Kodak Brownie Starmatic

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

It was the pinnacle of Kodak’s durable, if not quite venerable, Brownie line – a Brownie with a built-in selenium light meter for automatic exposure control. The meter fed a simple mechanical system that adjusted the aperture. The aperture maxed at f/8, the limit of its plastic three-element Kodar lens, and the shutter fired at only one speed, but at least the Starmatic let you set film speed. This was pretty heady stuff for the world’s leading line of inexpensive cameras!

Not that the Starmatic could be considered inexpensive. It cost a whopping $34.50 when it went on sale in 1959. That’s equivalent to about $260 today.

Nobody knows for sure how many Brownie Starmatics Kodak cranked out across its 1959-1961 run. (My Starmatic’s CAMEROSITY code says it was made in November, 1959, by the way.) The same goes for its successor, the slightly updated Brownie Starmatic II, which Kodak produced until 1963. Both cameras were part of Kodak’s Brownie Star series, of which more than 10 million are said to have been made. So cameras from this series have long been plentiful.

If you’ve seen one Brownie Star camera, you’ve pretty much seen them all. My first camera, which my grandmother bought for me for 25 cents at a garage sale, was a Brownie Starmite II, and it bears a strong family resemblance to the Starmatic.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

Atop the Starmatic lie two dials. The smaller dial sets film speed, from 32 to 125 ASA. I guess 125 was considered pretty fast in 1959. The larger dial sets exposure. Choose Auto to let the light meter do the work, or chose the Exposure Value (EV) guide number that matches your conditions:

  • 12 for overcast
  • 13 for cloudy but bright
  • 14 for weak or hazy sun
  • 15 for bright sun
  • 16 for bright sun on sand or snow

I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t use Auto. Kodak probably figured the same thing, because when you turn this dial off Auto a piece of transparent amber plastic fills the viewfinder to alert you.

The primitive mechanical metering works well as long as the selenium in the meter is strong. The shutter operates at 1/40 sec, I’m guessing. The meter reads the light and pushes a mechanical stop into place. This stop limits the aperture — as you press the shutter, the aperture blades close until the closing mechanism reaches that stop. Since “wide open” is f/8, this camera biases toward plenty of depth of field.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

When you’re ready to snap a shot, peer through the viewfinder. If a red flag appears inside, the light meter isn’t reading enough light and the photo will be underexposed. If the big dial is set to Auto, you’ll need to use flash. Otherwise, try a higher EV number. The flag still works on my Starmatic, but hard telling whether the light meter is still accurate.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

On the back, the little red window shows the exposure number on the film’s backing paper. The Starmatic takes 12 square photographs on size 127 rollfilm. Kodak discontinued 127 film in 1995, but you can get a Japanese b/w film, Rera Pan 100, in a few places (notably at Freestyle Photo) and The Frugal Photographer in Calgary cuts down a few other film stocks onto 127 spools and sells them here. Many mail-order labs still process 127, such as Dwayne’s Photo.

All of the Brownie Star series cameras feature a drop-out film loading and transport system. You flip a lever and the entire camera bottom slides out. The film winder is on the bottom plate, too.

If you like simple Kodak cameras, check out my reviews of the Baby Brownie (here), the Brownie Hawkeye (here), the Duaflex II (here), the No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here), the No. 2 Hawk-Eye (here), and the Tourist (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

This isn’t my first Starmatic. I bought a Starmatic II in about 1980 for a couple bucks at a garage sale. I loaded a roll of Kodacolor II into it just before Christmas in 1981. That Starmatic II came with a flash attachment and a whole bunch of flashbulbs. The flash was blisteringly bright, and I blame it for washing out most of my Christmas morning shots. This one of me turned out well enough. I was 13. I had just received a nice dictionary as a gift.

Christmas 1981

This time I started with some Kodak Portra 160 that had been cut and respooled onto 127 spools. The camera supports films up to only ISO 125, so that’s where I set it. The Portra handled the slight overexposure like a champ.


I took the Starmatic on a walk through Indianapolis’s colorful Broad Ripple neighborhood. Everything on the Starmatic worked as it should.

Fire Station 32

I finished the roll in my father’s hometown of Handley, West Virginia. Dad wasn’t sure, but he thought this might have been the house he was born in.


The next time I shot the Starmatic I used Efke 100 film, which was still being produced then and was available in 127. It was the last fresh 127 film manufactured.

Monon bridge

I wasn’t wowed by this film in this camera. I’m glad I shot the Portra first, or I might have assumed that this camera wasn’t very capable.


The next time I shot the Starmatic I bought some Kodak Ektar that had been cut down and respooled. It performed well.


