Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Monitor Six-20

Tree at the retention pond

At last, we reach the end of Operation Thin the Herd. In this project I’ve sold or given away dozens of cameras, keeping only those I’ll use regularly. Some cameras were a no-brainer to either keep or let go. Others I needed to put one or two more rolls of film through to help me decide. When I did, I shared the photos and my thoughts here. You can see all of my Operation Thin the Herd posts here.

I’ve put off evaluating my Kodak Monitor Six-20, which is why it’s last. Putting film through it might show me that I’m in love with the idea of this camera far more than with the camera itself. I haven’t wanted to find out.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

I was smitten with the Monitor from the time I first saw one on Mike Connealy’s site. Not just any Monitor, mind, but this one, with the 101mm f/4.5 Anastigmat Special lens. It’s a gorgeous camera, and Mike always coaxed such beautiful photographs from his. I wanted in on the action. No matter that I had sworn off cameras that take out-of-production 620 film, as the Monitor does. I prowled eBay until I found one in good condition at a good price.

Here’s a photo from one of the first rolls I shot. It’s not smart to test an old camera with expensive slide film, but I did it anyway. This is Kodak Ektachrome E100G.

Karmann-Ghia

I used the Monitor again about a year later on a trip to Bridgeton. I shot expired Kodak Gold 200 in 620 from the mid 1990s, at the end of 620 production. The lab I sent the film to accidentally developed it in black and white.

Bridgeton covered bridge

I used the Monitor only a few times in the first two years I owned it, and then not again until last November, seven long years later. One reason is that 620 film is expensive to buy expired or hand-spooled fresh, and I wasn’t interested in learning to hand spool my own. But the main reason is that the shutter button doesn’t trip the shutter. The button connects to a series of levers and rods that reach around behind the lens, where the actual shutter release is. They don’t connect properly, and I can’t figure out how to fix it. The only way to fire the shutter is to stick a finger in there. What a pain.

But oh, what a beautiful camera this is! I mounted it on an vintage Kodak metal tripod and displayed it in my living room so I could look at it every day. I kept it there until I moved a few years ago.

I couldn’t put off evaluating my Monitor any longer, so I got it out — and found that its shutter wasn’t working right. No matter the speed I set, the shutter operated at what sounded like the same speed. Mike Connealy advised me to carefully drip a little lighter fluid into the shutter-cable socket and into the cock-lever crevice and fire the shutter at several speeds. Worked like a charm.

Now that I develop my own film and am comfortable working in a dark bag, I tried respooling 120 film onto a 620 spool. It was easy! I had Ilford FP4 Plus on hand, so that’s what I used. I developed it for eight minutes at 20° C in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B (1+31).

Wrecks, Inc.

It’s hard to level the scene in the Monitor’s tiny brilliant viewfinder. It’s easier in the pop-up “sports” finder, but that finder works best for landscape-oriented photos. But just look at the sharp detail the Anastigmat Special lens captured in this cockeyed photo. The white area on the left is light that leaked onto the end of the roll as it sat on my desk, undeveloped, for far too long.

Abandoned Co-Op

Given how I have to fire the shutter, I’m surprised I didn’t get my finger in the lens more often than just this one time. I was trying to be creative here by standing the Monitor on its side on the pavement. I forget what aperture and shutter speed I used, probably f/8 and 1/100, but it wasn’t enough to get the depth of field this photograph needed.

Tennis anyone?

I managed to get a few error-free photos on this roll, like the one below and the one at the top of this post. Handled with care, the Monitor delivers!

NO

I decided the Monitor deserved more time in evaluation. By this time the weather had turned chilly and gray, making faster film necessary. I respooled a roll of ISO 400 Ilford HP5 Plus onto a spare 620 spool and loaded it into the Monitor. I developed it for five minutes at 20° C in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B (1+31).

One of the things I like about the Monitor is its 1/400 top shutter speed. So many of the folders I’ve owned top out at 1/100 or thereabouts. 1/400 lets me shoot faster films even on sunny days.

Z West

COVID-19 kept me close to home, so I returned to familiar subjects. I have shot the back of this Lowe’s reflecting into that retention pond probably 20 times this year. I think there’s an interesting composition in this scene but I haven’t nailed it yet.

Lowe's Reflected

On this roll, a few shots suffered from a light spot in the upper center. Is it a light leak? Is it a shutter fault?

GetGo

Now I come to the moment of truth: does my Kodak Monitor stay, or does it go?

By the end of my second roll, I’d become fully annoyed with how I have to fire the shutter. It made the rest of the cameras’ limitations more annoying, especially that tiny brilliant viewfinder. The pop-up sports viewfinder eases framing on landscape-oriented photos, at least.

Yet I’m still smitten with this camera. As you can see in these photographs, its lens renders good sharpness and contrast. While I wouldn’t choose any old folder as a primary camera, sometimes it’s nice to let one slow you down as much as they do. This one offers great flexibility given its fast shutter and sort-of fast (f/4.5) lens. And this Monitor remains a beautiful camera.

My Monitor needs a CLA. I can’t evaluate it fairly until it functions properly. Unfortunately, many of my other cameras are ahead of it in the repair/CLA queue: my Nikon F2AS, my Pentax KM, my Pentax ME-F, and my Yashica Lynx 14e. I know exactly who I’ll send these four cameras to (Sover Wong for the F2, Eric Hendrickson for the Pentaxes, Mark Hama for the Yashica). But who restores old Kodak folders? Maybe Jurgen, better known as Certo6, would take it on? If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments.

