Camera Reviews

Ansco Standard Speedex

In the 1940s and 1950s, Ansco offered a line of folding cameras with Speedex in the name, all of which made square photographs on 120 film. Ansco manufactured some of the models while Agfa manufactured the rest, which makes sense as Agfa and Ansco were one company. Speedexes were available with a number of lens and shutter combinations of increasing capability. Ansco manufactured this one, the Ansco Standard Speedex, in 1950, and it was closer to the bottom of the range.

Ansco Standard Speedex

The Standard Speedex is refreshingly simple. It features a 90mm f/6.3 Ansco Anastigmat lens, set in a self-cocking Ansco leaf shutter that operates at 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 second, plus time (press the shutter button once to open the shutter, and again to close it). It focuses from 3½ feet to infinity. That’s it.

Ansco Standard Speedex

Press the button right next to the viewfinder on top to pop the door open, and pull the door down until it locks to extend the bellows. Dial in aperture and shutter speed, dial in subject distance, compose, and press the shutter button. The viewfinder isn’t huge, but it doesn’t feel cramped, and it gives a clear view.

Ansco Standard Speedex

The wind knob is big and sure. I thought surely its reverse cant would make it hard to use, but I was wrong. It reads “B2/120” because Ansco used its own size codes for its films, and B2 is equivalent to 120.

If you like medium-format folding cameras, check out my review of the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), the Kodak Monitor Six-20 (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), and the Voigtländer Bessa (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I like folding cameras of this size and shape. I also like making square photographs. I do not, however, like having a top shutter speed of only 1/100. 1/250 is better, and 1/500 is better still, because they let me more easily shoot fast films and get shallow depth of field with slow films. The similar Ansco B2 Speedex has a top shutter speed of 1/250 and is available on the used market for about the same money as this Standard Speedex.

The slowest film I had on hand was Ilford FP4 Plus at ISO 125. That meant on a sunny day I was going to be shooting at f/16 and f/22. Everything within a mile of that lens would be in focus. But that was probably the design goal of a camera like this. For an amateur photographer, it would have been a step up from a box camera. Shooting 1/100 and f/16 meant it wasn’t critical to get focus exactly right, as you’d have huge depth of field. The wide exposure latitude of consumer films like Kodak Verichrome Pan (also ISO 125) meant that you didn’t have to get exposure exactly right, either. It was perfect for the everyday shooter.

Welcome to McDonald's

Snapshooters who bought the Ansco Standard Speedex were looking for a better lens than they’d find in a box camera, but to get it they had to learn a little about exposure. Surely, most of them just used the Sunny 16 rule. That’s what I did for most of this roll.

Country road

You could get Kodak Panatomic-X film then, too, which was ISO 25, 32, or 40, depending on when it was manufactured. That film would have allowed photographers to get shallower depth of field for portraits if they wanted it. I’ve not been able to find any information about the speeds of Ansco’s own films.

Grand old house

The lens’s f/6.3 minimum aperture means that with an ISO 100 or 125 film, you’re not making low-light photographs. But you could shoot your family picnic under an overcast sky and be fine. I never put this Standard Speedex to that test as I was fortunate to have bright, sunny days while I had film in it.

Clubhouse

As I began riding my bike this season, I carried the Standard Speedex in the saddlebag. I’ve carried other cameras that way, usually little 35mm point and shoots. I can fire off a shot almost on the fly with one of those cameras, but not so the Standard Speedex. It takes a minute to open it, make sure the aperture and shutter speed are right, and then frame. At least I didn’t have to also cock the shutter, as is common on cameras of this type. The shutter button takes a little effort to press, but mine could be a little gunky after 70 years. The red window on the back gave a commanding view of the frame numbers on the film’s backing paper.

Whitestown Municipal Complex

I wasn’t able to find any information about the lens’s design, but as an anastigmat lens it’s bound to have more than one element. I got a fair amount of contrast straight off the scanner. I toned it down a little in Photoshop.

Mail station

Before I loaded this camera with film, I tried to identify pinholes in the bellows by taking into a dark room and shining a bright flashlight inside. I found a couple and dabbed black fabric paint on to close them up. This is probably only a temporary fix, but it’s good enough for testing the camera. I missed at least one, however, as several of my images showed light leaks. Oh well.

