Kodak 620 and 616
Kodak Vest Pocket
Fixed or Focusing. Eastman's first cameras, and the much earlier first cameras, were boxes with fixed focus lenses, but the ability to selectively focus the lens was immediately attractive after the most basic design problems were solved. To focus the lens, it must be moveable relative to film plane. Toward this end, designers have created several general solutions. One of the earliest was to build a smaller box that could slide inside a larger box. This made cameras somewhat heavier and, since wood shrinks and expands with moisture and temperature, complicated the design of light seals. Metal tubes were often employed to mount lenses and were fixed to the wood boxes. Some entirely metal cameras were made, but in the 19 cy lightweight metals hadn't yet been developed, so these metal cameras were often very heavy. Designers interested in portability, particularly Eastman, looked for ideas to make cameras lighter and more compact.
Fold it, Like Kodak. Various kinds of bellows designs had been used for centuries to contain and propel air and early camera designers reckoned that, if it was air tight it would be or could be easily made to be light tight. Connecting the front and back of the camera structure with a flexible connection made it possible to provide for movements other than focus. The use of lightweight bellows allowed for a dramatic reduction in the amount of wood needed and both reduced weight and increased the amount of extension of the camera body. It also increased the possibility of folding the frames, making made them more compact. Shortly after successfully introducing his first box camera, Eastman developed a more advanced box-with-drop-front design. The case was formed from heavy leather and wood, rather like a small suitcase; the lens was mounted on a board connected to the body by a pleated bellows and moved on a metal rack mounted on the inside surface of the dropdown front. Although these first folding Kodaks were in large formats--4x5, 5x7, 8x10, using either roll film or plates--they established the basic form of a large number of smaller Kodak models for more than six decades. The slimmer designs of the Kodak Folding Camera and the Folding Pocket Kodak Camera were the basis for long running series in the first two decades of the 20th cy, featuring a wide range of lenses and shutters and using different film sizes. The 4A Folding Cameras used 126 roll film and produced negatives of 4 1/2 x 6 1/2. As finer-grain film evolved, roll sizes diminished and the box portion of folders became smaller with easier to grip rounded ends. The use of metal bodies allowed them to be somewhat smaller than their wooden predecessors and, from the late 1920s, Kodak folders were euphemistically defined as "pocket" cameras in 66mm (120/620) and 70mm (116/616) roll film sizes and "vest pocket" cameras in the 46mm(127) film size.
Golden Era Folders. The number of Kodak folding camera models produced during the 1930s and 1940s was dizzying. The list above does not include all of the models and sometimes names were variations on a theme. Some models were produced in the Kodak Stuttgart Nagel plant, with designs that were more or less similar to U.S. models, but with different names, and often with German optics. Kodak Tourists are not included on this page because they are covered elsewhere , and I am limiting this group to folders made after about 1935. Technically Bantams (828) are folders and are included on a dedicated page .
Vest pocket (127) folders had been introduced in 1912 and originally had a lazy tongs form of lensboard support. Later models, including ones branded "Petite" and the Vanity series, combining photography and cosmetics, used a dropdown bed. There are no detailed pages about Vest Pocket folders on this site because by the beginning of the period I have chosen their retirement was imminent. Kodak appears to have phased out 127 folders at about the time it introduced Bantams, presumably because the new 828 size, though smaller than 127, was expected to replace it in the folder market. The last folding VP folder model had a Bakelite body and looked like a liaison between a Jiffy and an entry level Bantam. The VP folder was phased out in 1942, though Kodak continued to produce other 127 body styles. Most of the Kodak VPs had simple lenses; a Special version of the late model had a 78mm f /4.5 Anastigmat. For more information about Kodak Vest Pocket models, see Walker Mangum's Kodak site and Gloriously Colorful Kodaks.
General Design. In general Golden Age folders were very similar, most having a drop down baseboard, single-member struts and self-erecting lens boards and bellows. Supports varied in design and effectiveness and both the supports and lens boards were candidates for Art Deco decoration. The Jiffy models used an exceptional, but original strut design, similar to that on the first Folding Pocket Kodak,with two two-part uncrossed struts on each side of a popout lens board. These popout lensboards provided no protection for the lens but these models were just a level up from Brownie box designs. Most late 1930s 620 folders began with a stamped metal lens board supported by a U-shaped front standard that was then connected by struts that ran parallel to the bed, either being anchored to the body or to additional diagonal struts that were part of the locking mechanism. For the Tourist, the struts were redesigned as two-part folding diagonals that used the bellows cavity, bed and struts as the legs of a triangle. The Tourist's struts also provided some limited protection for two additional sides of the bellows. Strut and baseboard design could be combined, as August Nagel did in his design for the Retina with both crossed struts and a front "bed" hinged on the side. In most folders with either the side- or bottom-hinged panels, they serve structurally as points to attach the front standard when open and as lens protection when closed, but not in the sense of a bed as the term applies in the design of earlier folders, press and technical cameras where the front standard is guided by a rack attached to the inside surface of this panel. Most domestic and Nagel folders, once erected, have stationary standards and use either front cell or helical unit focusing mechanisms.
