Agfa Karat 2.8 v.1
The Agfa Karat 2.8 was the first of the new, second generation of the Karat series, which involved a complete restyling of the body, the introducion of a rangefinder and faster lenses. The first few versions described on thois page still used Karat cassettes. The new model was initially called the Karat 2.8, as shown on the instruction manual and in accordance with its maximum lens aperture of f/2.8. Only later, during production of the second version with accessory shoe, was Karat 12 engraved in top plate, probably to distinguish it from the Karat 36. The latter used 135 film rolls and could thus take a maximum of 36 exposures, whereas the Karat 12 still used the Karat cassettes which allowed only 12 exposures.
A peculiar feature of the Agfa Karat 2.8/Karat 12 range is that there are three ranges of serial numbers on their Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar lenses, with numbers of around 800,000, around 20,000 and around 2,000,000, respectively. It appears that the 800.000 series was only found on the first version of the Karat 2.8 (without accessory shoe), whereas the 2 000 000 series was only found on the Karat 12. The 20,000 range was mostly used on the second version of the Karat 2.8 (with accessory shoe), but could also found on later models of the first version and on the Karat 12.
Due to the unusual lens serial# and the accoiated uncertainty when these were made, there is some discussion on the internet when the Karat 2.8 was first produced, before or after WWII. As the Karat 2.8 is shown in 1941 advertisements together with other pre-war Karats it was clearly in production by then. Shutter serial# comparable to Kodak Retinas from 1939 suggest the Karat 2.8 may even have started production before onset of WWII.
The main distinctive feature of the first version of the Agfa Karat 2.8 was its lack of an accessory shoe. There were three slightly different
types, which differed in shutter plate styling. The first type had a shutter plate with all markings painted on it, similar to earlier Karat 3.5 models. The third type had two small plates screwed onto the shutter plate, one with aperture marking and one with the name 'Agfa Karat' as well as the shutter speed indicator. The second type was a hybrid, it had the same painted shutter plate as the first model but it had a separate plate with aperture markings screwed onto it. There are a few more small differences, for instance the third version had a small plastic shield between the top housing and the wind knob, to avoid damage to the top housing when the wind knob sprung back after winding. This shield was missing on the first version.
An early, wartime Agfa Karat 2.8 with painted shutter plate, sporting a Schneider-Kreuznach Karat-Xenar 50mm f/2.8 #794864. This example has a Compur like most commonly found on this model, although some were equipped with Compur-Rapid shutters, like the one below.
A fairly rare variant of the first version of the Karat 2.8 with a Compur-Rapid shutter instead of the more common Compur shutter. It was built around the same time as the Compur version above, as camera body, lens as well as rangefinder serial # are all very close. Note the strap lugs are a later modification, as are the three holes in the top where an after-market accessory shoe had been fitted.
Karat 2.8 of the first type (painted shutter plate) had lens serial nr. around 800,000. The two other types had five-digit lens serial nr. of 12,000-19,000, with the change from second to third type shutter plate occurring around lens nr. 14,200.
According to Schneider lens serial number lists the 800,000 series was produced around 1935, before even the first Agfa Karat was introduced. Had Agfa perhaps used a batch of old lenses at the start of Karat 2.8 production? It seems unlikely, as Xenars of that time were all f/3.5 lenses. In fact, the Karat Xenars were the first f/2.8 versions Schneider seems to have made. They looked similar to the f/2.8 Xenons as found on Kodak Retina II from that time, although I am not sure they had the same optical formula. The origin of the five-digit serial numbers is even more engimatic, but I suspect this new numbering was introduced when production resumed after WWII.
A later, most likely post-war Agfa Karat 2.8 with screwed-on shutter plate, sporting a Schneider-Kreuznach Karat-Xenar 50mm f/2.8 #18120.
Shutters of first and third version of Karat 2.8 side by side.
This example is a slight variant of the late version above, the only observable difference being that this one has 'Made in Germany' engraved in the top plate. Well, the shutter release button is also different, but this version could be find with either button. On both models the focussing scale is in meters, so export to UK or USA was not the reason behind the 'Made in Germany' markings.
Agfa Karat 2.8 v.2
The second version of the Agfa Karat 2.8 obtained an accessory shoe but still had no markings identifying it as a Karat 12 (or 2.8 for that matter). It did, however, have 'Made in Germany' engraved in the top plate. It was otherwise identical to the third type of the first version, with screwed-on aperture markings. This version only appeared with five-digit lens serial nr. ranging from about 17,000 to 24,000, which partially overlapped in range with the third type of the first version.
Lens markings changed during production: until about 22,000 aperture and focal length are indicated as 'f:2,8 F=5cm', after that it changed to 'f:2,8/50' and it received a red triangle marking, indicating the lens was coated. Around # 24,300 this triangle changed to white. This version only came with Compur-Rapid shutter and can be found with either mushroom-shaped or straight shutter release button. They were produced after WWII until about 1950.
The second version of the Karat 2.8. This example has a Schneider-Kreuznach Karat-Xenar 50mm f/2.8 #23411.
Agfa Karat 12
The Agfa Karat 12 was rather similar to Karat 2.8 v.2 but had 'Karat 12' engraved in the top plate. The shutter cocking lever and release button also changed. They came with a Compur-Rapid shutter. Most had lens serial numbers of around 2.000.000, which overlap with those of the first Karat 36. It thus appears both models were made at the same time and the Karat 12 were called that to distinguish them from the Karat 36. A few early Karat 12 with five-digit serial numbers can be found.
Quite a few small variations exist, some have flat shutter cocking levers similar to the Karat 2.8, others have round cocking levers. Some have flash sync sockets, which could be located either top right or top left of the shutter housing, others have no flash sync. Both straight and mushroom-shaped release buttons can be found.
This version has Karat 12 engraved in the top plate. It has a Schneider-Kreuznach Karat-Xenar 50mm f/2.8 #2046603, but examples with 5-digit serial# could also be found.
As a bonus, here's an ad I made inspired by an Agfa Karat ad from 1941 in German. It features some of the Karats in my collection. This ad proves that the Agfa Karat 2.8 was already in production at the begnning of WWII, as it was shown with the other Karat models in production at that time (late pre-war models of Karat 3.5 and Karat 4.5). The original can be found on karat-kamaras.de (under Atiquariat - Werbung, the site does not allow direct links).