I’ve always wanted a camera that takes 6 by 9 cm roll film, but due to price I’ve only ever considered vintage cameras. Now I love old cameras, in fact I feel more confident shooting with one because I know exactly what it is going to do.  None of that, oh I thought I had it set on Spot metering and it was actually on some other fool setting.  Vintage cameras usually have 2 dials, and if your lucky, the capability to focus without having to physically move the camera back and forth. (I am looking at you, Polaroid Big Shot.) Unfortunately, after 50 or 60 years of use or neglect, most of these cameras are not in the same shape they left the factory in. The 6 by 9 cameras are effected by time more than others. The smaller pocket 6 by 9’s were almost all folders that had bellows and little chrome struts to hold everything together.  For example.

click on photos to enlarge

Zeiss Ikon, circa 1937

Now in the far off futuristic time of 2010, these little beauties are just out of wack. When you open them the film wont be in the same plane as the lens, you may have to replace the bellows, parts are nonexistent. You see where I am going with this. Its a repair nightmare. So I haven’t ever picked one up, until now.

May I Present the Kodak Medalist II:

The Army Film and Photographic Unit manual stated that this camera "should only be handled by an experienced photographer".

I have to say, THIS IS A CAMERA. It IS a tank. When you hold it, you feel strong. Its like a voodoo fetish drawing power from the earth and sky to fulfill my desires.

As a bonus, you can kill Nazis with it, for real.

Now to quote ebay reviewer virtualcameraboutique

“If there have ever been an American Collectible camera, this would be it.  Built like a Tank during World War II the GI affectionately called it the “American Leica”.

In many ways it was better than a Leica for its intended purpose. Its large negative format, 6X9, not only faithfully illustrated the pages of Life Magazine, but it made the camera specially suited for aerial reconnaissance missions a type of photography, where big, faithful enlargements of enemy terrain was a much needed ability.

Although Aluminum and steel were in short supply during the war, this camera used them generously to ensure the design mission of creating a camera just as tough and reliable as a Jeep, under all circumstances.  The lens focusing mount, for example was based on a tough, generous, aluminum helicoid, that allowed for a luxurious extension capable of shooting from infinity all the way down to three an a half feet. This focusing range, unusual for a medium format camera was made possible by a gorgeous optical lens design, that, although expensive to manufacture, is still one of the best optical designs available, when outstanding focal range is a prime consideration, giving the camera great versatility on the field.

The design criteria was that if pictures could save the lives of soldiers. Good pictures definitely would. Thus the Medalist was born.

If you would like to have a camera that itself is a product of the World History, that is charged with the power of American Patriotism and that of events that changed the course of the World, this is one of them!”

I am proud to own it, I will use it responsibly, and if given the chance, I will bust a Nazi in the head with it.


Update:  The Medalist I purchased was in very good shape, but I ended up having a lot of work done to it.  I had Ken Ruth convert it from 620 to 120 film, calibrate the rangefinder and clean out the viewfinder.  After that, it was like a new camera.  The viewfinder/rangefinder arrangement works marvelously, which is good news because the depth of field at portrait distances is very shallow.  At three and a half feet at f3.5, you have about a inch and a half of “in focus.”

For the record, your breathing, or your subjects, will throw your focus off with this shallow a depth of field.  I end up shooting at f8 and I still only get 4 or 5 inches of “in focus.”  (I am totally blanking on the right word to use there.)  So I highly recommend getting the rangefinder calibrated, if nothing else. You will also need to get used to the rather complicated loading procedure. But once that is mastered, the camera is really a dream to shoot.  The lens is very sharp and contrasty, despite being 60 years old.  At the end of the day, all that matters is the magnificent negatives it produces, which are stunning.  I’ve ordered a custom 6X9 scanning tray to get the most out of my Epson V700.  (Did I mention you probably need to buy a really expensive scanner to get the most out of this camera? Yeah, sorry.)

1947 Kodak advertisement.

Adjusted for inflation, $312.50 in 1947 is equal to $2969.32 in 2010.

Kodak Medalist prototype labeled "Micro Focus Six20" Photo by Timothy J. Fuss www.pixel-wave.com

Hand made prototype missing winding knob, circa 1939. Photo by Timothy J. Fuss www.pixel-wave.com

With a lens finer than Germany's finest