Photography

Adapting a Kodak Monitor Six-20 Anastigmat Special lens to a Fujifilm X-mount digital camera – the FrankenLens is alive!

After I shared my updated review of the Kodak Monitor Six-20 recently, reader Dave Powell wrote to say he had modified the Anastigmat Special lens off one to work on his Fujifilm X-Pro1 mirrorless digital camera. I love to read about creative adaptations of old gear like that because I’m too chicken to try it myself. I asked Dave if he’d be willing to write about his experience and share it here as a guest post. He readily agreed!

By Dave Powell

When Jim reviewed Kodak’s marvelous Monitor Six-20 medium-format folder here, it reminded me of a long-delayed personal project. I last used my own Monitor Six-20 around twenty years ago to capture some architectural details of a historic mansion before its restoration. The camera’s 101mm f/4.5 Anastigmat Special was wonderful.

I still have that camera and may shoot with it again. The lens is so good! I’ve long been curious to see how it would perform if I adapted it to my Fujifilm X-Pro1 mirrorless digital camera. But I’d never destroy a working Six-20 to find out.

Last year, I found another Monitor Anastigmat Special at a yard sale. Its body was a rusted, corroded, frozen mess, but the lens appeared to be in great shape. I plunked down my dollar and knew just what I wanted to do with it.

Hauling out the hacksaw

To determine how best to separate the lens from the camera, I first unscrewed its front element. It’s a four-element Tessar design, and the optical element just behind the front glass is built into the lens’s metal mounting plate. Removing the lens and its mounting plate as a unit seemed the only way to preserve infinity focus.

The Monitor is built to last. I had to (carefully) use a hacksaw to free the lens board from the body. These photos show the lens assembly front and back. Though not needed, I kept its CyberPunkish viewfinder!

The glass still looked clean and clear, but the shutter blades had oil on them. Sadly, the retaining ring for the rear element wouldn’t budge, which effectively sealed in the shutter and some glass surfaces. I again decided to leave well enough alone. The X-Pro1 body has its own electromechanical shutter, and I could use a locking release cable to hold the lens’s shutter open at any selected aperture. The oil became a non-issue.

Cobbling a camera mount

The next issue was attaching the lens to the camera. On my good Monitor Six-20, the lens’s mounting plate sits around 95mm in front of the camera’s film plane. I hauled out a box of lens adapters and extension tubes that I’d collected over the years and spent an afternoon experimenting. In the end I glued a 30mm long Accura T-mount extension tube to the back of the lens, and mounted them on the camera with a T-to-X adapter. Both are shown here beside the lens assembly.

Industrial-strength E6000 adhesive bonded the extension tube to the back of the lens plate. With the tube screwed into the T-mount adapter on the X-Pro1, the lens fell only a few millimeters closer to the camera’s sensor than it would have been from the Monitor’s film plane. Not a problem, though! The focusing front element rotates in a deep brass thread mount. And while its focusing throw was nearly 1 rotation (357 degrees) on the original Monitor Six-20, I had removed the focus stop post from my FrankenLens, which let it turn through a whopping 2.25 rotations (810 degrees) before coming off the camera. This huge range still allowed the lens to reach infinity focus. The next two photos show the finished X/T-Mount FrankenLens itself and on the X-Pro1.

But why two release cables? The black one in the front is self-locking and holds the Kodak lens shutter open (in bulb mode) at any selected aperture. The gray cable is screwed into the X-Pro1 shutter button, for triggering photos without shaking the tripod-mounted camera.

The X-Pro1 with FrankenLens attached can be hand-held (carefully). But Kodak designed the lens to cover a large 6×9 cm area (which is around 5.5×8 cm in my Monitor Six-20). Only a narrow wedge of light from the center of the lens reaches the Fuji’s smaller sensor, and based on comparing its field of view against Pentax and Topcon primes adapted to the camera, the Kodak lens has become a 135mm telephoto. This magnification factor calls for steady support, especially in the difficult tests I had in mind.

Shooting Snowmageddon

On test day, Boston (where I live) began a multi-day snow dump. I could only shoot out through windows. And most of the photos showed surprisingly bright ghost flare that was unlike anything I’d seen when I last used my good Monitor. These next five photos were the best of the lot, with the purple flaring most visible in the first one. (FYI, the last image is a tight crop onto squirrel tracks in the camera’s 16mp image.)

I thought a hood might tame the ghosting, but none of mine fit the lens. However, a short piece of black rubber tube friction-fit nicely around the focusing element and made it easier to focus the lens without blocking the viewfinder with my fingers.

The flare was especially odd because it occurred regardless of the direction the camera faced or the relative location of light sources. It even occurred when the only available illumination came from behind me. Treating the Accura extension tube like an old bellows, I slipped a mini flashlight into it and found that molded bumps on the back of the Kodak mounting plate kept the tube from pressing fully against it everywhere. This created an almost 360-degree, 1/16th-inch gap between the tube and plate. Several applications of liquid electrical tape fixed that.

