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!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Standard
Bridge at IMA

Bowstring truss bridge at Newfields
Olympus Stylus
Kodak Gold 200 (expired)
2013

This bridge spans the Indianapolis Central Canal on the grounds of Newfields, also known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

It was built in 1873 to span Sugar Creek near Crawfordsville in Montgomery County. It was a two-span bridge. When the bridge was replaced, one span went elsewhere in Montgomery County and this span went unused. After many years, it was moved here and restored.

If you’d like to get more of my photography in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe.

Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: Bowstring truss bridge at Newfields

This bridge from 1873 got a new life at Newfields in Indianapolis.

Image
The Astronaut David Wolf Bridge

The Astronaut David Wolf Bridge
Kodak Signet 40
Kodak Gold 200
2011

This is the last truss bridge still standing in Indianapolis. It was built in 1941 to carry State Road 100 across the White River. Its two Parker through trusses are bookended by Warren pony trusses.

In 1941, this was way out in the country. The Indianapolis city limits were several miles to the south. But as the city expanded outward, as cities do, eventually this region became suburban, and this road became a major shopping destination. This road, and therefore this bridge, were no longer sufficient for the traffic volume.

Fortunately, sane heads prevailed. When the road was widened to four lanes in the late 1980s, a new two-lane bridge was built alongside this one to carry westbound traffic. This bridge was left in place to carry eastbound traffic. In 2008 it received a thorough restoration. Somewhere along the way, the city of Indianapolis named it after astronaut David Wolf, who was born and raised here.

This is a challenging bridge to photograph given its length and how many strip malls crowd the area. Once I made a through-the-windshield video when I crossed this bridge; you can see it here.

If you’d like to get more of my photography in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe.

Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: The Astronaut David Wolf Bridge

The story of the last truss bridge still standing in Indianapolis.

Image
Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

What’s the best film camera to start with?

Every time I see a post about the best film camera to start with, the comments pile on. So many different, strong opinions. So many of them recommend a mechanical, manual SLR like the Pentax K1000 or the Minolta SR-T 101.

I think that’s a terrible place for a newbie to start. There’s so much to learn about exposure to use a camera like that. It’s a barrier that could turn a budding film photographer away.

Instead, buy an auto-everything 35mm SLR from late in the film era, around the turn of the century. My favorites are the Nikon N-series cameras, like the N55, N60, and N65. Get one with a lens already attached, preferably a Nikon Nikkor. A 28-80mm zoom lens is common and still useful. You can buy kits like these for $30 on eBay every day. (Read my post here about how to buy film gear on eBay.)

Nikon N65

There are some risks. Any used camera could have issues. But I choose these N-series cameras because, in my experience, unless one has been abused it is likely to work reliably.

The other reason I recommend these cameras is that when you twist the big dial atop the camera to Auto, you have a giant point-and-shoot camera. You’ll easily get great first results.

Nikon N65

If you try one only to realize that film photography isn’t for you, you’re out very little money. You can probably sell the kit to someone else for what you paid for it!

If you find you like shooting film, keep going with this auto-everything SLR until you feel like you’ve mastered it. Then try a mechanical, manual camera like that K1000 (more info here) or SR-T 101 (more info here).

Here are some photos I made with my Nikon N60 and N65 with my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6-G AF Nikkor lens, a common one to find with these cameras. I used everyday color films: Fujicolor 200 and Kodak Gold 200, which you can still buy at the drug store. I walked up, twisted the lens barrel to zoom in on the scene, and pressed the button. (My wife shot the last one.) That’s all there is to it.

Red house
Goals
Story Inn
A portrait of the photographer

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Photography

Still more 35mm color scans from ScanGear on the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II

Lab scans of 35mm color negatives are miracles. Any lab I routinely use reliably sends me crackerjack digital images.

Getting usable scans from my CanoScan 9000F Mark II via its ScanGear software, on the other hand, is a lot of work involving a number of subjective choices in scanning and post-processing.

I used to think that the colors I got back from the lab were the film’s true colors. I see now how much of that is in the scanner settings, and that I don’t actually know how any film I typically use renders color.

The improvements I made this time were to scan to lossless TIFF files, and to turn off ScanGear’s Image Adjustment setting (which I had overlooked when turning off all the other image-enhancement settings). It helped? I think?

Here’s my scan of a photo I made on Kodak Gold 200 with my Olympus OM-1 and a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens. There’s a little of that mottling in the blue sky that I keep trying to prevent. But it’s not as bad as in previous scans.

Roberts Camera scanned this film when I had them process it. It’s a touch brighter than my scan. The sky has a slight turquoise tint and lacks any mottling. Otherwise, either scan is fine.

North and Maple

Here’s my scan of a butterfly pausing over this flower. Notice how purple the flowers in the background are.

Roberts made those same flowers quite pink, but brought out the detail lurking in the butterfly’s wings.

Butterfly

I also tried scanning some Kodak Ektar 100 I shot in my Pentax Spotmatic F with a 35mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar lens.

Here’s Robert’s Camera’s scan. They got richer colors than I did, although I’d say the sky in mine looks more realistic. The green tint on the right edge of my scan is clearly an artifact of the negative that Robert’s somehow edited out.

Around Zionsville

I walked over to the building to make this close shot. My scan:

Roberts Camera’s scan got a richer red, but my scan offers better highlight detail.

Around Zionsville

It was so much easier when I accepted whatever color I got from my lab scans, as if they were the final word on film and lens. Now I’m suspicious of every scan, because of all the choices it represents. Is it possible that the only way to truly know what colors are in a negative is to make a darkroom print?

This, by the way, is the last in this series of experiments. I’ve learned what I need to. I get good enough black-and-white scans now to start processing and scanning black-and-white film, which was my goal. Now that I work Downtown in Indianapolis, eight blocks from Roberts Camera and their C41 lab, I’m likely to have them process and scan my 35mm color negative film. They charge just $10.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Photography

Construction at North and Maple

When you test as many old cameras as I do, you tend to shoot the same subjects a lot. But this one kept changing — because it was being built.

Construction
Nikon N90s, 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor, Agfa CT Precisa (x-1/2006, xpro)

This was going to be apartments and retail spaces, and it filled an entire city block in downtown Fishers.

North and Maple
Minolta Hi-Matic 7, Kodak Tri-X 400

The views are all a little different even though I stood at the same place to make these photos. Focal length, film, and available light all differed.

North and Maple
Olympus OM-1, 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto-Macro, Kodak Gold 200

As you can see, construction was well along on that last shot. I’ll bet it’s completed now. But I don’t work over that way anymore so this is all you get!

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

Standard