I have always had a thing for folding cameras and own several. They sure look impressive, especially my giant No. 3A Autographic Kodak. 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.
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 a little more than $1,000 in 2012 dollars.
The Monitor comes with two viewfinders, both an old-fashioned bubble type attached to the lens assembly, and a flip-up finder on the top plate. The flip-up finder is big and bright, and includes manual parallax compensation.
To use the Monitor, first cock the shutter with the little lever next to the bubble 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. Mine requires a very deliberate press or the shutter won’t fire, but I got used to that fast enough.
I never got used to the winding system, though. 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 stops when you’ve wound to the next frame. I couldn’t make it work well on my Monitor. When I first shot this camera last fall, the winder usually stopped long before it had actually moved the film fully to the next frame. I ended up with several double and triple exposures. I got two usable photos from that roll; this is one of them.
A colleague owns a Monitor with this lens and shutter and showed me some fabulous slides he took with it using some Ektachrome E100G. I was so impressed with the color he got that I bought some E100G respooled onto 620 spools from B&H Photo for my Monitor. I shot Sunny 16.
But I was so deflated by my winding woes that I sat the camera back on the shelf and worked up the courage to try again. In playing with the camera, I found out that it’s possible to bypass the winding system. In the well underneath the pop-up viewfinder is a little lever that, when you move it, overrides the double-exposure prevention system and lets you take a second exposure on the current frame. 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. Then I tripped the double-exposure lever so I could take another shot. It was a little convoluted, but it worked. So I loaded some more E100G and went to town. This time, I brought my GE PR-1 light meter with me. This is my favorite shot from this roll, of a picket fence in Broad Ripple.
A fellow parked his 1960s Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia in front of a natural-foods store. Somehow, that seems appropriate.
I just love this goofy chair painted on the side of this building. I’ve shot it over and over.
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.
Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!