5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

By Stuart Jenkins

Kodak’s original brochure for the Medalist II describes it as a “compact, integrated assembly”. They’re so wrong. It’s a magnificent beast.

The celebrated industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague designed the Medalist for Kodak, who introduced it in 1941. It followed more than a decade of his exquisite Art Deco designs, mostly for consumer-level cameras. Box brownies with intricate geometric shapes were a speciality. When the USA entered WWII and wanted rugged medium format cameras for the military, buying German or Japanese wasn’t an option. Hence the original Medalist I, with its massive exposed focusing helicoid instead of a flimsy folding bellows, was chosen to go to war.

You get eight 6x9cm frames from each roll of thin-spooled 620 film. It’s an odd choice of roll format, when 120 would have added little or nothing to the overall size of the camera. Some people have done that as a conversion, but I’ve stuck with 620 because for infrequent use it’s not all that much of a faff to re-spool a roll of 120.  The header picture shows my rudimentary 120-to-620 re-spooler.  I need to make a better one.

The aluminium helicoid (painted black on the original version) may be stronger than a leather bellows but it’s still vulnerable to impact damage and dirt. Don’t even think about taking it to the beach. The thread has to run without lubrication so it’s a bit graunchy, even without any sand in it. The camera’s party trick is to keep turning the focus back beyond infinity — way, way beyond so the lens collapses into the body almost completely. It seems useful, right up to the point where you miss a candid shot because it takes so long to wind it back out again.

The coupled rangefinder is nice to use. It’s a separate split-image magnified view of the middle of the frame, visible at the bottom of the combined viewfinder / rangefinder. You also get a focus distance indication in a dial on the top plate.

Through the viewfinder. Composing frame above, and magnified split-image focusing patch below.
Through the viewfinder. Composing frame above, and magnified split-image focusing patch below.

The winding mechanism is designed to transport the film along by one frame (cocking the shutter as it goes) and then stop. For all my efforts I couldn’t get that to work reliably and it would occasionally skip a frame. Now I just leave the frame counter on zero to disable it, wind manually using the red window, and cock the shutter manually using the (rather stiff) lever under the viewfinder.

For all his design experience, Teague managed to come up with a shape that’s almost impossible to grip. The front of each side of the body is angled backwards, much like an Exacta SLR, so there’s nothing to get hold of. You can try to grip it top-to-bottom with your right hand while you focus with your left hand, but it’s awkward and never feels secure. In the end I was compelled to make a separate left-hand grip out of a Stitz flash bracket and a piece of 4mm aluminium plate. As well as screwing into both (!) tripod threads on the base, it also hooks into the left-hand strap loop, making it feel pretty solid. It transforms the usability of the camera, because now you can hold it one-handed without even thinking about it. There’s still a tripod thread available, cut into the new base plate between the camera and the grip.

Lens carrier shown in the collapsed position. Grip attaches to both of the baseplate tripod threads.
Lens carrier shown in the collapsed position. Grip attaches to both of the baseplate tripod threads.

Mine is a post-war Medalist II, which drops the separate coarse and fine focus controls in favour of a finer pitch on the main helicoid. It still has the same five-element Ektar 100mm f3.5 lens, but now with more coatings. It’s an excellent piece of glass, renowned for its sharpness. Couple that with a camera giving you 3:2 ratio images with six times the surface area of ‘full-frame’ 35mm film, and you have a recipe for capturing unbelievable levels of detail.

The pictures below are from a trip to a boatyard at St Olaves in Norfolk, followed by an early-morning walk around the UEA campus in Norwich. A lens of this class dictates a quality of film to match, so I went with its namesake Ektar 100. Enjoy. I certainly did.

St Olaves boatyard
St Olaves boatyard
Magnified view of the picture above, to show the detail available.
Magnified view of the picture above, to show the detail available.
St Olaves boatyard
St Olaves boatyard
Ziggurat accommodation blocks at UEA
Ziggurat accommodation blocks at UEA
Concrete walkways at UEA.
Concrete walkways at UEA.
Ziggurats at UEA.
Ziggurats at UEA.

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About The Author

By Stuart Jenkins
Camera & lens collector, restorer, and tinkerer. As a photographer I'm trying to wean myself off digital and back onto film. IT Business Analyst by trade, and formerly a vintage aircraft engineer / restorer. Norfolk, UK.
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Comments

Rekayasa Perangkat Lunak Aplikasi on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 15/02/2024

Could you explain the challenges faced with the winding mechanism of the Kodak Medalist II and how photographers have adapted to it? Regards, Telkom University/a>
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 15/02/2024

