Kodak 66

I aim to avoid making this blog one of those which are heavily biased towards reviewing, or even just mentioning, every new bit of camera equipment that comes out, complete with a link to an ecommerce site which will earn the blogger a few pence if the reader makes a purchase. I’m not one for constantly “updating” to the latest new camera in search of better images.

But my bias against equipment obsession is mainly a distaste for new cameras and I have to confess a liking for trying out old cameras. I’ve already written on this blog about my experiences with a Kodak Six-Twenty Junior and I’ve just been given half a dozen old cameras by my father.

The first to be favoured with a roll of film is the Kodak 66 Model III; a folding camera which produces 12 photos measuring 6cm * 6cm on 120 film. This model was produced between 1958-60 and was the last ever model of folding camera made by Kodak.

Kodak 66 Model III

When I first spotted this camera in the basket amongst the others, my initial impression was this it looked a very basic model, bordering on “toy camera” territory. This was largely due to the grey-painted top plate with a ruby red shutter button, which looks a bit non-classic. But pressing the other button on the top plate causes the bellows and lens assembly to spring jauntily open, revealing a respectable 75mm f4.5 Kodak Anaston lens (a “normal” focal length for this size of negative) with a Velio shutter giving speeds of 1/10s, 1/25s, 1/50s, 1/100s, and 1/200s, plus a B setting.

There’s also a push-on yellow filter over the lens, marked “Kodisk Cloud Filter – Made in Britain – Size 320” (shown in top photo).

The camera lacks two features which, even at the time it was made, might have appeared on more expensive cameras – a rangefinder for focussing and an exposure meter. I’m not too concerned about the lack of an exposure meter as I have a small handheld meter which is easy to carry. Also, on cameras this age, the exposure meter will often no longer be accurate in any case. More on the focussing issue later.

The bellows looked in good condition and my first film proved that there were no light leaks through the bellows. However, the camera back didn’t seem to close very tightly so I took the precaution of sealing the edges with black tape after loading a roll of Kodak T-Max 100 black and white film.

I took the camera for a walk around Bothal, a tiny village in Northumberland. As well as the camera, I packed a shutter cable release and a tripod, as I anticipated using the “B” setting in the woods with low lighting levels.

Tree in Bothal churchyard with Kodak 66

The image above was made accidentally with a wide aperture – I can’t remember the exact detail. I also took another with a smaller aperture, but I prefer this one as I like the hazy appearance of the out-of-focus branches.

Of course, the reason that so many folding cameras were designed, was to reduce their bulk and hopefully make them “pocketable”. I can confirm that the Kodak fitted easily into the large pockets of my winter coat, but don’t expect to put in your trouser pockets without considerable discomfort. And of course, the tripod’s not pocketable.

The experience of using the camera showed that it’s a very capable model – not at all a toy camera.

For pixel-peepers, here is a crop from the full-size scan of the above image of Bothal Castle. Note the three television aerials:

100% view of crop from a 23 megapixel image, scanned at 2400dpi with an Epson v700 scanner

The main limitation is the limited choice of slow shutter speeds. I find that a large proportion of my landscape images are made with shutter speeds of between 1/15s and 1 second – often driven by using fairly slow ISO ratings, working in dark woods or in the golden hour, or wanting to show some movement in a river or stream. So having a slowest speed of 1/10s is going to limit my options. The “B” option is good – some cameras don’t have it – but I can’t accurately judge timing for less than 1 second when using “B”, therefore potential exposures in the range 1/4s to 1/2s are not available when using this camera.

If this was my only camera, I would find ways around this issue; for example by using filters to slow down an exposure in the missing range to something I could reliably count with “B”.

Potentially, there’s also an issue with the top speed of 1/200s. Obviously that’s going to rule out motor racing shots or studies of flying bullets. More importantly for a landscape and nature photographer, there will be times when high light levels indicate a faster shutter speed. With a top speed of 1/200s, I may need to use the smallest aperture of f32 – to be avoided if possible because on any lens the largest and smallest apertures give poorer image quality than the mid-range apertures – to keep within the shutter speed range. It’s probably a good idea to use a fairly low-speed film with this camera, so long as you’re willing to use a tripod.

