Kodak’s Fabulous Flop: The Chevron Rangefinder

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Part 1: History


The name Kodak, while familiar to any photographer, is not one normally associated with high-end photographic instruments. Indeed, one of the philosophical principles first put forward by George Eastman is the vast distribution and use of inexpensive snapshot cameras, the use of which ensured the continued sale of Kodak film. This philosophy has been associated with the Brownie camera and its successors, perhaps unfairly branding Kodak with the reputation that they were only ever capable of building low quality cameras.


However, if one is observant of history it will be apparent that there are several Kodak cameras which challenge this assertion. These examples originate from an era or approximately 1936 to 1956 in which American photographic manufacturing was given a brief opportunity to compete on the world stage against foreign competition. The looming and destructive war in Europe and Asia, gave American manufacturers a window in which German and Japanese competition did not besiege their products. Only in the aftermath of the war was international optics manufacture once again able to displace American products.


Taking advantage of this window, manufacturers such as Argus, Perfex and Clarus put their products on the market for American consumers. However, the cameras built by these companies are not comparable to their foreign competitors of the pre-war era. Perfex and Clarus have a reputation of poor quality control, and while Argus was quite successful, I doubt anyone would claim the C3 as matching the specifications of a pre-war Leica or Contax.

ArgusC2Ad (451x640).jpg


The Eastman Kodak Company, the largest producer of photographic products in the United States at this time, was not to abandon this opportunity either. Where other companies were content to target the market for the advanced amateur or snapshooter, Kodak built a number of cameras which largely targeted the professional market, and in doing so created some of the most technologically advanced cameras to ever come out of an American factory. In 1936, Kodak announced the Bantam Special, a miniature camera designed for the 828 format, it featured a striking geometric appearance and the 44mm Ektar f/2.0 was at the time the fastest lens Kodak ever put on a still camera to come out of Rochester. In 1938, Kodak released the Super Six-20, the first camera to have aperture priority auto exposure, a feature which would not be common until the late 1950s. In 1941, Kodak released two more cameras for this intended market. The Ektra was a 35mm system camera with interchangeable coated lenses of varying focal lengths, removable film backs and a slew of other features which made it the most advanced 35mm camera of its era.


The second of these was a unique solid bodied medium format rangefinder called the Medalist. The medalist was unusual in that most medium format cameras of the era were folders. The engineers at Kodak Park dispensed with delicate leather bellows, instead giving the Medalist a double focusing helical. The camera took eight pictures on a roll of 620 film, could be fitted with auxiliary sheet film backs, and was fitted with a superb 100mm f/3.5 Ektar lens. The Medalist was arguably the most successful of Kodak’s flagship products, earning a U.S. Navy contract, a contract with the British air force and a successor called the Medalist II with some small feature changes.

Banner.jpg


While the Second World War proved the Medalist’s worth, the postwar market was a different matter entirely. Inflation made the production of these cameras untenable. Kodak elected to not continue production of the Super Six-20 after the war, and the Bantam Special, Ektra and Medalist II were not listed in Kodak catalogs after 1948. At the time of its discontinuation, the Medalist II had a retail cost of $312.50. When adjusted for inflation, this is the equivalent of over $3400 in 2020. Kodak’s flagship products had failed to gain sufficient traction in the market to continue their production.


This was not, however, the end of Kodak’s ambitions. In 1951, the company released the Signet 35. This 35mm rangefinder camera was nowhere near as ambitious as the prewar Ektra, possessing a nice 50mm f/3.5 Ektar lens and a functional four-speed shutter. This camera did attract U.S. Army and Air Force contracts and was popular in the consumer market as well.

Signet 35 (497x640).jpg


Perhaps seeing the interest in the Signet 35, or lamenting the loss of the Medalist, in late 1952 Kodak once again attempted to introduce a flagship medium format rangefinder camera. The camera designed to fill this role was the Kodak Chevron.


A dealer introductory brochure entitled Kodak Presents: The Kodak Chevron Camera provides some details of the camera’s genesis. It states that the design principles of the Kodak Signet 35 work equally well in the Chevron. It also suggests that the Signet 35 and Chevron share a common prototype, but that the 35mm Signet made it to market earlier. This is apparent in the similarity in body styling between the two cameras, with aluminum castings and strong horizontal lines being prominent features.


