Camera Reviews

Ansco Viking Readyset

Slim when closed, folding cameras were intended to fit in the pocket of a man’s jacket. The front of these cameras opened to unfold a long bellows with a lens at the end. Folding cameras were popular for several decades, but by the 1950s their popularity faded as other camera types supplanted them. One of Ansco’s last folding-camera gasps in the 1950s was its Viking line, at the bottom of which sat the Ansco Viking Readyset.

Ansco Viking Readyset

Produced from 1952 to 1959, the Viking Readyset features an f/11 Agfa Isomar lens of unknown focal length. This single-element lens sits behind the shutter. If you’re wondering why an Ansco camera features an Agfa lens, it’s because these two companies had been intertwined since 1928. They were one company until World War II, when the U.S. government broke them apart due to Agfa being German. After that, Ansco still often turned to Agfa for resources. Agfa made Viking cameras in Munich for Ansco.

Ansco Viking Readyset

The Viking Readyset offers two aperture settings, “Bright,” which I’m guessing is f/16, and “Hazy,” which is the full f/11. You choose this setting with a lever at the bottom of the lens housing. The shutter has two settings atop the lens housing: I (instant) and B (bulb). An old ad I found said that the shutter operates at at 1/40 sec. The shutter button is the long lever along the inside of the front door. Press it down to fire the shutter, which is a simple single leaf on a spring that does not require cocking.

Ansco Viking Readyset

The camera offers two focus zones, 5 to 10 feet and 10 feet to infinity, which you select with a lever on the side of the lens housing. The viewfinder is a simple pop-up “sports” type, on the same side of the body as the winder. The body is metal with a water-resistant coating that feels like it’s made of plastic. There’s a tripod mount on the faceplate, which is a nice touch. The camera also features a flash sync port. The Viking Readyset makes eight 6×9-cm images on a roll of 120 film.

“Readyset” was Ansco’s way of identifying a folding camera as being simple to use. You could buy far better specified Vikings than the Readyset. The top-line Viking featured an f/4.5 lens; the next one down an f/6.3 lens. Both were set in a shutter with a top speed of 1/200 sec. The Viking cameras cost $48.65, $34.95, and $19.95, respectively, when new. $19.95 is equivalent to about $215 today. In comparison, an Ansco box camera could be had for as little as $4.95, or about $55 today.

I’ve reviewed a couple other Agfa and Ansco folding cameras, including the Standard Speedex (here), the B2 Speedex (here), and the Isolette III (here). I’ve also reviewed the folding Kodak Monitor Six-20 (here), Tourist (here), and giant No. 3A Autographic (here); as well as Voigtländer’s original Bessa (here). You can see all of my camera reviews here.

I bought this Readyset Viking for $45 shipped, which is a fairly high price for such a simple camera. I took the plunge because this one appeared to be in very good condition. Unfortunately, the bellows turned out to be full of pinholes. This is a common malady among old folders. I dabbed a little black fabric paint on each hole to make the bellows light tight again.

To open the Viking Readyset, pull out the chromed tab on the front, and then pull the front open. To close the camera, press in the joint on both of the door’s struts, and then push the door closed. Closing the camera resets the focus to 10+ feet.

My test roll in the Viking Readyset was Ilford FP4 Plus, expired since December, 1994, but always stored frozen. To load film, first open the back by sliding the entire top plate (with the carry strap) to the side. Then lift up the chromed, hinged arm , place one end of the film roll on its post, and lower the arm as you place the other end of the film roll on the fixed post. It’s harder to explain than it is to do it. Then thread the end of the backing paper through the slot on the takeup spool, wind the camera a few times, close the back, and wind until the number 1 appears in the red window on the camera back.

Brick Street Inn Hotel

I shot all eight exposures at Zionsville’s annual Brick Street Market in early May. They close the main street and invite art and food vendors in.

Brick Street Market

It was a sunny day, so I left the Viking Readyset on its Bright (f/11) setting. I relied on FP4 Plus’s good exposure latitude — you can underexpose it by 1.5 stops and overexpose it by 6 stops.

Cover band

It’s easy to make a vertical image with the Viking Readyset thanks to the pop-up viewfinder. I found the viewfinder to be reasonably accurate, too. What you put in the center of the viewfinder shows up in the center of the image, and the lens “sees” only a little more around the edges than the viewfinder does. This is true when you focus beyond ten feet, anyway. The two images I made focused in the 5-10 foot range suffered from some parallax error. That 1/40 sec. shutter speed sure makes it easy to get blurry photos from camera shake, as here.

Kettle Korn

The 1/40 sec. shutter also won’t freeze action, as the two people walking in this image prove. The lens is reasonably sharp except in the corners, and as you can see there’s a little barrel distortion.

Flower Shop

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Ansco Viking Readyset gallery.

The Viking Readyset handled easily, in large part because there’s next to nothing to set. That’s the whole point of any Ansco camera with the Readyset name: all I had to do was select the distance range, frame the scene, press down the shutter button, and wind. While winding, you have to move the cover over the red window out of the way to see the frame number on the film’s backing paper.

I enjoyed using the Ansco Viking Readyset. It was no trouble to carry around by its handle, and it was quickly ready every time I wanted to make a photo. But I can see that the slow shutter is always going to put images at risk of being blurry due to shake, even though I have a very steady hand. I probably won’t use this camera again.

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

Recent acquisition: Kodak Jiffy Six-20, Series II

My college chum Bill contacted me recently to ask if I’d like to own a camera that had belonged to his grandmother. Well, of course I would. Bill sent it straightaway.

It is this Kodak Jiffy Six-20, Series II, complete with its box. It also came with a little pamphlet by Kodak on how to make snapshots at night with simple cameras using photofloods and Kodak’s special, fast “SS Pan” film.

Even more interestingly, tucked inside was a brief note from Bill’s grandmother saying that she bought the camera in the late 1930s and used it to make photographs of her family. It’s not often that an old camera comes to me with evidence of its provenance. Further establishing its provenance, Bill left a card inside with a monogram of his last name on it, with a handwritten note bidding me to enjoy the camera.

The camera appears to be in very good condition. The leatherette is peeling slightly in one corner, visible in the photo above. The bellows is whole and firmly connected to the body and lens board. The shutter sounds a little weak, or perhaps it’s just naturally slow, 1/20 or 1/30 second. The lens is slightly dirty. The bubble viewfinders show slight desilvering of the mirrors, but are otherwise clean and bright.

This is a simple camera with one aperture and shutter speed. It does have two focus zones: five to ten feet, and ten feet to infinity, which you select by turning the lens barrel. The camera boasts a “Twindar” lens. When I searched for this lens on Google, every result was about the Jiffy series of cameras, leading me to believe that this was either the only, or by far the primary, camera in which Kodak ever used this lens. My educated guess is that this is a simple meniscus lens, as Kodak used them in most of its simple cameras. The few places that claim an aperture for this lens all say f/11.

Kodak made the Jiffy Six-20, Series II, from 1937 to 1948. It takes 620 rollfilm. A similar Jiffy Six-16, Series II, was made for 616 film. There was an earlier Jiffy Six-20 and Six-16 manufactured from 1933 to 1937. It is easily distinguished from the Series II by its faceplate, which is painted in an Art Deco pattern.

When the weather warms up, I’ll give this camera a go. First, I’ll recondition the camera a little. I’ll gently clean the lens with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. I’ll also take the camera into a dark room, extend the bellows, shine a bright flashlight inside, and look for pinholes. I’ll patch any I find with black fabric paint. That’s never a permanent fix, but I’ve had luck with it lasting a year or two in other cameras.

I am slightly concerned about the shutter, but it appears to be well sealed inside and not easily accessed for service. I’ll use a film with wide exposure latitude to cover myself. I have plenty of Ilford FP4 Plus in the freezer; it should do well. It’s all in 120, but I have some spare 620 spools and it’s simple enough to respool 120 onto a 620 spool in a dark bag.

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Film Photography

Where can you still get film developed?

