Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Kodak Six-20, revisited

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I was so impressed with this camera when I bought it seven or eight years ago. I was limiting my collection to folders and rangefinders then, and this mint-condition folding Kodak with Art Deco details was so lovely I just had to own it. I’ve always displayed this camera. I have little display space, so it’s a special camera that doesn’t end up in a closet or in a box under the bed.

Kodak Six-20

Manufactured from 1932-37, the Kodak Six-20 was more style than substance. It featured a 100mm Kodak Anastigmat lens, one step up in quality from Kodak’s entry-level Diway, Bimat, Twindar, and Kodar lenses. Some think this Anastigmat is similar in design to a Tessar. Yet its maximum aperture is only f/6.3, and the No. 0 Kodon shutter in which it is set offers just three settings: 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 sec, plus time and bulb. Not very versatile.

Kodak Six-20

The Six-20 offers two viewfinders: a brilliant peer-down viewfinder attached to the lens assembly, and a pop-up sports viewfinder on the body side. On mine, the brilliant viewfinder is so cloudy as to be useless.

Kodak Six-20

This was the kind of camera a gentleman could slip into his coat pocket, or a lady could carry in her clutch, and look stylish when pulling it out. Only a gentleman or a lady could afford this camera: it was $38 when new, which is equivalent to $666 in 2016.

Kodak Six-20 Kodak Six-20

I shot this camera once before, in 2010. See the review here. I got terrible results and blamed a combination of camera gremlins and photographer incompetence. But I’ve learned a lot about using old gear and making photographs in the years since, and so I decided to try again. I began by cleaning the lens, which is easily accessed from the back by opening the aperture wide and setting the shutter to T. I then shot the shutter at every speed many times to loosen it up.

The Kodak Six-20 unsurprisingly takes 620 film, which hasn’t been manufactured since 1984. It’s the same film as still-manufactured 120, but on narrower spools. You can respool 120 onto 620 spools, or buy it pre-respooled at premium prices. Because neither option excites me, I swore off 620 cameras a few years ago. But as my grandmother always used to say, “never say never.” 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.

My first stop was a nearby Episcopal church. Armed with my monopod to keep the camera stable, and my iPhone light meter app to get exposure right, I got to work. This is my favorite shot from the roll.

Church building

Somebody forgot to put the toys away on the church playground.

Toy trucks

From the church, I walked around the surrounding Warfleigh neighborhood a little. The Meridian Street Bridge cuts through on its way over the White River. The sun, low in the west, created gobs of annoying flare. I had to have my back fully to the sun to avoid it. I’m sure Kodak made a snap-on hood for this lens; I wish I had one.

Meridian Street bridge

These shots all look a lot better than the original scans, which were hazy and low contrast. Fortunately, in this modern age Photoshop corrects those problems quickly and easily. But even Photoshop couldn’t help with the flare.

Starbucks

I finished the roll (just eight photos!) over in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, where there’s a Graeter’s ice-cream shop. It was busy on this warm Saturday evening.

Graeter's

By the way, the Six-20’s shutter requires no cocking. That’s unusual for a folding camera of this era. I’m betting that the No. 0 Kodon is a simple rotary shutter similar to those found on box cameras.

See the rest of my photos from this camera in my Kodak Six-20 gallery.

I was actually about to sell this camera. I’ve been thinning my herd, as cameras were stuffed into every nook and cranny around here and the madness had to stop. I’ve shed probably 50 cameras and am not done yet. But something made me pause and try this one again. I’m glad I did; after this experience I’ll be keeping it.


Do you like old film cameras? Then check out all of my reviews!

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15 thoughts on “Kodak Six-20, revisited

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I envy you! I actually had a camera like this that was 120, it was an Agfa, and I had the bellows replaced back in the late 80’s, there were still companies that would do bellows and ‘little’ cameras like this. I remember it had a 105mm lens. I miss that camera, and I’d probably be suing it today if I had it…I always wished it had a 75mm tho, I would think it would have been more usable.

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  2. Bill Bussell says:

    You might try a lens shade and a light yellow filter to help with lens flare. A polarizer would also help at times, but requires a little guessing.

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      • Andy Umbo says:

        …amazing how many Kodak amateur cameras had ‘press fit’ yellow filters. My Mom had them with all the Kodak box cameras and folders she bought because she wanted slightly darker skies and a little more contrast.

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        • I have a bunch of that stuff in a drawer here, the “Series V” and “Series VI” accessories. I wonder if one of the lens hoods I have among them would fit this camera.

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  3. hmunro says:

    Holy moly! Your images totally exceeded anything I would have expected from that camera. You called it right, Jim: It’s a keeper, flare and all.

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  4. Ron says:

    I’ve got an old Kodak Vigilant Junior Six-20 that has an amazing Kodet lenses, Dak shutter with f12.5 to f32 aperture. The speed setting choices are T, B, and I. I feels pretty slow. It’s pristine and, like almost all cheap Kodaks, works perfectly. , Not too practical, these days.

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  5. Hey Jim, loved the shots you got from that folder. Your post inspired me to pull my grandmother’s cameras off the top shelf of the library and have a peek. One is a No. 1 Diomatic while the other is a No. 2a. Apparently both use 116 film. I miss and don’t miss my 35mm film daze. My F3, which traveled the world more than once, sits in its large bag, along with a ton of lenses, on my closet shelf. Sad. It’s waiting for me to take it for joy ride, rather than for a quick nostalgic look and touch. All the best. Wil.

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    • Wil, that pesky 116! Some people adapt 120 to work in their 116 cameras; search the Net for instructions.

      I have an F3 here too; more photos from it will appear on this blog the week after next. (I write in advance.) It’s a wonderful camera. I hope you’ll get yours down soon.

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  6. Superb results with the Kodak Jim! Wow, I’m impressed with this! I think I may actually have this camera, but I will have to check and see if it’s this one. I know I picked up a Kodak camera that looked just like this, but I never used it. Took a look at it and chucked it back in the box. Just like you I’ve been thinning out the herd too and it’s not always an easy task :-)

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    • There were a couple art-deco-inspired Kodak folders, and some of them took other film sizes. Yeah, it’s past time for me to shrink the collection down to just those cameras I might actually shoot again.

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