Our camera this week is such a beautiful machine. Really. Stare at those photographs.
Now we can continue.
It's a collapsible film camera manufactured by Kodak in the mid-30s. It's very art-deco, with swooping arms counterpointed by a stern, octagonal face. It takes 620 film, and thus is named... The Six-20. Real creative.
Wait, Kodak made this? They do cameras?
Yes, Kodak. When the 1930s hit, Kodak looked around and said to themselves, "Hey, since everyone is already buying our film, it couldn't hurt to sell cameras to go with them. And if we name them both exactly the same thing? That's marketing gold." Thus, the Six-20 was born (I suspect).
And keep in mind - that's only what I THINK the name of this camera is. There is surprisingly little research and almost no resources on this subject. I can't even tell you a model number. Just so we're clear: the history section is built on a lot of speculation and guesswork.
What I can tell you is that this camera, along with most of Kodak's line in this era, was designed by Walter Teague, a renowned designer and a key figure in mid-century modernism. His tasteful designs for mid-priced cameras really stuck, and helped Kodak establish their brand. His most famous creations are probably the "Brownie" line (more on those in the future) and the apparently famous Kodak Bantam Special, which is so awesomely named that I just had to put together a spy-thriller ad for it.
Repairs and Restoration
Like the Leica IIIa, this camera was in phenomenal condition when I found it. I cleaned out the glass viewfinder and literally have done nothing else to it. Not too shabby. The folding concept has actually worked out pretty well in the long run. The insides are very well preserved. Bravo, guys.
There is no rangefinder on this thing - precise focusing is definitely not a priority. Your options aren't measured out - they are zoned. You get the option of "5-8 feet," "8-15 feet," or "beyond 15 feet." That's it.
They can get away with this nonsense, at least in part, because the depth of field is so deep. It's a decently wide-angle lens that opens up to f/11 at its fastest (arranged along the bottom). For the non-photographer, that's really slow by today's standards. There's not a lot of light coming into this thing.
To frame up your pictures, you look down into it (just like the rolleiflex) via the viewfinder you see mounted on the top-right side. Like everything on here it's, well, good enough.
To release the shutter mechanism, flip the lever on the top right (just like the rolleiflex).
To change the shutter speed, slide the pointer on top (just like the rolleiflex).
Are you sensing a pattern? This functions a lot like a tiny pop-out Rolleiflex without all the features. It even takes the same film format. One possibility is that this is an intentional design feature. You can make the consumer feel a little bit more fancy by giving them something that looks and feels like a professional tool. But the more likely scenario is that this is an artifact of the time period they were both created in. We certainly don't question the placement of the shutter release on our DSLRs today, but maybe in 50 years that, too, will look silly.
This is definitely a consumer camera. It cuts corners for the same reasons that your iPhone does - in most scenarios, it doesn't matter. 90% of its users would just be slowed down and confused by a wealth of options, and the other 10% were going to buy a professional camera anyways. It does what it needs to do, and nothing more.
But damn, does it look good doing it.