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

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

Standard
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!

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

Film Photography

single frame: Letters suspended in air

Letters on a giant neon sign.

Image
Cross this bridge at a walk

Cross this bridge at a walk
Kodak Monitor Six-20 Anastigmat Special
Kodak Gold 200 (expired)
2013

I won’t soon forget the day I made this photograph. Margaret and I were still dating, and I took her to Bridgeton to see the bridge.

Bridgeton had always been a private place for me, a place I go when life has knocked me around hard and I need to reconnect with the good in the world. At first it was because the people of Bridgeton had kept the original 1868 bridge in good repair. Later it was because after arson destroyed that bridge, those same people rallied to build a new bridge.

It was this day I shared this little piece of my heart with her. Funny it felt that way, because some years before I told the world about Bridgeton on this blog here.

It was a truly lovely day. Margaret packed a light picnic lunch, which we shared on a grassy area alongside the bridge. She asked a passerby to photograph us with another film camera I had along. I can’t find that photograph!

If you’re wondering why this photo on Kodak Gold 200 is in black and white, it’s because Dwayne’s processed it in black-and-white chemicals by mistake. On this photo, at least, it worked out fine.

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

Film Photography

single frame: Cross this bridge at a walk

.

Image
Film Photography

Color film, black-and-white results

Not long ago the folks at the Film Photography Project came upon a cache of expired-since-1995 Kodak Gold 200 color film in size 620, and offered it for sale in their store. It was pricey at $14 per roll, but wanting to try a couple of my 620 cameras I bought two rolls. I shot the first roll in April on Route 66 using my Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and was disappointed with the faded, grainy results. See them here.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

Recently I spooled the remaining roll into my Kodak Monitor Six-20. I wanted to use the Monitor again anyway, and I wanted to try the Kodak Gold in a camera where I could control the exposure so I could better test the film’s capabilities. That the Monitor has the fine Anastigmat Special lens only sweetened the deal.

Then the processor dunked my $14 color film into the wrong chemicals and I got black-and-white images back. At first, I was severly disappointed. But quickly I recognized that the images had potential. Contrast was poor, but a touch of Photoshop cured that ill and brought these images right to life.

I took the Monitor with me to Bridgeton. I had three cameras along on that trip: the Monitor, my Pentax Spotmatic, and my Olympus XA. The Monitor did the best job of capturing the sky, and edged the other cameras for sharpness.

Bridgeton covered bridge

I find it difficult to frame shots with the Monitor’s tiny bubble viewfinder. This bridge portal was all akimbo in the original image, so I straightened and cropped it for best effect.\

Cross this bridge at a walk

My house faces east, and sometimes the morning sun bathes my little front garden in some delicious light. All too often I’m rushing to work and can’t stop and really enjoy it. But the light was right one lazy Saturday morning, so I put my Monitor on a tripod and took this photograph from my front stoop. I also shot the scene in color with my digital camera; see that shot here for comparison.

Early morning front yard

My Monitor is not a pleasure to use. I’ve already mentioned the difficulties framing shots. The shutter button has a long travel and is stiff at the end where it trips the shutter, so I usually trip it by sticking my finger in by the lens barrel and moving the linkage. And the wind-stop feature on mine doesn’t work well, so I have to work around it. But I so love the results I get from it that I am likely to shoot it again. Perhaps I will soon, because the Film Photography Project offers fresh, hand-respooled 620 films now.

See more from this roll, along with some great color shots from my Monitor, in my Kodak Monitor Six-20 gallery.

Other 620 cameras in my collection: Kodak Six-20 and Kodak Duaflex II.

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

Standard
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 either take film that hasn’t been made in decades, or 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.

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 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 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. Mind you, I paid through the nose for this film as I bought it pre-respooled onto 620 spools. Nothing like plunging right into the deep end on the first try. I had some challenges learning this camera’s ways on the first roll and buggered several frames. “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

I never got used to the winding system. 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 is supposed to stop when you’ve wound to the next frame. On my Monitor, during the first roll the winder sometimes stopped before it had moved the film fully to the next frame, leading to overlapping exposures.

Karmann-Ghia

That was frustrating! In playing with the unloaded camera later, I figured out that if I left the WIND/1-8 lever on WIND I could wind freely just like any other folding camera, using the red window on the back to gauge when I’d wound to the next frame. The Monitor’s double-exposure protection keeps you from pressing the shutter button, but fortunately an override lever underneath the pop-up viewfinder neatly skirted that problem.

Hydrant with shadows

So I took the Monitor with me on a photo walk in Indianapolis’s Broad Ripple neighborhood. I was having trouble with the shutter button; something in the linkage between it and the shutter didn’t always connect properly, making me pull the linkage itself to fire the shutter. That made handheld images much more challenging, so I put the Monitor on a tripod. I was quite a sight toting this kit through this neighborhood.

Polka-dotted chair

I had to take the Monitor off the tripod for this photo, which because of its lovely color is my favorite of all the E100G shots I made.

Fence

I put one more roll through the Monitor, this time some expired Kodak Gold 200, probably among the last Kodak made in 620 before discontinuing the format. Unfortunately, the processor goofed and developed it 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 at this site, the covered bridge in Bridgeton, Indiana. The whole roll I had to stick my finger in the shutter linkage to fire the shutter, which was annoying and created shake on a couple shots.

Bridgeton covered bridge

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

If I had it to do over again, I might not buy this Monitor. The Kodak Vigilant Six-20 used the same body and could be had with the Anastigmat Special lens and the Supermatic shutter – but it lacked the self-stop wind feature that gave me so much trouble. I would think it would be a less complicated camera to use. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

But the Monitor is a beautiful folding camera. I screwed it to my vintage Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1 and displayed it in my home.

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