Imperial Six-Twenty Snapshot

Three Imperial Box Cameras

I found these three Herbert George cameras at the antique mall last March. I paid $37 for all three, which was more than I’d usually pay per box camera, but I have a soft spot for Herbert George Imperial cameras for some reason.

The Herco Imperial and the Imperial Six-Twenty are clearly identical rebranded cameras, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to see how two “identical” cameras would compare to each other.

I loaded up the Six-Twenty last April for a test run, and discovered that it does not accept 120 spools; the spools are too tall. Some suggest sanding down the ends of the 120 spool, but instead, I respooled a roll of Ektar 100 onto a 620 spool. I suspected film plane issues right off the bat, as the tension seemed off while winding on — so much so that the bottom of the take-up spool kept coming unseated. Luckily, my fears were unfounded.

Downtown Toledo

According to one review I found at Vintage Camera Lab, the exposure is 1/60 at f/11 — meaning the dreary, overcast day I initially brought the camera to work with me just wouldn’t do for a test run. It sat on my shelf until an appropriately sunny day came along. I was actually worried about overexposure, but print film latitude came to my rescue.

Downtown Toledo

Downtown Toledo

Downtown Toledo

I did a little experimenting with double exposures, too, since this camera allows for it — in fact, there’s nothing to guard against it, as with many basic box cameras. I didn’t plan out my double exposures ahead of time, and kind of flew by the seat of my pants, but now I have some ideas of what might work and what likely won’t.

Downtown Toledo

In my research, I learned of a supposed undocumented feature of instant vs. bulb by pushing forward on the lever for bulb and backward for instant. (The article in question was on Medium, and has since been deleted.) I didn’t see any difference with pushing forward or back on the shutter release once I opened the camera back up and tested it, although I did hear the suspect shutter sound difference while the camera was loaded. As suspected, the only difference between the one photo I tried with the lever pushed backward versus forward was a light leak in the latter photo.

Conclusions? The Imperial Six-Twenty has the typical characteristics of a snapshot camera: vignetting, a softening of focus around the edges (although not as marked as some), and noticeable barrel distortion. That said, assuming a bright, sunny day and appropriate subject matter for a snapshot camera, I really like the images it produces.

I’m curious to see how its rebranded twin compares….

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