My Grandfather’s Cameras

Part 4: Kodak Tourist

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Warner on a pier in Tomales Bay, Calif.

This is part 4 of an on-going series
titled "My Grandfather's Cameras."
I never met my paternal grandfather,
Robert Diefenbach.
He passed away in 1969.
His small collection of cameras sat
in a basement for 45 years until
they were handed down to me in the
spring of 2014, still loaded with film.
Read more in Part 1: Argus C4, Part 2: Argus C3
and Part 3: Kodak Retina

This Kodak Tourist is not one of my grandfather’s cameras. It is actually my grandfather-in-law’s camera. Walter LaMar handed it down to my wife’s late father, Daniel Stromska, then to her mother, then to me. I am very honored to be the current bearer of this early, post-war, simple machine.

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The Kodak Tourist was made from 1948 to 1951. Its short life span was trumped by the Tourist II, however what this camera lacks in longevity, it makes up for in utter simplicity. No light meter (obviously), no shutter speed control, no focus control, and only four aperture stops (starting at f12.5!) makes this the most easy-to-use medium format film camera this side of a box with a hole in it.

I loved it.

It is shooting with an iPhone, but without the distraction of an iPhone. All you can do is shoot, wind, shoot, wind, shoot. No other decisions to be made. However, most of my images were not usable as this camera was not meant to photograph activity in anything other than direct sunlight. I did not follow that rule.

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The Tourist folds up quite nicely and travels very well. Despite having some plastic pieces, it feels quite sturdy. The plastic makes it lighter (much lighter than the Kodak Retina, despite being twice the size).

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As said before, there is no shutter speed control. I have no idea what the actual set shutter speed is. My best guess is it is somewhere near 1/60th of a second, if not slower. The small aperture settings allow for you to shoot in various levels of bright sunlight.

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The size of images the Tourist makes is quite odd too at 2 1/4″ x 3 1/4″. That is actually pretty close to 35mm in ratio, but huge as far as the real size of the negative is concerned. In theory, it should blow up nicely, but since you have no focus control, I don’t suggest it.

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Film can still be obtained for it, however it is not easy. The film format is technically 620 which is not made any more. The film itself is identical to 120 which is still available, but the spools are different. You can either re-roll your own film, or buy 120 rolled onto a 620 spool. Since I didn’t have any 620 spools, the later was my only (and expensive) choice.

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Light leaks were pretty common on the images due to the winding window. There is no ratchet mechanism to stop you from over-winding, so you open a little window and wind the film until you see the next number on the back of the film. On occasion, the window gets accidentally bumped open or left open by an unaware photographer (me). Thus, leaking light into the camera.

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For that same reason, double exposures were common. “Did I wind it already?” was a regular question I asked myself. Same issue with the Kodak Retina and Argus C3.

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Having no focus control, you learn that the best way to shoot is only in strong light and with the aperture closed all the way down. But of course, I settled on that on the last roll of 620 film.

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My favorite two images from the Kodak Tourist were 1) My dog Warner on the pier in Tomales Bay (top), and 2) my wife, Sarah, and I posing on the Fourth of July last year at a community pool in Marin.

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Thanks again to my mother-in-law Becky for letting me use this camera as part of the larger project.

2 Thoughts.

  1. Pingback: My Grandfather’s Cameras | A Clean Slate

  2. Pingback: My Grandfather’s Cameras | A Clean Slate

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