By the time we arrived some tables had already begun packing up for the day, but there was plenty to look at. There were a lot of old film cameras that brought back a lot of memories (Polaroids that I remember my mom having, a table of Pentax K-1000s lined up as if waiting for a high school photography class to begin) G found some interesting new filters to use with her camera gear while I meandered the tables looking over the mix of vintage gear. While poking at a table of mixed gear, I spotted a folding camera that looked to be in pretty nice shape.
The Kodak Six-20 - the name reminds me of Seven of 9 from Star Trek.
I didn't know the exact age of the camera just based off the name, but I guessed it to be around the age, or older, than my Graflex based on the style, and I immediately recognized the stellar shape that the bellows are in. Either they were replaced by someone at some point, or this camera has rarely been used and hasn't been exposed to daylight. The camera folds flat *very* smoothly, even better than my Graflex. The seller pointed out that the shutter is "snappy" - I did see that the B and T settings seem to work properly, and the shutter snaps at 1/25 and 1/50, however it sticks at 1/100. In any case, I thought the design was appealing and whether it shoots or not, it would look cool with my collection, so I picked it up.
On my initial search online, I found a PDF of an operating manual for models of the Kodak Six-20, however the instructions shows how to focus, and my camera has a fixed lens. I wondered if someone along the way had swapped out lenses, however I found an identical camera to mine on eBay (going for more $ than I paid) which had the same lens as mine. It took some time to find more details on this particular model, but after trying a variety of search criteria, and clicking about 4 pages deep in Google, I came across a list of Kodak cameras on a photography forum which was incredibly helpful. My Kodak Six-20, with the Kodon shutter and Kodak Doublet lens, was manufactured sometime between 1932 and 1936. (this is not to be confused with later versions of the Six-20, or the Vigilant Six-20, which were manufactured in the 40's and did not have the art deco design that mine has)
The more I researched my camera, the happier I was with this find. Not only are the bellows in fine shape, but the viewfinder still works, the folding mechanism is smooth and clean, and the aperture shifts smoothly. Add to that, there are two small screws which seem like they would be easy to misplace - one covering the tripod mount, and another covering the spot to attach a shutter release cable. Both of these screws are still attached to this camera. The film advance knob is a bit squeaky but works, and there is still a take-up spool inside. Outside of a couple of cosmetic scratches on the bottom, this camera could be brand new off the shelf.
Now that the age of the camera was settled, I was still unable to find a manual online, and thus I was unable to see if the recommended focal length might have been printed at some point. This means that if I want to know what distance my fixed-focus is fixed to, I'd have to test it out. The first obstacle was in loading the film. The camera takes 620, which is the same size film as the 120 I have on hand, but the spools are smaller. So, while I have plenty of film, I don't have the proper spool. A little research online brought me to Film Photography Project , (home of a podcast that I have backlogged on my iTunes) They not only sell 620 spooled film, but they also sell the spools for those DIYers who want to re-spool their own film and save a few bucks. Prior to ordering myself some spools, I checked the camera to make sure the counter window would show the film advance properly - since the film is advanced manually. I grabbed an old roll of film-backing paper from some film that I'd already developed, rolled it up as if it had film, and tested it out.
Putting the paper in the film side is easy, the film holders pop up
laying it flat as if to load film
When I close the back and pull the paper through, the number shows up in the window just in the right spot.
Here is how the film-backing paper is labeled for the various types of camera models
I ordered my 620 spools, but I didn't want to have to wait for them to run a test on the camera, so I also looked up how to modify a roll of 120 to fit the 620 holder. More on that later...
First... the optic needed some attention.
While the front lens had been recently cleaned (and not a scratch on it!) the interior glass showcased a lot of debris. The back of the glass was easy to access when the camera was closed
(this is an example of the closed camera interior, I shot this after I cleaned the lens. Prior to the cleaning this lens looked filthy)
However I couldn't easily remove the glass to clean the other side of it, so I moved to plan B. I set the f/stop to the widest setting available, and set the shutter to T to hold it open so that I could get to the interior glass, and removed the front lens.
My cleaning tools - I started with the bulb blower, which did nothing. The brush wouldn't fit through the tiny aperture, so I went with q-tip/lens cleaner/lint-free lens cloth to dry. Thanks to all those years of playing "Operation", I was able to maneuver the q-tip around the inside glass without touching the sides of the shutter.
With the glass clean, the next step was film roll adjustment.
the 120 spool doesn't fit in the film holding side
Too long and too big of diameter.
A tutorial online suggested filing down the thickness of the spool with a nail file, I found 120 grit sandpaper to work quickly, I just grabbed the roll and ran it across the sandpaper like I was coloring with a giant crayon. It did make quite a mess, and I'm looking forward to just respooling my film in the future.
Once the sides were sanded flatter, I used my big craft scissors to trip the edges down to the width of the film.
120 spool, 620 spool, re-tooled 120-to-fit-620 film
I loaded the film and set up my shot. I was crunched for time and failed to get cell phone photos of the camera in the set up, but here is how I shot my test:
Objects at intervals along a tape measure on the back patio. I set the camera on the ground at the head of the tape... I'd wanted to use my tripod but it was being fussy with the odd angle of this camera, and as I said... I was running short on time, so I set it straight on the ground. I also taped over the counter window to avoid potential light leaks from that spot.
I set the rock at 1 foot, the gnome at 5 feet, the plant at 10, and the larger pot at 15. While the film advanced fine enough during shooting, it became stuck as I attempted to roll it to the end. I was able to resolve this in the darkroom, and I assume this won't be an issue with proper proportioned spools.
I processed the film a few hours later... just a bit of fogging on the edges, but all together not bad in terms of light leaks on a bright cloudy day.
My film is Ilford 400 speed B&W. This is the contact sheet of the images - I did not clean them or process, just straight scan. There is some grit in the first couple frames, I blame the shaving down of the spool. Towards the end the negs are remarkably free of black spots, which tells me I did a good job getting that glass clean.
I used my DSLR and metered on the gnome, which came out to f/16 at 1/50. Since I have 8 shots on a roll, and 8 combinations of shutter speed/f/stop, I decided to just do one of each combo and see what I ended up with.
The first thing that strikes me about this is that the 1/50 shots are darker than 1/25... 1/50 is a faster shutter speed and they *should* be lighter. I've gone back to the camera and it does seem as though the shutter is slower at 1/50, and as I said it sticks completely at 1/100, so I think 1/25 will end up being my only reliable shutter speed outside of B or T.
As I suspected, while I can't focus the lens, I can control the depth of field by having a smaller aperture. Infinity looks about the same in all the shots, but F/64 will certainly bring more foreground in focus. I just don't have an f/64 on my DSLR, so I'll need to do some calculations to determine the proper exposure in any given situation.
I will continue to take some notes on this camera. I noticed in my first shot I caught a bit of the covered table to my left, which seems to be rather sharp to spite being so close to the camera. It might be that the focus is better from a higher vantage point than sitting right on the ground. In any case, it'll probably not ever be a good close-up camera, but landscapes are a given. With my next test I will figure out how to get it properly attached to my tripod and perhaps do another measuring tape test from up off the ground. I'm going to wait for my new spools, though... I did not enjoy the mess that sanding plastic spools brings.