6x9 folder lineup

Finding my ideal 6×9 folder – Largest Negative in a Compact Travel Format – by Zheng Li

I have owned and used many different types of medium format cameras (TLR, SLR, folder, rigid body rangefinder), and I enjoy all of them for different reasons. But this article is specifically about medium format folders, which provide a large negative in a compact and travel friendly form factor. Sometimes they are not much bigger or heavier than a 35mm rangefinder, while producing almost six times the film area.

In order to achieve the compact size, folders do have several inherent weaker points compared to a rigid body camera. For example, the bellows might deteriorate and suffer from light leaks, the lens struts might get out of alignment with the film plane, and the linkage between the shutter release button and shutter might break down. Depending on the mechanism, focusing might be off as well.

Therefore, I decided to try out as many different models and makes as possible, in order to find the folder that is “ideal” for my purpose.

120 film frame formats
120 film frame formats

Which Frame Format

The most popular formats for medium format folders are 6×4.5, 6×6, and 6×9. The smallest folders that only support 6×4.5 format, typically have a portrait orientation in film mask and viewfinder. 

On the other extreme, 6×9 folders naturally have a landscape orientation. Often, 6×9 folders also support smaller formats like 6×4.5 and 6×6 by providing the proper masks and frame counting mechanism (either automatic or via the additional red window). If you are lucky enough to find a 6×9 folder with additional masks, then you basically own several cameras in one.

Since I already have 6×6 format in TLR and SLR, I decided to focus my search on 6×9 folders.

Naughty Kodak

Most of the 6×9 folders I will cover in this article will use the most common 120 film, which is still available today. But I have to mention a few now obsolete film formats such as 620  and 616. They were all produced by Kodak, either for patent protection or customer lock-in, without any clear customer benefits. 620 film is almost identical to 120 film, except the spool. Thus enthusiasts can easily re-spool modern and fresh 120 film onto 620 spools. The reward for that inconvenience is that you might be able to score several excellent cameras for the cost of a Big Mac meal. Therefore I include a few 620 cameras in my search as well.

Kodak film formats
Kodak film formats

Old or new

There is a huge cost difference between old folders (produced before the 1950s) and new folders (produced in the last two decades, such as Fuji/Voigtlander GF670). So the search will be on the older folders. Good news is that they have been produced over a very very long period of time (1900 – 1950), so there are huge varieties of choices.

The contenders

Before I enlist all the candidates, I have my simple requirements. It has to be reasonably cheap (ideally under $100 in excellent working condition), relatively easy to find, 6×9 format, has full manual control, and sports a good quality lens. Naturally the photographer will be the ultimate decider, but I will leave the Lo-Fi cameras for another article.

So here is the list of 8 cameras I included for my comparison:

120 models

  • Voigtlander Bessa I with Color Skopar
  • Zeiss Ikonta C with Tessar 105/4.5 (alternative: Moskva 5 with Industar-22 lens)
  • Zeiss Ikon Nettar with Novar Anastigmat 105/4.5
  • Agfa Record II with Solinar 105/4.5
  • Franka Rolfix with Schneider Radionar 105/4.5

620 models:

  • Kodak Monitor with Anastigmat 105/4.5
  • Kodak Tourist II with Anaston 105/4.5
  • Kodak Tourist II with Anastar 105/4.5

The challenges of 6×9 folders

Potential folder troubles
Potential folder troubles

Before I get too excited about medium format folders, I have to realize that it is not the easiest camera to work with. To get best image quality, all the stars have to be aligned:

  1. The lens is collimated correctly
  2. The distance is set correctly, either using built-in or external rangefinder
  3. The struts for propping up the lens is strong and straight
  4. The front standard or lens board is parallel to the film plane
  5. There is no light leak in the bellows
  6. You unfold the camera slowly so the film won’t be vacuum sucked into a curvature
  7. The camera pressure plate can keep the film flat across the entire 6×9 frame
  8. You can hold the camera steadily or on a tripod. Some folders have weird places for the shutter release button, and you might not be used to pressing it without shaking the camera.
  9. The shutter is cocked, and the speeds are decently within spec
  10. The film is advanced either through the red window or via automatic stop, and not double exposed

Wow, did I just list 10 prerequisites for getting technically excellent photos? Not even counting the artistic aspect. ????

