First a confession: That photo isn’t Mom’s Kodak; but it’s just like it. Using a 1950’s Kodak Brownie Hawkeye model with either 120 or 620 film and a bulb flash is easy and rewarding.
A Brownie Hawkeye was the camera Mom used to take many a family photo starting in 1955. Mom replaced hers with a cheapo 110 camera in the ‘70s, about the time I bought my first SLR. When I spotted this boxed outfit at a thrift shop last year for just $10, it went strait home with me.
A bit of History
The Brownie Hawkeye was one of many Kodak Brownie models, the first of which was in 1900: a simple box camera that used 117 roll film. Mom’s camera, a shiny black Bakelite model which used 620 film was made from 1949-1961 and probably cost her $6–about $35 in today’s money and that camera was my introduction to medium format. Mom even showed me how you could use 120 film in it, as long as you used a 620 takeup spool. After cleaning the Brownie’s simple lenses, I put a roll of 120 B&W in it, using the takeup spool that I found inside.
The set came with goodies and a little book of instructions; good thing, as I couldn’t remember what the shutter button looking thing on the left was for–it’s for time exposures. When raised, the shutter stays open until you push it back down.
Using a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye
A Kodak Brownie Hawkeye is easy to load but awkward to use because of the small viewfinder located ahead of the carrying handle. There is no double exposure prevention and film is advanced by turning and turning (and turning) the knob on the right while observing the red window in back for the next numbered frame.
There is no aperture adjustment or focus on the Brownie Hawkeye. It is a true Point and Shoot camera. You peer into the bright but small rangefinder, assure everyone you care about is well inside the frame, hold the camera level and still, then push the gray rectangular button on the right to work the instantaneous shutter. If light is too low, or you are inside, then use the flash. It attaches to a plug on the right side and a thumb screw holds it in place. Your choice: blue or clear bulbs, number 5 or number 25.
The flash looked like new and had two unused batteries inside. The EverReady cells hadn’t leaked but I replaced them anyway, and pushed in a bulb. A test shot worked, so off I went to a downtown Orlando park for some test shots. My film was Kodak T-max 100, expired in 2018.
Except for one double exposure, the downtown shots were routine. A few passers-by stared at the black thing I carried and I felt a twinge of self consciousness. “YEAH, IT’S A BROWNIE HAWKEYE! WHAT’S IT TO YOU?!”
It was getting cloudy when I got to the shady park, so I resorted to the flash to photograph a statue of two kids. The bronze children couldn’t be temporarily blinded by the flash like when Mom took a group picture at my Birthday parties.
The first bulb that I inserted popped out and clattered to the sidewalk. I picked it up and checked it over: it looked ok, so I plugged it into the holder and lined up for a shot at the statue of the kids. Instead of a flash, the bulb fractured, glowed orange and fiery embers fell onto my shoes! The first of several shots wasted, I wound to the next frame and inserted bulb #2, a GE 5.
That one worked, bright as I recalled, except this time I was on shooting side of the camera, startled but un-blinded by the flash. Had the statue kids been real, they would have been seeing blue for the ten minutes or more.
I shot the rest of the roll and processed the film using vintage Kodak DK-50 developer. I had to guess on the development time, so the scanned negatives were high contrast but not as grainy as I expected. Photos from the Brownie Hawkeye were soft in the corners, but vignetting was not a problem. Even the flash shot looked about right.
Will I use “Mom’s Brownie Hawkeye” again? Absolutely—maybe I can convince one of my grandkids to do a 1960’s themed birthday party!
Foof! Take THAT, Birthday Kid!
Visit my Facebook Page, AdoptACamera. My Instagram page, @Mnoliberal or this guy’s Brownie review
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