The Mighty Medalist 620 Camera
by Leslie Lazenby
One time I "Googled" either the best 620 cameras or the weirdest 620 cameras and at one point the Kodak Medalist came up. Ohh, I wanted one so it was off to ebay my fingers searched. They are kind of pricey for a camera 50-60 years old and one that takes 620 film. 620 film was made by Kodak as a replacement for 120 film and they stopped producing 120 film size cameras. I assume it was Kodak's intent to overcome the market in the 120/620 film race, but that was not the case.120 sized film was the clear winner. 620 was commonly used in more consumer cameras, box style and the such than high end cameras. Lucky for us the actual film size is the same and it is very easy to re-spool on to a 620 spool. Until recently 620 spools were limited to vintage spools found or purchased used, but fellow FFer Michael Raso introduced a brand new 620 spool and film into the market so there is no excuse for not using these cameras. But I digress, back to the camera of the day.
The Medalist was quite an unusual design for a medium camera, in fact it looks a lot like my Folmer and Schwing Graphic 0, kind of a cross between an armadillo and a TNT detonation box. It in fact was designed by industrial design genius Walter Dorwin Teague and in production by 1941. Most of the medium format cameras of the time were folders. This cast aluminum body uses a double helical lens tube rather than cloth, leather or paper covered bellows which were used on those folders. This camera is a beast, rather heavy and awkward for a rangefinder camera it was known as "the professional's tank." Because of the design that cast aluminum body and lens tube design it protected the internal mechanisms better than most other medium formats of the era. In fact this camera was used extensively by the US and the British armed services. All of the Medalist IIs and some of the original Medalists had a coated lens and was used especially for color and infrared photography.
There are 2 versions, the Medalist and the Medalist II. I have been able to shoot with the original. First and foremost, read the manual, you can so some serious damage to this camera if things are not done in the proper sequence. Once done you can get down to using this fine camera. It shoots glorious 6x9 format on 620 film. One feature I love on this camera is so small, but I think so smart, the back will hinge open via either the left or right side or just as easily it comes completely off. The lens is the amazing Ektar 100/3.5 lens that closes down to 32 in full stops and focuses with a giant helical. To focus you use lower portion of the viewfinder to focus with a split image and the upper to compose your shot. If you wear glasses I would adhere a small bit of light tight foam around the finder because this viewfinder is an all metal tube. Because there is also a very accurate dial on the top of the camera and if you want you can use it for zone type of focus. Minimum focus is 3 feet. You can turn helical tube to focus or turn the smaller wheel for the same purpose. In the second version of the Medalist II this small dial was removed and a flash sync was put in its place. To use the camera, you must first turn the lens until the focus dial reads at least infinity or closer. It turns beyond infinity to make the camera smaller and to lock the shutter from accidentally firing.
Your shutter speed choices come to you via two pointers, use the black one for normal to fast speeds and the red one for the slower speeds. It tops out at 1/400 and down to B. Remember to select the speed before cocking the shutter, and if you try to select 1/400s after the shutter is cocked, it can damage the shutter.
The camera has a film counter and a red window in the back. In reality, the red window is used only for starting the roll, advance the film until you JUST see the number 1, then close the window and set the top counter to O. After you advance to 1 via the top mounted counter you are ready to go. Cocking the shutter usually takes place when you advance the counter to the next number, there is also a manual shutter cock lever below the viewfinder.
A few final things to remember is the film advance knob, when wound it should automatically stop at the next frame, and the exposure counter will advance and the shutter cocks. All this happens when the proper sequence is follow and if you proper press the shutter button all the way down. If you do not you will unlock the film advance mechanism but not actually trip the shutter. It you go at it slow you can hear the satisfying first click to release the advance mechanism and the second click is the shutter firing. Most of the time I could not hear the difference.
Finally getting all the rules and regulations down will reward you with awesomely sharp big beautiful negatives. Rule number one in using this camera, READ the MANUAL, you do not want to break it before you get to shoot with this amazing beast.
Leslie Lazenby is one of the co-hosts of The Film Photography Project. The Kodak Medalist was reviewed during Film Photography Podcast Episode 144. Give a listen HERE. 620 Film and Cameras are available in our FPP On-Line Store.