Forum Index
Get help with your Graflex questions here
 FAQFAQ   SearchSearch   MemberlistMemberlist   UsergroupsUsergroups   RegisterRegister 
 ProfileProfile   Log in to check your private messagesLog in to check your private messages   Log inLog in 

How many still shooting aerials with a K-20

Post new topic   Reply to topic Forum Index -> Military Cameras
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message
Mike Turner

Joined: 27 Nov 2009
Posts: 2
Location: Washington state

PostPosted: Fri Dec 04, 2009 1:30 am    Post subject: How many still shooting aerials with a K-20 Reply with quote

Hello, I'm a newby here. Thought I'd sit down and introduce myself.
My name is Mike Turner. I'm not a professional photographer or anything like that. I do some flying and own a K-20 which I use to take air photo's.

By way of back ground I'm a thirty year retired navyman. I served from
1957 to 1987. After serving in the Navy I worked in various aviation programs while in federal civil service starting in 1988. The last ten years of that was in Japan. I returned to the states in 2004. In high school I read a lot. Some of my favorite authors were Micky Spillane with his character Mike Hammer, another was Dashiel Hammet. But my all time favorite was James Michenor with his
"Tales of the South Pacific", "The Bridges at Toko-ri", and his memorable
love story in post war Japan, "Sayonara". Growing up in a hard scrabble western pennsylvania steel town in the mid 1950's I knew I would join the Navy as soon as I was old enough.

It was the best decision I ever made. I got to see the world, spain, france,
Monaco, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia. In the end though I was a Pacific fleet sailor 12 years in Japan ( 10 more after that federal civil service) the Phillipines,Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Hawaii, Guam, Wake,
Diego Garcia, Iwo Jima.I Married a girl from Tokyo. This year we celebrated 47 years together. We have a daughter living in Tokyo who works for a Japanese company there.

About the K-20. My navy career was in aviation. Fixed wing attack primarily. The first squadron I served in flew Douglas AD Skyraiders.
A prop driven attack aircraft. We also operated two, four seat versions of
the Skyraider. One of them had a device that trailed a ten thousand
foot armored cable which we used to tow targets for aerial and surface
gunnery practice. This was 1958 thru 1959. We used a K-20 to record
images of the surface units that fired at our towed target and also to take
images of the various aircraft that flew with us. Sometimes we had a
navy photo mate fly with us to shoot the photos but much of the time we would simply pick up the loaded camera, shoot the photos and return it
to the photo lab, where they would process the film and print the images.
As a very young airman, and the aircrafts crew chief (or plane captain as
we're called in the Navy) it was a great adventure for me.

In 1960 I detached from the squadron and moved on to my next duty assignment, Atsugi, Japan. I met my future wife at Tachikawa Air Force base in 1961. I ran over her bike which upset her no end ( its a long story) any way we married in September 1963 and later that year we were in San Diego for my next assignment.
By 1967 we had relocated to Washington state and after a combat deployment to Vietnam with an attack squadron aboard USS Coral Sea
I was back on shore duty and had signed up to learn to fly with a Navy
sponsored flying club. I eventually got my private "ticket" and soon after got the inch own an airplane. Late in 1971 I bought a Cessna 140
a two place tail dragger. I was working a part time job at a local airport
to help pay for the plane, when, one day, I got into a conversation with a fellow who had been doing aerial photography as a side line to support his flying. He had gotten a K-20 from an ad in "trade-a-plane" an aviation
trade paper. He had finished college and was leaving for the Navy where
he hoped to complete an officer flight program. He wouldn't sell the K-20 but I could use it and when done he wanted it returned to his dad who
lived in town. I agreed and so I was in business. It took a while to get started but eventually I got a permit from the FAA to operate the plane with the door off for aerial photography. I learned how to load an unload
the K-20 in the dark. I eventually learned after taking three or four
exposures to pull the exposed film off the take-up roll and put it in a light tight container for processing later, then pull up the remaining film,
attach it to a film "leader" and re-insert it in the take up roll.

I also learned how to "hustle". Knocking on doors selling photos to farmers, boat owners, tax photos to property owners. As word got around
people would approach me with requests. The local police wanted photos
of a trailer park, for example. Some "fruit loop" had gotten drunk and
fired his 357 magnum pistol at neighboring trailers. The rounds had penetrated a number of trailor units and traveled some distance. The police wanted photos to document the case. A local bank was purchasing
some property for future expansion. My wife knew one of the tellers in the bank as a personal friend. The teller told my wife who told me. I
quickly approached the bank manager and got a sale. There was more to it than that but I'm sure you get the idea.

