I can think of few good reasons to own a Kodak Tourist. You can find far better vintage medium-format folding cameras for reasonable prices. But this one was all shiny and cost less than $10, so I bought it. I should be glad I don’t always have $10 in my pocket or my house would be crammed with shiny things.
Before 35 mm photography took off in the 1950s, serious amateurs used medium-format folding cameras. They deliver big 6 cm by 9 cm negatives well-suited for enlargements. Also, when closed, they fit into a jacket pocket (though they tend to be heavy). Given these advantages, Kodak had been making medium-format folding cameras for at least 50 years in 1948 when it introduced the Tourist. In production until 1951, the Tourist kept with Kodak’s mission of photography for the masses by favoring low cost over high quality. Even though the Tourist is quite sturdy and its back is cleverly designed to be opened at either end, it is cheap where it counts – in the lens and shutter. My Tourist is the entry-level model, with a fixed-focus 86 mm f/12.5 Kodet lens (which I’m pretty sure is plastic) and fixed-speed Flash Kodon shutter, both of which seriously limit its versatility.
Better Tourists came with glass Anastigmat or Anaston lenses, shutters with variable speeds, and scale focusing. But those Tourists can’t touch medium-format folders from manufacturers such as Agfa, Zeiss-Ikon, and Voigtländer, which could be had with wonderful four-element lenses, high-speed shutters, and even coupled rangefinders that took the guesswork out of focusing. Those cameras produced sublime images that best all but the highest-end 35 mm SLR and digital cameras available today. But those cameras were horribly expensive, while the Tourist was not. Judging by the number of Tourists available on eBay every day, Kodak probably sold thousands of them. Despite its low cost, my lowly Tourist probably took decent photographs in its day, as long as you were mindful of its limitations.
I’m not going to find out whether my Tourist still takes decent photographs, though. It uses 620 film, which Kodak stopped making at least 20 years ago. I’m not motivated to roll otherwise identical (and still available) 120 film onto its narrower spool, and I’m certainly not willing to pay somebody else to do it for me – not for a camera with such an unremarkable lens, at any rate. So my shiny Tourist will sit on a shelf. That’s okay with me. I like shiny things.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my collection!