All is not perfect with the Starmatic, however. This shot shows the strange distortion inherent in the lens. It’s noticeable only when you shoot a flat surface straight on like this. Also, the viewfinder isn’t accurate. I had centered the doorway in the viewfinder when I made this photo.


The Starmatic’s triplet lens delivers sufficient sharpness for snapshot-sized prints, but if you look at any of these images at full scan size they are as soft as Wonder bread.

Musicians Local

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Brownie Starmatic gallery!

But these are my only complaints. I rather enjoy shooting this simple camera! It’s too bad 127 isn’t still made — the hand-cut and -spooled stuff is expensive. But this camera is so pleasant that it’s worth it to plunk down the cash for that film from time to time.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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82 responses to “Kodak Brownie Starmatic”

  1. Kurt Garner Avatar

    Makes me think of my first camera experience…..my grandmother gave me her old Kodak 110, with flash cubes, in 1981. That’s where those pics from elementary school came from.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Ah yes, the 110 camera. I had one; took it with me to Germany in 1984. It did a craptastic job. Oh, how I wish I had ponied up for at least an entry-level 35mm point and shoot.

  2. Tori Nelson Avatar

    I LOVE older cameras. The shape and look of them are gorgeous. I had an old German camera from my grandfather which I still have not figured out how to use. It looks pretty lovely on our bookshelf, though :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      Tori, my bookshelves and my fireplace mantle are covered in old cameras! The only problem with displaying them is that they collect dust. It’s hard to get the dust out of the nooks and crannies!

  3. Scott Palmer Avatar

    That is so cool!

    I know very little about cameras but I thoroughly enjoyed your explanation. It almost makes me want to go on eBay and see if I could find an old Starmatic.

    You said something else that indisputably marks you as a nerd: “I received a nice dictionary as a gift.” I’ve received several nice dictionaries* as gifts, so I know that nerdy feeling. :-)

    * Including an OED and a reprint of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Nerd? Guilty as charged!

      You should have little trouble finding a Starmatic. Don’t pay more than $20. I think I got mine for $10.

  4. dearexgirlfriend Avatar

    is that a real, or fake smile with the dictionary? haha. congrats on freshly pressed!

    1. Jim Avatar

      I was self-conscious about my smile in those days, so probably fake!

  5. CrystalSpins Avatar

    Wow…I miss film. I have an SLR still, but I have no idea where I would even try to find 35 mm in my town, let alone track down anything resembling 127. You passion is inspiring. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Jim Avatar

      I buy 35 mm film at Wal-Mart! You can get it at Walgreens too. I usually send my film to snapfish.com for developing. As for 127 film, well, that’s a whole different story.

  6. legocityproject Avatar

    My first experience with photography was with an Anso fold out camera that too 120 film. I was like 12 at the time and I thought that the flip out bellows was really cool.


    1. Jim Avatar

      I have a few old folding cameras lying around. I recently shot a roll in a 1930s Kodak Six-20: http://jimgrey.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/kodak-six-20/

  7. Mikalee Byerman Avatar

    Quite the trip down memory lane. I remember my parents having something similar and using it for horrible shots of us on our avocado green shag carpet!


    1. Jim Avatar

      Isn’t it amazing how even a basic $100 digital camera is 1,000 times more camera than comparable cameras from 30+ years ago?

  8. J Roycroft Avatar

    Reminds me of my father back in the days when he shot family film with his 8mm Bell & Howell and photographs with his Brownie. Congrats on FP

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! The Brownie was certainly everyman’s camera back in the day.

  9. jaredblakedicroce Avatar

    Cool post,
    I was a member of the Polaroid era (at least that’s what i remember first, when i was younger i must have eaten paint chips or something because i can’t remember a thing from back then), so it’s hard for me to grasp the allure of these venerated devices, but they are certainly fun to look at now – being that i have a far stronger camera in my cellphone – if only to appreciate the road we’ve traveled so far.
    Thanks for the perspective

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’ve not been immune to the allure of the Polaroid camera! http://jimgrey.wordpress.com/2008/12/22/photographic-holiday-memories/

      But yes, the 3MP camera in my phone is way better than most of the consumer point-and-shoot cameras from the 70s and earlier.

  10. Evie Garone Avatar

    I love old photos and just downloaded a bunch. What memories they engender. They started such a stream of comments with the whole family, with tagging everybody, it’s so much fun! Thanks for sharing…Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! I’m so glad I took photos from my childhood. Sometimes a photograph has been the only reason I remembered that a particular thing happened.

  11. My Camera, My Friend Avatar

    I love collecting old cameras. Some of them (Kodak cameras especially) are so clever.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I enjoy it too. I had a collection as a kid that grew to over 100 cameras, mostly junky ones, but I loved them all just the same. The collection went by the by along the way, and a few years ago I decided I missed it and started collecting again. I have probably 20 cameras now. I favor ones I can still easily get film for.