In an introductory brochure dating from October of 1953, Kodak states that interest in a camera such as the Chevron came from “letters and conversations with amateurs, professionals and dealers” who sought out a camera that combines “the Kodak Ektar lens, the Synchro Rapid 800 shutter and a coupled rangefinder in a roll film camera at the lowest possible price.” Given the high price of the Medalist II, the introduction of a similar medium format had to take into effect cost cutting measures, evident in the Chevron from its $215.00 price (approx. $2100 in 2020), down from $312.50 of the Medalist II.


I have personally been conducting a serial number survey in order to determine estimated production figures and trends for the Chevron. Currently encompassing 43 examples, I am willing to draw a few conclusions. I would estimate based on body serial numbers that Kodak produced approximately 3500 cameras. This number could be slightly higher if new data emerges, but I would believe that 5000 produced would be a maximum. Furthermore, all examples except for two seen in Kodak literature have “RM” (1953) lens date codes, suggesting that all lenses if not all cameras were produced in that year and then assembled and sold up until 1956. There is little correlation between body and lens serials, suggesting that the lenses were produced first and the cameras later assembled by pulling from stores.


With only a single year of production and three years of sales, it is difficult to call the Chevron a success. Perhaps Kodak was seeking a military contract that never came. Regardless, the Chevron must be relegated to the great but short-lived line of Kodak’s flagship products. As a result of the few examples produced and their unique styling, these cameras are desirable within the collector market and regularly command $300+.
 
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Part 2: What is it?


The Kodak Chevron is a medium format solid bodied rangefinder camera which produces twelve 2 ¼” x 2 ¼” (6 x 6 cm) images on a roll of 620 film. The first thing a user will notice about the Chevron is its striking body styling, the second thing they will notice is its weight. This is not a small camera, and weighs in at 2 Pounds, 9 Ounces (1160 grams).

SAM_5794.jpg


The camera is fitted with a Kodak Ektar lens with a focal length of 78mm and a maximum aperture of f/3.5. The lens is a four-element unit focusing Tessar design. It is constructed of high quality optical glass containing Thorium Oxide which has optical properties of high refractivity and low dispersion, allowing the construction of a lens which requires lower curvature and minimizes chromic aberration. The Kodak Ektar name signifies a lens which “is of the highest optical quality” and not a specific lens design.

The lens is mounted in a Kodak Synchro Rapid 800 shutter. The Synchro Rapid 800, which had previously been used on the Kodak Tourist and in mounts for Speed Graphic cameras, is one of the fastest between the lens leaf shutters ever built with a top speed of 1/800 of a second. In order to achieve this the Synchro rapid has an unusual shutter blade configuration. On a conventional shutter, the blades need to rotate 180 degrees out of the aperture, stop, reverse direction and accelerate back into the aperture to close the shutter. This acceleration, deceleration and acceleration again in the opposite direction takes time and is the reason why most leaf shutters do not exceed 1/500 of a second. In the Synchro Rapid 800, the shutter blades are double sided and in rotating 180 degrees a single time, they open and close the aperture as one side clears it and the other promptly enters. Wollensak used this same principle on the Optimo shutter in 1909, allowing it to be the first shutter to break 1/300 of a second. The tradeoff in this design is that due to the construction of the shutter blades, the aperture opens every time the shutter is cocked. This necessitates a second set of blackout shutter blades which shield the film from light exposure when the shutter is being cocked. Adding a second set of shutter blades increases the complexity and cost of the shutter, and the Synchro Rapid 800 has a reputation for unreliability.

SAM_5798.jpg


The external controls for the camera are largely situated around the shutter. A manual cocking lever on the top of the shutter housing must be manually operated before each exposure. A milled aluminum bar protrudes from a hole in the body casting, connecting to the trip lever on the shutter. There is also provision for a cable release. Apertures ranging from f/3.5 to f/32 are visible both on the top of the shutter housing and on the front faceplate. A chrome lever under the shutter housing allows the selection of apertures. Shutter speed is set by a dial on the circumference of the shutter housing, much like a Deckel Compur design. Flash synchronization is available via an ASA bayonet fitting on the shutter housing and is continuously variable between X, F and M synchronization via a lever on the faceplate for electronic and bulb flash. The front of the lens mount is threaded for series V filters and a retaining ring is integral.