In 1975 I returned to sea duty, so I gave up photo "gig" and returned my "loaner" K-20'. In 1979 I voluntered to return to Japan with a squadron that was being permanently assigned there. We were assigned to air wing five based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi when ashore and aboard
USS Midway when operating at sea. Anyplace the United States wanted to project sea and air power in the western Pacific, we got the call. We were the "tip of the sword". But navy's are not always for war. In the spring of 1983 USS Midway was operating in the South China sea, two days out of
Singapore when the word came that a helicopter was down at sea and
requested help. Midway was two hours away and imediately began steaming to assist. Further information revealed the helo was a charter
out of the U.S. and was being used to explore for oil in that area.
Arriving on scene, the helo was the type with a hull like a boat. it had lost power and settled in the water. It was sinking but as yet had not completely gone under. It took about five hours of carefull work with the ships crane to steady the helo, stop its sinking and slowly, very slowly,
withdraw it from the water. Allowing the water already ingested to
flow out and permit the weight to go down to something the ships crane could handle. The people from the helo were brought on board and several of them were in our spaces where they were looked at for exposure and allowed to change wet clothes for dry clothes. In the course of all this I met one of the men from the crew. I learned
in the course of several conversations, the man was employed by
a helocopter outfit out of Oregon and was familier with several aviation people I knew. Later examining the wrecked helicopter with him, now safely stowed on Midways hanger deck, I was surprised to see several K-20 cameras in the ship. I learned that these were used to record various images of sites they were interested in. I exchanged with him my experience using one in Washington state. Upon our arrival in Singapore,
the helicopter was off loaded and the survivors left the ship. For me that was the end of the story. I thought.

A year later,I was on shore duty in Japan at Atsugi. I was quite surprised
to find a large box, about one foot square, waiting for me at the post office. The return address was for Shell oil in Tokyo. Opening the box
I discovered a container with a K-20 inside. Along with the K-20 was
a roll of film in a container and an Air Force tech order, the operations
manual for the camera. There was a note from my "friend" which explained Shell had decided to survey all its K-20 units for new stuff. "I couldn't think of anyone who desered this unit more." the note finished.
That was 25 years ago, and I still hold it.

Currently I have half interest in a Cessna 172. I've been able to locate
film from a few sources. I keep it in the freezer to retain its "freshness."
I have one 200 foot roll of 5 inch kodak aerocolor I use very sparingly. I have three 150 foot rolls of 5 inch tri-X and two rolls of original un-exposed
tri-x K-20 film.

As I said I'm not a pro but I enjoy the challenge of working with this old camera. It does excellent work and the enlargements that are possible
from a 4x5 are spectacular. I've done some 16x20 prints that are
pretty neat. I still do the farms and stuff like that, also aerials of other airplanes in flight. I make my own frame's and mount the photos.

I've learned Kodak still makes some aerial color film that would fit the
K-20 after being cut down. Aerocolor negative film 2444.
It probably costs an arm and a leg, but you know I might just buy
a roll for the hell of it. I mean after your history and making daisys grow,
whats it all gonna mean anyway? Except to say, "jeez, I wish I'd have
tried that."

Anyway, if anyone out there is still shootin' with a K-20
please, say hello.

Mike Turner
Mike Turner
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message

Joined: 14 Nov 2009
Posts: 20
Location: NorCal

PostPosted: Fri Dec 04, 2009 6:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

WOW! Mike that's quite a life you've had so far, I hope there's a lot more left in ya.
I don't shoot a K-20 but I would if I could.
I do however own a very special one that's in perfect mechanical and working condition.
If I had film and access to the wild blue I'd do it in a heart beat.
Welcome to the forum Mike.

Back to top
View user's profile Send private message

Joined: 09 May 2001
Posts: 2682
Location: Detroit, MI

PostPosted: Fri Dec 04, 2009 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't say I ever held a K20 but I do have some questions, and it sounds like you've run a roll or two (or two hundred) through a K20, so you'll know.

A. How fast can you shoot a K20? I know moving the right handle advances the film, but is it a, to use the Leica term, "single stroke, double stroke" or even more than that?