Many of my preferred subjects – plants and flowers for example – require a close focussing capability. My most “serious” camera, the Mamiya RZ67, can focus down to about 6cm with a 65mm lens, or to about 1cm with two extension tubes added. The Kodak 66 has a closest focus distance of 3.5 feet, ruling out detailed floral studies.

Furthermore, the fact that focussing is achieved by setting a scale on the front of the lens makes achieving the correct focus at the closer distances more of a challenge than it would be if, for example, the camera had a rangefinder.  As well as packing the camera in one pocket, you might want to pack a tape measure in another pocket.

Good points:

  • Very respectable image quality (for 120 film) or if you compare it to 35mm film, excellent image quality
  • Pocketable, in a large pocket
  • Fun to use
  • Everything still works as it was designed to work, more than 50 years after it was made.

Bad points:

  • No exposure meter – use with a separate meter, or guess the exposure
  • Scale focussing
  • Limited range of shutter speeds
  • Closest focussing 3.5 feet

If you were to buy one of these cameras, the “completed listings” option on eBay shows that £10 – £15 will get you one – which seems a bargain to me.

I’ve enjoyed using this camera so far and it’s one that is worth continuing to use. Thanks Dad.

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12 thoughts on “Kodak 66

  1. Ian March 17, 2013 at 12:11 pm Reply

    Hello Kevin.

    I enjoy reading other peoples opinions and experiences with old cameras, I agree that they have an allure that modern cameras cannot aspire to.

    I have just this minute purchased a Kodak 66 (II) 120 folder on eBay which you have reviewed above. For those interested it cost £12.50. I must confess my interest is mainly of the the 1950’s period simply because I am of that vintage myself, in fact my teenage years coincided with the ’50’s but sad to relate back then I hadn’t the slightest interest in cameras or things photographic, it wasn’t until much-much later in life I discovered photography and the delights of old cameras.

    I’ve also recently acquired a Kodak 620 Brownie folder and another Kodak, ‘Sterling,’ trouble is these are 620’s and therefore need either 620 spools or 120 spool modifications and or film re-spooled. Having tried both I feel re-spooling is the way to go but need much more practice. Trouble is one cannot afford to ruin rolls of 120 film at £5.00 a throw.

    I think old cameras are underrated, I myself am constantly surprised at the quality of the sharpness of some of the modest of box cameras for example.

    Well here’s eagerly awaiting my latest venture.

    Thank You.

  2. kevinallan March 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm Reply

    Hope you enjoy your new purchase, Ian. I have put one roll through a Kodak 620 camera – see the write-up here:

    https://kevinthephotographer.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/using-a-vintage-kodak-folder/

    I used small scissors to trim down the diameter of the 120 reel.

    Kevin

  3. Ian March 17, 2013 at 6:16 pm Reply

    Kevin

    Yes. I was reading your Brownie report earlier, I think those photos came out a treat, I wish mine are half as good when they are processed. My Kodak Brownie 620 is a different model to yours, yours is an earlier version of around 1935, mine is a post-war version c1948-54 ‘Second Model’ with A Dakon shutter and Anaston lens.

    I understand my just purchased Kodak 66 120 has the Anaston lens in a Verio shutter. This time It will need no modifications as it is a 120 camera.

    I first got interested in cameras about ten years ago with the onset of the Internet, during that time I amassed quite a collection but since have sold off most of it, I’ve scaled things down a lot and am now just tinkering around with the sort of project you discuss here.

    I’ve only just dipped my toe in the myriad maze that is Brownie camera history, looks like you could get a phd in the subject.

    As regards the 620 problems to be negotiated with these old cameras my Kodak is not too bad as the camera has a cradle for the supply spool. Great thing is you can disconnect this cradle and remove it completely, thus enlarging the cavity which accepts the full 120 spool. All that is needed then is a 620 spool to wind on the film on take up.

