Medium & Large Format

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye – A Review of Mum’s Camera – By James Hanes

June 30, 2021

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.

Street scene, Orlando, Florida

Downtown scene, Orlando, Florida

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.

Flash photo with Brownie Hawkeye and Kodak flash unit.

Flash photo utilizing the Kodak’s bulb flash unit.

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.

My standard focus test.

“Focus” test on the neighbor’s flag.

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.

Storefront, downtown Orlando, Florida showing sharp central image and fine grain.

They didn’t have T-grain films back in the 1950s.

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!
Jim Hanes

Visit my Facebook Page, AdoptACamera. My Instagram page, @Mnoliberal or this guy’s Brownie review

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Martin
    June 30, 2021 at 10:11 am

    My mother also changed to a 110 camera in the 1970ies and used it until she could not get film anymore.

  • Reply
    Dana Brigham
    June 30, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    Jim — sometimes the nicest things are the simplest things. I have a way-too-large collection of vintage cameras — nothing too fancy or expensive, but typically the more complicated the camera, the more likely that it will have issues 20/30/40+ years after it was new. But these various Brownie cameras — box and otherwise — just seem to *work*. Yep — I take some time to figure out how to clean the surfaces of the lenses, “exercise” the shutter mechanism — but then load up 120 in them (if the roll fits, or trim the edges of the plastic spools) and shoot ISO 50-100 “whatever” film. And I get pictures. I get images. I get memories. Just like the photos in the albums from my parents and grandparents. Vignetting? Usually! Softness? Almost certainly! But there they are — the family that I may have met when young, but mostly gone now. The old family homes and vacation spots — typically gone now. And yep — my grandparents and parents didn’t need to know an f-stop from a shutter speed or an ASA. I hope to get my grandkids interested — well, “exposed” anyway — to this amazingly simple bit of technology that does what physicists can only dream of — freeze time, capture people and places that are important to us…. Thanks!!!

    • Reply
      Jim Hanes
      July 9, 2021 at 4:28 pm

      Those sure worked. Kodak sold a gazillion of them, so they were a good value for the consumer/user/parent!
      Thanks for all the positive comments.
      Jim Hanes

  • Reply
    Zvonimir
    June 30, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    This is wonderful. The web in general and YouTube in particular have turned photography into a marketing exercise that targets people who are certain that there is a direct connection between the price of their cameras and the quality of their photos. This is just one of the latest ways whereby the marketers prey upon the ignorant and succeed in making them hand over mountains of money. The ignorant should all be issued Hawkeyes until they can justify owning a more expensive camera.

  • Reply
    Geoff Radnor
    June 30, 2021 at 2:29 pm

    Kodak. The history of the city of Rochester and its relationship with its “owner” Kodak, is in the July/August edition of The Atlantic magazine. It may be of interest to some.

  • Reply
    Alex Vye
    June 30, 2021 at 4:58 pm

    I really enjoyed this article. I had one of these as a kid, nut I don’t remember using it. The images are sharper than I thought you would be able to acheive.

    • Reply
      Paul Trantow
      July 14, 2021 at 3:19 am

      👆🏼THIS. I really thought they’d be so soft! Sunlight streaming into the lens is sort of an issue (It’s dreamy!) but the sharpness is surprising!

  • Reply
    Martin
    June 30, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    Great reading; thanks for that one! I have an old selfix dual format that I need to get back into shape. It travelled with my father all over europe on a motorcycle trip in 1952. A few years ago I stripped the camera down, cleaned the mostly dust from the len elements, cleaned the shutter mechanism so it fired correctly and put it back together. Dry run test is ok, now all I need to do is run some film through it…… Great reading, just the motivation I needed! Thanks!

  • Reply
    Scott Gitlin
    June 30, 2021 at 6:47 pm

    I also have picked up a kit complete with bulbs and partially exposed Kodacolor II film (box date February 1977) with 3 exposures remaining. I’m curious to see what the previous owner captured after I finish the roll. Love the camera’s iconic design. Surprised at the softness as I’ve also used a Brownie Hawkeye from the 1930’s which did return sharper pictures . . . with some Photoshop help. And compared to that older Hawkeye, the viewing window on this camera is . . . HUGE. 😎

  • Reply
    Dan Mountin
    June 30, 2021 at 7:11 pm

    Wow…. this article brings back so many memories! The photos you included are surprisingly sharp too!

    My grandmother had a Brownie also and lord knows how many pictures I remember her taking at family get togethers!. Now you have me scanning eBay FB Marketplace looking for one. I’m a huge antiquer too, so I’ll be keeping my eyes open from now on for the gems I’ve passed over. I know of a source for expired 120/220 film…. use it all the time in my Moskva-5 6×9, (which also takes beautiful, clear shots!)

    Thanks for nostalgia James!

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