Tagcamera review

A specific need- the Kodak Medalist I

The DeLaney Farm’s round barn on Portra 400

I’ve been working on this review longer than any other I have done, but I’ve finally arrived at the point where I am ready to do it. Here’s my experience based review of a camera that is, for me, a beautiful answer to a specific need. The Kodak Medalist I.

The Medalist I was introduced in 1941, and adopted for service by the US military almost immediately. My camera was made in 1944, according to the serial number, and probably saw limited service. I decided it would only be pointed at beautiful things while I own it.

Winter’s hike, Cherry Creek Reservoir on Portra 400

The reason I chose this camera pretty much mirrors why the military chose it. I was looking for a simple, mechanical camera that took a good size negative, preferably 6×7 at least, that wasn’t the size or weight of a boat anchor to use in hard to get to areas. I wasn’t hung up on fixed lens or removable, but I wanted good glass. This machine is a very fine solution.

It uses 620 film to capture 6×9 frames, so I respool 120 film on to 620 metal spools, more on why in a moment. Focusing the exposed helicoid is best done roughly with the large ring first, then fine focus achieved with the small focus wheel. The viewfinder has two windows in it. A framing window sits up top, and a split focus rangefinder is under it. Focusing it is like using a screw mount Leica, but the two viewfinders are one above the other instead of side by side, and you can get the information from both viewfinders at the same time. Almost everyone who has looked through it has commented how weird it is, but once you get used to it, it’s fast and instinctual.

Edge of a burn on Green Mountain- Delta 400

This camera was in somewhat rough condition when I got it: the shutter was sticky, it had spacing issues, but the lens was clean and clear. There aren’t many places that work on these. The most famous repairman, Ken over at Bald Mountain, retired in January. I’ve heard of a few folks who will take a look at the shutter, since it’s just a standard rim shutter set up, but apparently the film transport is no fun to work on.

Once I got it back, there was a bit more learning to be done. As I said, this camera likes metal 620 film spools. Some places that re-roll 120 film stock use a spool with a metal core, but the end flange made of thin plastic. The film transport holds the spool in place by applying pressure to the flange, and the plastic ones flex, leading to misaligned frames. I haven’t tried the injection molded spindles. I seriously doubt you can use a hacked 120 spool.

The payoff for getting used to these quirks is very worth it, however. That 100mm Ektar lens is a dream, a simple design that never fails to produce. It’s weight is only slightly heavier than a 35mm SLR with lens and you get a larger 6×9 image. The Series VI filters it uses can be had for next to nothing. Come the thaw, this one is spending time in saddle bags and back packs this summer.

 

Color film development by Old School Photo Lab, black and white done at home. Detailed specs on the camera available here

The Contax Tessar 45mm f2.8 lens-

Good morning everyone, if we can get started, I’ll go first. My name is Andrew, and I am a Tessar addict.

shoot-567

SS Hercules. Love that Ektar red

I own more Tessars than any other type of lens. I could rattle on about this or that aspect of the lens type that I find superior, but it’s really the totality of the look they produce that makes me love them. They are among my favorite tools.

When I found my Contax RTS II body on the cheap, I went looking for Zeiss glass to put on it. Unsurprisingly, the first lens I bought for it is this Zeiss Tessar 45mm/f2.8.

The Tessar was invented 112 years ago and while it’s not cutting edge, its’ strengths are undeniable. It’s a simple, inexpensive lens design that produces an excellent result, and this Contax version follows that formula well.

First test shot I took with it. HP5+

First test shot I took with it. HP5+

This little pancake lens packs a wallop for it’s size and price. It has the T* anti-reflection coating that Zeiss is well-known for. It can produce images  with excellent contrast and sharpness. And that sharpness is well maintained from edge to edge. Since I bought it, it hasn’t been removed from the front of my RTS II.

Ruby Canyon From the California Zephyr

Ruby Canyon from the California Zephyr

This is the first pancake lens I’ve owned, and I like what it does to the handling of an SLR. When I put this lens on the RTS II and take off the winder, I get a compact, capable camera that can swing to the eye and shoot with rapid ease. It allows me to get the image I want and not give up much space in my backpack or camera bag, which is perfection in my world.

Wide open portrait HP 5+

Wide open portrait. HP 5+

On the bottom of the lens, there are the words “Lens made in Japan” and those words elicit a strong response from some people. They say those words mean the lens, and the camera it is attached to, are not really Contax products. True, the camera and lens were made by Yashica/Kyocera in the 1980s, but as a non-purist, this does not bother me. On the contrary, the rejection of these cameras by the purist Contax community has a great side effect. It keeps them cheap and accessible. As a result, I paid about $100 for the camera body, and picked up the lens for $170. I will say the purists are right on one thing, this lens doesn’t quite have the build quality of the older German Zeiss lenses. However, the build quality of this lens isn’t shabby by any means, and it’s kind of nit-picking to say it.

So if you want to join me in a chapter of Tessar-holics Anonymous, I can highly recommend this lens.