Super Kodak Six-20 - Antique and Vintage Cameras

Super Kodak Six-20


Eastman Kodak Co.



Image of Super Kodak Six-20

f3.5, 100 mm Kodak Anastigmat Special, iris diaphragm to f22. Serial no. 875 .

Speeds 1 - 1/200, B. Delayed action.

Metal body, leather bellows.

8, 2 ¼" x 3 ¼" exposures on 620 roll-film.

Front cell to 4 feet.

Coupled rangefinder, split image type combined with direct-vision (lens/lens) view-finder.
Selenium exposure meter coupled to iris diaphragm.
Film advance, coupled to shutter. Red window to check film number on backing paper.

Serial Number:
2488 .

The most remarkable aspect of the Super Six-20 is that Eastman decided to put it into production. The design objective was to produce a sophisticated camera for the inexperienced photographer, this was achieved by incorporating a good lens, shutter, rangefinder and an exposure meter. The camera was made easy-to-use by linking these features so that a minimal number of operations was needed to take a photograph. Focusing was coupled to the rangefinder and the view-finder and rangefinder were combined in a single window. A lever film-advance was used which opened and closed the cover to the red window, this was connected to the shutter so that advancing the film set the shutter. Double exposures were prevented. The unique technical aspect of the camera was to link the exposure meter to the diaphragm in such a way that the diaphragm setting was determined by the meter; this was the first camera to have automatic aperture setting.

The result was a very complicated camera prone to malfunction. The shutter mechanism, delayed action and double exposure prevention control are contained in the upper 'clam-shell' that lies between the front panel and the camera body, the shutter blades, iris and meter mechanism are in the front panel. A flexible wire connects the film-advance to the shutter mechanism and an electrical connection has to be maintained between the selenium cell in the camera body and the armature/magnet in the front panel. Thus linkages have to be maintained between parts that are not permanently connected.

The camera was designed by Joseph Mihalyi with styling by Walter Dorwin Teague. It was introduced in August of 1938 and withdrawn in 1944, Coe gives the number made as 719.

When using the camera the shutter release is on the right of the top cover, the shutter speed dial is on the left along with the delayed action, the shutter speeds are displayed in a window on the top of the casing, this also shows a red flag if the film has not been advanced. On the left side of the front panel a window displays the meter needle and aperture that has been selected. Below the window is a lever to manually set the aperture.

The selenium cell is in the body of the camera just below the rangefinder, the armature and magnet of the meter surround the lens opening. As well as setting the shutter the film-advance lever opens the iris to the full extent, with initial movement of the shutter release the meter reading is taken and an arm connected to the armature deflects according the reading, the arm is then trapped by a plate with several fine teeth (described as a comb), the iris is then closed under action of a spring until stopped by the trapped meter arm. In this way the aperture is automatically set by the exposure meter, for shutter speeds below 1/25 the aperture was set manually. Masks fitted over the meter cell which adjusted the reading for different film types.

Many cameras over the years had been produced with simplified operation in mind aimed at the non-expert photographer, the Original Kodak (1888) being a good example. This might be achieved by removing features, for instance by fitting a wide-angle lens eliminating the need for focusing, by simplifying features and using non-photographic terms such as bright and dull to set the aperture or fast and slow to set the speed. This was in contrast to cameras aimed at the dedicated photographer where features were progressively added making their operation by the layman more difficult. The Super Six-20 was at the start of a trend where using a camera was made simpler by automation and interlinking operations; in recent years cameras have automatic focusing, motor drives to advance the film and programmable exposure meters able to set the aperture and shutter speed.

References & Notes:
BP 497301/1937. BP 497302/1938. BP 504008/1939. Kodak Catalogues, 1938, 1940, 1941. US patents - 2132695, 2333807. Coe, Kodak Cameras, p. 166.

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