The body of the camera is composed of three large aluminum castings. The shutter and lens assembly is mounted to a single aluminum helical mount which extends from and retracts to the body via an amply corrugated focusing ring. The focusing is very smooth due to a series of 50 ball bearings operating about the circumference of the focusing helical, similar to the Signet 35. A distance scale is visible on the focusing ring and a depth of field scale is mounted on the body just above it. The one remaining control on the body is the film advance release lever, which the user must press after very exposure to unlock the automatic film advance stop.

SAM_5799.jpg


SAM_5800.jpg


The top of the camera has the large Chevron badge, and an unusual control labeled “Finder Full-828.” The purpose of this control is to adjust the viewfinder’s field of view. On full, the finder displays what will shot up on the square 620 negative, on 828, a mask drops down into the finder to display what would show up on the 28x40mm negative of 828 film. Kodak offered an adapter kit for an additional $4.25, encompassing a film plane mask and two spool adapters to allow the use of this film format. The manual makes a point that with the smaller negative size, the Chevron’s lens operates like a telephoto and that “the perspective is more pleasing” for portrait work. This seems like a weak argument, and I would contend the only practical reason for this implement was the use of Kodachrome which was available in 828 but not larger roll film sizes.

SAM_5796.jpg


The only other control on the top of the camera is the film indicator dial, which is numbered 1-12. The user loads the film and advances it to the first frame via the red window, after turning the dial to 1, the film will automatically advance the correct amount and all that is necessary is to press the release lever on the front of the camera after each exposure. Film advance is accomplished via a chrome lever on the top rear of the camera. I found that the film advance lever is nicely placed for use by my left thumb, but the fact that it takes 5-6 strokes to advance each frame makes this advance lever not so rapid.

SAM_5797.jpg


At the top rear of the camera are the viewfinder and rangefinder windows. These are conveniently placed atop each other, and it is possible to get a sight picture of both simultaneously. The rangefinder is of the split image variety, where a vertical object must be lined up between the upper and lower fields. Despite some assertion to the contrary, removing the top plate reveals that the rangefinder is mirror based, unlike the prismatic rangefinder of the previous Medalist II. However, it does not use any beam splitter, owing more in design to the pre-war Kodak 35RF than its contemporary the Signet 35.


The viewfinder is atop the rangefinder and is adequately bright. In addition to the 828 masking feature, the viewfinder also has automatic horizontal parallax compensation based on distance. To the left of the viewfinder window is a small silver lever, pushing this to the left inserts a smaller mask for the rear viewfinder eyepiece. The manual suggest that this can improve the view for eyeglass wearers, however, I find that it simply makes the viewfinder dimmer.

SAM_5795a.jpg


Below the VF/RF window is the red window for advancing film to the first exposure, its blackout lever and surrounding the window is a neatly designed indicator for remembering which type of Kodak film is loaded. The back is hinged on both sides and can be swung to either or removed entirely to load film.

SAM_5795b.jpg


SAM_5801.jpg


Overall, while the camera is heavy, the handling is good and the controls are conveniently placed.
 
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Part 3: My Results


My camera was purchased off eBay in an untested state. Upon receipt, I found the shutter would not fire reliably and the rangefinder was askew. In order to give the camera the best possible evaluation I spent several days stripping and cleaning the shutter, helical, rangefinder mirrors and viewfinder. Upon completion the rangefinder was accurate at all distances, the viewfinder clear and the shutter fired reliably at all speeds. Thus, I loaded up the camera with film and went shooting. I chose a slow black and white film as I wanted to evaluate the lens wide open and several of the shots below were taken at f/3.5. I used Ilford Pan F+ and developed it in HC-110 Dil. H.

img002.jpg img003.jpg img004.jpg img006.jpg img007.jpg img009.jpg img010.jpg img011.jpg img012.jpg img001.jpg img005.jpg img008.jpg

To say I was impressed by the quality of these images would be an understatement. Even wide open, the lens delivered corner to corner sharpness, as well as contrast even in shadow conditions. I will soon take this camera out again loaded with some Ektar 100.


