Agfa Chief 120 Film Conversion

Agfa_Chief.jpg

The Agfa Chief is an old metal box camera that takes 6×9 medium format negatives. I have watched other 6×9 cameras, the Agfa Clack, on Ebay in the past but it seems like they go for way more than they are worth. Needless to say I was pleasently surprised by the Agfa Chief and happy to add it to my collection. I couldn’t find much information about it, but the model I own was in good enough shape to motivate me to try and use it. With a couple very minor hacks I had the camera modified so it could shoot 120 film. If you ever come accross one of these at a thrift store I encourage you to pick it up because unlike some “bargain cameras” the Agfa Chief actually has plenty of life left. Here is what you need to know if you are going to convert it to a working camera…

The Agfa Chief takes 616 film. At least I think it is 616 because it isn’t marked. I thought it was 620 film at first, but after a little research I learned that 620 film is slightly smaller than a 120 spool. The 616 spool is about 1/4 inch longer than a 120 spool. This is actually makes the Agfa Chief a little bit easier to modify to accept 120 film because you don’t have to respool the film – you can just use the 120 rolls as is.

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In order to let the Agfa Chief accept 120 film we need to fill the gap between the bottom of the spool and where it connects to the bottom of the film holder.

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There are probably a bunch of things that you could use for this purpose, but what I found to work really well was a couple of “saucer” pieces from my box of Legos. As you know, this isn’t the first time I have used Lego bricks in a camera mod. Here is what they look like:

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The nice thing about the Lego conversion was that it was the perfect size and the round shape allowed the spool to turn freely without any glueing or adaptation.

The next step of the process is to adjust the film guide. The opening is a bit too large for 120 film and as a result the bottom edge of the film won’t have any support unless we add a guide to the bottom.

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Find a piece of plastic or thin and stiff cardboard about the weight of a cereal box. Cut the piece to 4.25 inches long by 0.4 inches tall.

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Slide it into the back of the film guide. There is a lip that should hold this piece in place without any glue or tape.

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If the piece doesn’t naturally match the curve of the back, you may need to cut the piece down a little more. Here is what it looks like after the piece is in place:

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Now you are ready to load the film in the camera. It should look like this:

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Insert the film holder into the camera body:

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Close the back of the camera and turn the film advance knob until you see numbers in the little red box on the back.

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Advance past the number one and stop when you see a two in the window. You are now ready to take your first picture. After you take your picture you will advance the film again until you see a 4 in the red window. We advance two numbers because this is how far you want to go to get a 6×9 image. There will still be about a 0.5 inch overlap of the pictures. If this is something that bothers you will want to add a 0.25 inch mask or more on the right and left of the film holder.

This next picture shows you how the numbers on the back of the film look. Obviously you don’t want to do this becuase opening the back will expose your film.

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When you get to the number 16 you are on your last picture. A roll of 120 film will give you 8 images.

There are a couple of other things to conside when you use the Agfa Chief. First, you might not know what the “F” “I” “B” and “N” are on the lens.

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I couldn’t find this documented anywhere, but this is probably a good guess:

“F” means that you are focusing on something far away. The “F” could also stand for “filter” because when the lens is turned as far as it can go towards the “F” a yellow filter slides into place behind the lens. Since the camera only has one shutter speed, you can adjust the exposure by using (or not using) the filter.

“I” means that you are using the standard shutter speed. I am not sure exactly what the i stands for (interval maybe?), but it corresponds to maybe 1/60th of a second. I say maybe because these cameras are so old that the actual speed of the shutter will vary widely.

“B” stands for “bulb” which means that as long as the shutter button is pressed, the lens is open. It is the only way you will be able to get an exposure in low light situations.

Finally, “N” means that you are focusing on something close to you. Since there is no filter with this option, this would be for use when there is less light than normal.

A safe bet for film in this camera would be 400 speed. In daylight you will get close with the “F” setting. That worked well for me, but I would guess that 200 speed film would work, too, maybe even 100 speed if you are on a bright day. Like most of these old box cameras cameras it is a crap shoot as to whether or not your pictures will turn out. Don’t get discouraged though because that is part of the fun of using one of these old things.

That is pretty much all there is to it. If you tackle this project, I started an Agfa Chief group on Flickr where I would love to see some of your photos. Good luck and happy shooting!

Here are some of the auctions on Ebay for Agfa Chief cameras that you might be interested in:

7 Responses to “Agfa Chief 120 Film Conversion”

  1. Alex Says:

    I saw this at an antique store today along with I believe to be an Agfa Selecta. I was wondering, assuming both are in proper condition, which would be the better buy.

  2. Jeff G Says:

    Interesting— My Agfa Chief takes 620 film, and rather than any changes I have to cram the 120 film reel in or re-spool. My camera also has the red window in the lower left of the back. Looks identical other than that.

  3. Hanne Says:

    I got an agfa synchro box camera from my uncle today. Neither him or me knows anything about this camera, but then i googled it and its says that it uses “120 film”. Where do i get this film ? Do they make them anymore ? The camera is from ca.1950, and i thought it would be fun to see if it still works

  4. Carl Says:

    I recently aquired an AGFA “Clipper” which has a sticker inside that says “use size PD16 AGFA film” it also has the long spool like your “CHIEF”. I am going to try your modification and see if it works out. Thanks for the info..

  5. Gary Says:

    “I” = “instant”

  6. David Says:

    Hey! I was looking into these cameras as well and liked the possibility of converting to 120. Could you check to see that your photo’s are linked for the conversion process because I only have text showing for this article.

    Thx for the info!

  7. Pete Says:

    Hi, this is a nice how-to, but with a little more effort you can convert your 616 camera to shoot 16 frames of 120. I have done this to many of my 116 and 616 box cameras, and it takes your film plane mask one step further by cutting a piece of black poster board (or similar heavy black paper) with a 6×4.5 rectangular hole in it to go across the film plane.

    The viewfinders will also need to be modified somewhat, but that’s a simple fix. See my article at the Brownie Camera Page or the several galleries I have posted at my website devoted to converted box cameras.

    Pete

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