Classic Kodak 620 Film Camera
Now that 620 film is readily available via the Film Photography Project, let’s talk 620 cameras! Here are some of my tips and tricks to identifying and using 620 cameras:
Identifying 620 Cameras
620 and 120 cameras often look a lot alike. To identify which size film your camera uses you may only have to go as far as the name, example Kodak Six-20 Junior; or, just look inside the camera door as it may say something like “Made for 620 film” or “Use 620 film.” Kodak went a step further and printed “This camera Does Not Take 120 Film.” Note that not only Kodak made 620 cameras, other such as Ansco, Argus, Photax, Phillips and the George Herbert of Chicago company made many models.
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Using 620 Cameras
Always give your camera a pre-shoot checkup.
Clean your lenses, both exterior and, if possible, the interior. Also clean the mirror and lenses of the viewfinder.
Check the shutter. Make sure it opens and closes when fired. Check all the traditional shutter speeds or shutter controls. Most 620 box cameras typically had some options. You may find settings for “I” or “INST,” and “T” “Time” or “Long,” or “B.” The “I” mode stands for instant and is used in bright outdoor shooting conditions or with dedicated flash. Use the “T” for long exposures, the shutter is held open for a longer period of time (which you determine). Remember when using “T, Long or B” to support your camera on a solid surface or use a tripod. No tripod socket on your camera? No problem, use a large rubber band and secure it to the platform of your tripod. Need more help? See a visual by checking out Michael Raso’s video Vintage Kodak Brownie Shutter Test and Overview.
Finally, when you use your camera you will need to make a choice of film advancement methods. Either always advance to the next frame after you take a picture or only advance to the next frame right before you take a picture. Choose one or the other but be consistent and you will never double expose or have blank frames.
If you have questions about operation or features your camera has, look to Mike Butkus’ website Mike Butkus Camera Manuals. Please consider making a monetary donation for this wonderful resource.
Types of 620 Cameras
If you have yet to get a 620 camera or want to know how yours stacks up to others, there are 4 common types:
The Basic Box camera – It’s easy to use and load. It will have few if any settings. Just point and shoot. One disadvantage is the waist level viewfinders can be small and dim and make composing your image difficult. Common cameras of this type are the Kodak Brownie Six-20s in various models. Currently I am using a Model D.
TLR Style 620 Camera – This camera has the look of a twin lens reflex, with two lenses on the front of the camera. The bottom lens is the taking lens and the viewing lens is on the top. These cameras have wonderfully bright waist level viewfinders, and typically have more exposure options, some even had zone type focusing. Currently I am enjoying the Kodak Duaflex IV with it’s beautiful viewfinder.
Folding style 620 Cameras – We call these folders, including the first model Kodak made, the Kodak Six-20. The iconic looking folder has the lens, viewfinder and bellows fold up into the camera body when not used. They typically had f/stop and shutter controls, but not always. Before shooting use the above check list, but also check the bellows for pinholes. Be prepared to repair or replace them due to their age.
Rangefinder 620 Cameras – Kodak’s Medalists or Chevrons are examples of full featured rangefinders that coupled to the lens for focusing. They offer exceptional lenses and full exposure control, and make incredible images of those large negatives. If you are a new user make sure and read the manual, if you make settings and shoot in the incorrect order, you can break the camera. These are not for beginners; they are heavy and remind me of an armadillo that takes film.
I personally like shooting with the very common black Bakelite Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash camera. It’s a real conversation starter, since for many people it was their first camera (or they inherited one). The conversations always come around to “Can you still get film for that?” I use this time to inform people about film availability and the durability of the cameras. I tell them they should use them again and enjoy photography in its purest form. This is also the message I am giving you, get a cheap 620 or dust one off from your collection and enjoy using it!
Leslie Lazenby fell in love with photography when she was given her first camera, a GAF 126, at the age of 10. Her first job in a camera shop with a custom and commercial photo lab turned into a 20-year adventure in film; leading to positions in darkrooms, customer relations, and as head of purchasing. For the past 15 years, Leslie has owned her own business, Imagine That, retailing traditional photography products, photographic restoration, custom printing and video conversions. She finds her Zen next door at her studio, the Mecca, where she plays with her film cameras, processes film and holds small classes focusing on teens and young adults. @leslie_lazenby on Instagram / https://www.flickr.com/photos/65448995@N05 on Flickr