Early Euro Design. Kodak's Stuttgart factory made 6x9 folders that were similar to their U. S. counterparts, usually with the model name, Vollenda. The Vollenda name had been originally used on a 127 folder that was virtually the same size as the Retina. Nagel-Werke also produced some unique 620 designs that were not imported--the 6 x 4.5 Duo 620 and the 6 x 6--Suprema, both of which had body styles that had bottom-hinged rather than side-hinged front panels. Also unique to the Nagel line were the 6 x 9 Regents, designed to compete with Zeiss and Voigtländer models. The Nagel folders typically had Schneider or Zeiss lenses, though some were fitted with Kodak Anastigmats, in Compur shutters. Kodak only began documenting Stuttgart Kodaks in the 1952 edition of Kodak Lenses, Shutters and Portra Lenses Data Book and, at that point, only Schneider lenses were used, hence, I don't know if the early Kodak Anastigmats and Ektars used on pre- and early post-WW II German Kodaks were produced in the U. S. or were German optics with Kodak branding.
The cheapest Kodak folders had either eye-level metal frame finders or Brownie style reflex finders. From the mid-1930s until about 1948, the upscale domestic and most German models had flipup optical finders and earlier models had small folding reflex finders on the front standard. In this period, other than the Super Kodak Six-20, only the German Regents had rangefinders, though Kodak had introduced the coupled rangefinder in 1916 on the 3A Autographic Special with Rangefinder. All domestic models had scale-focusing front elements and never Ektars that were all unit focusing. Lenses varied with price and started with fixed-focus doublets, progressed through triplets, with the top models having Tessar design lenses. Many of the body parts were interchangeable between models, with the upscale ones having slightly nicer coverings. The Monitor models had unique bodies and lens quality improved significantly with price.
Kodak Heritage. Kodak folders were a natural extension of Eastman's original design criteria--make it compact and simple. The flexibility of the folder format allowed Kodak to offer a broad range of photographic capabilities and quality with limited manufacturing costs because bodies could be similar with lenses and shutters that were easy to vary. They were attractive to both snapshooters and more serious photographers because they were more compact than early rigid-bodied or large frame cameras, yet still produced large negatives in a time when film technology had not created fine-grained, high definition emulsions. Folded bellows were attractive to camera manufacturers because they could be easily resized to accommodate different length lenses, particularly designs without rangefinders that did not require more complex mechanisms to link the rangefinder to the shutter. These cameras are still very attractive as entry level medium format cameras that can produce very good quality images for a bargain-basement investment. With modern film, the upscale models can still provide impressive results in the hands of an experienced photographer. Chris Perez has tested lenses of this type of Kodak folder and published some shots that he made with a Kodak 620 Special.
Today's Users. As shooters, the most attractive models are those with the Kodak Anastigmats and Kodak Anastigmat Specials . The Anastigmats were Triplets, except for the f /4.5 ~100mm and ~125mm lenses, which were Tessars. The element diagrams of f /4.5 Anastigmats and Anastigmat Specials in the Kodak Reference Handbook are alike, so I cannot establish what the differences were. Kodak began hardcoating lenses in 1946 and the later Kodak 620, Seniors, Vigilant, and Monitors had coated lenses. Nagel Kodaks have good lenses, but the disruption of camera production in Germany during and immediately following WWII, necessarily limits Nagels to 1930s uncoated designs, whereas later domestic Kodak folders had later designs and coatings.
Many Kodak folders were offered in three sizes--one using 620 film, Kodak's respooling of the 120 format and producing 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 (6x9) negatives, another the other using 616 film that produced negatives with a different aspect ratio of 2 1/2 x 4 1/4 and a third using 127 film, though cameras with advanced lenses and shutters using the smallest size are not prevalent. All three film sizes have been long discontinued, but it is relatively easy to respool 120 film onto 620 spools , and the 620 models are easiest to find. Because the 620 models of these cameras have folding finders and folding bellows, closed, the body is about the same size as a 35mm without its lens and can easily slip into a jacket pocket or small bag, yet produce a 6x9cm negative. The Monitor in both 620 and 616 is larger, due to its film indexing mechanism. The 616 models of all the folders were significantly larger than the 620 models, since they had to have the 2 1/2 x 4 1/4 film gate. Respooling 616 film is significantly more of a challenge, since even if you have existing spools and backing paper, you must buy 70mm unsprocketed bulk film in 100 ft rolls. Similarly, if you find the VP models interesting, 46mm bulk film is still available and can be respooled onto existing 127 spools and backing paper.