In this link Jurgen discusses his view of the available folder camera models.
One thing that Jurgen says is that almost every Agfa he has come across needs new bellows, which he has not found to be true with Zeiss and Voigtlander rangefinders. In other words, for the $175, make REALLY sure that the bellows are good.
I have also purchased a camera from Jurgen, it was a Zeiss Ikonta with no rangefinder but with a Tessar and a Compur shutter. It was $125 on eBay. It has been fantastic, but I sure would like a coupled rangefinder.
I have several folders and I love using them all. The coupled rangefinder is very nice but I also shoot a nice little folder without any rangefinder and it produces some extremely high quality shots using a very simple Klio (3 speed) shutter and a Nova (cooke triplet) lens. Although there is no rangefinder it is possible to zone focus and come up with some pretty decent shots. If you are not buying from someone like certo6 who cleans, lubes and adjusts his cameras before selling them I would avoid the Agfa cameras. Although their lenses are very good the bellows were not originally built from long lasting material so they very commonly have to be replaced.
If you are just getting started the Zeiss Ikon Nettar is probably your best bet, they were very tough cameras and are usually in good condition even today. The price is decent and it will get you started with medium format folders without spending a fortune for the experience. You can always upgrade to some nicer cameras with more features later on if you find you like the experience. The price you have quoted for the Nettar off Craig's List sounds reasonably but you may want to give certo6 (Jurgen's E-Bay handle) a try. He may have something very reasonable available to get you started and if you get it from him it will certainly work.
Good luck with the folders but be careful, they can be addictive. I own 7 of them and love using every one of them.
It took a while, but I eventually managed to lowball an external rangefinder on eBay for a price MUCH less than the price of entry for a coupled-rangefinder folder. Well worthwhile IMHO.
San Diego, CA, USA
The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
-The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_
I like old folders. Here is a post I wrote on them.
I vote for the Nettar as well. I have a couple Ikontas. They are good build quality and the only difference is the lens/shutter.
Here is my review of an Ansco Speedex (Isolette I clone) with a triplet lens. Triplets are sharp stopped down. Without an auxiliary rangefinder, it's hard to guess focus at wide apertures anyway. The bellows needed to be replaced. They had tiny pinholes which weren't noticeable without shining a powerful flashing at it.
Dennis at Cameraoldies is a good source for folders. I bought my new bellows from him.
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I have a collection of old folders that I use all the time, from a 1938 Voigtlander Bessa 66 to 3 Ensigns, and I love them, use them all the time, and the only one I got with bad bellows was a Ensign where a previous owner had tried to get to the shutter and had damaged the bellows, trip to Custom Bellows and for around £20 pounds a new bellows fitted, in general I find bellows very rarely leak, with the exception of Agfa, who used some form of plastic for their bellows instead of leather, and they almost always need replacing,and I would'nt get an agfa for that reason, Richard
Have you looked at voighlander bessa"s? I think voightlander lenses bring a quality to the image all their own, which I like. I use voightars for preference.
I bought an Isolette III with the Prontor shutter and Apotar lens a few years ago from Jurgen. I like it, basic but solid. I haven't used one with a Solinar, but since I mostly shoot at f/8 or smaller with it, I have my doubts if I'd see a substantial difference.
I have to say, if you compare with Jurgen's prices, $175 is pretty good for an Isolette III with a Solinar - assuming it's already had a CLA and/or new bellows. If not, and it needs one or both, probably not such a great idea.
If it was me, funds were limited, and I didn't know what to expect from a folder, I'd say go for the cheapest option (except you have to estimate distance or get either an accessory rangefinder or a laser tape measure or something like that), and work up from there eventually. This assumes, of course, that you can fondle the camera before purchase - maybe open it and shine a small flashlight from inside the bellows to check for leaks. I wouldn't worry so much about Apotar vs. Solinar, frankly.
i can't wait to take a picture of my thumb with this beautiful camera.
- phirehouse, after buying a camera in the classifieds
A few days ago I bought an Agfa Isolette for a very good price. It has an Agnar 4.5 lens.
The seller said that is in good working condition so that may mean that it has a new bellows. I have not received it yet but look forward to seeing it and using it. Even if it needs a new bellows it will be worth it since the price was right. $50 for a new leather bellows is cheap. Plus shipping of course. I just like older cameras. Most of mine are older than I am (57).