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

Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestegon 29mm f2.8

Some time ago I wrote about the best commie glass I had encountered thus far, the Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestron 50mm f1.8. That lens was the sweet spot of sharpness, good construction, and ridiculously low price. shoot-472When a Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestegon 29mm f2.8 came up, I clicked buy it now and wanted to see what it could do. The seller indicated it had a very faint cleaning mark, but I can’t see it. The focus is a little bit stiff, but for $40, I figured if it worked at all it was a win.

I ran a couple of rolls through and realized, yet again, that those East Germans had not let me down. The build quality was just as fantastic on this lens. It’s a solid, all metal construction with a nice looking zebra paint scheme. It’s a good sized piece of glass, the fattest M42 lens I’ve bought. But the results, though, really appealed to me.

shoot-471The only review I’d found of the Orestegon before I bought it sung the praises of how it handled color reproduction. And yes, it does very well with that, giving a nice vintage look that is not terribly surprising given it is a nice vintage lens. But black and white is where the Orestegon shines most strongly. It gives a nice contrast to the images, and the light fall off in the corners works for me. Even though it’s a wide, the distortion isn’t all that noticeable. It is a multi-coated design, and it resists flare very well. The close focus distance, just like the 50mm, is very close. Really, I can’t find much to dislike about the lens, especially at the price.


Top of Green Mountain. The meter said this was very overexposed, but it was a bit under.

It has exposed a couple of problems with the M42 body I own, namely an annoying light leak and a meter that has gone less than accurate. But having good M42 lenses to shoot with makes me certain to replace the body with something better. So there’s a bit of shopping going on there.

Of course, I am now also interested in the Meyer-Optik offerings in 35mm focal distance, since it’s my favorite. The hunt for that lens is on the horizon. Communist lenses with great build quality, consistent performance, and multi-coating. Sure, they have some imperfections, but they are ones I find attractive. I find perfect lenses sterile and boring anyway. Given the price is absurdly low to boot, there’s nothing to dislike.