Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Monitor Six-20

Tree at the retention pond

At last, we reach the end of Operation Thin the Herd. In this project I’ve sold or given away dozens of cameras, keeping only those I’ll use regularly. Some cameras were a no-brainer to either keep or let go. Others I needed to put one or two more rolls of film through to help me decide. When I did, I shared the photos and my thoughts here. You can see all of my Operation Thin the Herd posts here.

I’ve put off evaluating my Kodak Monitor Six-20, which is why it’s last. Putting film through it might show me that I’m in love with the idea of this camera far more than with the camera itself. I haven’t wanted to find out.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

I was smitten with the Monitor from the time I first saw one on Mike Connealy’s site. Not just any Monitor, mind, but this one, with the 101mm f/4.5 Anastigmat Special lens. It’s a gorgeous camera, and Mike always coaxed such beautiful photographs from his. I wanted in on the action. No matter that I had sworn off cameras that take out-of-production 620 film, as the Monitor does. I prowled eBay until I found one in good condition at a good price.

Here’s a photo from one of the first rolls I shot. It’s not smart to test an old camera with expensive slide film, but I did it anyway. This is Kodak Ektachrome E100G.

Karmann-Ghia

I used the Monitor again about a year later on a trip to Bridgeton. I shot expired Kodak Gold 200 in 620 from the mid 1990s, at the end of 620 production. The lab I sent the film to accidentally developed it in black and white.

Bridgeton covered bridge

I used the Monitor only a few times in the first two years I owned it, and then not again until last November, seven long years later. One reason is that 620 film is expensive to buy expired or hand-spooled fresh, and I wasn’t interested in learning to hand spool my own. But the main reason is that the shutter button doesn’t trip the shutter. The button connects to a series of levers and rods that reach around behind the lens, where the actual shutter release is. They don’t connect properly, and I can’t figure out how to fix it. The only way to fire the shutter is to stick a finger in there. What a pain.

But oh, what a beautiful camera this is! I mounted it on an vintage Kodak metal tripod and displayed it in my living room so I could look at it every day. I kept it there until I moved a few years ago.

I couldn’t put off evaluating my Monitor any longer, so I got it out — and found that its shutter wasn’t working right. No matter the speed I set, the shutter operated at what sounded like the same speed. Mike Connealy advised me to carefully drip a little lighter fluid into the shutter-cable socket and into the cock-lever crevice and fire the shutter at several speeds. Worked like a charm.

Now that I develop my own film and am comfortable working in a dark bag, I tried respooling 120 film onto a 620 spool. It was easy! I had Ilford FP4 Plus on hand, so that’s what I used. I developed it for eight minutes at 20° C in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B (1+31).

Wrecks, Inc.

It’s hard to level the scene in the Monitor’s tiny brilliant viewfinder. It’s easier in the pop-up “sports” finder, but that finder works best for landscape-oriented photos. But just look at the sharp detail the Anastigmat Special lens captured in this cockeyed photo. The white area on the left is light that leaked onto the end of the roll as it sat on my desk, undeveloped, for far too long.

Abandoned Co-Op

Given how I have to fire the shutter, I’m surprised I didn’t get my finger in the lens more often than just this one time. I was trying to be creative here by standing the Monitor on its side on the pavement. I forget what aperture and shutter speed I used, probably f/8 and 1/100, but it wasn’t enough to get the depth of field this photograph needed.

Tennis anyone?

I managed to get a few error-free photos on this roll, like the one below and the one at the top of this post. Handled with care, the Monitor delivers!

NO

I decided the Monitor deserved more time in evaluation. By this time the weather had turned chilly and gray, making faster film necessary. I respooled a roll of ISO 400 Ilford HP5 Plus onto a spare 620 spool and loaded it into the Monitor. I developed it for five minutes at 20° C in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B (1+31).

One of the things I like about the Monitor is its 1/400 top shutter speed. So many of the folders I’ve owned top out at 1/100 or thereabouts. 1/400 lets me shoot faster films even on sunny days.

Z West

COVID-19 kept me close to home, so I returned to familiar subjects. I have shot the back of this Lowe’s reflecting into that retention pond probably 20 times this year. I think there’s an interesting composition in this scene but I haven’t nailed it yet.

Lowe's Reflected

On this roll, a few shots suffered from a light spot in the upper center. Is it a light leak? Is it a shutter fault?

GetGo

Now I come to the moment of truth: does my Kodak Monitor stay, or does it go?

By the end of my second roll, I’d become fully annoyed with how I have to fire the shutter. It made the rest of the cameras’ limitations more annoying, especially that tiny brilliant viewfinder. The pop-up sports viewfinder eases framing on landscape-oriented photos, at least.

Yet I’m still smitten with this camera. As you can see in these photographs, its lens renders good sharpness and contrast. While I wouldn’t choose any old folder as a primary camera, sometimes it’s nice to let one slow you down as much as they do. This one offers great flexibility given its fast shutter and sort-of fast (f/4.5) lens. And this Monitor remains a beautiful camera.

