It may be gorgeous, but it always made only so-so images for me. It’s the Kodak Six-20, a folding camera for 620 film made between 1932 and 1937. See my updated review here.
The first time I photographed Second Presbyterian I was shooting my folding Kodak Six-20 and some Plus-X that I bought pre-respooled as 620 from B&H. The entire roll came back looking like this, to my disappointment.
I came across the negatives recently and they look normal. My wife bought me a new flatbed film scanner for my birthday, and it takes medium-format film, so I may try scanning the negs myself when I get moved and settled.
It was going to be a series: photos of my boys leaning on my car in front of various restaurants where we ate dinner. And I was going to use nothing but box cameras. Then I made just two photos. It’s not much of a series.
I suppose I could make more, eventually. But now that both boys are out of high school we’ll simply go out together a lot less often. And what are the odds I’ll have a loaded box camera then?
The boys live near an Interstate highway, so the available restaurants are the chain diners you expect to find at an exit. I have a bunch of dietary restrictions which make ordering at a restaurant tricky. But I can always confidently order the bacon and eggs.
It so happens that I sent both rolls of film to Old School Photo Lab for processing. I didn’t order prints, but they printed these two images anyway and sent them to me for nothing. The prints are truly wonderful! Far better than these scans. Crisper, more vivid. If I didn’t tell you I took them with box cameras, you’d never know.
© 2016-17 Jim Grey. All rights reserved.
I was so impressed with this Kodak Six-20 when I bought it seven or eight years ago. I was limiting my collection to folders and rangefinders then, and this mint-condition folding Kodak with Art Deco details was so lovely I just had to own it. I’ve always displayed this camera. I have little display space, so it’s a special camera that doesn’t end up in a closet or in a box under the bed.
Manufactured from 1932-37, the Kodak Six-20 was more style than substance. It featured a 100mm Kodak Anastigmat lens, one step up in quality from Kodak’s entry-level Diway, Bimat, Twindar, and Kodar lenses. Some think this Anastigmat is similar in design to a Tessar. Yet its maximum aperture is only f/6.3, and the No. 0 Kodon shutter in which it is set offers just three settings: 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 sec, plus time and bulb. Not very versatile.
The Six-20 offers two viewfinders: a brilliant peer-down viewfinder attached to the lens assembly, and a pop-up sports viewfinder on the body side. On mine, the brilliant viewfinder is so cloudy as to be useless.
This was the kind of camera a gentleman could slip into his coat pocket, or a lady could carry in her clutch, and look stylish when pulling it out. Only a gentleman or a lady could afford this camera: it was $38 when new, which is equivalent to $666 in 2016.
I shot this camera once before, in 2010. See the review here. I got terrible results and blamed a combination of camera gremlins and photographer incompetence. But I’ve learned a lot about using old gear and making photographs in the years since, and so I decided to try again. I began by cleaning the lens, which is easily accessed from the back by opening the aperture wide and setting the shutter to T. I then shot the shutter at every speed many times to loosen it up.
The Kodak Six-20 unsurprisingly takes 620 film, which hasn’t been manufactured since 1984. It’s the same film as still-manufactured 120, but on narrower spools. You can respool 120 onto 620 spools, or buy it pre-respooled at premium prices. Because neither option excites me, I swore off 620 cameras a few years ago. But as my grandmother always used to say, “never say never.” I bought a roll of expired (1/2004), cold-stored, hand-respooled Kodak Verichrome Pan from the Film Photography Project store and spooled it into this octogenarian camera.
My first stop was a nearby Episcopal church. Armed with my monopod to keep the camera stable, and my iPhone light meter app to get exposure right, I got to work. This is my favorite shot from the roll.
Somebody forgot to put the toys away on the church playground.
From the church, I walked around the surrounding Warfleigh neighborhood a little. The Meridian Street Bridge cuts through on its way over the White River. The sun, low in the west, created gobs of annoying flare. I had to have my back fully to the sun to avoid it. I’m sure Kodak made a snap-on hood for this lens; I wish I had one.
These shots all look a lot better than the original scans, which were hazy and low contrast. Fortunately, in this modern age Photoshop corrects those problems quickly and easily. But even Photoshop couldn’t help with the flare.
