The Kodak Signet 80 - The End of the Line

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by lou_meluso, Mar 15, 2011.

  1. 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.
  2. Here is the Original 1958 Ad
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. Portrait of Colin
  9. Prairie Grasses
  10. Indian Grass Blowing in the Wind
  11. Here’s a couple from the 35mm f/3.5
    View Down Rockhill Blvd in the Rain
  12. Painted Dragon-Westport (shot wide open)
  13. Here are several from the 90mm f/4
    Flower Pot in Kaufman Gardens
  14. Once again a Signet surprises me with its image quality. As someone said on my Signet 40 report – Kodak-made cameras that were not fancy but focused on the primary basics of having a good lens combined with an accurate shutter and topped it off with a usable finder. That seems to sum up the Signet philosophy very well and is clearly demonstrated in the Signet 80, the top and final Signet camera.
    A Bowl of Green Pears
  15. Excellent results Louis. I had a couple of the earlier Signet models but never got these kind of results. I think this is more proof for all of us gear heads that it isn't the equipment that makes the shot but the skill and talent of the photographer.
  16. Wonderful presentation.
  17. The results are very promising indeed. The camera and lenses seem to be in excellent condition for their age.
  18. At least Kodak closed out the Signet line with a winner. And your results confirm that. Great sharpness, contrast, and color. I've always wondered about the Signet 80. Thanks for sharing.
  19. Fantastic.
  20. Thanks for the detailed review. Impressive results.
  21. Interesting camera and great pictures. Thanks for the review Louis!
  22. Now that's a camera I've never seen in the flesh...Great presentation, Louis, and lovely images; I particularly like the "Rockhill Boulevard" pic. It's an interesting hybrid of a camera, the photocell looking as if it's been lifted of a Retinette, and the general concept is not unlike the earlier Ambi Silette. The film take-up arrangement is not unlike the Agfa Rapid system, and later Agfa rangefinders....I wonder if the camera was designed/manufactured in the US or Europe? While not winning prizes for good looks, it has a sort of purposeful appeal, and the lenses are obviously excellent. Thanks for another memorable post.
  23. Tom and Gene, thanks for the kind words.
    Starvy, the camera and case came to me in EX condition. I did nothing except run the shutter for a while to loosen things up. It appears to have been used very little.
    Mike, oddly these cameras go for much less than the earlier Signet 35. The size and bulk might be a consideration. The scans from Walgreens are not great but they should give the viewer an idea of the results. They always come in too saturated. When I see an image I want to print I always rescan it myself.
    Rob, Rick and Dimitri, thank you for taking a look and your good feedback.
    Rick, thanks as always, for your thoughtful comments. I believe these were made in the USA.
  24. Very nice.
    I had hated the Signet 35 (I think the only camera I've ever felt so strongly about, but that's another story), and had been surprised by my own Signet 40, as you were.
    I think this one never entered my consciousness at all, and I appreciate your bringing our attention to it,
    Cool that you have the whole set up. :)
  25. Correction: I listed the slowest available shutter speed as 1/8 sec. It's actually 1/4 sec.
  26. Nice work! As you say, it's not a visually appealing camera (which to me is just about a deal-killer; the camera itself is part of the aesthetic experience of photography), but the results are very good. The bowl of green pears is superb, and I like the portrait as well.
  27. JDM, I haven't tried the Signet 35 yet. The prices seem too high for what it is and forget the ones military ones colored black or green. While no show pony, the Signet 80, I think is a hidden gem that costs next to nothing.

    Craig, Thanks, I hear you about a cameras appearance, though I tend to go by what feels good in my hands.
  28. I bought a Kodak Signet 35 years ago at a flea market for $12. Never shot film through it, but what a great looking camera! Bought the Kodak 35 recently on ebay for $31, and is also a great looking camera, don't plan to shoot film through it either.
  29. Wonderful results Louis, i love all your photos, especially the flower pot at the Kauffman gardens. Well done and thanks for sharing with us.
  30. rdm


    Thank you Louis for presenting those photos. I have always wanted this camera, currently i have 3 signet 40's and use one all the time , I love the photos i get with it. I fear now that all who see this thread might now want a Signet 80 also and drive the eBay prices up .. I will wait some months til i look again for one. I seldom see them for sale with the extra lenses. And when i do they never have the viewfinder. Those are usually sold separately, going for allot more money to people using them on other cameras.
  31. As I recall, our Signet 35 may have been a military model.
    Certainly, our 4x5 Graphics were the Combat Model from the Marine Corps (the head of the Missouri Basin Project of the River Basin Surveys of the Smithsonian was an old Marine, not a former Marine, please note).
    Here's the Combat Graphic in use in the summer of 1962.
  32. Dave, I hope you continue to enjoy your Kodak collection.
    Ralf, Thanks for stopping and taking a look and sending some feedback. Much appreciated.
    Dan, Good luck in your search, I found the camera and lenses quite cheaply on the Bay. I'm talking lunch money here. The viewfinder is quite difficult to find but I did find one in Canada but the guy wanted more than I paid for the whole outfit shown above so I passed. I really don't need it but if anyone had one laying around and wanted to part with it, for a reasonable sum, I would gladly take it off your hands :eek:). Hard to find that one for sure.
    JDM, If it was one of those black or green ones, it would have been nice to have since they seem to be going for over $500 each. I'm sure there are some collectors willing to foot that bill. Neat, green Combat Graphic and ever lovable Tiltall! Is that you shooting?
  33. Yes, that's a much younger me. I was then First Mate on the good ship Sully Site 39SL4, doing archaeological salvage work on a site soon to be covered by the Oahe Reservoir.
  34. Excellent Presentation! I knew there were multiple Signets, but I don'T have the over view.. maybe I need to get one ! If it's readily available I would love to have one and a least one alternate lens just to show it off as possible. The results are great, but as one mentioned the old's not in the camera, but the photogrpaher. I have a 101mm Ektar "L"umenized .. Is that different than the lens for the Medalist? I guess the Medalist pre-dates this a bit and may not be "lumnized" but it is an Ektar of the same or similar focal length!
    I too loved the Pear bowl and the Flower pot shots. The roots were great too!
  35. Thanks Chuck and Les!
  36. Hi Louis.
    I recently picked up the Signet 80, but the 50mm lens it came supplied with doesn't have the red index mark like it states in the manual. Instead, it has these brackets on the index ring like in the pictures of your camera you posted. Once you set the shutter speed on the speed dial, do you need to set the same speed in the bracket on the lens itself?
    The manual states you would then get your exposure value (EV) from the meter and then turn the ring on the lens to set that same EV; if you cannot turn to the appropriate EV, you need to presumably change to a different shutter speed to allow you to obtain the correct EV. If you have to lower the shutter speed on the lens ring, I am guessing you also have to lower to the same shutter speed on the speed dial?
    Maybe it is just me, but I think this is a bit of a complicated camera to use initially with these different settings. I wonder what potential customers thought in 1958 about these settings. This is my first rangefinder camera though, so I don't have too much to compare this to. The rest of the camera controls are really cool like the film injection loading system and the very bright viewfinder. Mine did not come supplied with a case and there are no eyelets on the camera itself to attach a strap, so I had to just carry the camera around in my hand. I've never seen a Kodak camera (other than some folders) that do not have eyelets on the camera body.
  37. Beautiful results. I just picked one of these up at an antique mall nearby. $22! Cant wait to use it, after seeing this thread I just had to have one. Very excited for my results. Sadly, mine only came with the 50mm kit lens, but is should perform well.

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