I aim to avoid making this blog one of those which are heavily biased towards reviewing, or even just mentioning, every new bit of camera equipment that comes out, complete with a link to an ecommerce site which will earn the blogger a few pence if the reader makes a purchase. I’m not one for constantly “updating” to the latest new camera in search of better images.
But my bias against equipment obsession is mainly a distaste for new cameras and I have to confess a liking for trying out old cameras. I’ve already written on this blog about my experiences with a Kodak Six-Twenty Junior and I’ve just been given half a dozen old cameras by my father.
The first to be favoured with a roll of film is the Kodak 66 Model III; a folding camera which produces 12 photos measuring 6cm * 6cm on 120 film. This model was produced between 1958-60 and was the last ever model of folding camera made by Kodak.
When I first spotted this camera in the basket amongst the others, my initial impression was this it looked a very basic model, bordering on “toy camera” territory. This was largely due to the grey-painted top plate with a ruby red shutter button, which looks a bit non-classic. But pressing the other button on the top plate causes the bellows and lens assembly to spring jauntily open, revealing a respectable 75mm f4.5 Kodak Anaston lens (a “normal” focal length for this size of negative) with a Velio shutter giving speeds of 1/10s, 1/25s, 1/50s, 1/100s, and 1/200s, plus a B setting.
There’s also a push-on yellow filter over the lens, marked “Kodisk Cloud Filter – Made in Britain – Size 320” (shown in top photo).
The camera lacks two features which, even at the time it was made, might have appeared on more expensive cameras – a rangefinder for focussing and an exposure meter. I’m not too concerned about the lack of an exposure meter as I have a small handheld meter which is easy to carry. Also, on cameras this age, the exposure meter will often no longer be accurate in any case. More on the focussing issue later.
The bellows looked in good condition and my first film proved that there were no light leaks through the bellows. However, the camera back didn’t seem to close very tightly so I took the precaution of sealing the edges with black tape after loading a roll of Kodak T-Max 100 black and white film.
I took the camera for a walk around Bothal, a tiny village in Northumberland. As well as the camera, I packed a shutter cable release and a tripod, as I anticipated using the “B” setting in the woods with low lighting levels.
The image above was made accidentally with a wide aperture – I can’t remember the exact detail. I also took another with a smaller aperture, but I prefer this one as I like the hazy appearance of the out-of-focus branches.
Of course, the reason that so many folding cameras were designed, was to reduce their bulk and hopefully make them “pocketable”. I can confirm that the Kodak fitted easily into the large pockets of my winter coat, but don’t expect to put in your trouser pockets without considerable discomfort. And of course, the tripod’s not pocketable.
The experience of using the camera showed that it’s a very capable model – not at all a toy camera.
For pixel-peepers, here is a crop from the full-size scan of the above image of Bothal Castle. Note the three television aerials:
The main limitation is the limited choice of slow shutter speeds. I find that a large proportion of my landscape images are made with shutter speeds of between 1/15s and 1 second – often driven by using fairly slow ISO ratings, working in dark woods or in the golden hour, or wanting to show some movement in a river or stream. So having a slowest speed of 1/10s is going to limit my options. The “B” option is good – some cameras don’t have it – but I can’t accurately judge timing for less than 1 second when using “B”, therefore potential exposures in the range 1/4s to 1/2s are not available when using this camera.
If this was my only camera, I would find ways around this issue; for example by using filters to slow down an exposure in the missing range to something I could reliably count with “B”.
Potentially, there’s also an issue with the top speed of 1/200s. Obviously that’s going to rule out motor racing shots or studies of flying bullets. More importantly for a landscape and nature photographer, there will be times when high light levels indicate a faster shutter speed. With a top speed of 1/200s, I may need to use the smallest aperture of f32 – to be avoided if possible because on any lens the largest and smallest apertures give poorer image quality than the mid-range apertures – to keep within the shutter speed range. It’s probably a good idea to use a fairly low-speed film with this camera, so long as you’re willing to use a tripod.
Many of my preferred subjects – plants and flowers for example – require a close focussing capability. My most “serious” camera, the Mamiya RZ67, can focus down to about 6cm with a 65mm lens, or to about 1cm with two extension tubes added. The Kodak 66 has a closest focus distance of 3.5 feet, ruling out detailed floral studies.
Furthermore, the fact that focussing is achieved by setting a scale on the front of the lens makes achieving the correct focus at the closer distances more of a challenge than it would be if, for example, the camera had a rangefinder. As well as packing the camera in one pocket, you might want to pack a tape measure in another pocket.
- Very respectable image quality (for 120 film) or if you compare it to 35mm film, excellent image quality
- Pocketable, in a large pocket
- Fun to use
- Everything still works as it was designed to work, more than 50 years after it was made.
- No exposure meter – use with a separate meter, or guess the exposure
- Scale focussing
- Limited range of shutter speeds
- Closest focussing 3.5 feet
If you were to buy one of these cameras, the “completed listings” option on eBay shows that £10 – £15 will get you one – which seems a bargain to me.
I’ve enjoyed using this camera so far and it’s one that is worth continuing to use. Thanks Dad.