The camera has a frame counter that can also be turned manually. Before the film is loaded, the frame counter is set to zero. The zero setting allows the winding knob to work without limitation, and also without cocking the shutter. That way, you can set the position of frame 1 using the red window on the back of the camera. Then you're supposed to set the frame counter to 1 and take the first shot. After that, theoretically you don't have to use the red window any more. Turning the winding knob until it stops will move the film to the next frame, cock the shutter, and advance the frame counter by 1. The mechanism uses a film sensing roller next to the takeup spool. It has sharp teeth, so the moving film will turn it. That way the camera can accurately sense how far the film has moved, irrespective of the diameter of the film already on the takeup spool. It seemed to work OK when I was rebuilding the camera. Then when I ran the first 'live' film through, it skipped a frame without stopping. The Kodak factory service & repair manual is available online, and it looked like it would be a long and complex job to diagnose and fix the problem. So to be honest, given that film is expensive and the camera is not used frequently, I didn't think it was worth the effort. It's so much easier to just leave the frame counter on zero, wind using the red window, and cock the shutter manually.

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Jeffrey Rice on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 06/02/2024

I really enjoyed the article, and it has inspired me to revisit photography with my Medalist I. I had that converted to hold 120 spools many years ago. Thanks!
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 06/02/2024

Thanks Jeffrey, best of luck with it!

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Zheng Li on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 05/02/2024

Hi Stuart, excellent write up and nice photos out of the Medalist! I too were smitten by the handsome Medalist, despite its lack of grip and use of 620 film. I was using an Arca Swiss style L-plate with a left hand wooden handle, from the video industry. Your left handle solution is more elegant than mine, and 4mm aluminum matches the aesthetics nicely. And I agree that hand-rolling 620 from 120 is not a big deal, for light use. The Ektar lens is really the star here, and the separate rangefinder makes precise focusing possible even when wide open. The winding/shutter tension mechanism could be improved, but overall the Medalist represents the pinnacle of American camera industry.
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 05/02/2024

Thank you Li, much appreciated.

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Greg Hammond on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 05/02/2024

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Over the weekend, it lured me down a wonderful rabbit hole on a stormy day. But I veered off from the Medalist toward something else. And now, I am about to be a proud owner of a beautiful, like new in its original box, Bantam Special (Compur shutter, not Supermatic, but I’ll survive ). I’m a sucker for art deco & moderna, and industrial design. Can’t wait for it and the 828 to arrive. Cheers!
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 05/02/2024

Thanks Greg and wow, that's amazing, well done! I'd love one of those, but all the examples I've seen have had chipped paint and still been eye-wateringly expensive. Please write a 5 Frames article so we can see!

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mike on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 05/02/2024

Interesting camera and great pictures. I buy a lot of old cameras but avoid a lot of Kodaks just because of 620 I know you can respool, and some boutique sellers even offer 620 all spooled up, but with so many great 120 options it just always seemed like an extra hassle and not worth it. Kodak seemed like the Apple of the 20th century. Lots of great scientists and engineers, but they also had an streak of arrogance in their DNA. The whole idea of just changing the spool size while loading it with the same film seemed like just a money grab. Locking customers into a camera that only they supported. (Did anyone else use 620?)
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 05/02/2024

Thanks Mike, that's an interesting comparison between Kodak and Apple. 620 doesn't seem to have been exclusive to Kodak cameras though. From the 1940s to 60s, there was a smattering of American and European cameras using 620 film. They were mostly bakelite box cameras, simple viewfinder cameras, or pseudo-TLRs - from makers that most of us have never heard of. Only a few are what I would call 'desirable' - and if I can ever find an Ansco Anscoflex II in undamaged condition for a fair price then I'll snap it up in an instant!

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Lance Rowley on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Great article, I might have to look into one of these myself. Ektar is probably my favorite film, the photos turned out fantastic!
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Thank you Lance. :-)

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James on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Love the photos. You’ve inspired me to seek one! I see them for cheap online here. If the price is right, I’m diving in!
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Thanks James, best of luck!

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Murray Leshner on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Nice! Good timing for me. I am planning on having a Medalist II serviced this year. I like the Stitz holder repurposing . I think I have one somewhere (if I can find it....).
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Thanks Murray. The grip was a fiddly job, in order to make it strong enough. The bit that hooks onto the strap lug goes right into the middle of the grip, via a slot I had to carefully mill into the plastic. The end of it has a threaded hole, and then a long bolt goes down from under the accessory shoe and screws into it. It makes it good and strong so I don't need to worry about it breaking, but it was a lot of work.

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jim witherspoon on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Fantastic camera Stuart. I'm amazed at how cameras that I've never heard of keep popping up! Nice to see some Norfolk pictures too. I'm up in Sheringham so not a million miles away.
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Thanks Jim — I'm always searching for weird & wonderful cameras.

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Ibraar Hussain on 5 Frames with a Kodak Medalist II and Ektar 100

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Thank you Amazing looking camera and very very interesting ! Really enjoyed the photography and the resolving power is very high!! Cheers
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Stuart Jenkins replied:

Comment posted: 04/02/2024

Thank you Ibraar, much appreciated.

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