The Medalist is an amazing piece of photographic equipment. This rangefinder camera is built like a tank, which makes it heavy and bulky, but also almost undestroyable. Introduced by Kodak in 1941, it uses 2.5 inch/6 cm roll film on 620 spools. The design of the Medalist is quite unusual compared to other cameras on the market at that time as almost all of them had a folding bellows design.
Because of the rigid body the Medalist was used extensively by the American services during World War II. The lens is an f/3.5 Ektar with a focal length of 100 mm. Focusing uses two coupled helical tubes, a mechanism very fascinating for me. The image above shows maxium extension for the closest focus distance of 3.5 feet/1 meter.
The shutter named Kodak Supermatic No. 2 covers f/3.5 to f/32 and exposure times from 1 second to 1/400 second plus bulb and is cocked by a small lever below the viewfinder or by film transport. The viewfinder shows the image frame on top and the two halves of the rangefinder image in a smaller window below. When you look through the finder you have both parts in view so it’s as good as having image frame and rangefinder sections in one window.
Ergonomics is ok as soon as you’ve found your way to hold the camera. This is kind of a problem because due to the form of the body and the large focusing ring there is not too much room for your finger tips on front of the Medalist. What works best for me is to put the body in your left hand with thumb and forefinger pointing away from you, operating the focusing ring from below. The right hand then rests with thumb at the back and the forefinger triggering the shutter as usual.
Film is kind of a problem when using a Medalist today as 620 film was discontinued in 1995. Fortunately 620 film is just 120 film on a slightly different spool. So in the end it is a matter of respooling 120 film as long as you posess at least two 620 spools. Those are not easy to find either, but I was lucky enough for my Medalist to contain two empty spools.
When respooling you first wind the 120 film onto a 620 spool. Afterwards you rewind the film onto another 620 spool which is now ready for shooting. This procedure is necessary because of the smaller core diameter of the 620 spool and – of course – has to be executed in complete darkness or inside a film changing bag.
An alternative would be to trim the end flanges of a 120 spool down to the diameter of a 620 spool as shown in this How To.
As you see, some effort is necessary to get you ready for shooting with a Medalist. But the experience and the photos you’ll get are worth the effort. The Kodak Medalist is a very fine camera with a fine and sharp lens.
So here are some results from my first roll: