The Agfa Isolette was, for the most part of three decades, the production base of Agfa's factories that, if however pioneer in camera design for some time, this model was the one to actually pay the bills. Sold in the US under the Ansco Speedex name, 5 different models were sold: the original Isolette V (Jsorette V or Jsolette V by the beginning of the production), the Isolette I, Isolette II, Isolette III and Isolette L. The original Isolette has a left handed advance wheel.
The Isolette I and Isolette II are basically identical, with a few features removed or reduced - such as the lack of a DOF scale, cheaper shutters with less speeds such as those by Gauthier, and triplet lenses such as the Agnar. The Isolette III lost the rear level for a T mode, present in the previous models. A curiosity about the Isolette L is that allows the taking of panorama pictures with 24x60mm in size.
I have seen Isolette III or Speedex Special R with several combinations of shutters:
- Simplest of them all, 4 speeds + B, 1/25 1/50 1/125 and 1/200
- Same as Pronto with the addition of a self-timer
- 8-speed shutter from 1 second to 1/300 plus timer, the only effective difference between the three of them being the position of that timer
- Compur-Rapid / Synchro-Compur
- The most advanced model, 10 speeds between 1 second and 1/500
And, even though Agfa manufactured three different lenses for this camera - two triplets, Agnar and Apotar (Apochromatic Anastigmat), and a Tessar clon, the Solinar, available in two versions, 75/3.5 and 85/4.5 - I have yet to see an Isolette III with an Agnar lens.
About the lenses, having had the chance to try them all out, for me it's clear. Agnar could be improved, a moderately good triplet at f/11 or f/16 with clear loss of light in the corners. The Apotars are surprisingly good at f/8, with bigger apertures the loss of quality begins to show. Solinars are clearly the best of the league across all the range, with better correction.
The Isolette III is uan Isolette with an uncoupled rangefinder added. Being uncoupled means that focusing is done with the rangefinder, then the distance is read from the top of the camera and that distance is transferred manually to the lens by means of rotation of its front element.
Uses 120 film, providing 12 pictures in 6x6cm size. Film advance is done manually, positioning the film using the ruby window present in the rear door, and the top cover also houses a double exposure prevention mechanism - that can, however, be overriden by using a remote release cable, as advance and cocking are not linked. As a curiosity, the mark for double exposure prevention in the Isolette is shown in red when film must be advanced, while Zeiss-Ikon did right the opposite way in their Ikonta.
For both the Isolette II and the Isolette III - manufactured around the same period - there are to variations as some design modifications were introduced by the mid 50s, basically replacing the DOF scale from the top cover with an ISO reminder wheel. Those wheels are redesigned, twin milled knobs.
At less that 500 grams and about 140x90x40, it's a real folder in your pocket. The weakest point of these cameras are the bellows, closely followed by dried lubricants in the front element helicoids and rangefinder misalignments.