I’ll always miss the days of taking my film to the drug store to get it developed and then printed or scanned. It was so convenient, fast, and inexpensive!

By-mail labs now fill the gap — except they’re neither as fast nor as convenient, and some of them aren’t exactly inexpensive. Still, I’ve found a handful that do good work. I’m going to share with you the ones I’ve tried and like best.

I’m a frugal, hobbyist photographer in Indiana, USA. I’m looking for basic services, good quality, and reasonable prices. That’s why this list doesn’t include any boutique or pro labs. They offer white-glove service and outstanding quality for the demanding customer, and charge accordingly.

I also shoot more than 35mm color film in my vintage cameras. I need labs that can handle medium-format (120) film, and obsolete formats like 620, 127 and 110. I also sometimes shoot expired film and prefer labs that give it the extra care needed to produce good images.

I do have a couple gripes with most consumer labs. First, some of these labs have become much more expensive over the years, charging 20 bucks (including shipping) to process and scan a roll of 35mm color film, and more than that for other formats. I don’t understand the economics of running a lab, but that price is mighty high.

Second, most of these labs offer basic scans that I consider to be far too small, at less than 2,000 pixels on the long side. These labs all scan at 72 DPI, which allows these small scans to be printed at up to 11×17 inches. But I share my photographs online, where pixel dimensions largely trump DPI. I often want to crop my work, but scans this small makes it difficult to do that and have the image still be large enough for online display.

Here are the labs I use, in order of my preference.

Fulltone Photo

Fulltone Photo, of La Grange, KY, processes, scans, and prints 35mm and 120/620 films. Their Web site says they also handle 110 and 126, but their order form disagrees. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

Their Web site is fulltonephoto.com. You print and fill out their order form and mail it in with your film. After they’ve processed your film, they email you for payment. They accept only credit cards. When your scans are ready they send you a download link.

Fulltone does good work at the lowest price anywhere. Processing and standard scans for 35mm color negative film costs $7. Medium format films cost an extra 50 cents; black-and-white films are a dollar more. Slide film costs $14-16 to develop and scan. They provide a postage-paid label for mailing your film to them. Return shipping is $4.50 for orders under $15 but free otherwise, so it pays to send them many rolls at once.

Fulltone’s standard scans are especially small at 1545×1024 pixels (despite their order form claiming 1818×1228). Fortunately, for an extra $5 you can get scans at a whopping 6774×4492 pixels (despite their order form claiming 4535×3035). Even with this upcharge, Fulltone undercuts everyone’s price for their standard service. The quality of Fulltone’s scans is very good.

Customer service is good — once they screwed up scanning one roll, and they cheerfully rescanned the negatives. They’re also the closest by-mail lab to my central-Indiana home, which cuts shipping time.

Dwayne’s Photo

Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, KS, is the granddaddy of all by-mail labs. They process, print, and scan 35mm, 120/620, 220, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS films. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films. They also process movie films.

Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com. At last, they offer online ordering! They take PayPal and credit cards. If you use their older printed order forms, they also take checks and money orders. When your images are ready, they send you a download link. You can also opt to have them mail you a CD of your scans.

Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or black-and-white negative film costs $9. Slide film costs $12.50-$13.50 depending on format. Other services’ prices vary. Return shipping costs $5 for the first roll and 50 cents for each additional roll. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels so have your postage stamps ready.

Their 35mm and 120 scans of negative film are a not-bad 2740×1830 pixels, though slide film is only 1830×1220 for some reason. For an extra $5, you can get scans of these films at a ginormous 6770×4490 pixels. Scan resolutions are similar for other film types and formats. The quality of Dwayne’s scans is average.

Dwayne’s can handle any curveball I throw them. Once a roll broke while I rewound it in one of my old cameras. I stuck the camera into a dark bag, coiled the film into a black film canister, marked the can “Loose Film Open in Darkroom,” and sent it to Dwayne’s. They processed it without skipping a beat.

Customer service is good if impersonal. Once I sent them a roll of expired Kodak Gold 200 in 620 and they accidentally processed it as black and white. They sent me a note of apology, my black-and-white negatives and scans, and a fresh roll of Ektar, albeit in 120.

