I love vintage folding cameras. They’re great for any camera collector because models can be had at any price. The better ones are, of course, more expensive. But to the untrained eye one old folder looks much like another and gives off a great vintage air.
Unfortunately, so many vintage folders take discontinued film sizes. Here’s a list of all of them.
A great many old folders take 620 film. Even though that film was discontinued in 1995, it is the same stuff as 120 film, except that it is wound around a narrower spool. 120 is still made and, as the professional standard, is widely available. Because you can roll 120 film onto a 620 spool — or just buy it pre-respooled from the Film Photography Project — any working 620 camera can still take photos.
Kodak is the undisputed king of folding cameras, and some of the ones they produced are extra lovely with Art Deco details. Like this one, the Six-20, which I found in good cosmetic condition on eBay for $30. Nab!
The Kodak Six-20 was manufactured from 1932 to 1937. It cost $38 when new, which is equivalent north of $600 today. It packs a 100mm f/6.3 Kodak Anastigmat lens, which is probably a three-element Cooke triplet type. It was considered a good quality lens at the time. The Kodon shutter is nothing special, though, with speeds of 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 sec. and bulb.
The camera sports two viewfinders. The first is a small “brilliant” type attached to the lens assembly that swivels to frame portrait and landscape photos. The second is a gunsight type attached to the camera body; it frames only landscape photos. As you can see, my Six-20’s brilliant finder is foggy.
What really set the Six-20 apart was its art deco styling. This photo shows not only some of those details, but that I needed to do a better job of wiping the dust off my camera before I photographed it. The button next to the film winder opens the self-erecting bellows.
Even the folding mechanism is attractive on the Six-20.
By the way, if you like old folders I’ve reviewed several others, including the Voigtländer Bessa (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), and the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
The Kodak Six-20 takes eight rectangular photos on every roll of 620 film. I loaded some Kodak Plus-X and went to town, albeit briefly, as it takes little time to snap eight shots. I shot using the Sunny 16 rule. Aside from the foggy brilliant viewfinder, the camera itself functioned well.
But I’m not happy with the scans I got back from the processor. Actually, they didn’t make scans – they photographed the negatives with a digital camera and reversed the images in Photoshop. The negatives look better than these images. I think I’ll use a different processor next time! But my habit is to show you photos from the first roll I shoot, and so here you go.
This is the shed in my back yard. I had to do some fancy footwork in post processing to make the images look this good.
I put this camera on a nearby shelf where I could gaze upon its beauty. I kept meaning to shoot it again, but six years passed before I did. First, I disassembled the lens and cleaned it. Then I bought a roll of expired (1/2004), cold-stored, hand-respooled Kodak Verichrome Pan from the Film Photography Project store and spooled it into this octogenarian camera. I got much better results this time.
This may be a good looking camera, and it may have been expensive in its day, but its lens and especially its shutter weren’t among the finest Kodak had to offer. I’ll bet the shutter is just a simple leaf as found in Kodak’s box cameras, as it requires no cocking.
I shot the Six-20 on a tripod this time in a bid to tame camera shake and to level the camera better than my bare hands can. It helped, but it could not tame this lens’s tendency to flare.
Things that should have been in focus tended to come out soft, as well. Perhaps the lens needed to be collimated.
To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Six-20 gallery.
Even though I was disappointed in these results, I have no regrets. But I can’t imagine using this camera regularly. There are simply too many folders out there that do better work.
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