My Monitor needs a CLA. I can’t evaluate it fairly until it functions properly. Unfortunately, many of my other cameras are ahead of it in the repair/CLA queue: my Nikon F2AS, my Pentax KM, my Pentax ME-F, and my Yashica Lynx 14e. I know exactly who I’ll send these four cameras to (Sover Wong for the F2, Eric Hendrickson for the Pentaxes, Mark Hama for the Yashica). But who restores old Kodak folders? Maybe Jurgen, better known as Certo6, would take it on? If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments.

Verdict: Keep

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Wrecks, Inc.

Letters suspended in air
Kodak Monitor Six-20
Ilford FP4 Plus
LegacyPro L110, Dilution B

2020

I put some film through my Kodak Monitor in November. It’s the last camera I’m evaluating in Operation Thin the Herd, my project to shrink my camera collection to a manageable number.

You’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out whether the Monitor stays or goes. I write this blog in advance and that many posts are simply in the queue ahead of it. I try to always have at least two weeks of posts scheduled. But it has the unfortunate side effect of time-shifting my work. That post will show trees with leaves still on them — leaves that fell off within a week of snapping the shutter.

Sometimes I move scheduled posts to later dates so I can show you photos I’ve recently made. But at the end of the year I always write (or rerun, as this year) a couple Christmas-themed posts, do my annual list posts of old parked cars and favorite photos, and post my annual recap post. It obviously doesn’t make sense to move those to January!

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Film Photography

single frame: Letters suspended in air

Letters on a giant neon sign.

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Film Photography

Ilford FP4 Plus in my Nikon F2A

It was wonderful to use my Nikon F2A again after Sover Wong overhauled it. Everything was as good as new.

I shot Ilford FP4 Plus in it, which I developed in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B. I’m still working out the development time that works best for me with this film. The Massive Dev Chart frustratingly gives a range of seven to nine minutes at 20° C. I tried eight minutes and got good results.

Propane heater

Most photos were properly exposed and developed. My scanner had no trouble pulling information off the negatives.

Coffee cup

I made these first two photos when I visited my mom. I bought her a propane tank and an inexpensive tank-top heater meant for construction projects. It puts out a prodigious amount of heat, which lets us sit on her patio on chilly afternoons.

Bathroom mirror selfie

The haziness in the lower left of this image is certainly due to my finger being in front of the lens. D’oh!

Yashica-12

This being a test roll, I just shot whatever felt good. I had my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens mounted. It’s a fine all-around performer. Many Nikon fans use the 50/1.8 or the 50/1.4, which cost a heck of a lot more than my 50/2 did. I’m perfectly happy with this lens and don’t see myself buying a faster 50.

Leaves

I took the F2A on a number of walks around my neighborhood. I’ve made a ton of photos of this suburban vinyl village this year, toward an idea I have for a book that shows the beauty and banality of this place.

Willow pond

I’m very happy with these photos, as they show a Nikon F2A in perfect working condition. Sover’s service was mighty expensive, but it was thorough and precise. If I care for this camera, it will outlast me.

6516

I shot subjects I’ve shot many times before. Why not? The act of making a photograph is enough of a pleasure, who cares if I come back to the same subjects over and over?

Blinds

This shot in my living room was a lark: what happens if I shoot handheld in dim indoor light? I love the mood in this image, but I had no idea what I’d get when I pressed the shutter button.

Basketball goals

When I shot these basketball hoops, I had a 4×5 crop in mind. I came upon them at the perfect time of day for this composition.

Pumpkin

If you own a Nikon F2, save your nickels so that you can send it to Sover Wong for an overhaul. You’ll get back a like-new F2 that will serve you well for many years.

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Suburban scene

The backs of houses
Nikon F2A, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor
Ilford FP4 Plus
LegacyPro L110, Dilution B
2020

In this neighborhood I live in, it’s remarkable to me how many backs of houses I see as I walk on its streets.

A wide main road makes a semi-circle through the neighborhood and all of the sub-neighborhoods branch off it. Because of the curved, cul-de-sac nature of the sub-neighborhoods’ streets, the backs of many houses face the main road. A fence and some trees make a thin attempt to block the view, but they don’t really work.

The pipelines and high-voltage electrical transmission lines that cut through create gaps between houses, making the backs of many houses more visible. Also, the backs of all of the corner houses are visible just by their nature. Finally, some houses back up to a retention pond, and for whatever reason roads pass right by a lot of them here.

Moreover, it’s against the rules here to build a privacy fence. Three feet is all the taller a fence can be.

The upstart is that a private back yard is hard to come by here.

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Film Photography

single frame: The backs of houses

Why you see the backs of so many houses in my neighborhood.

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Film Photography

Ilford FP4 Plus in LegacyPro L110

I recently got decent results developing 120 Ilford FP4 Plus in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B (1+31). The more I use this Kodak HC-110 developer clone, the more I like it. Meet my colleague Ishank.

Ishank

And this is Trent. We met for lunch Downtown on a warm autumn day. A particular cheeseburger joint has plenty of outdoor seating.

