The other week, information pills before filming an episode of Fork You, page Marisa gave me a neat old medium format “folder” camera from her family’s collection, pestilence a Kodak Vigilant Six-20. I was, and continue to be, thrilled with this fun little gift.
So… Why would Marisa give me one of these, and what’s it like trying to get a camera that’s over sixty years old to take photographs? Read on, dear anonymous Internet viewer… 🙂
Actually, the whole story goes back to a mini vacation CraftyAngie and I took with Scotty and Marisa over Memorial Day weekend ’08. Scott and Marisa rented a cabin out in York County, PA, just across the Susquehanna river from Lancaster County. Angie and I joined them for one overnight at the cabin, and the four of us pulled a “30 years old going on 50” and went antiquing.
While at one store in Wrightsville, PA, I found a “Kodak Tourist II” camera. It was a medium format folder camera from the 1950s. I didn’t know a whole lot about it, but was definitely intrigued. I showed Scotty and Marisa, and tried to figure out if it was worth picking up. But it had two strikes against it: it takes something mysterious called “620 film”; and while playing around with it, I discovered that the only shutter speed that worked on this one is “bulb”, which is definitely a downer. Even at only $8, it seemed worth walking away from, since I’m really only interested in having cameras that work. I don’t regret walking away from that camera, but it made an impression on me.
And, apparently, it made an impression on Marisa, too: because when she was going through her stuff at home later and found a similar model, she thought of me!
Turns out, I was right to be suspicious of the 620 film requirement. I was already familiar with 120 size film from my experiments with a cheapo Holga medium format camera. The Tourist II’s film space looked pretty similar… It turns out that 620 film hasn’t been made since 1995!
Game over, right? Well it turns out that 620 film is identical to 120 film, except for the size of the film spool it’s wound on: 620 film is wound on a smaller spool, so a 120 spool (usually) can’t fit in a 620 camera. So, there are several options for making a 620 camera work for you again.
- You can respool the film from 120 to 620. Very simply, in a light proof container or room, you unwind all the film off the 120 roll. Then, you re-wind the film onto a spare 620 roll. Straightforward enough, except it must be done in complete darkness, and you run the risk of scratching the film, and getting dust and fingerprints on it, etc.
- You can buy it respooled for you. (B&H in NYC offers it.) But it’s really expensive– about $10/roll! At that price, this clearly isn’t anything you’d consider habit forming. (Not unless I hit the lottery… and if that happened, I’d buy a 120 size medium format camera and the Vigilant Six-20 would go on permanent display.)
- You can hack a 120 roll of film to make it fit in your camera. In many cases, you can get away with trimming the plastic “ears” of 120 spools down to 620 size.
My Vigilant Six-20 also requires 620 size film. Not feeling totally comfortable with respooling myself, and not feeling like spending over $1/exposure for film, I went with option 3. It wasn’t much of a leap: it had been done before with the Vigilant!
And, it was successful. You can see some of the pictures I took on Flickr from the first roll of film!
Next time, I’ll talk about the experience of actually using the Vigilant Six-20 for the first time, the results of those photos, and what I’m going to do about it all!