    I’ve just returned from finishing off a roll of 8 exposures of 6 x 9. I’m not sure when I will be sending them off for development.

    I have my ‘Sterling’ all loaded and ready to go, this camera needs the full spool trim treatment as the supply spool cavity is much more restricted than the Brownie. Still I’ve done it before so I hope to repeat it again. The Sterling, (1954-59) apparently is a development of the Kodak Junior. To me it is a handsome camera and I like it a lot. It has the Anaston lens in a Pronto shutter – top speed 200. My first effort was a mixed bag as I’m not sure what settings I should allow for with modern 400 film.

    BTW I am not an expert in any way, I do it out of pure nostalgia, sort of re-living the 50’s.

    Sad really!

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards

    Ian.

  4. Name Finger May 4, 2013 at 1:36 pm Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    Your comments are very interesting.
    On my 18th.Birthday I got my first camera in 1966, it cost £3 3 6 including the “ever ready case”. The camera was treat to use. I used it regularly up to 1972. I have a copy of 5th.June 1963 Amateur Photographer which has an advertisement in it by Frank’s of Glasgow stating that they “were £9 6 0, now are £6 4 0 for the Model III”. The Model II was priced at £5 2 8. In addition the “ever ready case” was extra at £2 6 2, Rather expensive I thought.
    My method of gauging the exposure was very simple, I used the guideline data supplied with each roll of film. It worked for 90% of the time. Regarding fast moving things, I took shots of motocross and car racing, and got a fair amount of decent photos.
    I used a little folding Agfa flash unit, and it worked perfectly every time. Unfortunately the hot shoe has got a small bit of damage, it would work if only, I could find the flash bulbs for it.
    Now and again I take the camera out and shoot with it. The last time was a few months back. I find it very useful in the photographic club, when I want to explain the basics of the camera and photography. It is amazing how quick that the member catches on.
    The camera is in mint condition and I still have the original box in its original condition with manual and receipt.
    In 1971 I moved to Germany, and it was there in 1972 that I bought a 35mm rangefinder camera. On returning back to Ireland, I went down the road of the SLR. Like many others, I have joined the digital camp.

    Its nice to see that one can appreciate cameras, no matter the age or type.

    Regards,

    Kevin

    PS, I keep getting the pointed remark “Kevin the Photographer”. Now I know where they got it from.

  5. Kevin Finger May 4, 2013 at 6:24 pm Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    My first attempt to send you my comments, somehow went astray. Hopefully this time I succeed.
    In June 1964, I got the Kodak 66 Model III for my 18th.birthday. Up to that time, my father would allow me to use his Agfa Isolette II camera which he bought in the 1950’s. I loved the feel of it and the quality of the photos produced by it, and wanted one of own. This is how I got to get my hands on this lovely little camera. I still have the original box, manual and receipt which was for £3 3 6 which included the “ever ready case”.
    In Amateur Photographer’s edition of the 5th.June 1963 there is an advertisement by Frank’s of Glasgow, in which the Model ii is on offer at £5 2 8 reduced from £7 11 2, and the Model III is on offer at £6 4 0 reduced from £9 6 0. In both cases the “ever ready case” was available as an extra for £2 6 2, which I think was very expensive. It is amazing the drop that occurred in prices in a few short years.
    This little camera did most things that I asked of it. Despite only having a max speed of 1/200 sec. I used it at motocross and car races, with a success rate of 90%. The distance wasn’t much of a problem, and the exposure was simply following the data on the carton that the film came in. Here again a success rate of 90%.
    For lighting I used a lovely little fold-out Agfa flash unit. The hot shoe has a little bit damage, and it still works, but I don’t I use it as I can’t source flash bulbs for it. I have an electronic flash unit which I use instead.
    In the 1960’s and 1970’s one had to be very careful when using cameras, as film, processing and printing costs were so expensive. Not like to day. Even today working with film, the costs involved are relatively cheap.
    Now and again I take out the camera. Last time was a few months ago, and I was very pleased with the results.
    In 1971 I went to live in Germany, and in 1972 I bought a 35mm rangefinder camera. So I retired the Kodak there and then.
    After some years I returned to Ireland and graduated to SLRs, Then in 2005 I joined the digital “club”.
    In the photographic club I use the little Kodak to show the beginners and novices the basics of the camera and exposure. It is amazing, how quick they catch on. It takes the mystery out of photography. They are amazed at the photos that it produces. Already, some of them want to learn about working in the darkroom. It is a good sign for film. Unfortunately I was never any good in the darkroom.
    Maybe these old cameras will get a new lease of life. Last year I was back in Germany and I was surprised at the amount of film on the shelves in camera shops. I was told that there is an increasing interest in film, both 35mm and 120 roll. Something similar is happening here in Ireland. Its great, as I have a collection of film cameras which I use regularly. There are plenty of camera shops here that can process film.

