Camera Reviews

Kodak Six-20

Kodak Six-20

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!

Kodak Six-20

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.

Kodak Six-20

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.

Kodak Six-20

Even the folding mechanism is attractive on the Six-20.

Kodak 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.

Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis

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.

Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis

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.

Barn

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.

Church building

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.

Graeter's

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.

Meridian Street bridge

Things that should have been in focus tended to come out soft, as well. Perhaps the lens needed to be collimated.

Starbucks

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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23 thoughts on “Kodak Six-20

  1. Lone Primate says:

    Wow, these shots look so cool! Never mind faking up faux aged shots in Photoshop, you’ve got a genuine factory. These things could make me believe someone drove their Prius back to 1920 if you just had the right background. :)

    Like

    • It would be one thing if I were trying for the effect I got, but I really wanted clear, crisp photos! Oh well. I am now on a quest to find a versatile camera that takes 120 that I can use when I want to be artzy phartzy.

      Like

      • Lone Primate says:

        Just goes to show you. I’d be all over a camera that could give me results like that (were it digital, that is)… every couple of weekends in the summer I’d be looking for places I could make look believably antique. Don’t give up the ship! :)

        Like

  2. My dad had a camera like this and I took some pictures with it about 20 years ago. They were wonderful, crisp and contrasty black and white. This was in the days when you could still take film like that into a corner processing place and not get surprised looks. I think the processing might be the problem. But your images are lovely anyway.

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  3. Dave says:

    Hey Jim,

    I justs bought this camera (along with a 2a Folding Autographic Brownie [$20] and Janus Foldout [$15]) from a local Goodwill for $15.00. It looks to be in stellar shape. I’m looking forward to taking a few rolls of film and shooting some pics with it. I’m in the midst of cleaning it, as there is dust on the lense and details and the “brilliant” sight needs some cleaning. But I have to say I’m thrilled. Your work with the camera is inspiring. Any pointers you can pass along would be truly appreciated. I’ll continue to check out your site for updates. I hope all is well.

    Dave

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    • Well, like I said in the post, I’d try mounting it on a tripod so you’re sure of level shots. Framing with the tiny brilliant finder is no picnic. And if you don’t process your own film, be sure you have a good lab lined up! I have to admit, I fumble and stumble my way through my first roll (or two or three) in each of my vintage cameras. That’s half the fun!

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  4. I also have a 620 format Kodak folder with a similar lens (probably an uncoated Cooke triplet) and when stopped down to around f/22, it is amazingly sharp! I use ASA400 wide latitude B&W (Ilford HP5+) with it to ensure the small aperture and less focusing error. And yes, I agreed that scans from lab, even they are doing “true” film scan, are often less than satisfactory. Most of the time, they do an automatic exposure on the film scan and thus many details from the highlights and the shadows will be gone. That’s why I ended up getting my own scanner (more economical in long run!)

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  5. Larry says:

    These cameras usually do a great job if cleaned and using a decent film. I have had good luck with Ilford FP4. I use an old GE PR-1 incident meter. I never have good luck using sunny 16.

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  6. Keith Walker says:

    I have ona Brownie Pliant Six-20 in ‘as new’ condition. Information about this camera on the Net is confusing, Pinterest have it as made in 1933, Kodak say c1939, French sources say 1937, another source say 1936. Who is right? Also I have been trying to find the original retail price which appears to have been perhaps US$38 – $40. Do you know anything about this model?

    Like

  7. funkynathy says:

    Oh yeah ! Thanks for the infos about this camera. I’ve got nearly the same, it’s a kodak Six-20 but it looks a bit cheaper and there’s no button next to the film winder (I’m from France, maybe the french models were not exactly the same). I’m glad to learn that we can still use these cameras, as I wasn’t sure that I could find films for it. My grand father gave it to me when I was a kid, and I would be very happy to make it work again (Fuck me, this thing is about 80 years old and seems to be perfectly usable. I seriously doubt my cheap modern sony can make the same).
    Anyway, thank you very much for this very interesting article. Have a good day !

    Like

  8. Monty Smith says:

    I also have a six-20 Art Deco which I enjoy using. I have bought some new 620 film off ebay in the USA, but recommend a cheaper way using easily-available 120 roll film: Using a wood file, make both ends of the plastic 120 spindle as thin as you can (I put the file in a vise and rub the film roll against it), then using toenail clippers, trim the spindle to the diameter of the rolled film. The film will now fit in the camera as per the original. When sending off for processing be sure to ask for the spindle back, and use it next time instead of the original metal one! After the film is processed, my best results for digitizing have been to take a photo of the back-lit negative with my DSLR.

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    • mark fitzgerald says:

      Seems easier to respool inside a dark bag. Roll to another 120 empty spool, then spool back to a 620 spool. Takes about 3 minutes per roll. And you don’t have to worry about filing or clipping debris anywhere. Those shots look sub-par for that lens and film combination. Almost as if the lens was foggy or the focus was slightly off.
      Did you focus using a rangefinder or just eyeball it?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Kodak Six-20, revisited | Down the Road

  10. SilverFox says:

    Very good post and informative. It’s good to see these cameras getting some use I have a similar camera that I have just run a film through which I will post about soon.

    Like

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