The joy of 6×9 folders

Now we get the challenges out of the way, we can finally appreciate those big beautiful negatives that are full of details, rich in tonality, and high in resolution. And to fully wow yourself, you have to try those massive stunning color slides on a light table. Here are a few example

Filoli Gardens by Agfa Record and Solinar
Filoli Gardens by Agfa Record and Solinar
The pool by Ikonta Nettar Novar
The pool by Ikonta Nettar Novar
Plane ready for taking off SFO by Agfa Record II Solinar
Plane ready for taking off SFO by Agfa Record II Solinar
A forest view from the balcony by Moskva 5
A forest view from the balcony by Moskva 5
MV Center for Performing Art by Voigtlander Bessa Skopar
MV Center for Performing Art by Voigtlander Bessa Skopar

Brief comments on each model

120 models

Voigtlander Bessa I

  • Top quality Tessar formula lens that can produce highest quality images, good shutter offering full range of shutter speeds.
  • Good quality leather bellows
  • Most sought after and thus most expensive
  • Shutter button on the left hand
  • The lens strut is wobbly on my sample

Moskva 5

  • Coupled rangefinder: when properly aligned can enable precise focusing
  • Good quality Tessar formula lens set in a good shutter with full range of shutter speeds
  • Solid folding mechanism and construction
  • A bit on the heavy and bulky side

Zeiss Ikon Nettar

  • Good quality triplet lens set in a good shutter with full range of shutter speeds
  • Solid folding mechanism and construction
  • Good quality leather bellows
  • Shutter button on the left hand

Agfa Record II

  • High quality Tessar formula lens that can produce highest quality images, good shutter offering full range of shutter speeds.
  • Double exposure prevention
  • Poor quality plastic bellows that are prone to light leaks due to pinholes and cracks
  • Green grease of death: the grease used in the front cell focusing helicoid often hardens over time and entirely freezes the focusing. It is feasible to repair by yourself, by using a combination of solvent (e.g. 90% alcohol) and heat (hair dryer).

Franka Rolfix

  • One of the most compact and lightweight
  • Good quality triplet lens set in a good shutter with full range of shutter speeds
  • My sample comes with 6×6 mask, dual red window
  • No cold shoe

620 models:

Kodak Monitor

  • Excellent quality Tessar formula lens that can produce highest quality images, set in a robust shutter with decent shutter speed selection.
  • Full featured camera with automatic frame counting and double exposure prevention.
  • The linkage between shutter button and shutter is weak and easily broken down. This happens to my sample, so I have to use a shutter release cable instead.
  • One of the heaviest folder

Kodak Tourist II

  • Excellent quality Tessar formula lens that can produce highest quality images. The Anastar lens is top of the line for Kodak.
  • The Anaston is set in a robust shutter with decent shutter speed selection, however the Anastar uses a higher spec yet less reliable shutter called Kodak Synchro Rapid 800.
  • Body is one of the largest and some parts are plastic. Not too heavy though.
  • Can find interchangeable back to use other formats (such as 6×6 or use 828 film)
  • Hot shoe is of odd proprietary type


SF Bay shore by Kodak Tourist Anaston
SF Bay shore by Kodak Tourist Anaston

So did I find my ultimate 6×9 folder? Probably yes. I especially like the Franka Rolfix for its compact size, light weight, excellent lens, simple operation, and 6×6 support. But I enjoy all the contenders in this article: in the right hands, they can all produce stunning photos while you are out and about. Happy shooting!