Verdict: Keep

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30 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Monitor Six-20

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I have a pal that uses all sorts of 120 folders and he swears by Certo6 for all repairs of any kind. You can also try the generalist “Zacks” who did a great job on my last camera:

    http://zackscamerarepair.biz/

    I’ll bet it’s not going to be that hard to fix! Seems like a great lens on that camera and worth sprucing up!

    I have a question, tho. I had a folder of this size in great shape that I loved to use, but the 105mm lens, due to its size, just had very narrow depth of field. I thought I was a pretty good distance judger to set my 120 square folder with a 75mm lens, but boy, if you slightly missed on the 6X9 folder with the 105…it was “out”. I eventually either had to buy an expensive add-on rangefinder, or let it go…so I let it go…

    • Someone else said I should send the Monitor to Certo6. I know he mostly does German folders but I suppose a Kodak folder should be similar enough that he would do a good job.

      I wonder if it makes sense to invest in new bellows. The existing bellows is intact, no pinholes, but it’s also ~75 years old.

      Interesting that your old folder’s 105mm lens had narrow depth of field. I’ve not experienced any such issues with my Monitor’s 101mm lens.

  2. davepowell01 says:

    ‘Morning Jim!

    My Monitor 620 also suffers from the same broken shutter linkage, and screwing a cable release into the port on the lens housing nicely solved that awkward problem. I once shot some low-light details with the camera inside a historic building that was being renovated. They were amazing, and you’ve inspired me to pull the camera out again.

    I’m also in the process of adapting the same great lens for use on my Fuji X-Pro1. The donor Monitor’s body must have been dunked in sea water, but the lens was perfectly clear and uncorroded. (Huh?!?!) So the process of removal is half completed. I’m now debating whether to separate the lens from its thick Monitor mounting plate, or to avoid messing with its infinity focus by slapping plate and all on a T-mount focusing tube of some sort.

    The Anastigmat Special is a stupendous lens and the Monitor 620 is my favorite MF folder. A close second, or perhaps third, favorite (after the beautiful Ansco Titan) is Kodak’s Tourist with its Anaston 4.5 105mm lens in Flash Kodamatic Shutter. Its back is fully removable and replaceable with a multi-format back from Kodak’s Tourist Adapter Kit. I last used the kit about 15 years ago to shoot 6×6. But I’d also wanted to try cobbling 35mm B/W into the kit’s 828 adapter. You’ve just reminded me of that!

    Cheers,

    Dave

    P.S. I loved our post about your dad. I had a similar relationship with mine. Think I’ll comment there too!

    • I think the shutter linkage was the Monitor’s Achilles heel. I tried screwing a cable release into the socket on mine but I couldn’t make it go. Not sure what’s wrong there.

      It’ll be interesting to see the results you get with that lens on the X-Pro!

      Thank you for remarking on the post about my dad. I think men of a certain generation just weren’t warm and cuddly.

      • davepowell01 says:

        Jim, just wanted to let you know that I have adapted the Monitor-620 lens to my X-Pro1. I’m taking some test shots this week, and will write a short illustrated piece for you. One thing I can say up-front is that this specific lens seems to flare like CRAZY… even with an improvised hood around it and no direct light hitting its front. Don’t remember the one on my good Monitor 620 ever doing that. My adapted lens also looks clean and clear, so maybe the flaring is due to “sample error.” I think you’ll still find the article interesting anyway!

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    BTW, I noticed the red car photo had a sign for WITT in the background! This is a radio station DJ’s only dream about (if it’s still the same); and I’ve only heard similar in Denver and San Francisco. They call it “unpredictable radio”, and it sure was: one morning I got it my car, flipped on the radio, to hear an old Bessie Smith blues number, followed by a Pavarotti solo, and then Edith Piaf doing La Vie En Rose! It can be hit or miss, but a lot of times it’s HIT! That, and the jazz radio station at Indianapolis U. are two things I really loved in Indy. Sure, you can stream audio anywhere, but I hate that, I love the idea of flipping on the 20 dollar radio in my town and getting programming I want to listen to!

  4. tbm3fan says:

    I’ll have to take a look at the linkage in my Monitor. I happen to have two 616 Monitors and two 620 Monitors in gorgeous condition. Makes me think they didn’t survive someone else’s survive the herd decades ago. Why four? Because they are so gorgeous to look at. It is equal to owning four gorgeous Cadillacs from the 60s.

      • tbm3fan says:

        Can tell you the linkage arms to the shutter lever are not the problem. If you press down on the shutter button, watching deep inside, then move by hand the chrome lever to actuate the black shutter lever one can see that the shaft is falling short by about 3/32″ – 1/8″. How to correct that in one of my 616 cameras is not critical but I’ll look into it. With much riveted in I don’t know what I can do.

        • tbm3fan says:

          I checked it out compared to me 620 model and the linkage and bends are all the same. However, the shutter button, on top sits lower and gets enough movement on pushing the shaft down to trip the shutter lever in the 620 model.

  5. Joshua Fast says:

    Roberts camera has followed KEH in offering camera service. They both used to offer service/repair, then pivoted away and now pivoted back. I’m not sure if they service folders, but it might be worth a phone call.

  6. I have also yearned after one of these, but I have held off so far. They are beautiful and have so much history. No wonder you are smitten.

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