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The Kodak Signet 80 - The End of the Line

Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:10 a.m.

After getting very satisfying results with my Kodak Signet 40 camera, I thought I would look further up the Signet line to what Kodak called their “expert” camera.


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Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:14 a.m.

Here is the Original 1958 Ad

Original Ad

Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:15 a.m.

This is a 1958 Kodak Signet 80 Camera. Along with the Argus C-44, it represents one of the last American interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras ever made. Both ended production in 1962. This was the top Signet camera, but also the end of the line of the Kodak Signet series. While it could not compete in overall quality from the Japanese and German cameras, it did sport some excellent features that made it a good shooter.

To my eye, this is not the most beautifully designed camera I’ve come across. The somewhat boxy, 735-gram, die-cast metal and Bakelite body, certainly feels solid and does have an interesting late 1950’s vibe to it, but it doesn’t fit my hands especially well. The shutter control dial, which provides speeds from 1/250 to 1/8 plus B, is not in an ergonomic location. They buried the tiny film counter under the lens in the front. It’s real inconvenient to read. The film advance, which takes two strokes, has all the feel and mechanical operation of an old vending machine. Ker-chunk! Although it works fine, it’s very clunky to say the least. My camera tech, Clarence Gass, said most of the problems he’d seen with these over the years have been with the film advance mechanism. The base price of the camera and 50mm lens was $130 USD plus another $140 for the two additional lenses and viewfinder, so not an inexpensive purchase in 1958.

In the plus column, the uncoupled selenium meter works very well and is surprisingly accurate. The viewfinder is GIANT-sized, very bright and spot on accurate. The shutter release button does have a nice feel to it and the shutter speeds tested very well. The shutter is charged as the film is advanced. In addition to the Kodalite flash bulb gun attachment; there is also a PC outlet on the side that will fire electronic flash units.


Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:16 a.m.

The lens is the real high point for the camera. The Kodak Ektanar 50mm f/2.8 is a good Tessar-type lens with Kodak’s “Lumenized” coating, signified by the small, circled “L” on the lens ring. This Ektanar 50mm f/2.8 and the 35mm f/3.5 lenses both contain radioactive thorium oxide elements. The beautifully chromed lenses come supplied with their own matching metal lens hoods. Neat!


Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:17 a.m.

Film loading is a bit unusual. It has no take up spool but rather it self-curls the film into a loop in the left side chamber. It’s something akin to an early Quick Load system. It’s an interesting feature that seems to work well.


Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:18 a.m.

The additional lenses, the 35mm f/3.5 and 90mm f/4, mount on the camera via a sliding lock switch located on the front. There is no twisting action so the lens will just pop off once released. When the lens is removed, the camera’s leaf shutter is fully accessible.

Here are a few shots on Fuji Superia 400. I actually used the camera meter to determine exposure, such as one can with such a simple reflective meter.

Lens Group

Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:19 a.m.

Whatever misgivings I may have had about the camera’s cosmetics or design shortcomings, faded quickly once my film came back from the lab. I was greeted with images that showed extremely good sharpness and contrast across the frame. Here a few from the 50mm f/2.8.

Tree Roots

Tree Roots

Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:20 a.m.

Portrait of Colin

Portrait of Colin

Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:21 a.m.

Prairie Grasses

Prairie Grasses

Louis Meluso , Mar 15, 2011; 11:21 a.m.

Indian Grass Blowing in the Wind

Indian Grass Blowing in the Wind

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