  12. lifeintheboomerlane Avatar

    I still have the Brownie Starlite camera (safely snuggled in a box in the attic) that was given to me when I was about 10. It changed my world. Congrats on being FP.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Brownies probably changed a lot of peoples’ worlds! They were cheap, and they did a decent job.

  13. dennisfinocchiaro Avatar

    This is such a great find! I collect old cameras too…I have some really fun ones. Great post!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Do you run film through any of your old cameras? I prefer it when I can do that — but I think this Brownie will have to be content that its photo-shooting days are in the past.

  14. I Made You A Mixtape Avatar

    I’m not a photographer so the finer points of the technicality of photographing or indeed cameras escape me, but looking at the fabulous piece of retro (the camera itself) I would be happy to have it in my house as art- seriously, the symmetry and the design of it, so cool…

    1. Jim Avatar

      The entire Kodak Brownie Star series was the work of a man named Arthur Crapsey. He had a hand in many of Kodak’s designs of the day. Thanks for reminding me to mention his name — he deserves credit for this design!


    1. Jim Avatar


  15. acleansurface Avatar

    Old cameras are lovely. The name Brownie also gives this a special appeal.

    1. Jim Avatar

      And old cameras are easy to come by, with so many of them still in working order.

  16. Christopher Cocca Avatar

    Hi Jim,

    Found my way here, like many, via the WordPress homepage today. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    I love vintage anything, and I love photography. Your Starmatic is beautiful. I also love the 80s, so +1 for your old school picture. Also looking forward to reading your posts about faith and spirituality.

    best wishes!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Glad you stopped by today, and hope you’ll stick around!

  17. tailgatetexas Avatar

    I don’t collect cameras, but I do collect about everything else. Old mixing bowls, coins, spoons, Happy Meal Toys, insulators..I know there’s more! I really like your pictures and learning about old cameras. Your blog is fun – glad I found you!

    1. Jim Avatar

      I used to be a collector of collections myself!

  18. Breland Kent Avatar

    Oh wow I love those old cameras, I love anything vintage. Great blog :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! I like vintage things, too, beyond cameras.

  19. Todd Pack Avatar

    That’s a great looking camera, Jim, and it’s in good shape! I sort of collect cameras, too, but most of mine don’t look you just took ’em out of the box. Congratulations!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks Todd! I do usually clean my cameras up a bit when I get them.

  20. B.Held Avatar

    How cool! It’s an awesome camera.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! It does a mighty nice job.

  21. thesecretgirlforever Avatar

    wow. thats really cool- how you collect old cameras! congrats on being freshly pressed! :]

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! It’s a nice hobby.

  22. Cordelia Cale Avatar
    Cordelia Cale

    I thought that red circular window was magic! It sill is a good looking camera. Thanks for the story and the pictures.

    1. Jim Avatar

      When I got my first camera that automatically stopped when you wound to the next frame, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

  23. perfectlylonelysoul Avatar

    Made me feel a bit nostalgic.

    1. Jim Avatar

      For some, the nostalgia ends when they realize there’s no LCD display on the back.

  24. mjcache Avatar

    The Brownie Starmite 2 looks like it belongs in an episode of Doctor Who or a really cool science fiction series. So cool.

    1. Jim Avatar

      The Starmite II was an odd little duck.

  25. richannkur Avatar

    superb article….

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thank you!

  26. mynakedbokkie Avatar

    I am one of those people that look at all these big beautiful camera’s, envy the users, marvel at the photographs taken…..want to be able to use them, but then need and settle for simple and conveniant.
    Awesome to have something so different to collect.
    Congratulations on being freshly pressed!!

    1. Jim Avatar

      You are in good company; most people who take pictures feel just like you do!

  27. whenquiet Avatar

    So nice to see when someone is passionate about their work! My husband has old cameras, old binoculars, authentic and scratched up Thonet chairs(alive and well at our living room table)…..I love your photos…they give me a warm feeling and remind me of my belated Grandfather:-)

    1. Jim Avatar

      I like old things too, especially from the postwar years. Thanks for your compliment about my photographs!

  28. Hershel K. Waldner Avatar


    Thank you for your kind mention of B&H Photo. On behalf of all of us at B&H Photo, please accept our warm thanks and deep gratitude for your patronage. We look forward to earning your trust and continued business for many years to come. I invite you and your fellow readers to check out our new informative and entertaining blog at http://www.bhinsights.com

    Hershel K. Waldner
    Online Marketing Department
    B&H Photo-Video-Audio
    212-239-7500 ext. 2893

    1. Jim Avatar

      I am pleased you stopped by! Thank you for providing film for our old 127 (and 620) cameras.

