Kodak produced approximately a gazillion inexpensive box and folding cameras in the first half of the 20th century. Everyday people bought them readily to record family memories. One of Kodak’s many simple folding cameras was the 1933 Jiffy Kodak Six-20 with its art-deco faceplate, advertised as the easiest-to-use folding camera ever. In 1937, Kodak covered the faceplate in leatherette and dubbed the camera the Jiffy Kodak Six-20, Series II. This camera was manufactured through 1948.

Kodak Jiffy Six-20, Series II

Open the bellows by first pressing the button on the camera’s side, which releases the faceplate from the body. Then pull the faceplate out as far as it goes. To retract the bellows, push the faceplate until it clicks in place flush with the body.

Kodak Jiffy Six-20, Series II

The Jiffy has two bubble viewfinders on the lens board, one on the top for portrait images, and another on the side for landscape images. To frame your shot, hold the camera at about your sternum and peer down. Then flip the shutter lever, which is on the side of the lens board. The leaf shutter operates at a single speed of probably about 1/30 second. You can also set the shutter to remain open as long as you want, too. Move the T/I lever on top of the lens board to T (time). Then flip the shutter lever once to open the shutter and again to close it. Move the lever back to I (instant) for the 1/30 sec. shutter.

Kodak Jiffy Six-20, Series II

The camera also offers three apertures, which you select by pulling out the tab on the side of the lens board. Pushed all the way in, you get probably f/11. The middle setting is probably f/16, and the last setting is probably f/22. Finally, the Jiffy has two focus zones, 5 to 10 feet and 10 feet to infinity. To select a focus zone, turn the lens barrel until the black pip on it hits the stop by the arrow for that focus zone.

The camera features Kodak’s Twindar lens, which a couple of sources claim has a focal length of 105mm. With two elements, it’s a step up from a meniscus lens. One element in front of the shutter and one is behind it, however. This complicates shutter maintenance — leaf shutters sometimes go sluggish with age, and a little lighter fluid can loosen one up again. On most simple cameras you can access the shutter directly from inside the camera body. But because of the Twindar’s design you have to disassemble the lens board to access the Jiffy’s shutter.

The shutter lever is the camera’s fatal flaw. It works well enough with the camera in portrait orientation. But in landscape orientation, where it’s right next to the landscape viewfinder, it’s awkward to get your hand in there to move the lever. Between this and the camera’s slow shutter speed, you risk shaking the camera and getting blurry images.

The Jiffy delivers eight 6×9-cm images on 620 rollfilm. You can’t buy 620 film anymore, but fortunately it’s the same film as still-available 120 on a different spool. You can reroll 120 film onto a 620 spool in a dark bag, which is what I did so I could test this camera.

If you like old folding cameras, check out my reviews of Ansco’s B2 Speedex (here) and Standard Speedex (here), of the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), of Kodak’s Junior Six-16, Series II (here), Monitor Six-20 (here), No. 3A Autographic (here), and Tourist (here), and of the Voigtländer Bessa (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

This camera came to me from an old college chum, who received it from his grandmother with a handwritten note: “We bought this camera in the late 1930s. I took pictures of Sandra & your Mom. Thought you might like it.” My friend kept the camera for some time, but then passed it on to me for my collection. It came in its original box, worn but intact.

This camera’s bellows was full of pinholes, both in the corners and in the folds. I liberally applied black fabric paint to try to make the bellows light tight again.

There’s some Ilford FP4 Plus in 120, expired since December of 1994, in my freezer. I rolled one onto a 620 spool and loaded it into the Jiffy and developed it in Rodinal 1+50. I thought surely I patched all of the holes, but I must have missed some because light leaked onto most of these images.

1967 Chevy Impala

This image shows the shake that’s so easy to get in landscape orientation because of the shutter lever’s placement.

1967 Chevy Impala

My portrait-orientation images suffered from far less shake. This image shows that the Twindar lens is not amazingly sharp. It’s probably sharp enough for contact prints off the negatives, which is how snapshot prints were often made back in the day.