In shooting, I found the handling to be better than anticipated. In playing with the camera unloaded, I found the viewfinder to be a bit small and the shutter release seemed to lack solidity. However, upon actually shooting with it, I did not find these to be a problem. The viewfinder and rangefinder were both adequately bright, and all of my images are framed properly and are in focus. The shutter release and film advance were both easy to manipulate with gloved hands (which is appreciated in Michigan winters) and I had no problems with camera shake as I had feared earlier. The shutter and aperture adjustments were a bit more difficult with gloved hands but still manageable.


I want to give the Chevron high praise, but one thing prevents me from doing so. Its predecessor, the Medalist is objectively better. It seems unfair to compare these two cameras, as a Medalist would likely have been out of the price range for a photographer who bought a Chevron. However, the only objective improvement the Chevron has over the Medalist is the addition of a 1/800 top shutter speed. Despite the high quality of the images, the four-element Tessar lens of the Chevron feels like a downgrade from the five-element Heliar design of the Medalist. The prismatic rangefinder and viewfinder of the Medalist are bigger and brighter than those of the Chevron. The body mounted shutter plunger of the Medalist is superior the projecting bar of the Chevron and the frame counter and revolving distance scale mounted under glass on the Medalist show a certain quality which the Chevron lacks. Finally, my biggest gripe with the Chevron is that it lacks any type of double exposure prevention, something which both versions of the Medalist and the Signet 35 had.


While these comments may sound disparaging, it is important to remember that the Chevron was a camera built to a budget. It is not as feature filled or finely fitted as the Medalist, I reiterate that the image quality is superb. It is a camera which I will not hesitate to add to my list of frequent shooters.
 
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Very interesting.
 

ic-racer

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It is a little hard to know how big that camera is it looks to be the size of a 35mm camera. Can you post a picture of it next to a 35mm camera?
 

gorbas

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Well done Hunter! I'm big fan of Signet 35.
Kodak "greed" to use it's own #620 film format in cameras they produced is mind blowing. Especially, when we consider that it's the same film and backing paper just rolled to different spindle.
Is it possible to fit, by any chance, 120 roll in Chevron or like in Medalist, requires extensive modification?
Back then, did any other company in USA had licence and produced #620 format film, like Ansco or??
 
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Kodachromeguy

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I think it is a real pity that Kodak or another American company was never able to successfully break into the higher-end camera market for 135 and medium format. Kodak's Retina cameras and lenses were excellent, but they came from the German subsidiary. The biggest issue must have been labor costs in the USA, but maybe it was design problems. The Ektra looks like a complex Rube Goldberg contraption to me. My dad bought a Perfex in 1940 or 1941, but after the war, as soon as he could afford one, he bought a Leica IIIC.
 
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Ic-racer - The Chevron is a large Camera, here is a photo alongside a Argus C3 and a 135 film cartridge.

SAM_5802.jpg


Gorbas - I'm often quite surprised by the assertion that Kodak's interest in their 620 format is considered "greed." In fact, I consider the 620 spool to be superior to the 120 spool, as it requires less steel and stamping operations to make, and its more compact size allows smaller cameras. Remember that plastic film spools did not come around until the 1980s and thus 120 film would have come on steel 120 spools with rolled edges requiring more time and expense to manufacture. When Kodak introduced the 620 format in 1932, they did not discontinue the production of 120 film, they simply made all of their new cameras for the 620 format. Kodak never possessed any kind of patent on the format either, and 620 film was made by Ansco, Agfa and Gevaert alongside a number of other smaller film manufacturers. I consider 620 to be one of the most trivial film formats to recreate as re-spooling is simply a matter of a few minutes and a dark space.

However, If you do want to modify the Chevron to use 120 film, it seems it would be quite easy, at least compared to the Medalist. The film spindles are spring loaded and the compartments have ample vertical space. A 120 film spool will fit with some resistance, but will not roll easily. If you are mechanically inclined, a bit of work with a Dremel would easily free up the space on the sides. The hardest part would be modifying the key for the take-up spool, as the slot in a 620 spool is shorter and narrower than that of a 120 spool.

SAM_5805.jpg
 

wiltw

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The median US household income in 1955 was $3400. so a camera at $215 was 6.3% of annual income or about 3.3 weeks pay! Gas was $0.19 per gallon, so in 1955 the $215 could buy you 1130 gallons of gas!

