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.
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.
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.\
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
So I shrugged, loaded more expensive E100G, and kept going. When I worked the Monitor properly, it delivered excellent sharpness and color.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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