Camera Reviews

Kodak Monitor Six-20

I have always had a thing for folding cameras. They sure look impressive to me! But many of them either take film that hasn’t been made in decades, or are low-end cameras with limited capabilities. I wanted a usable, versatile shooter, so I went looking for a folder with a fast and well-regarded lens. I found it in the Kodak Monitor.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

The Monitor is near the pinnacle of Kodak folding cameras, second only to the rare and expensive (even now) Kodak Super Six-20. Produced from 1939 to 1948, versions were made for 616 and 620 film. Regular 620 Monitors came with an f/4.5 Kodak Anastigmat lens at 103 or 105 mm and a Kodamatic or Flash Kodamatic shutter that operated from 1/10 to 1/200 sec.

For more money, however, you could get a 101 mm f/4.5 Anastigmat Special lens, which is a four-element Tessar design. It was coupled to a Supermatic or Flash Supermatic shutter that operated from 1 to 1/400 sec. My Monitor is one of these. The CAMEROSITY code in the lens’s serial number tells me mine’s from 1946. I gather that Kodak started coating, or Lumenizing in their lingo, this camera’s lens that year, which made them perform better. My Monitor’s lens is marked with a circled L, meaning it’s Lumenized.

Monitors also came with double-exposure prevention and automatic film spacing so you couldn’t wind beyond the next frame, both mighty nice features in those days.

All of these goodies cost, of course. The Monitor Six-20 with the Anastigmat Special lens was $66, which is equivalent to about $1,000 today.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

The Monitor comes with two viewfinders. The first is a brilliant type, attached to the lens assembly. It’s small and reverses the image left to right, making it challenging to use. The other finder flips up on the top plate. It is big and bright, and includes manual parallax compensation.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

To use the Monitor, first cock the shutter with the little lever next to the brilliant viewfinder. Guess the distance to the subject and turn the lens barrel to that number of feet. Then frame the shot and press the shutter button on the top plate.

If you like folding cameras, I’ve reviewed several others, including the Voigtländer Bessa (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), the Kodak Junior Six-16 Series II (here), and the giant No. 3A Autographic Kodak (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

For my first outing with the Monitor I loaded Kodak Ektachrome E100G slide film. Mind you, I paid through the nose for this film as I bought it pre-respooled onto 620 spools. Nothing like plunging right into the deep end on the first try. I had some challenges learning this camera’s ways on the first roll and buggered several frames. “Why won’t this thing fire? …oh.”

Me, by accident

So I shrugged, loaded more expensive E100G, and kept going. When I worked the Monitor properly, it delivered excellent sharpness and color.

Second Presbyterian Church

I never got used to the winding system. A lever on the top plate has two settings: WIND and 1-8. After you load the film, slide the lever to WIND and, using the red window on the camera back, wind to the first frame. Then move the lever to 1-8. For the rest of the roll, the winder knob is supposed to stop when you’ve wound to the next frame. On my Monitor, during the first roll the winder sometimes stopped before it had moved the film fully to the next frame, leading to overlapping exposures.

Karmann-Ghia

That was frustrating! In playing with the unloaded camera later, I figured out that if I left the WIND/1-8 lever on WIND I could wind freely just like any other folding camera, using the red window on the back to gauge when I’d wound to the next frame. The Monitor’s double-exposure protection keeps you from pressing the shutter button, but fortunately an override lever underneath the pop-up viewfinder neatly skirted that problem.

Hydrant with shadows

So I took the Monitor with me on a photo walk in Indianapolis’s Broad Ripple neighborhood. I was having trouble with the shutter button; something in the linkage between it and the shutter didn’t always connect properly, making me pull the linkage itself to fire the shutter. That made handheld images much more challenging, so I put the Monitor on a tripod. I was quite a sight toting this kit through this neighborhood.

Polka-dotted chair

I had to take the Monitor off the tripod for this photo, which because of its lovely color is my favorite of all the E100G shots I made.

Fence

I put one more roll through the Monitor, this time some expired Kodak Gold 200, probably among the last Kodak made in 620 before discontinuing the format. Unfortunately, the processor goofed and developed it in black-and-white chemistry. I like this shot best, which I cropped square because its native 2:3 ratio was less interesting.

Cross this bridge at a walk

I made one other successful photo at this site, the covered bridge in Bridgeton, Indiana. The whole roll I had to stick my finger in the shutter linkage to fire the shutter, which was annoying and created shake on a couple shots.