The Darkroom

The Darkroom in San Clemente, CA, processes, scans, and prints 35mm, 120/220/620, 110, 126, Advantix, and sheet film. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

Their Web site is thedarkroom.com. They offer online ordering with credit card and PayPal payment. They also offer printable order forms if you want to send a check or money order.

Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or black-and-white negative film costs $17.95 shipped both ways. Add $2 for a single-use camera, $3 for slide film, and $3 for other film sizes. Shipping costs the same no matter how many rolls you send, so it pays to send several at once.

Their standard scans are a puny 1536×1024 pixels. It’s worth it to spend the extra $3 to get the 3072×2048 enhanced scans. They also offer 4492×6774 super scans for $8 more. These sizes are all for 35mm and 120; other formats scan at similar dimensions. The quality of The Darkroom’s scans is average.

After you mail your film, expect scans in about ten days to two weeks. They are the lab farthest away from my Indiana home, so some of that time is how long it takes the film to reach California.

The Darkroom has never messed up any order, so I can’t comment on their customer service. They have been off this list the last couple years because they’re more expensive than the labs listed above. But I put them back on because they’re now less expensive than the next lab, which I keep on this list for a few key reasons.

Old School Photo Lab

Old School Photo Lab, of Dover, NH, processes, prints, and scans 35mm, 120/620, 110, 126, 127, 828, APS, and 4×5 sheet films. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

You order and pay through their Web site, oldschoolphotolab.com. Processing a roll of 35mm color negative film and getting their standard scans costs $19.75, including shipping both ways. 120/620 color negative film costs $20 shipped both ways. In both cases, black-and-white film costs $1.25 more and slide film costs $2.75 more. Other film formats start at $26 per roll, shipped both ways. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once. They accept credit cards and PayPal.

Over the years Old School’s prices have crept up so that they’re now the most expensive of this class of labs. You can get good service and quality for less at the other labs I recommend. Despite their ongoing price hikes, they stay on this list year after year for three reasons:

  • Their standard 35mm JPEG scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels. I know no other lab that offers standard scans that large. You can order giant scans, at 6774×4492 pixels, for an extra $10 for JPEG or $20 for TIFF. Medium format scan sizes are similar.
  • They’ve never let me down — their processing and scans have always met or exceeded my expectations. I can’t say that about any other lab I’ve used. When the film really, really matters, I send it to Old School.
  • They take special care of expired films.

When your scans are ready, they email you a link to where you can download them. If you want a CD of the scans, it’s 3 bucks extra and you have to wait longer to get them. The quality of Old School’s scans is very good.

Old School is popular and therefore a little slow — after you mail your film, expect scans in no less than two weeks.

The staff responds promptly and cheerfully when you contact them. They’ve never screwed up one of my orders, but a few times I’ve written to ask if my film ever arrived. They now send an email when it does so you don’t have to wonder.

Film Rescue International

Sometimes you’ll find some very old, very expired film in a camera. Any of the above labs will process it, but they might not get good images because old film deteriorates.

Send it straight to Film Rescue International, filmrescue.com. They process any film, no matter how old, and use creative darkroom and Photoshop techniques to coax the best possible images from it. They’re expensive and they’re slow, but they do outstanding work.

I used Film Rescue for a roll of Verichrome Pan I found in a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. That film had been in the camera for more than 40 years in unknown conditions, so I was afraid it might have deteriorated badly. They got good, high-contrast images from that film. They lacked “that Verichrome Pan look” but were crisp and clean.

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Collecting Cameras

Sears Tower Flash 120

In its heyday, Sears was on a quest to sell anything an average person could want. They were Amazon, minus the Web site and the free shipping. Sears offered a vast number of products under its own brands, including cameras under the Tower brand. A number of different manufacturers produced Tower cameras, usually simply relabeling for Sears a camera they already sold directly. Such was the case with this box camera for 120 film, the Sears Tower Flash 120, which Sears sold in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Made by Bilora in (then) West Germany, it was identical to the Stahl Box (Steel Box) camera but for a different face plate.