B. Just how much film can a K20 hold. Some websites say up to 200ft. Is that true?


"In order to invent, you need a good imagination and a lot of junk" Thomas Edison
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Mike Turner

Joined: 27 Nov 2009
Posts: 2
Location: Washington state

PostPosted: Fri Dec 04, 2009 7:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello MitchB and Les, glad to hear back from you.
Mitch, with regard to film I admit its a struggle to find but there are places that have roll film for aerial use. If its been kept in a freezer or ice box
it will last indefinetly. Professional guys doing photo mapping and stuff like that most likely won't keep film past its shelf life date. But a
"rag tag" hobbyist like me isn't so strict. Right at this moment I couldn't tell you were to locate any specific film other than the Kodak film I mntioned earlier. Film is where you find it. You have to be "sniffing"
around all the time. Among places I search for film are the various
film and camera outlets that specialise in aerial and industrial photography. You can "Google" these for starters. Aviation trade papers
such as "trade-a-Plane" published three times a month out of Crossville
Tenn. have aerial photography headings in their classifieds. From time to time there is film ******* as well as various kinds of aerial cameras.

What I try to look for is roll film for mapping cameras. As long as its
five inchs wide I don't care how long it is.
Anyway at this point in my life this is a hobby or personal intrest for
me. I don't get too frustrated with the film thing.

The thing with the K-20 is it really does nice work, black and white and
color for aerials. The lens creates a clear image from corner to corner
which is important with enlargements. As you know image motion in
aerials, particularly low altitude obliques, can be a spoiler when you enlarge the picture. The K-20's 4X5 format does a lot to reduce that.

To be honest I useMamiya press medium format camera when doing aerials. I've also used a motor driven Hasselblad. The Hasselblad
is the camera of choice if I don't use the K-20.

With regard to flying, I've been around airplanes and airports all my adult life. It was my career in the Navy and the follow up career with
federal civil service. If I was living somewhere near a small airport
and wanted to try some aerial stuff. Quite frankly I'd just drive on out there and simply hang around. Shoot photo's and franky "hoot the bull."
"Anyone going up for a local flight?" "Any chance a guy could hitch a ride?"
" Shoot some photo's?" The kind of fellow your looking for is flying
a Cessna 150 or perhaps aeronca champ, or maybe a Cessna 170
or an older 172 that sort of plane.

You don't have to fly with the door off. Shoot through the window. If the weathers nice and your below three thousand feet, you might open a window and shoot that way. Don't let the camera touch the surface!
Have your lens full open and you might want to have a small piece of tape
handy to tape your lens at infinity, so you don't have to worry about that.

Good luck. By the way I just turned 71 this year so your never too old to give this a try!

Hey Les, my K-20 takes one full movement after shutter release to advance the film and reset the trigger. I guess thats what you were asking? The standard roll film for the K-20 is a 20 foot length of film.
Thats supposed to give you fifty exposures. Since I have to cut my film from other film rolls that may be as long as 150 or 200 feet. I usually
measure off about ten feet wich gives me about 20 exposures. I
load and unload in the dark and after taking five or six exposures I clip off
the film on the take up roll, replace the film "leader", then I'm "good to
go" once more. Primitive but it works.

If I was a full time professional, the K-20 wouldn't get much use. The
difficulty with the film plus the fact most folks want color these days
would limit its use. Still for me its been a good camera and the
challenge of using it is fun.
Mike Turner
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message

Joined: 15 Oct 2006
Posts: 260
Location: Northern NSW Australia

PostPosted: Fri Dec 04, 2009 11:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

From what I understand the K-20's weren't limited to aircraft work. Although permanently focused on infinity, selecting f16 or f22 would give reasonable DOF. Mine has a Paragon Anastigmat 163mm lens.

Apparently quite a few of the famous attack on Pearl Harbor photos were shot with K-20's, due to the fact they were always kept loaded and could bang off 50 shots in rapid succession.

There is famous sequence of a Navy plane veering to starboard off a carrier deck. Four shots on 4x5 film were fired from just prior to it clipping the guns and going over the side to just after it hit the water and I can't think of any other camera that could do that but a K-20.

My one will fire roughly 2 times a second cranking the handle flat out but that is empty and not taking into account the pull of the film. Mike would know if the winding speed is affected by the film I'm sure.

Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Display posts from previous:   
Post new topic   Reply to topic Forum Index -> Military Cameras All times are GMT
Page 1 of 1

Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2005 phpBB Group