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

Tired things

I’m up a bit early for a Saturday, and heading out soon. I’ve got some tired things to deal with.

I’m taking a very tired Kodak Medalist to the shop today. It’s a war baby, made during the Second World War, and it’s put in some miles. It’s spent some time in the southern part of the US in a closet, and picked up the characteristic smell of mildew. But it’s avoided getting any of it in the lens, and the camera mostly fuctions, so I’m opting to give it a CLA and see if I can use it. If I can, it’s likely I’ll be putting some slide film in it to take on a few trips this year. Mostly, I want to take it to California and shoot the Golden Gate with it. I’ll need to procure more film, metal 620 rolls, and a 120 case or two from Japan Camera Hunter to carry the re-rolled film in. I bought it for a less-weighty medium format option, and because I like 6×9. I’m looking forward to some bigger, wider negatives in the future.

shoot-520I’m headed up north to have breakfast with Craig and Dan and talk about our project. I’ve some images, but to tell you the truth, I’ve been looking at my own stuff so long I’m tired of the sight of the things. I no longer know if it’s any good or not. So fresh eyes will be a help, and maybe can see what I’m missing now.

It’s been an eventful week. I managed to get some portraits done with a rangefinder, which I’d never done before. And it turned out I like them. There was a one two punch of news I could have lived without, however. First, I can no longer find any Agfa APX 100 fresh in the States. I’ll hit up some sources in Europe and Asia and see how badly the shipping will maim me. I think it’s gone out of production again. Second, Nikon has discontinued service of the F3 camera. I figured it would happen sooner or later, and the F3 did go out of production 15 years ago, but I plan on using mine forever, so I was hoping to get mine factory rebuilt before they quit. I missed out, unfortunately. Still, I’ll keep using it until it becomes a tired thing as well.

Tired things, after all, have been well loved.