Camera Reviews

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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Film Photography

Downtown Indianapolis on Ilford HP5 Plus

Nada

I work in Downtown Indianapolis. Yes, it’s capital-D Downtown here. My favorite way to take a work break is to grab whatever film camera I have with me and take a walk around capital D. For a few weeks recently, that was my little Olympus Stylus, into which I’d loaded a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus.

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The generous people at Analogue Wonderland sent me this roll of Ilford HP5 Plus so I’d write about the experience and drop their name. You can buy HP5 Plus from them here. But do explore their site — they offer over 200 other films! Click the logo to see.

Contrasting Doors

Last time I shot HP5 I used my big semi-pro Nikon N90s SLR. I wanted to see what kind of results I got from a different class of 35mm camera, hence the Stylus. Answer: every bit as impressive. I got excellent detail and balanced contrast shot after shot. As a traditionally grained film, you will absolutely see grain on HP5. But it looks natural and doesn’t detract from sharpness or detail.

Central Christian

I shot this roll little by little in December and January, two of Indiana’s gloomiest months every year. At ISO 400, HP5 Plus had the speed to cope with the poor light and give me big depth of field.

Leon's

Even on a day with some sun, the HP5 Plus delivered good balance between the bright and shadowy areas.

View from the 12th Floor Window

I walked around on idle lunch hours with the Stylus, photographing anything I thought might look good in black and white.

Cups Coffee

There are plenty of lovely older buildings Downtown with interesting details to study. HP5 Plus did a great job navigating the natural contrasts.

Inland Bldg.

Even though Indianapolis is Indiana’s largest city by far, it’s not large like Chicago or Dallas. The core of Downtown is about one mile square, beyond which the tall buildings give way fast to shorter office and apartment buildings and then neighborhoods full of older homes. Roberts Camera is just beyond that mile square. They process 35mm color film at a reasonable price. They also happen to be the US distributor of Ilford products.

Roberts

While I’ve never used them, there are a few auto mechanics just outside Downtown’s mile square. Convenient!

Firestone

HP5 Plus is a great film for everyday photography. If you’d like to try Ilford HP5 Plus for yourself, you can order it from Analogue Wonderland here. They provided me this roll of film in exchange for this mention.

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Lime scooters

Lime scooters
Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor
Ilford HP5 Plus
2019

I’ve ridden Lime scooters a lot since the first of August when I strained a tendon in my hip. I had been taking the stairs up to my office every morning, twelve flights, as a form of exercise. I suspect that because of an old knee injury my form was bad, leading to the tendon strain.

At first, I could barely put weight on my right leg. For about eight weeks I minimized walking and stairs, which allowed for some healing but not enough. My doctor sent me to a physical therapist, who has given me some great exercises that are moving the healing needle a lot faster. I’m able to walk around Downtown as I want to now, and even take some stairs, with only light residual pain.

But the Lime scooters were zippy fun while I was riding them. The only trouble is that to go six blocks costs north of two bucks. That adds up fast.

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Film Photography

single frame: Lime scooters

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While I had Ilford HP5 Plus loaded into my Nikon N90s, my wife bought me a gift of two vintage pocket watches. I’ve always loved watches and for decades have had to strongly resist collecting them. My wife tossed all that good resistance out the window. Not that I’m complaining.

I mounted my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor to the N90s and went in close. I shot handheld at box speed, ISO 400.

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Pocket watch
Pocket watch
Pocket watch

Analogue Wonderland provided me the roll of HP5 Plus in exchange for mentioning that they did. Get yours from them here.

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Film Photography

Pocket watches on Ilford HP5 Plus

Some vintage pocket watches through a macro lens.

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Film Photography

Shooting Ilford HP5 Plus

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This post is brought to you by Analogue Wonderland, who offer dozens of fun films for you to try. Click the logo to see!

Why did I wait so long to start shooting Ilford?

Market Street towards the Statehouse

I actually know why: so many fine childhood photographic memories that involve little yellow boxes. It leads me to reach for Kodak first. But I’ve been missing out.

The Lacy Building

Ilford HP5 Plus is a fast (ISO 400) black-and-white film with a traditional grain structure. As you can see, it delivers plenty of lovely grays evenly at every level between white and black. No “chalk and soot” here, no sir.

Lime scooters

The only thing I did with any of these photos in Photoshop was boost contrast and exposure a little to suit my tastes. But truly, I could have used these images without any post-processing. I almost never get that outcome with film. Oh Ilford, I’m sorry I waited so long!

The table is set

I shot this roll in my Nikon N90s with my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens attached. I have to think this camera’s advanced (for its time) matrix metering helped get even exposures on this blindingly bright day.

Artsgarden

These scenes are all from Downtown Indianapolis, where I work now. It’s lovely to take a camera on a lunchtime photowalk. The sun directly overhead typically provides the harshest light; conventional wisdom is to go earlier or later. But noon’s when I can get out, and Ilford HP5 Plus is just the film for it.

Bus terminal

There’s so much to photograph Downtown now! I last worked Downtown in 1996, and revitalization had only just begun. I wish I had made lunchtime photowalks then for then-and-now comparisons!

Nicky Blaine's

If you’d like to try Ilford HP5 Plus for yourself, you can order it from Analogue Wonderland here. They provided me this roll of film in exchange for this mention.

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Obie

A portrait of the doggo as a young pupper
Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor
Ilford HP5 Plus
2019

This is our son Zach’s dog Obie, sitting regally on the rug by the door to the garage. We see a lot of Obie as we’re his default babysitters when Zach travels. He’s a chihuahua-rat terrier mix. This is as big as he’ll be. I’m much more a large-dog person, but Obie’s a charmer and we’re always happy to have him around.

It seems appropriate to photograph a black-and-white dog on black-and-white film. I’d never shot Ilford’s HP5 Plus before, but Analogue Wonderland sent me a roll to try (get yours from them here) in exchange for mentioning that they did.

I’ll have much more to say about HP5 Plus tomorrow, but for today: this ISO 400 film is just lovely, sensitively capturing the entire range of grays. This photograph required no frippery in Photoshop to correct anything. It is perfect just as it came off the processor’s scanner.

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Film Photography

single frame: A portrait of the doggo as a young pupper

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