Agfa Optima 535

Lens Agfa Paratronic Solitar 40mm f/2.8. 49 mm filter thread.
Shutter Program shutter combined with aperture (two-bladed leaf shutter).
Light meter CdS cell below front lens. Progam AE with LED display in VF. ASA 25 to 500.
Focusing Meter-/ feet-Scale plus distance symbols. No rangefinder. Close focus 3'/0.9 m.
Viewfinder Albada type with brightframe and parallax marks.
Flash Hot shoe. No flash automatics, aperture is set by user in flash mode.
Film transport Advance lever doubles as rewind lever. Hinged back, quick-load system.
Dimensions ca. 104 / 68 / 55 mm (with lens)
Battery 3x Type 625 (Alkaline)

[German version]

I acquired this camera at the tender age of fourteen as a gift for my Confirmation. Before that I had an Agfa Rapid, that ended up in the trash can (or fell prey to my already mature lust for taking things apart), and some other camera, that I can't recall no matter how I try. The Optima was my only camera until I figured that it was time to grow up, and bought a Minolta X300. In the late 1990's the Optima experienced a renaissance when my girlfriend and I started taking it along because it was so pretty and light.

The Optima is a fully automatic viewfinder camera without rangefinder. On the top of the distance ring are symbols, at the bottom there is a meter and feet scale.

The idea apparently was to develop an unproblematic and foolproof camera for everyday use. That, they achieved totally and completely. The depth of field of the 40mm lens makes good what error the scale focusing introduces, and the automated exposure has (almost) never failed me, not even with slides or in hard to impossible lighting circumstances.

On top of that there's also a quick load system for film - you just stick the leader under a flap, close the camera and transport twice. This flap also protects the exposed film when you inadvertently open the camera without having rewound the film. When you open the back, a latch in the bottom opens and you can take out the cartridge.

For further simplification of use, the thumb lever doubles as a rewind lever, you only have to press and lock an "R" button on the top cover. Unfortunately the system seems to be a bit sensitive, in any case my Optima doesn't transport any newly inserted film. So far I haven't found out the reason or a way to repair this, but after a bit of wiggling around it usually starts working again.

This camera has a solid metal body and gives the overall impression of being soundly constructed. The design harkens back to the German mainstream of the 1970's and 1980's (Braun etc.) and is nicely done, the camera is particularly compact. An eccentricity is the tripod mount, which also serves as the attachment point for the carrying belt, and is consequently placed to the side of the camera. The Optima has a big orange "sensor" release, which is typical for the Agfas of the day and trips just as easily as the small orange button on my Olympus XA.

The viewfinder is worth mentioning: very large enlargement factor (ca. 0.9), very clear and bright and with extraordinarily bright framelines. Excellent.

To flash there's a hot shoe, but no flash automatics. You have to set the aperture by hand. An automatic ("computer") flash is thus advised. With my camera came an Agfa flash that broke immediately after the end of the guarantee period ended, and wasn't economically repairable. My first contact with the throwaway mentality and a bad match with this solid camera.

However, today even the so-called "unproblematic snapshot cameras" are built out of plastic and virtually unrepairable, and their lenses aren't as fast...

User Interface: No information about exposure time and aperture is given. There's only a red LED (danger of shake or overexposure) and a green LED (green for go). The shutter is never blocked, though; you can always take a picture.

As another disadvantage this page used to state that the Optima utilized three PX 625 mercury batteries. That's false, as an alert reader wrote me (thanks!): the Optima requires three 625 ALKALINE batteries (V625U / LR9 etc.). So it's future-proof. The investment for three batteries hardly matters, because my Optima is on its second set of batteries since 1979, and there were years when it was used rather intensively.

Model variants: the Optima series with program shutter has been around since the 1950's. Sisters are the 335 (f/3.5), the 1035 (with the distance symbols mirrored in the viewfinder and self-timer) and the 1535 (with rangefinder) as well as the Optima Flash with built-in flip-up flash.

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Last modified March 21, 2010

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