My first SLR in 1964 was priced at $159 with 50mm f/2 lens and had TTL metering, and in 1964 median US household income was $6600.
The top of line Super D was $420 with f/1.4 fast normal lens, so it was 6.3% of the 1964 median household income. Gas was $0.30 per gallon in 1964, so the Super D was equivalent to 1400 gallons of gas.

So the Chevron was certainly a top price tier...with the Nikon F photomic and Topcon Super D stratosphere.!
 

gorbas

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Thank you Hunter for detailed response.
From my limited dealings with respooling 620, yes, it's easy but why to have 2 different packages for the same film?
We have to agree to disagree.
I think 120 spindle is much better than 620. 620 creates much more tension to film towards the end. It's really tightly wound and can be much more curly than 120. Very similar to 127 film. Smaller package than 120, for 3-4mm max?
I have some Agfa #116 spindles, from most likely between wars period and they are made with round piece of wood and 2 flat metal rings one the ends. Very simple and effective. Some old metal 120 spindles are very elaborate, I agree.
I will still look around to find Chevron to try it. As for modification, maybe expanding just "fresh film" chamber and leaving winding side with 620 is easiest approach?
Have nice light!
 

MattKing

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Ok, Andrew, now I know that I have real competition for the Chevron if one ever surface in Vancouver! :smile:)
Three of us competing - the horror! :D
I think the current view on what Kodak was trying to do with 620 vs. 120 and 616 vs. 116 involves a fair bit of hindsight.
When those decisions were being made, the competitive marketplace was really different than it is now.
Ever opened an old Voigtlander folder and see the add for a non-Kodak film?
I once told my Dad what 620 spools were selling for on eBay. He responded by saying he could have had a much wealthier retirement if he had just saved all the loose used ones lying around in his desk drawers (he ran the Customer Service department at a Kodak lab).
 

reddesert

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Great history and review. How did you find the Chevron to hold and handle? A while ago I got a Medalist (it was not terribly expensive as they are much less rare than the Chevron), and it's an amazing if quirky camera. Although they are large compared to a 35mm RF, they are quite compact for a medium format camera - the Medalist is about the size of a Nikon N90 plus lens. However, a minor drawback, the compactness of the body and the tapered sides make it kind of hard to grab with one hand. It cries out for a custom handgrip. The Chevron seems like it might be a bit easier there.

My Medalist came with an old Kodak reference handbook and some of the original paperwork. Included was an invoice from Willoughby's in New York for shipping some film, filters, etc to the original owner when he was an officer in the US Army in Germany shortly after WWII. In 1947, a roll of 35mm Kodachrome (daylight, 36 exp) cost $4.70, 35mm IR was $1.31, and 120 Kodacolor was $1.65. That was a lot of money in 1947! I'm sure the Kodachrome included processing, but still.
 

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That looks like a freaking fantastic camera! The shutter more than makes up for the relatively small aperture.
This checks just about every feature I'd want in a camera. Except of course 620. ;-)
 
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Great history and review. How did you find the Chevron to hold and handle? A while ago I got a Medalist (it was not terribly expensive as they are much less rare than the Chevron), and it's an amazing if quirky camera. Although they are large compared to a 35mm RF, they are quite compact for a medium format camera - the Medalist is about the size of a Nikon N90 plus lens. However, a minor drawback, the compactness of the body and the tapered sides make it kind of hard to grab with one hand. It cries out for a custom handgrip. The Chevron seems like it might be a bit easier there.

The body of the chevron is taller but only about 2/3 as deep as the Medalist. I have moderately large hands, so I can manhandle the Medalist easy enough, but the Chevron is a bit easier to grasp. The body styling being similar to the Signet 35 is also more familiar to most photographers than the trapezoidal tapered body of the Medalist.
 

MarkS

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I've messed a bit with my wife's family Chevron. After repair the shutter more or less works. The lens is foggy, however, and the film I have is 15 years outdated, so I can't claim any success with the camera. It is a real battle-cruiser- it handles better than you might think. It was quite a performer when new, judging by her family album photos I've seen. Had the camera used 120 film and a regular Supermatic shutter, the Chevron would be a desirable shooter even today. 'Someday' I'll clean the lens, re-spool some 120 film and give it one more try. But for now it has pride of place in our (very small) collection display.
 

