Kershaw Eight-20 King Penguin.


This is a folding medium format camera of a style that that was state of the art through the first half of the 20th century. When this camera was made in the early 1950s, the design was rather passé. By the end of the 1950s, folding cameras had disappeared from mainstream photography.

The camera measures 170 by 80 by 40 mm and weighs 543 g. The outside is covered in black leatherette with the edges of the lens door painted gloss black. The viewfinder, tripod boss, leg and catch are bright chrome plated.

As is usual with folding cameras, there is little to see when the camera is folded. On the top, on the right, is the film advance knob. This is black plastic with a chrome metal insert in the top. The metal insert has an arrow cut into it to indicate the direction you turn the knob in – the knob will only turn in the one direction. The knob also pulls up to release the take-up spool inside the camera.

Beside the film advance knob is the folding viewfinder. The chrome part lifts from the back. As the chrome part is raised, the rear part rises under spring power. To use these 2-frame viewfinders, you line up the square holes in both frames. This is not an accurate system and works particularly badly if you wear glasses.

The back of the camera is plain black apart from the red window for viewing frame numbers on the film backing paper. As this camera produces 6 by 9 cm negatives, the red window is on the edge of the camera – for 6 by 6 cm negatives, this red window would be central.

The front of the camera has the lens door. This measures 95 by 72 mm. On the face of this is a 3/8 inch Whitworth tripod socket. This has a chrome slug screwed into it to provide a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. Also on the lens door is a folding leg. This allows the camera to be placed on a level surface in lieu of a tripod.

The lens door is opened by pressing on a chromed spring on the left hand edge of the lens door. On my camera, the lens door needs a helping hand to open, but it is sprung and probably opened itself when new 70 years ago.

When opened, the lens door is held in place by a fairly complex system of struts – there are far more struts here than on a Zeiss Ikon or Voigtländer folder. Once extended, the shutter/lens assembly is held rigidly in place. To close the lens door, it is necessary to press down on the two machined portions of the struts near the top and then lift the lens door to close it. The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the body by a collapsable leatherette bellows.

The shutter is a very simple everset type shutter with two speeds: I (Instantaneous) and B (Bulb). This is set by turning the black plastic notched ring around the shutter assembly. There are two indications as to which of I or B is set: on the front of the shutter housing, near the top, is a small window and on top of the shutter housing is a pointer which moves between I and B.

On the right of the shutter housing, as you are using the camera, is a chrome plunger – this is the shutter release. This is easier to use in portrait format but is still quite usable in landscape format.

On the left side of the shutter housing is a small lever right by the struts. This alters the aperture: only ƒ/11 and ƒ/16 are available. The lever changes the aperture by moving a metal plate so that one of two holes is in line with the lens. These are called Waterhouse stops. The reason that only two rather small apertures are available is that the lens is fixed focus and a small aperture is required to give sufficient depth of field in the photos.

At the base of the shutter housing is a strange protuberance. It took me quite a while to work out what this was for – it is the first time that I have ever seen one. It is an ASA terminal for a flash gun and serves the same purpose as the usual PC socket.

The lens is entirely anonymous but must consist of at least two glass elements as glass is visible in front of the shutter and also inside the camera behind the shutter. I cannot see any hint of a blue tint to the glass to indicate a coating on the lens and this might be one of the last camera lenses to be made without coating.

On the right hand edge of the camera is a leather carrying strap. Beneath this is a small chrome slide which releases the back of the camera. The back comes away from the camera – there is no hinge. On the inside of the back – which is painted matt black – is a yellow and red sticker exhorting the user to use either Ilford, Kodak or Ensign 120 film. What is missing here is a pressure plate to keep the film flat against the film gate. Only about half of my 120 folding cameras have such a plate.

Inside the body of the camera is dominated by the film gate. This measures 81 by 56 mm. The nominal size of a full framer 120 negative is 60 by 90 mm but some of the film must be sacrificed to keep the film flat against the film gate. Either end of the film gate is a black roller to prevent the film getting scratched whilst being advanced.

The new film goes in a chamber on the left of the film gate. In this chamber is a hinged cradle to take the spool of film. using this hinged cradle makes loading the new film very easy. When loading new film, after fitting the spool in the cradle, it is necessary to pull the backing paper leader across the film gate and fit it into the slot in the take-up spool. For people new to medium format photography, the take-up spool is the empty spool from the previous roll of film. The take-up spool does not fit into a cradle but in order to fit the spool into the chamber on the right of the film gate, it is necessary to first pull up on the film advance knob to retract the advance key. Once the take-up spool is in place, you need to push down on the film advance knob again, making sure that the advance key has located in the slot on the end of the spool.

I usually like to try out my cameras with film but the cost of 120 film together with the cost of processing the film –and only eight pictures on each roll of film – means that I am going to pass up on the opportunity to test the camera.

Published by John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 45 years photography experience.

2 thoughts on “Kershaw Eight-20 King Penguin.

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