Passat

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Ansco Standard Speedex gallery.

Cameras like the Ansco Standard Speedex are easy to come by and don’t cost much. Mine was a donation to the collection, but these go for 20 bucks on eBay all the time. As you can see, it is capable of good, sharp images. It’s easy and pleasant to use. But you can buy the Ansco B2 Speedex for about the same money, and it has that 1/250 second shutter rather than the Standard Speedex’s 1/100 second shutter. I’d choose the B2 Speedex if I were in the market.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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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 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 Six-20.

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 of the Monitor 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 Kodak 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. I paid through the nose for this film as I bought it pre-respooled onto 620 spools. In retrospect, I should have started with inexpensive black-and-white film, as I had trouble learning this camera’s ways and buggered most of the first roll. “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

The Monitor has a clever winding system that stops when you reach the next frame. 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 stops when you’ve wound to the next frame.

Karmann-Ghia

On my first roll, this system didn’t work quite right and I ended up with overlapping frames. If the same happens to you, just leave WIND/1-8 lever on WIND. Then you can wind freely just like on any other folding or box camera. You just use the red window on the back to see when you’ve wound to the next frame. You do need one extra step here, though: to override the Monitor’s double-exposure protection. Just move the lever underneath the pop-up viewfinder to unlock the shutter.

Hydrant with shadows

My Monitor has another common Monitor problem: pressing the shutter button doesn’t actually fire the shutter. The real shutter release is on the lens housing. A complex linkage between button and release is prone to misalignment. The best solution is to screw a cable release into the socket on the lens housing. What I did was just stick my finger behind the lens and trip the shutter manually. Then I pressed the shutter button to release the winding mechanism so I could wind to the next frame.

Polka-dotted chair

On this second roll of E100G, I shot the Monitor on a tripod. I was quite a sight toting my kit through the Broad Ripple neighborhood for these photographs! The Monitor had to come off the tripod for this photo, which because of its lovely color is my favorite of all the E100G shots I made.

Fence

I came upon some expired Kodak Gold 200, probably among the last Kodak made in 620 before discontinuing the format. It came along on a trip to Bridgeton to see the covered bridge. Unfortunately, the processor goofed and developed this film 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 here, but buggered up the whole rest of the roll thanks to shake caused by the way I was firing the shutter.

Bridgeton covered bridge

After I returned home, I finished the roll on familiar subjects. This photo tells a lot about the Anastigmat Special lens’s capabilities. The sharpness and definition are wonderful, but despite the Lumenized coating, the lens is still prone to a little ghosting.

Golf course tree

I mounted the Monitor on a vintage tripod and displayed it in my home for several years. I think this camera is gorgeous and I loved looking at it. But it’s a shame to own cameras I don’t use. So I spooled some Ilford FP4 Plus onto a 620 spool and took the Monitor out to play.

NO

Ilford film in a Kodak camera? Scandalous! But the combination worked well. By this time I was developing my own black-and-white film. I used LegacyPro L110, a Kodak HC-110 clone, in Dilution B (1+31). Ilford packaging said 8 minutes at 20° C, so that’s what I did. I scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II scanner.

GetGo

All was not perfect with the Monitor after so many years. The shutter had gummed up a little bit, which I fixed temporarily with a drop of lighter fluid through the cocking-lever slot. Some shots, as above and below, showed signs of further shutter issues or maybe light leaks.

Meijer

But when the Monitor hit, it hit big. Its lens is still a peach after all these years.

Tree at the retention pond

See all the photos that turned out at my Monitor Six-20 gallery.

I forget what I paid for my Monitor but it wasn’t more than $50. Today, you are hard pressed to find one with the Anastigmat Special lens for less than $100. You might save money buying the similar Kodak Vigilant Six-20, which could be had with this lens and shutter. It lacks the Monitor’s potentially troublesome winding system, but retains the Monitor’s definitely troublesome shutter linkage.

But the Kodak Monitor Six-20 is a beautiful folding camera, and is a peach to use when it works properly. You won’t be disappointed if you buy one. Mine is in the queue to be sent off for repair so it can shoot well for years to come.

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