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Agfa Optima - 1959
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• Agfa's first 35mm auto-exposure still camera

• $80 with 39mm f3.9 lens in 1959 ($599 in 2010 dollars)

The Agfa Optima was one of the half-dozen or so auto-exposure cameras introduced in 1959, and arguably the most automatic, as their ad below claims. You had to set one of the two shutter speeds on the Kodak Automatic 35, or the aperture on the Kodak Retinette IIa, but the Optima had no shutter speed or aperture adjustments at all.

Instead, it started at 1/250 and f22, increasing the aperture as needed until it reached f3.9, and then reducing the shutter speed until it got to 1/30. This is a range of 8 stops, much wider than could be achieved by just varying the shutter speed or aperture alone.

Unfortunately, there was no way to tell the Optima that you were photographing landscapes (priority on small aperture), or sports (priority on fast shutter speed), or people (priority on wide aperture), as there was in later program cameras, but the Optima did it all mechanically, without electronics of any sort, so it was quite an achievement for 1959.

The Optima was the most influential member of the Auto-Exposure Class of 1959 and an immediate success, selling 100,000 units in its first 6 months.

To take a photo with the Optima, you first pressed the large lever at the right (facing the camera) down, which transferred the meter reading to the sutter/aperture settings. Then, still holding the lever, you tripped the shutter. Pressing the lever supplied the force that in later cameras would come from a battery, but the Optima had none.

Agfa OptimaAgfa OptimaAgfa OptimaAgfa Optima
Agfa OptimaAgfa OptimaAd from Popular Photography, Nov. 1959

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