Sears Tower Flash 120

Like most box cameras, it offers a meniscus lens set behind a rotary shutter. A switch on the front lets you choose between bulb and a timed shutter of probably 1/30 second. The aperture is almost certainly f/11 — I’ve seen other Tower Flash 120s with “f/11” printed on the face plate. The box is made of metal, rather than the usual cardboard. Also, you operate the shutter with a proper button on the camera’s face, rather than a lever on the side. The button even accepts a cable release, although like most boxes, there’s no tripod mount. The Tower Flash 120 offers two waist-level viewfinders, portrait on top and landscape on the side.

Sears Tower Flash 120

I’ve seen two other versions of the Tower Flash 120. One wraps the box’s sides, top, and bottom with a ribbed, rubbery skin. The other uses a plainer face plate (it says “Model 7,” but I’m not aware of models 1 through 6) and a smooth, rather than textured, front and back. Some Tower Flash 120s use a slotted shutter-speed switch rather than the tabbed one on my copy.

Sears Tower Flash 120

My Tower Flash 120 was was donated to my collection by a longtime collector who retired and downsized. It came with its flash attachment, which takes two AA batteries. I’m not much for flash photography so I didn’t try it. But the battery compartment was clean, so I see no reason it shouldn’t work.

If you like box cameras, also check out my reviews of some classic Kodak boxes, the No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here) and Model F (here), as well as the No. 2 Hawk-Eye Model C (here) and its 50th Anniversary of Kodak companion (here). Or look at my reviews of the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here) and Ansco Shur Shot (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve had this camera for a few years, but have put off a minor repair it needed. The bit of plastic that is the red window around back had come unglued. Repairing it meant bending the film pressure plate to get it out of the way, and I was afraid of damaging it. I finally braved it, and with a bead of super glue the camera finally returned to fully usable condition. I bent the pressure plate back into place with no trouble, but unfortunately a little super glue squished out and dried visibly on the red plastic. Fortunately I could still read the markings on my film’s backing paper.

I loaded some Ilford FP4 Plus into the Tower Flash 120. This film expired in December of 1994 but was stored frozen, so I figured it would be okay. The box opens from the sides near the front, by pressing the small button on each side simultaneously.

Tall shadow

The smooth, easy shutter button guards against camera shake. You still need a steady hand, however, thanks to the slow shutter.

Front yard

Surprisingly reflective glass made the viewfinders hard to use. In all but bright, direct sunlight, I saw my silhouette in the viewfinders, which obscured my subjects.

Deck

Thanks to the small, reflective viewfinder, it’s hard to frame subjects. Every last photo I made was far from level. I straightened them all in Photoshop.

Garden

The lens is remarkably free of vignetting, and is soft only in the very corners.

Across the street

I shot the whole roll in my yard, as I sometimes do. Except for the balky viewfinders, the Tower Flash 120 was pleasant to use and returned decent results.

My vee dub

To see more from this camera, check out my Sears Tower Flash 120 gallery.

Remarkably, the Sears Tower Flash 120’s body is based on a camera Bilora made starting in 1935. That goes to show that the box had long been perfected, but was still viable as a family snapshot camera even that many years later. It’s flash attachment made it even more useful. I am unlikely to use this camera often because I enjoy my 1910s-era Kodak box cameras so much more. But if you are box curious, or your collection leans hard into boxes, you would be well served to find one.

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Camera Reviews

Ansco Standard Speedex

In the 1940s and 1950s, Ansco offered a line of folding cameras with Speedex in the name, all of which made square photographs on 120 film. Ansco manufactured some of the models while Agfa manufactured the rest, which makes sense as Agfa and Ansco were one company. Speedexes were available with a number of lens and shutter combinations of increasing capability. Ansco manufactured this one, the Ansco Standard Speedex, in 1950, and it was closer to the bottom of the range.

Ansco Standard Speedex

The Standard Speedex is refreshingly simple. It features a 90mm f/6.3 Ansco Anastigmat lens, set in a self-cocking Ansco leaf shutter that operates at 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 second, plus time (press the shutter button once to open the shutter, and again to close it). It focuses from 3½ feet to infinity. That’s it.

