Tuesday, December 13, 2016


This box of camera gear arrived at my house recently.  It is a kit that belonged to the father of a friend.  Most of my old cameras have no personal history attached beyond sometimes having a name written on a camera back or case.  So, it is fun to see a whole kit accompanied by some details about its original owner and his use of the equipment.

The camera is a Kodak Vigilant Six-20 with a nice 3-element f4.5 lens and a No.1 Kodamatic shutter with a 1/200 top speed.  That makes the camera quite a practical shooter even today.

Before pictures can be made again with the Vigilant, however, some attention will have to be given to the bellows which have pinholes in the corners.  This is the case with about any of the post-war Kodak folders as the bellows were made of cloth with a rubber-like coating which inevitably deteriorates over time.  It is still possible to find replacement bellows on ebay, but it is also feasible to just cover the pinholes with a couple layers of black fabric paint, even when the damage is quite extensive as in this example.

The kit also includes three very interesting old selenium exposure meters, all in working condition.  The most unusual is the Sekonic 21b.  An on line search showed the meter to be rather rare, but I did find an excellent revue of it at photo.net by Rick Drawbridge.

The Weston Master II by its weight and carefully crafted scales is clearly meant for serious work.  I used several Weston meters early in my photo career, but those tiny numerals make it a challenging tool to use now with old eyes.

The Gossen pilot meter is a truly extraordinary example, complete with the box, all of the documentation and even a receipt for purchase from Kurt's Camera Corral in Albuquerque dated 9-1-73.  The tiny selenium meter closely resembles a modern Sekonic Twinmate which I recently purchased, and it performs very similarly.

The Ideal Rangefinder, the Series 6 Kodak Lens Hood, and the K2 Yellow filter are all very practical and appropriate accessories for the Vigilant camera.

I have always felt collectors have given insufficient recognition to the excellence of the graphic design embodied in the handy Kodak manuals and  exposure guides.  The examples in this kit are in pristine condition and could be used productively even today.

One of the exposure guides entitled "How to Make Pictures at Night" had some notations on the back in which the photographer recorded the details of several photo sessions, with dates between August and December of 1946.  They show that he was using Ansco Plenachrome and Kodak Verichrome 620 roll films.  The notes also point to the fact that this photographer was a meticulous, skilled craftsman who valued good tools.

And, finally, a bit of photographic whimsy, the tiny Star-Lite camera.  I recall seeing these cameras advertised in comic books and novelty catalogs.  Today, they are popular items on ebay and are usually referred to a "hit-style cameras" or "spy cameras" and sometimes they are accompanied by tiny rolls of foil-wrapped film.  While the "spy" reference may have been used in advertising at times, the real appeal, of course, was to the miniaturist aesthetic which was perfected over a period of many centuries in China and Japan.


James Harr said...

Cool stuff. I like those bakelite cases for the Kodak filters. I have a few that came with my Speed Graphic. Have you tried Plastidip on the bellows pinholes? It might be more flexible and durable than paint.

Mike said...

Thanks for the tip on the Plastidip. I'll take a look at it. I've had reasonably good results with Tulip fabric paint, but after using it I am reluctant to frequently open and close the bellows. I've replaced a couple bellows completely, but finding the right sizes and getting them properly installed usually does not seem worth the effort. Of course, the other option is to seek the assistance of someone with real skills in such things. The person that comes to mind in that regard would be Sandeha Lynch.

JR Smith said...

Thanks for sharing this little treasure chest with us Mike! I have both the Weston and the little Gossen and both still work great! I don't use the Weston much these days for the same reason as you--aging eyes!

Mike said...

The match needle light meters were a huge leap forward. It would be interesting to know which one made it first to the market. I wonder if there was an original patent that made millions for someone.

Kodachromeguy said...

Interesting treasures from the past. Do the selenium exposure meters still work correctly? Many selenium units have gone bad over the decades because of corrosion of the backing material behind the cells, but possibly you were lucky with the ones in your box. As for the little Gossen, I tried two in the 1980s but did not get consistent measurements. I think the dial was just too small. I agree with the comment about the Westons: hard to read with old eyes. I need my reading glasses just to see the settings on a Leica M or Rolleiflex.

Mike said...

The selenium meters do seem to lose their sensitivity over time. That can be compensated for by setting the meter to a lower ASA up to a point, but consistency does become an issue as well.