Camera Reviews

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

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Kodak Brownie StarmaticIt 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 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.

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.

This isn’t my first Starmatic. I bought one in about 1980, probably at a garage sale. I loaded a roll of Kodacolor into it just before Christmas in 1981. That Starmatic 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

When I started collecting cameras again several years ago, I knew I’d want to add some of my old favorites into my new collection. The Brownie Starmatic made the list because I enjoyed my Christmas morning adventure with it as a teenager.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out the rest of my collection!

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79 thoughts on “Kodak Brownie Starmatic

  1. 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.

    • 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. 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 :)

    • 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. 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.

    • 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. 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.

    Crystal

    • 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.

  5. 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
    ~J

  6. 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  7. 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…

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. Cordelia Cale says:

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

    • 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.

  12. 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!!
    xx

  13. 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:-)

  14. Jim,

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  15. 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!

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

    • 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.

  18. 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

    • 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!

  19. Dwight says:

    Hi,

    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.

  20. Ron says:

    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.

  21. Jonathan Taylor says:

    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.

  22. Mike Eckman says:

    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!

    • 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.

  23. Pingback: Kodak Brownie Starmatic (1959) - mike eckman dot com

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