I learned a lot about how not to select a vintage camera when I bought this Kodak Tourist. At the time, I wanted to build a collection of folders and rangefinders. I set the Tourist in my sights as the last folder Kodak made.
What I didn’t realize is that most old folders could be had with a range of lenses and shutters. There would be an entry-level lens/shutter, a top-of-the-line lens/shutter, and often several choices in between.
I wound up with a Tourist packing the entry-level lens and shutter. The fixed-focus Kodet lens is probably a simple one-element meniscus; its widest aperture is a narrow f/12.5. The shutter offers one speed, probably 1/50 sec, plus Time and Bulb. My Tourist had specs similar to a box camera, and was about as versatile. When I put film through it (review here), the soft, poorly exposed results were disappointing.
Kodak offered the Tourist (and its similar successor, the Tourist II) with several other, better, lens/shutter options. Most of them were 100mm or 105mm Kodak Anaston lenses, a classic Cooke triplet, at f/4.5, f/6.3, or f/8.8. They were set in various Kodak shutters, the least of which offered speeds of 1/25 to 1/100 sec., and the best of which offered speeds of 1/5 to 1/400 sec.
I could also have held out for the Tourist II with the 101mm f/4.5 Kodak Anastar lens, a Tessar. It was set in a Synchro-Rapid shutter of 1 to 1/800 sec.
I would have had much more fun, and gotten much better results, from even the least of these improved Tourists! Perhaps I should look for another, better specified Tourist so I can find out for sure.
I’ve had a lot of fun shooting my new old cameras this year, but I also got out a couple old cameras I’ve had for a while and loaded some film into them, too.
When I first wrote about my Kodak Tourist several years ago, I said I’d probably never run film through it because its lens was so unremarkable. But I had a roll of Plus-X sitting here doing nothing, and I thought maybe if I used my tripod and my GE PR-1 exposure meter I might get some okay results.
Not so much. I had a dreadful time with this camera. I kept setting up shots only to have the exposure meter tell me there wasn’t enough light. Because the lens’s maximum aperture is a tiny f/12.5, this camera needs gobs of direct, blazing sunlight to make an image. Ghosting ruined a few images, and then I managed not to advance the film on a few frames leading to double exposures. This double-exposed shot is the best one on the roll, sad to say. I uploaded three other shots from the roll to Flickr; see them here.
I was so unimpressed with the Tourist that I demoted it. It had been displayed on a shelf in my living room, but now it’s in the box of unloved cameras that I keep under my bed.
I had a much, much better time recently with my Minolta Hi-Matic 7. It was one of the first cameras I bought when I started collecting again, but I had only ever put one roll of film through it. It felt like high time to try it again. This time, I had a battery for it and would be able to see whether its autoexposure system worked. In went a roll of Fujicolor 200 and out went I.
I got great results with my Hi-Matic. It’s not surprising – its f/1.8 lens lets in more than 32 times as much light as my Tourist’s lens. And the autoexposure system worked fine.
I just noodled around, shooting whatever felt good. As I drove to work one morning, the just-risen sun was casting long shadows. I stopped by Second Presbyterian Church for a snap.
A few days later as I stopped at Costco to drop off a roll of film, I spotted a 1941 Buick in the parking lot. I moved in close to shoot its grille.
I uploaded several other shots from this roll to Flickr; see them here. There you’ll also find the photos from the first roll I put through this camera four years ago. When I compare those shots to these, I’m delighted to see how much I’ve learned and how much my work has improved.
I can think of few good reasons to own a Kodak Tourist. You can find far better vintage medium-format folding cameras for reasonable prices. But this shine one cost less than $10, so I bought it. I should be glad I don’t always have $10 in my pocket or my house would be crammed with shiny things.
The 1948-51 Tourist was the last in a 50-year line of folding medium-format cameras from Kodak. Amateurs who wanted more from photography than their box Brownies could deliver turned to medium-format folding cameras until 35mm photography really took off in the 1950s. There were some real advantages to medium-format folding cameras, the largest of which was the 6×9 centimeter negative. Even a contact print off that negative was big enough to show the subject in detail. And even with a so-so lens, you could capture good enough
Even though the Tourist is quite sturdy and its back is cleverly designed to be opened at either end, mine is cheap where it matters — in the lens and shutter. My Tourist is the entry-level model, with a fixed-focus 86 mm f/12.5 Kodet lens and a fixed-speed (probably 1/50 sec.) Flash Kodon shutter. You could adjust the aperture from f/12.5 to f/16, f/22, and the itty bitty f/32.
Better Tourists came with glass Anastigmat or Anaston lenses that you could focus, and shutters with variable speeds. But even those Tourists can’t touch medium-format folders from manufacturers such as Agfa, Zeiss-Ikon, Voigtländer, and several better-specified Kodaks, which could be had with wonderful four-element lenses, high-speed shutters, and even coupled rangefinders that took the guesswork out of focusing. Those cameras produced sublime images. But those cameras were expensive, while the Tourist was not. Judging by the number of Tourists available on eBay every day, Kodak probably sold hundreds of thousands of them. Despite its low cost, my lowly Tourist probably took decent enough photographs in its day, as long as you were mindful of its limitations.
One of those limitations is that it takes 620 film. Actually, it became a limitation in 1996 when that format was discontinued. Fortunately, you can respool still-available 120 film onto 620 spools as the film is the same width and length. Or you can buy hand-respooled 620 film from the Film Photography Project (here).
If you like folding cameras, you might like my reviews of the Voigtländer Bessa (here), the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), the Kodak Monitor Six-20 Anastigmat Special (here), the Agfa Isolette III (here), and the Kodak Six-20 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I don’t remember where I came upon the roll of 620 Kodak Plus-X I eventually loaded into this camera. I took it out and had a positively dreadful time with it.
Not a single image on the roll looked any good. Now, at the time I shot these I had no idea what my Tourist’s shutter speed was. I guessed wrong, so they’re all overexposed. I also had a terrible habit of double-exposing frames.
Always remember the cardinal rule of a camera that doesn’t have double-exposure protection: wind immediately after shooting a frame.
Also, unless the sun was perfectly behind me I got all sorts of ghosting on the frame.
I did not enjoy using this clumsy camera. It went into the box of unloved cameras under my bed until I eventually sold it. I sure hope whoever bought it didn’t have any designs on good photographs from it, as I did.
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