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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!