Camera Reviews

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

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.

By the way, if you like old box cameras also see my reviews of the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here) and Model F (here); and the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here) and Shur Shot (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

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.

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.

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

CVSSign

I’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?

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

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Film Photography

Film photography has never been less expensive

Pentax K1000

Not 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!

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

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Camera Reviews

Kodak Monitor Six-20

I have always had a thing for folding cameras. They sure look impressive to me! 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.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

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 about $1,000 today.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

The Monitor comes with two viewfinders. The first is a brilliant type, attached to the lens assembly. It’s small and reverses the image left to right, making it challenging to use. The other finder flips up on the top plate. It is big and bright, and includes manual parallax compensation.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

To use the Monitor, first cock the shutter with the little lever next to the brilliant 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.

If you like folding cameras, I’ve reviewed several others, including the Voigtländer Bessa (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), the Kodak Junior Six-16 Series II (here), and the giant No. 3A Autographic Kodak (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

For my first outing with the Monitor I loaded Kodak Ektachrome E100G slide film. Mind you, I paid through the nose for this film as I bought it pre-respooled onto 620 spools. Nothing like plunging right into the deep end on the first try. I had some challenges learning this camera’s ways on the first roll and buggered several frames. “Why won’t this thing fire? …oh.”

Me, by accident

So I shrugged, loaded more expensive E100G, and kept going. When I worked the Monitor properly, it delivered excellent sharpness and color.

Second Presbyterian Church

I never got used to the winding system. 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 is supposed to stop when you’ve wound to the next frame. On my Monitor, during the first roll the winder sometimes stopped before it had moved the film fully to the next frame, leading to overlapping exposures.

Karmann-Ghia

That was frustrating! In playing with the unloaded camera later, 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. The Monitor’s double-exposure protection keeps you from pressing the shutter button, but fortunately an override lever underneath the pop-up viewfinder neatly skirted that problem.

Hydrant with shadows

So I took the Monitor with me on a photo walk in Indianapolis’s Broad Ripple neighborhood. I was having trouble with the shutter button; something in the linkage between it and the shutter didn’t always connect properly, making me pull the linkage itself to fire the shutter. That made handheld images much more challenging, so I put the Monitor on a tripod. I was quite a sight toting this kit through this neighborhood.

Polka-dotted chair

I had to take the Monitor off the tripod for this photo, which because of its lovely color is my favorite of all the E100G shots I made.

Fence

I put one more roll through the Monitor, this time some expired Kodak Gold 200, probably among the last Kodak made in 620 before discontinuing the format. Unfortunately, the processor goofed and developed it in black-and-white chemistry. I like this shot best, which I cropped square because its native 2:3 ratio was less interesting.

Cross this bridge at a walk

I made one other successful photo at this site, the covered bridge in Bridgeton, Indiana. The whole roll I had to stick my finger in the shutter linkage to fire the shutter, which was annoying and created shake on a couple shots.

Bridgeton covered bridge

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.

But the Monitor is a beautiful folding camera. I screwed it to my vintage Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1 and displayed it in my home.

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

You win some and you lose some when you shoot with old cameras

I’ve had a lot of fun shooting my new old cameras this year, but I also got out a couple old cameras I’ve had for a while and loaded some film into them, too.

Kodak Tourist

When I first wrote about my Kodak Tourist several years ago, I said I’d probably never run film through it because its lens was so unremarkable. But I had a roll of Plus-X sitting here doing nothing, and I thought maybe if I used my tripod and my GE PR-1 exposure meter I might get some okay results.

Not so much. I had a dreadful time with this camera. I kept setting up shots only to have the exposure meter tell me there wasn’t enough light. Because the lens’s maximum aperture is a tiny f/12.5, this camera needs gobs of direct, blazing sunlight to make an image. Ghosting ruined a few images, and then I managed not to advance the film on a few frames leading to double exposures. This double-exposed shot is the best one on the roll, sad to say. I uploaded three other shots from the roll to Flickr; see them here.

Anonymous office building double exposure

I was so unimpressed with the Tourist that I demoted it. It had been displayed on a shelf in my living room, but now it’s in the box of unloved cameras that I keep under my bed.

Minolta Hi-Matic 7

I had a much, much better time recently with my Minolta Hi-Matic 7. It was one of the first cameras I bought when I started collecting again, but I had only ever put one roll of film through it. It felt like high time to try it again. This time, I had a battery for it and would be able to see whether its autoexposure system worked. In went a roll of Fujicolor 200 and out went I.

I got great results with my Hi-Matic. It’s not surprising – its f/1.8 lens lets in more than 32 times as much light as my Tourist’s lens. And the autoexposure system worked fine.

I just noodled around, shooting whatever felt good. As I drove to work one morning, the just-risen sun was casting long shadows. I stopped by Second Presbyterian Church for a snap.

Second Pres

A few days later as I stopped at Costco to drop off a roll of film, I spotted a 1941 Buick in the parking lot. I moved in close to shoot its grille.

Buick Eight

I uploaded several other shots from this roll to Flickr; see them here. There you’ll also find the photos from the first roll I put through this camera four years ago. When I compare those shots to these, I’m delighted to see how much I’ve learned and how much my work has improved.

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