The original prewar Agfa Karat was an attractive little 35mm camera with an unusual tapering body. It was introduced in 1936 and produced in Germany until about 1950. They were produced with a variety of fixed 5cm (50mm) lenses with a maximum aperture of 6.3, 4.5,and 3.5. (Circa 1941 a limited number of new Karats with a coupled rangefinder and a more squared off body design was introduced and this was available with a 2.8 lens. )
Many collectors are aware that this series of cameras were designed to use normal perforated 35mm film in special Karat cassette which was called the “Rapid CassetteSystem”. In use the film was taken from a full film cassette on the left hand side of the camera, exposed at the camera’s film gate and then transported to an empty cassette on the right. The advantage of this was that the photographer didn’t need to rewind the exposed film (as is normal with modern 35mm film cameras). The advantage was to speed up operation and supposedly minimize scratches the film could receive during rewinding.*
When the film was completely exposed, the photographer simply opened the camera, removed the full film cassette, moved the now empty cassette from left to right (to receive the next load of exposed film) and then loaded the camera with fresh film as usual.
Now-a-days this film Rapid Cassette system is dead, though a few ghosts may possibly linger in the obscure corners of the internet where camera fans can still manage to find “obsolete” films such as six-20 and 616 roll film for their lovely, eclectic cameras.
Karat fans though have learned though, that’s it’s not necessary to purchase pre-packaged film for their cameras. This is because the camera actually uses the same 35mm film contained within a modern roll of 35mm film. The dimensions and sprocket hole spacing are identical.
Basically there are two options. The first is to locate and refill some old Karat Rapid film cassettes with modern 35mm film. The second option is simply dispense with the cassettes altogether. (The cassettes were simply light tight containers that allowed day light loading. The film simply curled up in them without any need for spools.)
If you don’t have Karat film cassettes and still want to use your Karat camera, then this is how it’s done:
- In a dark room, you simply remove pull out about 55 cm. (22 inches) of black and white film out of a 35mm cassette and cut it off.
- Load this film onto the camera (the sprocket has spring loaded flip up film guides which will conveniently hold the film for you once they are flipped down again) but make sure that most of the film is to the left of the film gate.
- Roll long section of the film into the left hand compartment (it’s easy because it’s pretty much curls by itself.).
- Roll the short section of film (approximately 6 cm or 2-3 inches) into right hand section into the right hand compartment.
- Close the camera and turn the lights back on.
- Set the film counter #1 and cock the camera. You’re all set to shoot. (A Karat cassette was good for 12 exposures.)
- Once you’ve shot your standard 12 exposures (but 13 exposures is often possible too) return to the dark room remove the film and develop as usual.
*Actually this system is not as strange as it sounds. Prewar Contax owners had a similar practice with normal 35mm film. They would often connect the film leader from a full cartridge of film onto the empty spool of another cartridge. In the field, paired off film cartridges (with film in between them) could then be loaded into the Contax together very quickly. When finished, film was not rewound but simply kept in the formerly empty cartridge. This saved loading time and completely eliminated the need to rewind film.