Agfa film running through an Agfa camera, once quite common, is now increasingly rare as stocks of the film dwindle and the cameras fall into disrepair. But with help from my daughter, I was able to make this rare pairing once again.

This post began a few months ago as my daughter was walking around her neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, looking for yard sales (like a “boot sale” in England, but held in the front yard or garage of the home). At one sale, Sarah came across several large plastic bins full of film, all supposedly stored in a freezer until they ended up on sale for a very low price ($4 US per roll). There were dozens of rolls, color and black and white, from various manufacturers. She quickly texted me a photo, and I just as quickly called her back and asked her to buy ten rolls of 35mm color film for me.

When I got the film a few weeks later, I was thrilled to see that among the rolls of Portra were two rolls of expired Agfa Prestige color film. I have a soft spot for Agfa products, and I’ve assembled a small collection of their cameras, but I’ve never until now been able to shoot their film.

The film was Agfa Agfacolor Optima Prestige 100, a film last produced by Agfa in the mid-2000s as the company was winding down its photographic operations. Mine came as film in canisters, so I don’t know exactly when it expired (why, oh why don’t they put the expiration date on the canister?) but safe to say it was 15 or so years past its best days.

Still, with high hopes I shot the first roll in my Leica M5 at box speed, developed and scanned at home (CineStill’s C41 kit and an Epson V550 scanner) and was very pleased with the results. The negatives looked normally dense, colors were good. Reds, especially, popped.

I now looked for an opportunity to shoot the second and last roll. An upcoming cycling event here in Northern California featuring a 100Km ride on vintage bicycles seemed perfect. Bicycles and riders are colorful photo subjects, and we had high hopes for a clear, bright Fall day.

For my camera, I selected an Agfa Optima Sensor 1535, the last and most advanced camera in the Optima Sensor line of cameras that began with the 335 and advanced through the 535 and 1035 before reaching its pinnacle in the 1535, which features rangefinder focusing and fully automatic exposure. I’ve always enjoyed shooting this camera. Its huge viewfinder is a joy to look through, the design in pleasingly Bauhaus, and the camera is reasonably sturdy. The big red shutter button (an Agfa trademark and reason for the “sensor” name) is easy to find and use, even with gloves on.

The day of the ride in early October did turn out fine. About 30 riders set out for a ride on a variety of vintage bicycles mostly from the 1970s and 80s. Five of my favorite shots are shown below.

Some riders paired their vintage bikes with vintage kit. Here, a rider on a Lemond racing bicycle.

Heading out through the vast, flat farmland of California’s Yolo County. Setting the focus at infinity let me use the 1535 like a point-and-shoot for photos like this.

My friend, Tara, with her little dog, are a frequent site on local rides. He loves feeling the wind in his ears.

The bridge over Stevenson Creek is a popular spot for local young people (mostly students from the nearby University of California at Davis) to add their own artistic efforts to the graffiti. Some waggishly insist that the layers of paint are helping hold the bridge together.

Halloween was a few weeks away, and many local farms displayed their pumpkin crops at roadside stands.

I was again pleased with the results from the Agfa film, which survived the years since it was made mostly intact. Exposed as box speed, it retained nice colors and contrast. Now I just need to find a Time Machine to go back and get more!

As per usual, not all of the shots turned out this well. Shooting from a moving bike with a rangefinder camera isn’t the easiest thing to do, and not every shot was in focus or properly framed. Still, it felt great to pair Agfa film and camera once again … and the ride was fun as well!

You can find my other excursions with cameras and film young and old at my Instagram page here. The folks over at Japan Camera Hunter did a review of Agfa Optima Prestige film–see it here. Nathalie Porter reviewed the 1535 here on 35mmc a couple of years ago. Another good review of the 1535 (with shutter sounds!) is available here.

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