Going dark

The time had come to really tax the lens with some lamp-lit shots in our basement. The X-Pro1 excels at high-ISO low-light photography, and I wanted to see if the Kodak lens could keep up. This image of my desk lamp’s finial was shot from around a yard away, and drastically cropped. Taken at f/8 and focused on the top-front edge of the ring below the finial, it’s decently sharp, with smoothly graded depth of field all around.

Moving to my nearby “art gallery,” I shot two photos of a woven-paper abstract that I made from two forgettable watercolors I painted in high school. The frame-filling first shot was taken from around 15 feet away, and the second photo shows the lens’s field of view at its nearest focus point, around 31 inches away.

One benefit of attaching the lens using a T-mount extension tube is that the tube was part of a set. The other tubes are 10 and 15mm long. Adding the 10mm tube to my FrankenLens reduced its closest-focus distance to around 21.5 inches, which produced this closer view.

Then, adding the 15mm tube to the others pulled the closest-focus distance further in, to around 14 inches.

The next two shots come from the adjacent library area. In 1969, well before he’d become today’s architectural star, a young Frank Gehry created and sold an “Easy Edges” line of furniture. He fabricated it from plywood and corrugated cardboard, and this lamp is one of his. In both photos, I tried to focus on its hand-velvetized corrugated column. (Sadly, the lamp didn’t come with Gehry’s original corrugated shade, but the one on it now looks fine.)

And in this closer shot of a Native American grain basket hanging above the lamp, you can again see some faint ghosting just below the basket’s central whorl.

Drat!

I turned off every other light in the room, but the flaring remained. The lamp itself must have caused it, for one or two reasons: the lens’s older coating couldn’t remove all flare, and/or there may be some almost-invisible film in the parts of the lens I couldn’t clean.

Then, I moved to the cyberpunkish glass vase in front of Gehry’s cardboard lamp. During the 1940s and ‘50s, my father was a well-known metallurgist and vapor-deposition specialist at Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio. (While there, he helped develop the early Xerography process and the carbonless carbon paper that we still use today. And much later, his last project was the Space Shuttle’s heat-shield tiles.) He made the blue glass vase and its welded metal stand seen in this photo. I focused on the teeth at the front of the gear at its base.

Then before shutting down, I grabbed a final shot (from 15 feet away) of the gas fireplace that kept me warm during the shoot.

After turning the fire off, I repeated the grain-basket shot, and the mild flaring was still there.

After I finished this article, I shot some bright snow scenes with the FrankenLens. The ghost flare not only brightened at wider apertures, but it also became perfectly rectangular! While my improvised lens hood (along with the Anastigmat Special coating) probably did remove a lot of flare, the persistent ghosting I saw may be the Fuji’s own sensor reflecting onto the rear of the Kodak lens, and then perhaps back again on the sensor.

Critiquing my FrankenLens

Here are some thoughts about the adapted Anastigmatic Special:

  • My example exhibits persistent ghosting. If you decide to try this experiment, use the cleanest lens you can find. You may not be able to access and clean all of its elements.
  • Mounted using the T-mount adapter and 30mm-long extension tube, the lens could reach all focus points out to infinity. But just barely! Its closest-focus setting was dangerously near the front element’s detachment point. Its brass threads are so finely milled that reattaching it requires patient back-and-forthing. ( gained lots of practice, and on my sample, the best place to start was with the Kodak “K” on the lens’s front bezel aligned with the Kodak “d” on the surrounding aperture/shutter-speed ring.
  • The Anastigmat Special lens became a 135mm telephoto on the X-Pro1. In anything but the brightest conditions, a tripod and cable releases are recommended. But this also brings the “zen of slow photography” to the digital realm, if you’re so inclined.
  • The X-Pro1’s magnified focus-peaking didn’t work well with the lens opened wider than f/8. That’s why even my lamp-lit interiors were shot at f/8-16 at shutter speeds of ¼-1 second at ISO 800. I believe I shot the exterior snowscapes at speeds of 1/1000-1/60 second at ISO 100-400.
  • Kodak’s Anastigmat Special lens IS reasonably compact and sharp on the X-Pro1, even in low light.
  • It also LOVES color… absolutely eats it up! We also see this in Jim’s review.
  • At 5.5 ounces, it’s the lightest 135mm telephoto I own. Plus, it’s easily macro-extendable!

My Fuji X/T-Mount Monitor Six-20 FrankenLens is a keeper that I don’t plan to deconstruct any time soon. It may not make it into my digital go-bag, but I look forward to trying more landscapes when spring colors return. The FrankenLens is alive!

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