Trent

We met for lunch on Indianapolis’s popular Massachusetts Avenue (“Mass Ave,” we all call it). We met on the block in the photo below thinking we’d hit the fried chicken place, but we learned that during COVID they’re not serving lunch. So we walked up the street and found the cheeseburger place open.

Stout's on Mass

In many shots, blacks went to 100% and there was no detail available to retrieve in Photoshop. Areas of Ishank’s hair, beard, and T-shirt came out fully black. In the photo below, note especially the side of the truck in the foreground, and the slacks of the woman in the mural.

Mass Ave

I probably underexposed those photos. I should have metered for the shadows, especially in the photo above where the light is so mixed. Instead, I started the meter app on my iPhone, aimed it at the middle of the scene, and set the Yashica-D to whatever it said. I would do well to be more disciplined in my metering technique. Fortunately, my hasty technique worked fine in even lighting, as in the scene below.

1915 Room

I shot these in my Yashica-D. I use my Yashica-12 more often because of its built-in meter and easy crank winding. But the D is still a lovely camera. Its Yashikor lens, a triplet, gives a lovely swirly bokeh (see the portraits above) that the 12’s Yashinon lens, a Tessar clone, can’t match. People in the photo forums decry the Yashikor’s softness compared to the Yashinon, but I find the Yashikor to be plenty sharp.

Prayer Request

Speaking of sharpness, I continue to learn so much from your comments. On my recent post about Kodak Panatomic-X film, Ted Marcus recommended deconvolution sharpening over unsharp masking. I searched the Internet for more info and learned that you can do it natively in Photoshop’s RAW editor. This article explains. I like the effect better than unsharp masking. The real test will come when I try it on 35mm scans.

Mowed down cornfield

I took the Yashica-D on a drive one chilly lunch hour and stopped in some familiar places. If I had known that fellow was going to bike into my frame, I would have waited a second or two longer so he would have appeared in a more interesting spot!

Wrecks, Inc.

I like shooting 12-exposure rolls of film when I’m shooting aimlessly like this. One good photo walk, or two or three short photo walks, and its into the developing tank with the roll. It also reminds me of my early days making photos in my little Kodak Brownie Starmite II and later in my crappy Imperial Magimatic X50. I had no choice but 12 exposures in the Brownie on 127 film. I could buy 20- (and later 24-) exposure 126 cartridges for the Magimatic, but often bought 12-exposure cartridges because they were less expensive. I had so little money then. I hadn’t worked out yet that it was more economical per frame to buy the 20-exposure cartridges, especially when you factored in developing and printing.

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Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Certo Super Sport Dolly

Statue before the big house

Yes, Operation Thin the Herd is still running. The pace has slowed to a crawl, however. I’ve been distracted by cameras donated to the collection since this project began, which is a wonderful problem to have. I’ve also wanted to shoot some of the cameras I’ve kept in this project! But back to it at last, down to the last few cameras. This time I’m considering my Certo Super Sport Dolly, a folding camera for 120 film.

Certo Super Sport Dolly

I used this camera last not long after it was given to me. It needed some repair to work properly, including patching pinholes in the bellows and replacing a broken focus-stop ring. But once repaired, it worked well. Here, I shot some Kodak Ektar 100 in it.

Test

The Super Sport Dolly gave me great sharpness from corner to corner. The colors are a little strange, but that isn’t unexpected with an uncoated lens. This camera is from the late 1930s, before lens coating was a thing. This lens is the 75mm f/2.9 Meyer Görlitz Trioplan, a three element, three group design based on the Cooke triplet. It’s set in a Compur shutter that operates from 1 to 1/250 second.

For this outing I loaded some Ilford FP4 Plus, which I developed in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II. I got unexpected results.

Ampitheater

The light leak is back, but that’s not surprising as my bellows repair consisted of dabbing black fabric paint onto the pinholes. That lasts only so long. The leak shows up in only a couple frames because I closed the camera between many of these shots.

Silos

But check out that vignetting. I didn’t experience that at all with the other rolls of film I’ve put through the Super Sport Dolly. Who knows why it’s showing up now. (I cropped the vignetting out of some of the photos that follow.)

Ampitheater

I also didn’t get the same sharpness I enjoyed before. My scanning might be to blame; I’m still figuring out how to get the best results from my scanner.

Shadows

But man, did I have fun shooting the Super Sport Dolly. I can’t say the same with many other old folders that I’ve used. The Super Sport Dolly is small and light compared to many other old folders. Its f/2.9 lens and 1/250 shutter might not strike you as blazing fast, but I’ve encountered a lot of old folders have limited use except in blazing sunshine due to specs like f/6.3 and 1/100. The Super Sport Dolly’s pop-up “frame” viewfinder offers easy framing, where many old folders have small, hard-to-read brilliant viewfinders. Finally, the Super Sport Dolly takes 120 film, rather than a defunct format like 620 or 116.

Shadows

I normally keep cameras that work very well and, ideally, are in very good cosmetic condition. This Certo Super Sport Dolly doesn’t clear this bar. But I enjoy it enough that it doesn’t matter. I already want to shoot it again.

Verdict: Keep

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