    Kevin, it is nice to see someone who seems to get a kick out of these cameras. and come back with such detail and good advice.

    Best regards,

    Kevin

    • kevinallan May 4, 2013 at 10:09 pm Reply

      Thanks for your comments Kevin. It’s interesting to hear how the Kodak 66 played an important part in your photographic development.

      • Kevin Finger May 5, 2013 at 11:58 am

        Thanks kevinalan for your comments.
        It is rather a pity that Kodak took their eye of the ball in the mid 2000’s as they were such a great pioneering company. We have them to thank for roll film and digital capture.
        Regards,
        Kevin Finger

  6. Oula May 16, 2013 at 11:23 pm Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    I really enjoyed reading this post, thanks! I received my Kodak 66 Model III a few days ago – for only 15 €! I’m wondering, did you get the minimum aperture of f/32 by guessing the approximate value, or is it just a typo? The narrowest marked f-number on the camera is f/22, though the aperture narrows past it. In addition, the aperture widens past f/4.5, but this seems to have no effect on the amount of light projected through the lens, according to my highly unscientific testing with a spotlight and the camera set to B, with the film door open.

    Regards,

    Oula

    • kevinallan May 17, 2013 at 10:46 pm Reply

      Oula, my mention of f32 must have been a mistake – you are quite correct that f22 is the smallest aperture printed on the scale, and it’s also the smallest mentioned in the manual.

      Thanks for pointing this out.

      Kevin

      • Oula May 17, 2013 at 10:56 pm

        A mistake, yes, but is it too far from the truth? Either the scale is _very_ inaccurate, or Kodak just left the minimum aperture unmarked. Could it be the missing f/32? Most likely it’s f/22, which means the scale isn’t very accurate…

      • Kevin Finger May 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm

        The manual states f/4.5 up to f/22 and these values are also marked on the lens. I have always wondered about the marking “bt” just after f/22. Just now, I opened up the camera and set the shutter on “B” and went from before f/4.5 to “bt”. Funny enough when turning the aperture ring there wasn’t any change showing until f/4.5 and it continued to close down until f/22, and strangely closed down further to “bt”. I have used this camera from 1966 up until 1971 and used only the aperture values of between f/4.5 and f/22. The exposures were generally spot-on. Off course there were those dreadful moments. I still us it on the odd occasion and the exposures are generally quiet good. If “bt” was f/32 surely the manual would mention this.
        Maybe someone with knowledge of Velio shutters could give a dig-out here.

      • Oula May 18, 2013 at 2:57 pm

        Found some information on this:
        mikeinlagardette wrote (November 18th, 2010):
        »The lens is mounted in a 5 speed + B Velio shutter, proudly marked “German Shutter”, which has the speeds click stopped, it has a standard PC flash socket, and the apertures are from f4.5 to f22, although there is a further position corresponding, I guess, to f32, which is strangely marked with the tiny letters”bt”, possibly “brief time”.»

        Found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39076108@N00/5157697660/

        So it could be f/32!

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