Kodak Medalist

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The Kodak Medalist is a high-quality (but bulky and heavy) rangefinder camera making 8 6x9 exposures on 620 film made by Kodak beginning in 1941. The Kodak Medalist II is a post-WWII version adding flash sync. The camera was designed in part by Walter Dorwin Teague. It is a collapsing model, with a lens barrel consisting of two counter-rotating sleeves with helicoid grooves that allow them to collapse down entirely into the camera body, while holding the shutter and front element at a fixed orientation. This is not to say the Medalist is a vest-pocket-sized model like most collapsible cameras, as it is larger than most SLR's even when collapsed.

The first model was reportedly used by all branches of the American Armed Forces during WWII, when the great camera makers in Germany and Japan were on the opposite side of the war. In many ways, this was an ideal camera for military use, being solid cast metal with a fairly rugged mechanism, as well as an extremely sharp camera producing a large negative that enlarges well.

It has been said that the Medalist and Medalist II were the apex of American camera design; the U.S. has a long history in the camera industry but in the mid-twentieth century cameras produced in the U.S. were overwhelmingly of lower quality and simpler design than German and Japanese cameras, especially regarding lens engineering. Indeed, the bulk of Kodak's domestic-made output in 1941 consisted of wood or sheet metal entry-level cameras, aimed at casual users. Their high-end models had been made in Germany, predominantly branded as the Retina series. However, with Germany fighting the U.S., Kodak showed they were capable of producing a uniquely American high-end design, one that does not resemble contemporary designs from other countries.

Indeed, it can be argued that the Medalist represents an American style of engineering that contrasts with the German style of engineering of cameras like the Contax rangefinders. German cameras of this era are not typically so individual as the Medalist, and generally have a higher priority placed on miniaturization and a lower priority on ruggedness and ease of operation. It is unlikely that a designer of Teague's artistic credentials ever intervened in the design of a Contax, and this likely says something about the different engineering culture of the two countries.

The rangefinder is unusual among cameras of this general type, as there are no silvered mirrors in the rangefinder or anywhere else, only prisms and a glass beam-splitter. Like many early rangefinders, the rangefinder is not integrated into the full-frame viewfinder, but unlike, say, the Argus C3, both the viewfinder and the rangefinder are shown in the same window, one above the other. This allows the photographer to position his or her eye carefully and see both at once. The rangefinder has been criticized for its high magnification, which can make it unwieldy to use as it shows only a small area. However, camera reviewers have also noted that, in the present day, the rangefinder image is brighter and clearer than that of many other antique rangefinders, due to the lack of silvered mirrors to deteriorate over time. The viewfinder is a basic telescopic one, with no bright frame or other frill, but it is said to correct for parallax.

Other unusual features include positioning of all controls and indicators to be visible from the top of the camera, for convenience's sake. This includes a striking and unusual depth-of-field indicator, in which a disc marked with distances (in feet) rotates beneath a ring-shaped glass. In the center of the ring is another disc on which curved marks indicate the range of distances on the rotating disk that are currently in focus for a given f-stop. Also present is a small window in which a red dot appears upon releasing the shutter release to indicate that the current frame has been exposed. The ruby window might at first seem redundant, but in fact it is necessary to use the window to set the frame counter to the first frame, after which the frame number is displayed on top of the camera. The same mechanism cocks the shutter and locks the winder when a new frame has been wound into position, to prevent missed frames and accidental double exposures, while the manual shutter-cocking lever allows intentional double exposures.

In other ways, the camera is less idiosyncratic than it would first appear. The leaf shutter is a conventional between-the-lens model branded as a Kodak design, with a serviceable range of speeds, potentially quite accurate at low speed. The format is the 6x9 centimeter rectangular format used by any number of medium format cameras, giving an aspect ratio of 2:3 and a decently large negative. Like many Kodak cameras of the period, the back has unlatching hinges at either end so that it can be conveniently swung open in either direction or removed completely.

Wishing for flash capabilities, the modern photographer may be frustrated. The Medalist II's manual recommends the Kodak Flashholder, a flashgun for "number 5" bulbs that came with a large mounting bracket to attach it to the tripod socket of a compatible camera. The only means of flash-sync on the Medalist II is an ASA bayonet socket, placed exactly where the self-timer of the original model had been. Adapters from ASA to PC socket exist, but are scarce. The synchronizer must be manually cocked, by pushing down on a lever on the side of the shutter body while the shutter is cocked. This springs up with some force when the shutter is released.


  • Type: 620 Roll Film - 6x9 format
  • Lens: Kodak Ektar 100mm f/3.5 - 5 element, 3 group design (Kodak Lumenized coated)
  • Diaphragm: f/3.5 continuously adjustable to f/32, one stop markings
  • Shutter: Kodak Supermatic No. 2 (Medalist I), Kodak Flash Supermatic (Medalist II)
  • Focusing: Horizontal split image coupled rangefinder focusing, 3ft to infinity
  • Shutter Speeds: 1/400, 1/200, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25, 1/10, 1/5, 1/2, 1s and B
  • Viewfinder: Eye level finder, separate from the rangefinder, parallax correction
  • Film Loading: Manual - hinged back with double latches to be removed entirely
  • Film Transport: Manual wind knob with shutter cocking, double exposure prevention and frame counter
  • Flash: ASA bayonet socket on the body, sync for F and M type bulbs (Medalist II only)
  • Tripod Socket: Two sockets for mounting flash bracket and tripod simultaneously, standard 1/4" bushing
  • Filters: Series VI type
    • Lens hood
    • Kodak Pola-screen (polarizer)
    • Kodak Portra +1/2/3 close up
    • Sky filter (UV/Haze)
    • Three yellow filters that increase in strength, Color -> K1 -> K2
    • Deep yellow "G" filter, stronger than K2 for panchromatic films
    • Red "A" filter
    • IR620 filter for infrared film

There is a ground glass back available that allows the use of sheet and plate film, as well as Kodak's short lived pack film. There are also a range of filters for the camera, close up adapters and coloured filters for black and white.


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