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Part 1: History


The name Kodak, while familiar to any photographer, is not one normally associated with high-end photographic instruments. Indeed, one of the philosophical principles first put forward by George Eastman is the vast distribution and use of inexpensive snapshot cameras, the use of which ensured the continued sale of Kodak film. This philosophy has been associated with the Brownie camera and its successors, perhaps unfairly branding Kodak with the reputation that they were only ever capable of building low quality cameras.


However, if one is observant of history it will be apparent that there are several Kodak cameras which challenge this assertion. These examples originate from an era or approximately 1936 to 1956 in which American photographic manufacturing was given a brief opportunity to compete on the world stage against foreign competition. The looming and destructive war in Europe and Asia, gave American manufacturers a window in which German and Japanese competition did not besiege their products. Only in the aftermath of the war was international optics manufacture once again able to displace American products.


Taking advantage of this window, manufacturers such as Argus, Perfex and Clarus put their products on the market for American consumers. However, the cameras built by these companies are not comparable to their foreign competitors of the pre-war era. Perfex and Clarus have a reputation of poor quality control, and while Argus was quite successful, I doubt anyone would claim the C3 as matching the specifications of a pre-war Leica or Contax.

View attachment 265786

The Eastman Kodak Company, the largest producer of photographic products in the United States at this time, was not to abandon this opportunity either. Where other companies were content to target the market for the advanced amateur or snapshooter, Kodak built a number of cameras which largely targeted the professional market, and in doing so created some of the most technologically advanced cameras to ever come out of an American factory. In 1936, Kodak announced the Bantam Special, a miniature camera designed for the 828 format, it featured a striking geometric appearance and the 44mm Ektar f/2.0 was at the time the fastest lens Kodak ever put on a still camera to come out of Rochester. In 1938, Kodak released the Super Six-20, the first camera to have aperture priority auto exposure, a feature which would not be common until the late 1950s. In 1941, Kodak released two more cameras for this intended market. The Ektra was a 35mm system camera with interchangeable coated lenses of varying focal lengths, removable film backs and a slew of other features which made it the most advanced 35mm camera of its era.


The second of these was a unique solid bodied medium format rangefinder called the Medalist. The medalist was unusual in that most medium format cameras of the era were folders. The engineers at Kodak Park dispensed with delicate leather bellows, instead giving the Medalist a double focusing helical. The camera took eight pictures on a roll of 620 film, could be fitted with auxiliary sheet film backs, and was fitted with a superb 100mm f/3.5 Ektar lens. The Medalist was arguably the most successful of Kodak’s flagship products, earning a U.S. Navy contract, a contract with the British air force and a successor called the Medalist II with some small feature changes.

View attachment 265787

While the Second World War proved the Medalist’s worth, the postwar market was a different matter entirely. Inflation made the production of these cameras untenable. Kodak elected to not continue production of the Super Six-20 after the war, and the Bantam Special, Ektra and Medalist II were not listed in Kodak catalogs after 1948. At the time of its discontinuation, the Medalist II had a retail cost of $312.50. When adjusted for inflation, this is the equivalent of over $3400 in 2020. Kodak’s flagship products had failed to gain sufficient traction in the market to continue their production.


This was not, however, the end of Kodak’s ambitions. In 1951, the company released the Signet 35. This 35mm rangefinder camera was nowhere near as ambitious as the prewar Ektra, possessing a nice 50mm f/3.5 Ektar lens and a functional four-speed shutter. This camera did attract U.S. Army and Air Force contracts and was popular in the consumer market as well.

View attachment 265788

Perhaps seeing the interest in the Signet 35, or lamenting the loss of the Medalist, in late 1952 Kodak once again attempted to introduce a flagship medium format rangefinder camera. The camera designed to fill this role was the Kodak Chevron.


A dealer introductory brochure entitled Kodak Presents: The Kodak Chevron Camera provides some details of the camera’s genesis. It states that the design principles of the Kodak Signet 35 work equally well in the Chevron. It also suggests that the Signet 35 and Chevron share a common prototype, but that the 35mm Signet made it to market earlier. This is apparent in the similarity in body styling between the two cameras, with aluminum castings and strong horizontal lines being prominent features.


