make similar photos with similar camera. And with camera obscura too. I hope you will make more similar nice photos.

    January 28, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    • Thank you very much indeed Crna. I happy to have inspired you. :-)

      January 28, 2015 at 9:30 pm

  23. Love all those images, Adrian.. beautiful.. and subtle. Nice job on them.

    January 30, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    • Thank you very much John. :)

      January 31, 2015 at 11:11 am

  24. A nostalgic and romantic shot ~ and such images it creates… Beautiful series, simply stunning in their subtle grace.

    January 31, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    • Thans Randall. I think I’ve caught the vintage camera bug.. These have certainly inspired me to explore more image making with older cameras.. They certainly have something about them!

      January 31, 2015 at 10:27 pm

      • There is this incredible charm with vintage cameras, and then what is special is the magic they have inside to produce such great shots ~

        February 1, 2015 at 6:03 am

      • THanks again Randall. I’ve been really very pleasantly surprised by the quality of images I am getting!

        February 2, 2015 at 9:06 am

  25. What a treasure and a most generous gift! Your photos are superb and I particularly love the double exposures. Have fun in the dark!

    February 1, 2015 at 12:16 am

    • Thank you Patti, it was a superb gift. I’m really enjoying exploring this new/old area of photography!

      February 2, 2015 at 9:05 am

  26. The gift went straight into the right hands!

    February 8, 2015 at 12:58 am

    • Thank you so much Lynn! It was a lovely gift and I’m now a vintage camera collector! It’s official. I’m not collecting them to put in an attic in the hope they appreciate in value however, I’m looking for working cameras, each with its own unique qualities that I hope to exploit! :-)

      February 8, 2015 at 1:20 pm

  27. Great series of images Adrian and a beautiful looking camera. I’ve also forgotten to wind on the film and ended up with a few double exposures! It’s easily done when switching between film and digital. Had some problems with light leaks on the Hasselblad 500 but that’s now sorted.

    February 12, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    • Thanks Simon! I’m glad to hear you’ve got your light leakage problems sorted. I’ve been looking at the 500, a popular camera on ebay. I’m sorely tempted! :-)

      February 12, 2015 at 7:40 pm