Bridgeton covered bridge

See all the photos that turned out at my Monitor Six-20 gallery.

If I had it to do over again, I might not buy this Monitor. The Kodak Vigilant Six-20 used the same body and could be had with the Anastigmat Special lens and the Supermatic shutter – but it lacked the self-stop wind feature that gave me so much trouble. I would think it would be a less complicated camera to use. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

But the Monitor is a beautiful folding camera. I screwed it to my vintage Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1 and displayed it in my home.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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25 thoughts on “Kodak Monitor Six-20

  1. Lone Primate says:

    I know I’ve said this before, but I’m always struck by something about the saturation in these shots. If it weren’t for the late model car in the church shot, you could easily convince me it was circa 1960, and even a hand-tinted job. I keep wondering if it’s a result of the optics of the day or the nature of the film used by these older cameras.

    I’m especially impressed by the limited focal range in the fence shot. I would have thought you’d need an f/2 lens, if not faster, to achieve something like that. Is the lens a fix focal length or can you vary it, and if so, between what lengths?

    • I’m going to point primarily to the film here. I shot slide film, the quintessential color stock of days gone by. Even though I used a more modern Ektachrome formulation, it has a blue tinge that, I think, gives that feeling of vintage.

      The Monitor’s f/4.5 lens is certainly fast enough to get some creamy backgrounds when you shoot it at its faster speeds, e.g., 1/400 sec. It’s just easier to achieve that when the lens goes to f/2 or faster!

  2. I had pretty much the same experience in shooting my Monitor, though I like the photos you got better.

    Something I’ve never been able to understand about the Monitor is how Kodak could put a depth of field scale on it that is completely inaccurate. It is a really well constructed camera with an excellent lens and shutter. It is hard to imagine how a fault like that could creep into the design process.

    • I normally shoot b/w in my folders but after seeing my colleague’s results with E100G in his Monitor Special, I couldn’t resist — and am glad I didn’t. I was just thinking I ought to buy more and use this camera again.

      I’ve read in multiple sources about the useless DOF scale, so I didn’t bother to use it. Maybe they had some of these left over from some other camera.

  3. I have been tempted to get one of these, but have been put off by the need for respooling. Do you think this camera is worth it just for its build quality alone? I don’t imagine anything like it will ever be made again.

    • I think it depends on what you want to do with it. If you want to shoot with it frequently, the hassle of respooling 120 or the expense of buying pre-respooled 620 may not be worth it. But if you want to use it occasionally and otherwise enjoy looking at it on the shelf, it might be worth it. From a straight usage perspective, the Vigilant with this lens and shutter should be a better choice, because it will be simpler to use. As for build quality, it’s well made but isn’t overbuilt, like some of the German cameras I own.

    • Thank you! I want to shoot with this camera again despite the winding challenges, because I loved the photos I got back.

  4. ambaker49 says:

    This brings me back to the days when things had designers, rather than committees. When designs fulfilled a vision, not a focus group. Thank you for sharing this great old camera, and its capabilities.

  5. Very late to the field here but I love that the VW still has its German front license plate! From Garmisch-Partenkirchen. :)

  6. Pingback: Kodak Monitor Six-20 (1940) - mike eckman dot com

  7. John Shriver says:

    The multiple-exposure protection system on your camera probably needs cleaning and lubrication. It’s all under the top plate, which isn’t hard to remove. Clean the mechanism, and lubricate with white lithium grease (Lubriplate).

    You’re lucky to have a good bellows, it’s the weak point of these late folding Kodak cameras.

    The parallax correction viewfinder wasn’t provided on all Monitors sold. It was also available separately.

    • Excellent tips. Cleaning and lubricating that bit doesn’t sound like it’s too hard. I’ll give it a try. I’m in a (long) process of shooting all the cameras in my collection again and deciding which stay and which go so that I have a manageable collection. I’ll try this repair before I shoot the Monitor again and it might make all the difference in whether I keep it. It’s a lovely camera but its shutter-linkage issue has kept me from shooting it more.

  8. Mark says:

    How was the bellows? Most of these i’ve looked at seem to suffer from the bellows turning to dust on the corners.

    • Mine was supple the last time I shot it, but it’s been a few years. I’m about to put a roll through it and we’ll see how it’s survived the last few years.

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