Camera Reviews

Kodak Signet 40

I don’t need any more Kodaks. It’s not that I don’t like Kodaks, but I already have plenty in my collection. My camera wish list includes certain Olympuses and Yashicas and Konicas and Pentaxes, but I keep not buying them because I blow my vintage-camera budget on Kodaks. They’re just so easy to come by!

So not long ago I made a pact with myself – no more Kodaks! And then almost immediately I came upon this lonely Signet 40 for ten bucks. Clearly, my self-pacts aren’t very effective.

Kodak Signet 40

It was dirty, so I cleaned it up – but unfortunately with a little too much enthusiasm. See the outer ring surrounding the lens barrel? It contained a depth-of-field scale. Notice how I used the past tense there? My cleaning scrubbed it right off. Argh!

Kodak Signet 40

At any rate, on the Kodak scale the Signet 40 is a decent camera. It doesn’t rise to the level of the Retina line in build quality, but it is well assembled of plastic and aluminum.

The Signet 40’s 46mm f/3.5 Ektanon lens also doesn’t compare to the Schneider-Kreuznach lenses typical of Retinas. As best as I can piece together the Signet 40’s lens is a three-element design. The circled L on the lens surround announces that the lens is “Lumenized,” which I gather is Kodak-speak for a magnesium fluoride coating. This lens is also radioactive, as its glass contains thorium oxide. Curiously, this is a unit-focusing lens – the entire lens moves in and out as you focus, rather than just the lens’s front element.

Kodak Signet 40

The Signet 40’s Kodak Synchro 400 shutter allows shutter speeds from 1/5 to 1/400 second – pretty speedy for a camera of this caliber. You have to manually cock the shutter, though.

Kodak Signet 40

Up top is a frame counter, a film-type reminder wheel, and a very large rewind knob that gives tips for shooting with Kodak films available at the time. The wind lever is on the back in the upper right. The shutter button is on the front, right of the lens barrel as you hold the camera.

The Signet 40 was produced from 1956 to 1959. At $65 when new, which is equivalent to well above $500 today, the Signet 40 was a major purchase. But its features and reasonable build quality suggest that it would be a capable performer in the hands of a motivated amateur.

If you like cameras of this type and era, also check out my reviews of three Kodak Pony 135s: the original (here), the Model B (here), and the Model C (here). Or see my review of the similar Argus A-Four (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

My Signet 40’s shutter was sticky, but I just kept cocking and firing it and pretty soon it loosened up. So I dropped in a roll of Kodak Gold 200 and started shooting. This camera was reasonably pleasant to use. The controls all worked smoothly. I especially liked the focusing ring, which operated with a single finger as I lined up the viewfinder and rangefinder images. My son was climbing the tree in the front yard with some neighborhood boys.

Tree-climbing days

I have two complaints about my Signet 40. First, the rangefinder’s image was on the dim side, which sometimes made it hard to use. Second, the cocking lever was right next to the aperture lever at about f/16. I shot this roll Sunny 16 and more than once moved the aperture selector to f/22 when I meant to cock the shutter.

Wall and window

I met a friend for breakfast one morning so I brought the Signet 40 along. This ’64 or ’65 Plymouth Barracuda was in the restaurant’s parking lot. Modern tires always look strange on a vintage car.

Ooooooo Barracuda

Nearby stands the Astronaut David Wolf bridge, the last steel-truss bridge in Indianapolis. See a video of me driving over it here. The Signet 40 was an easy companion this day, light to carry and easy enough to use.

The Astronaut David Wolf Bridge

The Signet 40’s lens is reasonably sharp, with no softness in the corners. I wasn’t thrilled with the contrast I got, and so I boosted it in Photoshop. But that could be a processor fault rather than a characteristic of the lens.

Tire

I got delightful color on this roll.

Holliday

The Signet 40’s viewfinder doesn’t capture everything the lens sees, making it challenging to precisely frame subjects. I found that the lens captured a little more on the right side of the frame than appears in the viewfinder. It showed up bigtime on this photo of this old Jeep’s grille, but I cropped the image to fix it.

Jeep

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Signet 40 gallery.

The Signet 40 may look like just another cheap Kodak, but it’s a capable performer. If after reading this anything about the Signet 40 appeals to you, consider picking one up — you can buy them for a song on eBay.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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