Agfa Optima Sensor 535, unboxing and overview

During my mad rush for a compact rangefinder, I went on a hunt for an Agfa Optima Sensor 1535, one of the more unique- and interesting-looking, and one of the last, compact rangefinders out there. They’re fairly rare, and usually in the $100+ range, so when I spotted one on Etsy for $50, I jumped on it. When I opened the box and found a 535, I was first annoyed, then angered, and later realized it was probably my own mad rush, and not anything nefarious from the seller.

It’s not at all what I wanted—a compact rangefinder—or expected, but I gave it a try anyway, and I’m pleasantly surprised…

The Agfa Optima Sensor electronic 535 is one in a long line of programmed autoexposure cameras from Agfa. Starting in 1959, the Optima line were all p-mode cameras with lenses in the 38mm-45mm range, with maximum apertures around f/2.8-f/4 range, and shutter speeds from 1/15-1/200th (in the early years) to 15-1/1000th (in later and more upscale models).

In 1969, German firm Schlagheck & Schultes redesigned the Sensor line, adding the distinctive red shutter button and some other new features, and in 1976, the completely redesigned Optima Sensor 535 appeared.

The specs are fairly simple:

  • Lens: 40mm Agfa Solitar, 4 elements
  • 49mm filter rings
  • Aperture: f/2.8-22 (adjustable, with a flash)
  • Shutter Speeds: 15-1/500th (according to the manual, but I counted off 32 seconds on one of my streaking taillight, out-the-window shots)
  • ISO: 25-500
  • Focus: Zone, with symbols for torso and head, two people and mountain on the top, and feet/meter markings on the bottom*

The camera is small, but has a nice heft to it owing to the mostly metal construction, and viewfinder is HUGE and bright, easily double or triple the size of a viewfinder on similar cameras, with incredibly bright frame lines. The shutter button is easy to find, with a clear pressure point in the center, and the focus ring is nicely dampened, with clear, thunking stops at torso, two people, and mountain. The only weird thing is the location of the tripod socket, on the left side rather than the bottom, and I have no idea why they thought this was a problem in need of a solution.

There are no strap lugs to be found anywhere, but the 535 came with a great shoulder strap that screws into the tripod socket, so the side-mounting make sorta sense, except that it gets in the way of your nose when you’re framing up, and it’s just on the wrong side for how I tend to carry a camera.

Loading the camera is a breeze: you just tuck a 1/8″ of the leader into the little slot with the arrows on it, close the back, and give the advance lever a single wind, and it’s ready to go.

I got 40 or 41 frames out of a 36 exposure roll, and the little door over the take-up spool saved a bunch of frames on my first roll. This takes some explaining…

To rewind the film, you push a button on the top panel down and rotate it slightly to engage a clutch that transforms the advance lever into a rewind lever. During the WorldWide Photo Walk, I finished a roll of Kodak Plus-X engaged the rewind clutch, started rewinding, and after 4 or 5 winds, I felt the tension release and assumed it was done. I opened the back and AGH! there was still film there. I quickly closed the back, and tried again. Again, the tension released, I opened the back and found film still there. After two failed attempts, I just kept rewinding and rewinding and waited until I got home to put it in the dark bag before opening the back again.

Anyway, with all that, I only lost 2.5 or 3 frames: that little door thing really works! Great design.

So the Agfa 535 wasn’t the camera I expected, or wanted, and I still hate me some Zone Focus cameras, but I only forgot to focus on maybe one frame out of two rolls so far. Other ZF cameras in my collection have ft/m markings and/or pictograms, but they’re usually shown on the same side of the dial. For some reason, having to turn the camera over to see the numerical markings helped me to judge distance better, I think, so once again, great design!

 

I like this little camera. It’s very well built, fits great in the hand, is easy to use, and gives excellent results. What’s not to like?

Purpose
Price
Craftsmanship
Ease of Use

Overall, I’d give it a solid 4.5 stars.

And apologies for the lack of pictures from the Agfa Optima Sensor 535, but I shared several some weeks ago, as part of the WorldWide Photo Walk and my review of Kodak Plus-X, and if you stay tuned here, in about 15 minutes, I’ll share some more… this post has just gotten a bit overlong.

If you have one of the Optima Sensor cameras, let me know what you think, and if you have a 1535 and want to get rid of it, I’m still interested in getting one, maybe even more so after the results I got out of the 535, so reach out!

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