Camera Reviews

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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Photography

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

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Somebody gave me this box camera, a Kodak Six-20 Brownie with an Art-Deco-inspired faceplate, a few years ago. The timing was bad: I had just decided to swear off 620 film and cameras. I had neither the patience to spool 120 film onto 620 spools, nor the willingness to spend 12 bucks and up for pre-respooled film. But a couple months ago I discovered a pile of eBay Bucks near expiration. And then I found a roll of Verichrome Pan in 620, expired in 1982, that those Bucks paid for. Free film!! So I dug out this old box.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

Kodak puked out box Brownies by the legion during the first half of the last century. This model was made from 1933 to 1941. Original price: $2.50. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s equivalent to $46 in 2016.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

As box Brownies go, this one had some unusual features. Almost all the box cameras I’ve known come apart at the back for film loading and unloading. This one comes apart at the front. You pull out the winding knob, pull up on the knob that anchors the carry strap’s front end, and tug on the camera’s face.

The Six-20 Brownie has two apertures, controlled by the tab atop the faceplate. Down selects the larger aperture; use it for most shots. Up selects the smaller aperture; use it for extremely bright conditions such as beach or snow scenes. The camera also offers a single shutter speed plus timed exposures. The tab on the faceplate’s side controls it; pull it out for timed shots. I’m guessing that the shutter operates at somewhere between 1/30 and 1/60 sec., and the two apertures are something like f/8 and f/16.

And while the camera’s lens (a simple meniscus) is inside the box, an external lens focuses the camera for shots at beyond 10 feet. For shots from five to 10 feet, move the lever below the lens opening to move the external lens out of the way. Release the lever and the external lens springs back into place.

This camera was filthy when I got it, so I cleaned it up as best I could. The pitted faceplate was beyond help. The viewfinders had gone opaque with crud, so I dismantled them and cleaned them. One of the mirrors was loose, so I superglued it back into place. Then I spooled in the Verichrome Pan.

The best shot on the whole roll is of my sons. That kills me, because it’s long been my policy not to show photos of them here. I should write in detail about why someday; a couple of principles are involved. And it’s the only shot I took with the front lens moved out of the way. Darn.

But here’s the second best shot on the roll. I don’t know how this Verichrome Pan was stored, but it sure behaved like fresh film. This was the only shot affected by light leak. I wonder if it might have happened while I removed the film from the camera, as I fumbled it a bit and the end of the roll came a little loose for a half second. This was the last photo on the roll.

Mass Ave and a light leak

I don’t know why I persist in using box cameras to photograph distant subjects. They’re meant to take photos of Aunt Martha and the nephews at closer range. When I framed this, the main part of Leon’s filled the viewfinder. But I shot it from across the street. Oh, and by the way, I recently bought a suit from Leon’s. It was a great experience.

Leon's

I had the Brownie along one day when I took my son to dinner at an outdoor mall in Noblesville. Sharpness and contrast are pretty good here, despite a little haze in the sky around the tree branches.

Parked at the outdoor mall

A couple photos were pretty muddy. I worked them over pretty good in Photoshop to improve contrast. Here’s one of them, of the mural is on the back of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration building Downtown.

IPS mural

This was the muddiest photo of them all, of the three trees on the golf course behind my house. The front ash tree has been dead for at least a year; the bark is starting to fall off. Anyway, Photoshop restored reasonable contrast to this scene. At full scanned resolution, a little motion blur becomes apparent, convicting me of moving the camera slightly as I made this exposure. But at print size, you’d probably never notice it.

Golf course trees

To see more photos from this roll, check out my Kodak Six-20 Brownie gallery.

It’s charming to shoot with simple cameras like this Six-20 Brownie. Even when the results are so-so, it still always pleases me that I got images at all. It’s easy to forget that a light-tight box and the simplest of lenses — even a pinhole — will make an image. And these turned out pretty well. You’d never guess that I used film expired for more than 30 years.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all my vintage gear reviews!

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66 Drive-In

66 Drive-In
Kodak Brownie Hawkeye
Kodak Gold 200 (expired)
2013

Just dreaming a little lately of my 2013 Route 66 trip. Dug out this shot and Photoshopped it to greater clarity.

Photography, Road Trips
Image
Film Photography

What’s a guy who still shoots film supposed to do?

