I’ve got a rather handsome art deco Kodak folding camera made in 1938 or ’39. The plate on the lensboard describes it as a Six-16 Model C. It was an ornament for a while, until I got curious about using it. The camera was made to use 70mm wide film to produce negatives of 2.5 by 4.25 inches. That’s more than twice the size of the usual square 6×6 roll film negative. You could think of it as a half-frame 5×4 camera. The idea was that the negatives were big enough to be contact-printed at around postcard size. Load it with ortho film, develop in dishes under safelight and you could make contact prints. Very easy amateur photography without the need for an enlarger.
What this large negative size gives you is a large camera. Quite heavy too, as it’s made of smart lacquered metal. But I got to wondering if it could be adapted to take 120 roll film.
The first thing it needed was a clean – it had been on someone’s shelf and was very dusty. The lens seemed to clean-up ok. The lock nut on the back needed tightening, but that’s easy. The main thing was that the wind-on knob wasn’t engaging in the film spool. It should be spring-loaded, so that it can be pulled out to release the spool but will be held in the drive slot. A quick disassembly of the winder found no spring. That’s odd. I wonder if that accounts for the excellent condition of the camera? It would have made winding-on unreliable, so perhaps it wasn’t used much? But where could I get a suitable spring? A clicky pen spring was too small – I needed one with a 5mm inside bore and about 5mm length. To the rescue came Springs and Things. They had exactly what I needed. Their minimum length was 6mm, but I was probably going to have to trim the spring anyway to get it right.
So after a very fiddly session getting some small, awkwardly-placed and spring-loaded components together, I had a working knob (stop giggling at the back). A bit of careful bending of the metal fingers that located the ends of the film spool and we appeared to have a working wind-on. Hurrah!
Now, roll film has numbers printed on the backing paper to locate the frames. But these numbers don’t match the larger film gate of this camera. Luckily the numbers for 16-on (6×4.5) did match the location of the red window on the back of the camera. So what I did was to load the backing paper from a previously used film and start from the point where the film would have been attached. With this just past the film gate opening, I closed the camera back and saw what number appeared in the window. Then I wound-on the paper to clear the film gate and noted what number was then visible. It looks like I can get seven frames on a 120 film.
The next problem is that 120 film is 61mm wide and the film gate on this camera is 63.5mm wide. So what I need is a 2 or 3mm strip on each side of the gate to mask it down and support the film edges. Black art paper and tape will do the job. It’s easy enough to confine the tape to the places that the 120 film will not be moving across, so there shouldn’t be any issues with sticky residues. The 120 film spool seems to be the same diameter as the 616 one, but shorter. I used a couple of rubber tap washers to space the spool centrally. I will have to unload the camera in a dark bag though, as the longer 616 spool will not protect the edges of the film from light leakage.
The good thing is that all of the changes are reversible, unlike some of the things I have done to folding cameras. It’s also a much easier conversion than for cameras that used 620 film.
The end result should be a wide-frame medium format camera – the Xpan of roll film, if you will. It will be shooting a 6 by 10.8 frame, or 1:1.8 aspect ratio. The lens is a 12cm f4.5, giving a 48 degree field of view across the long side of the frame. This is the equivalent to a 40mm lens on 35mm, so a slightly wide standard lens.
So, how well did it work? Well, the first step is that it worked at all. I took it out in bright sunlight as that would make it obvious if the bellows leaked. The first two frames overlapped, so I will need to check my wind-on numbers. But I have seven recognisable frames on the film! In retrospect I think I’ll adjust my numbering to get six more widely-spaced frames. There’s no point in having a panoramic camera if you lose the ends of the frame to overlaps.
That flare at the top right of the frame seems to be a hole in the bellows. When I looked carefully, a tiny wire spring that forms part of the folding mechanism was adrift and had poked a hole. So the next step is a small patch of black card. But this eighty year-old camera works!
If you fancy a panoramic medium format camera, then this is the way to go.