I finished the roll (just eight photos!) over in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, where there’s a Graeter’s ice-cream shop. It was busy on this warm Saturday evening.
By the way, the Six-20’s shutter requires no cocking. That’s unusual for a folding camera of this era. I’m betting that the No. 0 Kodon is a simple rotary shutter similar to those found on box cameras.
See the rest of my photos from this camera in my Kodak Six-20 gallery.
I was actually about to sell this camera. I’ve been thinning my herd, as cameras were stuffed into every nook and cranny around here and the madness had to stop. I’ve shed probably 50 cameras and am not done yet. But something made me pause and try this one again. I’m glad I did; after this experience I’ll be keeping it.
I love vintage folding cameras. They’re great for any camera collector because models can be had at any price. The better ones are, of course, more expensive. But to the untrained eye one old folder looks much like another and gives off a great vintage air.
Unfortunately, so many vintage folders take discontinued film sizes. Here’s a list of all of them.
A great many old folders take 620 film. Even though that film was discontinued in 1995, it is the same stuff as 120 film, except that it is wound around a narrower spool. 120 is still made and, as the professional standard, is widely available. Because you can roll 120 film onto a 620 spool — or just buy it pre-respooled from the Film Photography Project — any working 620 camera can still take photos.
Kodak is the undisputed king of folding cameras, and some of the ones they produced are extra lovely with Art Deco details. Like this one, the Six-20, which I found in good cosmetic condition on eBay for $30. Nab!
The Kodak Six-20 was manufactured from 1932 to 1937. It cost $38 when new, which is equivalent north of $600 today. It packs a 100mm f/6.3 Kodak Anastigmat lens, which is probably a three-element Cooke triplet type. It was considered a good quality lens at the time. The Kodon shutter is nothing special, though, with speeds of 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 sec. and bulb.
The camera sports two viewfinders. The first is a small “brilliant” type attached to the lens assembly that swivels to frame portrait and landscape photos. The second is a gunsight type attached to the camera body; it frames only landscape photos. As you can see, my Six-20’s brilliant finder is foggy.
What really set the Six-20 apart was its art deco styling. This photo shows not only some of those details, but that I needed to do a better job of wiping the dust off my camera before I photographed it. The button next to the film winder opens the self-erecting bellows.
Even the folding mechanism is attractive on the Six-20.
By the way, if you like old folders I’ve reviewed several others, including the Voigtländer Bessa (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), and the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
The Kodak Six-20 takes eight rectangular photos on every roll of 620 film. I loaded some Kodak Plus-X and went to town, albeit briefly, as it takes little time to snap eight shots. I shot using the Sunny 16 rule. Aside from the foggy brilliant viewfinder, the camera itself functioned well.
But I’m not happy with the scans I got back from the processor. Actually, they didn’t make scans – they photographed the negatives with a digital camera and reversed the images in Photoshop. The negatives look better than these images. I think I’ll use a different processor next time! But my habit is to show you photos from the first roll I shoot, and so here you go.
This is the shed in my back yard. I had to do some fancy footwork in post processing to make the images look this good.
I put this camera on a nearby shelf where I could gaze upon its beauty. I kept meaning to shoot it again, but six years passed before I did. First, I disassembled the lens and cleaned it. Then I bought a roll of expired (1/2004), cold-stored, hand-respooled Kodak Verichrome Pan from the Film Photography Project store and spooled it into this octogenarian camera. I got much better results this time.
This may be a good looking camera, and it may have been expensive in its day, but its lens and especially its shutter weren’t among the finest Kodak had to offer. I’ll bet the shutter is just a simple leaf as found in Kodak’s box cameras, as it requires no cocking.
I shot the Six-20 on a tripod this time in a bid to tame camera shake and to level the camera better than my bare hands can. It helped, but it could not tame this lens’s tendency to flare.
Things that should have been in focus tended to come out soft, as well. Perhaps the lens needed to be collimated.
To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Six-20 gallery.
Even though I was disappointed in these results, I have no regrets. But I can’t imagine using this camera regularly. There are simply too many folders out there that do better work.
Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.