  29. ryoko861 Avatar

    My son has a couple vintage Polaroids. He has my old “Pronto” and a couple “Swingers”, and Kodak’s answer to the “Swinger” called the “Pleaser”. I myself have a Kodak “Brownie” and various vintage instamatics, including “The Disc” and “Pocket”. I now have an EasyShare that I love. Can’t beat Kodak! But it’s fun going to garagesales and seeing a camera that you know is vintage and they’re selling it for .50!

    1. Jim Avatar

      I miss the days of finding cameras at garage sales! I buy mine on eBay now — which means I pay what they’re worth.

  30. ryoko861 Avatar

    I thought you “looked” familiar! I posted a comment before on one of your posts! LOL! Sorry if I repeated myself! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    1. Jim Avatar

      It can be hard to keep track, can’t it!

  31. Mike Avatar

    Looks like a sharp lens on that nice little camera. I’ve gotten interested again in shooting 127 film thanks to my Brownie Reflex. The lenses aren’t the most sophisticated on most of this type camera, but the format gives you quite a lot more negative area than 35mm and often produces excellent results.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by! It’s not a bad lens for being made of plastic. I shot a fair amount of 127 as a kid and liked the format.

  32. versa kay Avatar

    I am a novice in reg to cameras. When I was very young I had two 120 size b&W cameras. then i had one 35 mm colour camera with universal focus with which i covered quite a few family events . It’s simplicity allowed me to freeze quite a few candid moments which most of my friends and relatives cherish. And then a decade ago I had a really good camera Brother2000 or so I dont remember, which I used only for a short whilebecause by that time digital cameras have appeared and were quite cheaper to use. I now use a panasonicdigital camera with built in flash and zoom. The surfeit of memory available makes it possible to just aim and shoot anything and everything.. i dont find time to sort the really good pictures with the chaff

    1. Jim Avatar

      My primary camera is digital, and I agree — digital makes it so easy to take lots of photos. My photography has improved dramatically since I bought my first digital camera a few years ago, if nothing else because it is so much easier to practice!

  33. Dwight Avatar


    Nice article, just a correction you may want to note: The meter controls the aperture, not the shutter speed. If you look in the center window as you slowly press the shutter, you will see a sloped metal bar rise up to meet the red meter needle. This bar limits the opening of the aperture, the further to the left the needle, the smaller the aperture. You should see the aperture change sizes as you press the shutter. The manual control settings work the same way, a tab moves across the window and limits the aperture movement. I just added one of these to my collection and found your post on a google search.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Dwight, thank you for setting the record straight! I corrected the text.

  34. Ron Avatar

    I found a Starmatic with a working meter today for $5 at an antique fair. I may never shoot it, but I am always amazed at how old Kodaks never die. My other bargain find, from the same vendor, was a Rollei 35 for $20! Seems to work. Gotta figure out how to get the stuck battery cap off to know if that meter works.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      A $20 Rollei 35? That’s a steal!

  35. Jonathan Taylor Avatar
    Jonathan Taylor

    I have a complete boxed untouched starmite which has the camera still in its original cellophane. Am a little unsure how to proceed re looking after it or finding a good home for it. Am guessing it is not worth much but interested in what the experts would suggest I do with such a lovely object.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If you don’t want to hang onto it, really, eBay is your best bet.

  36. Mike Eckman Avatar
    Mike Eckman

    Jim thanks for the excellent article. I have a Brownie Starmatic that I plan on giving a full review for and can’t wait to see the results!

    In your article, you mention that you decoded your camera’s CAMEROSITY code. Where is it located on the Starmatic? I’ve looked all over mine and cannot find a serial number anywhere!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s not in an obvious place! Pull the film transport out and look at the very top, under and to the left of where it says “Use 127 Film.” Mine says CCRT there: 11/59.

  37. […] মুকুটে আরেকটি পালক যোগ করে ১৯৫৯ সালে ব্রাউনি স্টারমেটিক ক্যামেরা উদ্ভাবনের মাধ্যমে। যা […]

  38. Marc Beebe Avatar

    I not only had a Starmatic, but also a Starflash, Starlet, Starmeter, Starmite, and Starmite II!
    Kodak liked the naming regime I guess. :D

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My first camera was a Starmite II! Got it for a quarter at a yard sale in 1976. Minutes

  39. […] মুকুটে আরেকটি পালক যোগ করে ১৯৫৯ সালে ব্রাউনি স্টারমেটিক ক্যামেরা উদ্ভাবনের মাধ্যমে। যা […]

  40. Nikolas Avatar

    It looks like you updated the gallery for this camera just a few days ago (August 2023). Any thoughts on your latest roll? I have one of these and was about to go put my first roll through it this week.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If your meter works this is a wonderful little camera. Go with film that is supported on the ASA dial atop the camera — I like ISO 100-ish film in mine.

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