It is a sad day for this camera collector – my neighborhood CVS has stopped processing film. Theirs was the last one-hour color lab (that I know of) near my home on Indianapolis’s Northwestside. Goodbye, $6 processing and scanning.

BurnedCVS

Just a few years ago I could get my color film processed all over town: Wal-Mart, Meijer, Target, Walgreens, CVS, and Costco. These labs have shut down one by one. Oh, for the halcyon days of Costco’s startlingly good processing and giant high-quality scans for about four bucks.

I do have options. A camera store on the Northside still has a one-hour lab. But their processing and scanning is expensive at about $15 per roll, and I’ve had too many of their scans feature stray hairs that got into their equipment. Of course I can keep sending film off to The Darkroom or to Dwayne’s Photo, the mail-order processors I use most. I send all of my medium-format and black-and-white film to them already, because the drug-store labs won’t process it. They both do very good work, and they process almost anything you care to send them, including defunct film formats such as 110 and 620. Their prices for processing and scanning are reasonable (but go up fast when you send in odd formats or ask for higher-resolution scans). But thanks to shipping charges the overall cost starts at $14 per roll, which isn’t much of a bargain. And then you have to wait a week, give or take, to get scans back.

CVSSignI’m cheap and impatient. I’m thinking seriously about processing my own film. For an initial outlay of no more than $100, I can buy all the equipment I need to process black-and-white film. (The sources I read say that color film is trickier to process and many recommend just leaving color processing to the pro labs.) My scanner can handle 35mm negatives, but I’d want a scanner that can do medium-format film too. I think I could get a serviceable one for around $200. After the initial outlay, though, I can process film for less than a buck a roll.

Two things hold me back. First, I processed a roll of film once, in high school, and I thought it was the most boring thing I’d ever done. Second, my life is busy enough today that I wonder where I’d find the time to mess with it. It is just so convenient to drop off or mail in film.

I know that some of you reading this process your own film. What advice do you have to offer me?

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Film is still a bargain compared to 30
years ago. Read about how this is true.

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Photography, Road Trips

A Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and expired film on the Mother Road

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash ModelYou’d better believe I took one of my old cameras along on my family’s Route 66 trip. Kodak’s 1950s Brownie Hawkeye undoubtedly shot millions of vacations in the middle of the last century, and it is relatively compact and dead simple to use. It seemed like the perfect companion for my family’s Route 66 vacation.

The previous owner of my Brownie Hawkeye thought it was a good vacation camera, too. This camera’s last use was to shoot a Niagara Falls vacation in the late 1960s – see those photos here.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and expired filmThe Brownie Hawkeye takes 620 film, which hasn’t been made in almost 20 years. I’ve been known to buy fresh film hand-respooled onto 620 spools.

But last year I bought a flatbed film scanner and scanned some negatives from a roll of Kodak Verichrome Pan I shot in 1976, when I was a lad of 10. See those photos here. Verichrome Pan was arguably the number one amateur black-and-white film in the United States from its introduction in 1956 to its discontinuation about four decades later. I itched to shoot one more roll, so I bought one on eBay. It expired in September, 1985.

This was strictly an exercise in nostalgia. There’s a happy contingent of film photographers who like expired film’s unpredictable results. I am not among them. Expired Verichrome Pan has a good reputation for returning usable images, and the roll I bought was advertised as having been stored cold, which should have preserved it. I was disappointed that this roll returned faint, noisy images. I monkeyed around with the scans in Photoshop to darken them up and bring out some contrast.

This is the 1932 Standard service station in Odell, Illinois. See more photos of it here.

1932 Standard station

Here’s a shot from the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri; see more photos here.

Wagon Wheel Motel

These dilapidated log cabins are part of John’s Modern Cabins, an abandoned motel of sorts on an abandoned stretch of the Mother Road west of Doolittle, Missouri. I’ll write more about these cabins in an upcoming post.

John's Modern Cabins

Not long ago, the Film Photography Project found a cache of 620 Kodak Gold 200 film in England, expired since June of 1996 but stored cold ever since. They offered it for sale; some is still available as I publish this post. Click here to buy some – but brace for impact, as it is not cheap. I bought two rolls and put one into my Brownie Hawkeye. Now, the Hawkeye was built for the slow films of the 1950s. Verichrome Pan, at ISO 125, was a pretty fast film at the time. So I figured that I’d get a whole roll of overexposed shots from this ISO 200 color film, and I was right. Fortunately, I know a couple Photoshop tricks that brought out color and detail in the washed-out images.

