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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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.

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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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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.

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Film Photography

single frame: Cross this bridge at a walk

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