Ansco Standard Speedex

Press the button right next to the viewfinder on top to pop the door open, and pull the door down until it locks to extend the bellows. Dial in aperture and shutter speed, dial in subject distance, compose, and press the shutter button. The viewfinder isn’t huge, but it doesn’t feel cramped, and it gives a clear view.

Ansco Standard Speedex

The wind knob is big and sure. I thought surely its reverse cant would make it hard to use, but I was wrong. It reads “B2/120” because Ansco used its own size codes for its films, and B2 is equivalent to 120.

If you like medium-format folding cameras, check out my review of the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), the Kodak Monitor Six-20 (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), and the Voigtländer Bessa (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I like folding cameras of this size and shape. I also like making square photographs. I do not, however, like having a top shutter speed of only 1/100. 1/250 is better, and 1/500 is better still, because they let me more easily shoot fast films and get shallow depth of field with slow films. The similar Ansco B2 Speedex has a top shutter speed of 1/250 and is available on the used market for about the same money as this Standard Speedex.

The slowest film I had on hand was Ilford FP4 Plus at ISO 125. That meant on a sunny day I was going to be shooting at f/16 and f/22. Everything within a mile of that lens would be in focus. But that was probably the design goal of a camera like this. For an amateur photographer, it would have been a step up from a box camera. Shooting 1/100 and f/16 meant it wasn’t critical to get focus exactly right, as you’d have huge depth of field. The wide exposure latitude of consumer films like Kodak Verichrome Pan (also ISO 125) meant that you didn’t have to get exposure exactly right, either. It was perfect for the everyday shooter.

Welcome to McDonald's

Snapshooters who bought the Ansco Standard Speedex were looking for a better lens than they’d find in a box camera, but to get it they had to learn a little about exposure. Surely, most of them just used the Sunny 16 rule. That’s what I did for most of this roll.

Country road

You could get Kodak Panatomic-X film then, too, which was ISO 25, 32, or 40, depending on when it was manufactured. That film would have allowed photographers to get shallower depth of field for portraits if they wanted it. I’ve not been able to find any information about the speeds of Ansco’s own films.

Grand old house

The lens’s f/6.3 minimum aperture means that with an ISO 100 or 125 film, you’re not making low-light photographs. But you could shoot your family picnic under an overcast sky and be fine. I never put this Standard Speedex to that test as I was fortunate to have bright, sunny days while I had film in it.

Clubhouse

As I began riding my bike this season, I carried the Standard Speedex in the saddlebag. I’ve carried other cameras that way, usually little 35mm point and shoots. I can fire off a shot almost on the fly with one of those cameras, but not so the Standard Speedex. It takes a minute to open it, make sure the aperture and shutter speed are right, and then frame. At least I didn’t have to also cock the shutter, as is common on cameras of this type. The shutter button takes a little effort to press, but mine could be a little gunky after 70 years. The red window on the back gave a commanding view of the frame numbers on the film’s backing paper.

Whitestown Municipal Complex

I wasn’t able to find any information about the lens’s design, but as an anastigmat lens it’s bound to have more than one element. I got a fair amount of contrast straight off the scanner. I toned it down a little in Photoshop.

Mail station

Before I loaded this camera with film, I tried to identify pinholes in the bellows by taking into a dark room and shining a bright flashlight inside. I found a couple and dabbed black fabric paint on to close them up. This is probably only a temporary fix, but it’s good enough for testing the camera. I missed at least one, however, as several of my images showed light leaks. Oh well.

Passat

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Ansco Standard Speedex gallery.

Cameras like the Ansco Standard Speedex are easy to come by and don’t cost much. Mine was a donation to the collection, but these go for 20 bucks on eBay all the time. As you can see, it is capable of good, sharp images. It’s easy and pleasant to use. But you can buy the Ansco B2 Speedex for about the same money, and it has that 1/250 second shutter rather than the Standard Speedex’s 1/100 second shutter. I’d choose the B2 Speedex if I were in the market.

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

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