This photo is of the great sign of the Rest Haven Court on the Mother Road in Springfield, Missouri. I really like the color in this shot.

Rest Haven Court

Some thick clouds had rolled in when we reached Carthage, Missouri. They created quite a mood for this photograph.

66 Drive-In

This is Pops, which is out in the middle of nowhere east of Oklahoma City. (There’s a whole lot of middle of nowhere on Route 66 in Oklahoma.) I’ll write more about Pops in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, dig the 66-foot-tall pop-bottle sculpture.

Pops

Finally, when my sons and I stopped for the night at the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri, I took this dusk shot of the lit sign. I thought perhaps I’d get a usable low-light image because of the film’s relatively high speed. I cropped this shot to this size because the processor frustratingly put a sticker on this frame. (Yes, this sign is a brother of the Rest Haven Court sign; both were made by the same company.)

Munger Moss Motel

The Brownie Hawkeye is super easy to use. You hold it at bellybutton level and peer down into the viewfinder; when you like the framing, you gently press down the shutter button. I did lose three frames on the roll of Verichrome Pan when the latch gave way and the camera opened. And then I dropped the Brownie Hawkeye while photographing the Blue Whale of Catoosa; fortunately, this only scuffed the aluminum and chipped a tiny bit of the body. Even if the fall had irreparably damaged the Brownie Hawkeye, they remain plentiful and inexpensive.

I have one more roll of the expired Kodak Gold 200 left. I’d like to see how this film can really perform, so I plan to shoot it in a 620 camera that lets me adjust exposure and packs a fine lens, such as my Kodak Monitor Six-20.

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I have two other Brownies:
a Brownie Reflex and a Brownie Starmatic.

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Film Photography

Film photography has never been less expensive

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Freshly updated with current prices, March 2016!

Pentax K1000Not long ago I gave one of my old cameras to a teenager I know who has a budding interest in photography. I had three Pentax K1000s and three delightful SMC Pentax M f/2 50mm lenses; he now has one of each. I hope he enjoys his new old camera! But I doubt he can appreciate that film photography has never been less expensive.

Not that it’s less expensive than digital photography. My everyday camera is digital – a wonderful Canon PowerShot S95. I take it on every road trip, get it out for family events, and sometimes shoot it just for fun. My S95 cost $400 and I bought a spare battery for $40. I bought a $5 SD card to store images, which I reuse after transferring images to my computer. For that initial outlay of $445, I can take great quantities of photos indefinitely.

Of course, film photography has ongoing costs for film and processing. I buy 35mm Fujicolor 200 for about $2.50 a roll. The camera store downtown will process and scan it for about $8.50. If I shoot 35mm black and white film, or if I go for good old medium-format 120 film, either is available for as little as $4 per roll. But the camera store can’t process those films, so I mail them to Old School Photo Lab, which charges $16, including shipping both ways. So my total cost per roll falls between $11 and $18.50. In 2015 I shot 45 rolls of film. If I use $15 as a rough mean cost, I spent $675 last year. You can buy a nice DSLR for that money!

Still, film is a better value now than it was when I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s. I remember film costing $3 to $6 per roll, depending on what format I was shooting. I shot a lot of 126 cartridge film, which I remember being the least expensive. Processing at my friendly neighborhood Hook’s Dependable Drugs ran maybe $7, which was a giant amount of money to me then. I often mailed my film to Clark Color Labs, which processed it and sent me prints for maybe $4. (You get what you pay for: the Clark prints faded within a few years, while the Hook’s prints still look fresh today.)

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and expired film *EXPLORED*When I take inflation into account, the differences become stark. I used the inflation calculator at the Bureau of Labor Statistics for these calculations. In 1980, shooting a $3 126 cartridge and getting $4 Clark Color Labs processing is equivalent to spending almost $20 today. If I splurged on medium-format 620 film at $5 and Hook’s processing for $7, I spent the equivalent of an astonishing $34.50 today!

In reverse, my $11 Fujicolor 200/camera-store processing combo is only about $4 in 1980 dollars! And a $20 film/processing order through Old School Photo Lab is only about $7 in 1980 dollars.

If film and processing had been as inexpensive when I was a boy as it is now, I would have taken a lot more pictures!

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The Pentax K1000 is a fine
starter camera. Read about it!

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