In an introductory brochure dating from October of 1953, Kodak states that interest in a camera such as the Chevron came from “letters and conversations with amateurs, professionals and dealers” who sought out a camera that combines “the Kodak Ektar lens, the Synchro Rapid 800 shutter and a coupled rangefinder in a roll film camera at the lowest possible price.” Given the high price of the Medalist II, the introduction of a similar medium format had to take into effect cost cutting measures, evident in the Chevron from its $215.00 price (approx. $2100 in 2020), down from $312.50 of the Medalist II.


I have personally been conducting a serial number survey in order to determine estimated production figures and trends for the Chevron. Currently encompassing 43 examples, I am willing to draw a few conclusions. I would estimate based on body serial numbers that Kodak produced approximately 3500 cameras. This number could be slightly higher if new data emerges, but I would believe that 5000 produced would be a maximum. Furthermore, all examples except for two seen in Kodak literature have “RM” (1953) lens date codes, suggesting that all lenses if not all cameras were produced in that year and then assembled and sold up until 1956. There is little correlation between body and lens serials, suggesting that the lenses were produced first and the cameras later assembled by pulling from stores.


With only a single year of production and three years of sales, it is difficult to call the Chevron a success. Perhaps Kodak was seeking a military contract that never came. Regardless, the Chevron must be relegated to the great but short-lived line of Kodak’s flagship products. As a result of the few examples produced and their unique styling, these cameras are desirable within the collector market and regularly command $300+.


I've owned a ton of Kodak products and the only ones I sort of liked were Kodachrome 40 cassettes for my Super-8 camera and some other films (Vision, 5247, 5274...). Their cameras after the Retinas are all pretty much garbage however you look at it.
 

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The Chevron may have been a flop but the Ektra was worse, very cool but unreliable and terribly expensive $700 in 1948. Then again it is the only 35mm camera I know of with interchangeable film backs.

The super 620 was another flop. Legend has it that Kodak employees called it the boomerang because they came back for service so often. But auto exposure in 1938 was pretty impressive.

I’ve always found the Kodak Chevron interesting although I’ve never seen one in person. I have however shot with a Kodak Medalist and I have wondered if the Chevron is any less awkward to use?
 

MarkS

Member
Joined
Mar 12, 2004
Messages
195
Kyle M., the Chevron is a bit easier to use than the Medalist. There is a learning curve, fairly steep; I carried the manual (and referred to it) when trying the camera out. If mine was in better shape I'd have internalized the operation after a few rolls. The viewfinder and rangefinder are quite good (I hate squinty finders).
Certainly in those days Kodak was willing to 'push the envelope' with professional-quality cameras, with mixed results, as we see now. Eventually they decided that it wasn't worth the effort, and concentrated on consumer-level cameras. Remember that they made three different 8x10 view cameras until the late '50s, too!
 
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Hunter_Compton
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Nov 20, 2019
Messages
102
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Oxford, MI
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Analog
Perhaps an overdue addendum to my original post. I wanted to run a roll of color film though this camera, but got distracted by other projects, work, etc.

Anyway, I did get back to it and ran a roll of Provia 100F though my Chevron. My original handling comments remain, however, that Ektar lens sure does not disappoint.

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Paul Howell

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Dec 23, 2004
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Scottsdale Az
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The thorium element lens were great with color, outstanding with modern color film. I don't believe the Medalist lens had a thorium element?
 
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Hunter_Compton
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Nov 20, 2019
Messages
102
Location
Oxford, MI
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The thorium element lens were great with color, outstanding with modern color film. I don't believe the Medalist lens had a thorium element?

The early high end Kodak lenses found on the Medalist and Ektra are rare-earth glass lenses with a higher refractive index than crown glass, but they contain no thorium.

This is a pair of pages taken from The Kodak Lens Manual: A Data Book on the use of Kodak and Cine-Kodak Lenses Range Finders Shutters dated March, 1942. The lenses in question contain Tantalum, Tungsten and Lanthanum but no Thorium.

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Kodak Glass 2.jpg


I do have a Geiger counter. For reference, normal background radiation in my area is about 20 counts per minute. My Chevron lens is the hottest I have and reads 1100 CPM at the surface. Neither my 1944 Medalist I lens, nor any of my Ektra lenses show anything above background.

My 1951 Signet 35, models of which are reported to have a Thoriated lens, does not show anything above background either, so Kodak must have made the switch to Thoriated glass between 1951 and 1953.
 
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