Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Agfa Ansco PB20 Plenax

Made: 1934 to 1938
Film: PB20 which equals 620
Lens: Hypar Anastigmat 75mm f6.3
Shutter: Wollensak Plenax 
Shutter speeds: T, B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100

Another camera that I got in a box with some other stuff.  It sat around for months before I took a good look at it.  When I did I was most surprised to find that the bellows seemed to still be good.  I couldn't find even a little pinhole.  Considering that this is a cloth bellows and nearly 80 years old that was amazing to me.  The lens was also clear and the shutter sounded okay.  So I realized that there wasn't any reason I could not take some pictures with it. 

The Agfa Ansco PB20 Plenax is one of those cameras that uses the discontinued 620 film.  So I had to wind some 120 film onto a 620 spool. I am actually getting pretty comfortable doing that now that I have some practice.  For this experiment I used Tmax 400.  Because of the slow shutter speeds of the Plenax I would have liked to use a 100 IS0 film, however the Tmax is what I had on hand.  Fortunately the day became cloudy and the light became acceptable for this camera and film combination.

The Plenax may look more imposing in the image at the top than it is in reality. For a medium format camera it is almost pocket size.  The Plenax was an inexpensive camera in its day, however it appears to have been well-made. I suppose some evidence of that is in the fact that it is still functional after almost 80 years.  I have no sales figures, however I would guess that a lot of these were sold.  I have three of them that have been thrown in with other stuff, so I would guess they must be plentiful.  The other two are made for 616 film and are larger than the 620 version.

The Plenax makes 8 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 negatives.  That was a common format for snapshot cameras back then.  The reason was that images would be printed directly from the negatives without enlargement.  If you have come across snapshots from that era you might have noticed 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 is a common size. 

I found myself pleasantly surprised by the Agfa Ansco PB20 Plenax.  Especially for a medium format camera it is easy to carry around.  And the images it gives are while not outstanding, are still much better than I expected.  One thing I would like is a faster shutter speed than 1/100.  A funny thing to me at least, is that I have gotten to where the range focusing for this camera isn't much of an issue for me.  I have used enough cameras of this sort that I am now used to it.  At least for general shooting I have found that getting familiar with distant/aperture/depth of field combinations for the camera frees me from having to figure out exactly how far away things are most of the time.  So my conclusion is that I can see why the Agfa Ansco PB20 Plenax was a popular camera back in the day.  And it's not a bad camera to use today.  I honestly don't know if I would ever actually seek one out, however I am glad that this one did turn up.

Anhydrous ammonia tanks are a frequent site in rural Illinois this time of year.


  1. I suppose with a wide-latitude b/w film this would reliably produce acceptable contact prints for a family. Ah, Verichrome Pan, how I wish you were still around.

    1. I think you are right about that. It would give you a little more flexibility than the box cameras that were so common then. I imagine it would have been seen as quite an advance at the time.