West Sonora arch

The viewfinder shows less than what the lens sees — when I framed this image, only the area with the awning was in the viewfinder. The expired film I used must have had some damage to the emulsion. Notice all of the black spots. Most of the images had these black spots, but not so many that I couldn’t remove them in Photoshop. This image and another one were sprayed with black spots and I didn’t bother trying to remove them. Ah, the vagaries of expired film.

Char-Bett, Logansport

After this roll I took the Jiffy into a dark room and shined a flashlight into the bellows. It lit up like a Christmas tree. How did I miss so many pinholes with my fabric paint? I got the paint back out and tried again.

Then I spooled some Arista EDU 100 onto a 620 spool and loaded it into the Jiffy. I shot the whole roll in 15 minutes in my yard. I developed the film in Clayton F76 Plus 1+9. Here’s the house across the street. Sharpness is off because I forgot to change the focus zone. I made all of these shots in the 5-10 feet zone.

House across the street

The tiny bubble viewfinders make it challenging to frame a subject and be sure the camera is level. Also, there’s still a light leak, even after slathering fabric paint over those bellows.

Concrete bear

In landscape mode I figured out to pull the shutter lever with my right thumb, rather than push it with my left thumb. I got a lot less camera shake this way.

VW Passat

I’m not convinced the shutter is working properly, as this full-sun image of my deck was badly overexposed. The negative was almost black. My CanoScan 9000F Mark II always pulls a lot of information out of bad negatives, though.

Deck

It’s a shame this camera’s results are so poor. Some of that is due to issues that naturally arise with age. But some of that is due to the camera not being well designed or specified.

Front yard tree

To see more from this camera, check out my Jiffy Kodak Six-20, Series II, gallery.

I wonder if my friend has any family photos known to be made with this camera. It would be interesting to see how it performed when it was new. 85 years later it’s not performing so well. The bellows pinholes are the biggest problem. But the camera’s design and middling lens certainly would have made it a so-so performer even then. One of Kodak’s box cameras could have outperformed the Jiffy Kodak Six-20, Series II. But box cameras lacked the cachet of a folder. Perhaps that’s why Kodak manufactured this one, to give box-camera ease in a more sophisticated-looking folding camera. It’s too bad some of their design choices resulted in a camera that missed the mark.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Comments

13 responses to “Jiffy Kodak Six-20, Series II”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    It’s amazing that anybody got anything nice out of any of these cameras even when they were new! I was actually going through some vintage family photos from the 40’s this weekend, and minus the pinhole fogging, the results were about the same. Even with contact printing, it seems like the results would have been less than optimal. The expectations must have been so much less than today. One can see how the person with a Rollei or Speed Graphic would have been king!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      All sorts of cameras would have delivered better results than this! Even without the pinholes.

  2. Khürt Williams Avatar

    Jim, it’s incredible you got usable images from a expired roll of film in a less than ideal camera.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I got images – not sure how usable they are!

  3. -N- Avatar

    I love reading about old cameras, and more, I like the photos! I need to pull some out . . .

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m happy you like the photos! I was disappointed that I couldn’t tame the light leaks.

  4. Suzassippi Avatar

    As you already know, I am not knowledgeable about most of what you cover, but I really enjoyed this item. The images do remind me of some of the vintage photographs I have of my family in the early 1900s, although without the light leaks. I doubt any of them had a bellows camera. These are eerie in an interesting way, like Twilight Zone way. (You are much younger than I, so you likely never saw it!) Still, I find the images interesting, and the commentary useful in understanding a bit more about camera function.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You may be pleased to know that I’ve watched every episode of The Twilight Zone!

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        A valuable quest!

  5. ronian42 Avatar
    ronian42

    Hi Jim, if a negative was almost black, would that not indicate overexposure? Conversely, if it were very thin (almost clear), that to me would indicate under exposure

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re right. I struggle with this just like I struggle sometimes with saying right when I mean left. For real.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Trust me, this was almost an insurmountable concept in photo college! Especially switching back and forth between transparency and black and white neg! Transparencies that were too light had too much exposure, but negs that were too light had too little. It took a few years to have to sit and think about this for a minute before you changed your exposure, before it became “rote”.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Thanks Andy, I feel better now.

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