PS: thank you for reading my articles, and you’re welcome to check out my photography work on flickr

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About The Author

15 thoughts on “Finding my ideal 6×9 folder – Largest Negative in a Compact Travel Format – by Zheng Li”

  1. I love folders, and find them to be eminently practical for hiking and mountaineering, where weight and packability really matter. My favorite 6×9 is a newer variant of the Voigtlander Bessa 1 with a Color Skopar lens. I was lucky enough to find a really nice one that has solid struts and had been professionally rebuilt, including brand new bellows. My very favorite folder is the Voigtlander Perkeo, a tiny 6×6 with a coated Color Skopar lens. Another interesting type are the 9×12 cameras like the Voigtlander Bergheil, or Avus models. I have the Avus, with a 135mm Skopar lens. My Avus came with a 6×9 120 roll film back as well as film holders that take 6×12 film (still available in black and white), or you can cut 4×5 film to size). These are essentially large format folders, but still very compact, and they include advanced features like geared front-standard movements, double extension bellows, ground glass focusing, and additional viewfinder options.

    1. Thanks Nick for the additional information. Yes I have been a long time Voigtlander fan, and really admire their lenses such as Heliar and Skopar for medium and large format. I have never tried any Avus, but the prospect of 6×12 in a relatively compact folder seems very intriguing!


    Enjoyed the article. I have a Rollfix II my father bought new in about 1951 from Montgomery Ward. Still have it and use it occasionally. While in the Army in the 1970’s I was stationed in Bayreuth and after asking around was able to locate the factory where Franka cameras were made.


  3. Thank you so much for making the effort to share what you learned from all this research and experimentation!

  4. Thanks for this! I have a Moskva 5, which I thought would be great because of the rangefinder, but I struggle to take sharp photos with it handheld (not saying this is the camera’s fault). The Rolfix seems like an unexpected “winner” out of this group, but I definitely get it: I have a 4.5×6 format Ikonta 520 A, and although it lacks more advanced features it is slim and light and I find it easy to pack and a pleasure to use.

    1. I was surprised at my conclusion as well, but in reality they are all quite nice and capable cameras. It is just down to small differences and personal preference. I never had any 6×4.5 folders, but I fully enjoy a Mamiya Six Automat 6×6 folder.

  5. Thanks for a very interesting comparison of these folders. 6×9 folders are special.
    I have a Bessa I and Bessa II both of which I bought before prices went crazy.
    I love then both but would like to get a Zeiss Super Ikonta 531/2 to compare with the Bessa II but they seem rare and hence expensive.
    So perhaps I’ll see if a decent looking Moskva 5 comes up in the meantime.

    1. Super Ikontas are great, both in terms of construction, features, and lens quality. I did not include them simply because they were a bit out of my budget. The Bessa II is unit focus instead of front cell focus, so it should have a slight advantage.

  6. Of course I read this a few days after purchasing a 6×9 folder! I went with a Tourist with the 4.5 Anaston and 1/200 shutter because I also had the complete adapter kit/back that allows 6×6, 6×4.5 and 828. Hopefully once I take care of the pinholes (there are many, thanks Kodak) and naptha the shutter, combined with an external rangefinder, I will have the “ultimate” medium format camera, haha.

    1. Good luck with your restoration project on the Tourist! The Anaston lens is excellent, when Kodak was at its peak of its optical game. The 1/200 shutter, once cleaned, is quite reliable and consistent. Much better than the 1/800s shutter. Enjoy.

  7. I purchased a Zeiss Ikonta 523/2 and have had very good results from this camera. Mine has the Novar Anastigmat 105mm f/3.5 lens with Prontor-SV shutter (speeds up to 1/250). I use this camera nearly exclusively mounted on a tripod and with some patience and good metering, it’s capable of producing lovely images. For me, this folding 6×9 camera provides a unique user experience and is great to use when I want to make large negatives and take my time with the process of making an exposure. These folding cameras are basically the cheapest way to shoot 6×9 and they’re quite plentiful.

  8. Very interesting! I’m a vintage camera collector, I think I have 69 camera. I will try soon ! Where you developed E 6 CR 56 and color films ? Thank you

  9. Alessandro Bellafiore

    Hi, thanks for the article! I recently bought an Agfa Isolette II, which I got with the slightly less common combination Solinar f3.5 and Prontor SVS shutter. It’s a 6×6, but I didn’t have a nice folder yet, so I went for that format. I found interesting your opinions on the Record (even though not exactly the same lens).
    A strong candidate for me was the Moskva 5. If you can find one with the elusive mask you get a camera with a tessar-like lens, which can take 6×6 and 6×9. Two cameras in one!

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