Kodak Vigilant Six-20

The Kodak Vigilant Six-20 is a 6×9 medium format folding camera made in the late 1930’s. Folding cameras like the one above were quite popular from early 1900’s. When the lens assembly and bellow folded into the camera, it become quite “pocket size” (given you have a large pocket). Anyway, folding cameras, or simply called folders, are the smallest medium format cameras you can get even today. That’s why they were very popular because the most commonly available films at their times were medium format. However, their popularity and need dimenished when 35mm film (which was called the miniature format) became more and more common. Today, the only medium format folder available brand new is the professional dual-format (6×6,6×7) Fujifilm GF670.

The Vigilant Six-20 is one of the many medium format folders made by Kodak in pre-war times. Although its lens and features is not up to professional standard (it was the goal of Eastman Kodak to make photography accessible to common citizens), the camera itself was quite sturdily built.

CameraCollection_50__DSC3679The camera uses the discontinued (in 1995) 620 medium format film (hence its name “…Six-20”) instead of the 120 which is still commonly available today in professional camera stores and photo-labs. Photo above shows a 620 reel (left) and a 120 reel (right). Although the reels are different, the films themselves have the same dimensions. Even the positioning of the frame counters are the same on the backing papers. These frame counters are used on cameras without a mechanical frame counters. Thus, the film from a roll of 120 film can be spooled onto a 620 reel in total darkness for using in a 620 camera. A small number of 620 cameras will let a 120 reel to fit prefectly on their feeding side while using a 620 reel on the taking side. In that case, re-spooling is not needed but the Kodak Vigilant Six-20 is not one of them.

The lens of the Vigilant Six-20 is a Kodak Anastigmat 105mm f6.3 with a Dakon lens-shutter. It is an uncoated triplet and the word “Anastigmat” means that the lens is well-corrected for an optical aberration called astigmism (modern lenses today are basically all free from this). Calling a lens anastigmat at that time is like having the words APO or ED on a modern lens. Some Vigilant Six-20’s did come with other lenses and shutters such as a coated 105mm f4.5 or a Kodamatic Shutter with a faster 1/200 seconds maximum shutter speed and an extra 1/10 seconds slow speed. Both the Dakon and the Kodamatic shutters provides a T mode beside the commonly seen B mode for long exposures. When the shutter is set at T mode, it opens when the shutter button is pressed and remains openned until the release button is pressed again. This eliminates the need of a cable release providing the lens is covered (for example, by a black card or even your hand) during the shutter is being openned or closed to reduce vibrations. The T mode is essential for today’s users of the camera because I cannot find a modern day cable release with a long enought metal pin to fire the shutter at B mode.

The Vigilant Six-20 does not have a rangefinder and instead it uses scale focusing. While the scales on the lens are precise enough for the specific focal length and film format, the much narrower depth-of-field of the 6×9 medium format makes estimating distances tougher than using a 35mm camera. For that reason, all the films I have used on the camera are ASA400 even under bright sunlight. There are two viewfinders on the camera. One of them is the simple pop-up optical finder on the top of the camera as shown in the photo above. Another one is the tiny and useless angled optical finder right beside the lens (as shown in the previous close-up photo of the lens assembly).

Below are two sample photos taken with the camera. Film used is Ilford HP5+. The definition of photos are quite satisfactory mainly because the lens was stopped down quite a bit (f/22) and the much larger 6×9 image area compared to 24x36mm of 35mm film. Note that because of the uncoated lens, the photo with the trees was cropped to 4:3 ratio because of lens flare at the lower left corner of the original frame. If you look carefully, you can also see the effect on bright highlights from an uncoated lens on the photo (see the wooden bench).

The Story behind my Kodak Vigilant Six-20…

This camera was bought mainly as a prop for a photo shot. I had never expect it to work. In fact, it is not just functional but the camera itself is in unbelievably good condition given its age. There is no hole on the bellow and it leather is still somehow shiny. The lens, while being dusty, is not cloudy and has no fungus on it. Moreover, the body is still light-tight under a f/16 bright sun. My only complaint is there is only 8 frames per roll and I have only one 620 reel to use.

Status: In Collection

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12 Responses to Kodak Vigilant Six-20

  1. Pingback: Kodak No.2 Autographic Folding Brownie | MY CAMERA CABINET

  2. Bob says:

    Brilliant. Found one amid a suitcase of old cameras I inherited decades ago. Your article’s attention to detail gave me hope of using the wonderful old Vigilant …if I can find one spool.

  3. I have a Kodak Vigilant Six-20 that I opened, but don’t remember how to fold it up. Can anyone explain how this is done?


    • Just found that I cannot attach photo in comments and replies and have to get around with a link:

      At the locations pointed by the pen and the pencil, “generally” press “down and inward” with both of your thumbs at the same time. Hope it helps.

      • Edyth Malin says:

        Thanks for your help. I did close it following your directions.

        Thanks again,

        Edyth Malin

  4. tom says:

    Also, the same button, next to the film wind-up, that opens the camera, can be “pushed in” to release the folding hinges. Listen for a “click” and the camera will start to collapse.

  5. tom says:

    My Six-20 shutter release has so much slop in the mechanisms that it will not release the shutter. I can activate the shutter manually but am afraid I will blur the focus. Any suggestions on how to tighten/adjust the shutter release?

    • Sorry for the super-late reply as I was crazily busy with some family matters…and unfortunately, I wont’t be answer your question since I broke my release-to-lever mechanism after 2 rolls of long exposures.

      • tom says:

        No problem. I am going to start tearing into it and see how far I can get. I really did not expect to take pictures with it but would be very happy if I could. Maybe yours would be available for parts, or maybe you would want mine for parts for yours? If you hear of another one that is for sale, let me know.

  6. Hey guys,
    New 620 film spools are sold at filmphotographyproject.

  7. Pingback: Agfa Billy I | MY CAMERA CABINET

  8. Gary Moore says:

    I just got one of these at a yard sale and am curious about the top viewfinder. Mine has what looks like distance dials in the part of the finder that pops up at the rear of the camera. Any thoughts on this as the manuals I have found online say nothing about this feature And it seems the film advance knob is missing can these be replaced I would really like to use this as a second 620 to my Argus.

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