Cameras, Photography

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model

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I tend to shy away from cameras that take 620 film. I’ve bought a few, such as my Kodak Tourist and my Kodak Six-20 – they’re plentiful because Kodak (and other manufacturers) puked out bazillions of them. But in 1995 Kodak discontinued 620 film, instantly orphaning them all. I’ve never understood what Kodak was trying to accomplish with 620 film as it is nothing more than still-available 120 film wound onto thinner spools. At least this makes it still possible to shoot with 620 cameras, albeit with some hassle. Hardy souls roll 120 film onto 620 spools; well-heeled souls buy it already respooled from B&H Photo.

The Kodak Brownie Hawkeye takes 620 film. It is a glorified box camera, but such was the state of proletarian photography for much of the 20th century. I love it when a simple camera gets good results, and so I was charmed when I saw the great images well-known camera guy Ken Rockwell got with a Brownie Hawkeye last year on Route 66. I immediately bought one. It came in its box.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model

The Brownie Hawkeye was introduced in 1949; the flash model followed in 1950. They cost $5.50 and $7, respectively, which is about $51 and $65 today. Its Bakelite plastic body probably looked modern and pleasant in those days, but certainly looked outdated in 1961 when this camera finally went out of production. It sports a single-element meniscus lens; people who have tried to calculate its aperture have arrived at results from f/14 to f/16. Pressing the ridged gray button that wraps around the camera’s top right corner (as you peer through the viewfinder) fires the shutter, which stays open for 1/30 second. If you pull up the smooth gray button that wraps around the camera’s top left corner, the shutter stays open as long as you hold the shutter button down. The flash model has two pins on the side that accept several Kodak flash units.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model

To load film, clip in a new roll up top, thread the film around the back, and insert the film leader into a takeup spool on the bottom. Put the back on the camera, lock it closed with the little slider on top under the handle, and slowly turn the winding knob until 1 appears in the little red window on the camera’s back. To frame a shot, hold the camera in front of your torso and look down into the viewfinder. Press the shutter button when you’re ready. The shutter button doesn’t lock after you press it, so if you press it again you’ll get a double exposure.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model

The Brownie Hawkeye had a number of running changes during its 11-year run. Early cameras had metal winding knobs and little rivets next to the flash pins. Kodak fitted glass lenses and viewfinders at first, but switched to plastic in later cameras. The button for long exposures has various markings, from B (for bulb) to L (for long) to LONG, depending on when the camera was made. Mine has a CAMEROSITY code of CYRM, meaning it was made in November, 1953. Its winding knob is plastic, and its lens and viewfinder are glass. Its long exposure button is marked L.

Many collectors report that some Brownie Hawkeyes can accept 120 film on the supply spool, which would certainly make it less of a hassle to shoot with this camera. I might try it one day. But this Brownie Hawkeye had a special gift hidden inside – a roll of exposed Verichrome Pan film. I sent it right off to Film Rescue International, which specializes in getting images from long-expired film. I was delighted when they returned several good images. Judging by the cars and the scenery, it appears that this family visited Niagara Falls in the late 1960s.

Rescued film

The roll features several shots of the falls.

Rescued film

My experience with small waist-level viewfinders is that framing a level shot can be challenging. This photographer would probably agree – if he or she could see these photos.

Rescued film

Film Rescue International got ten shots off this roll. You can see them all in this set on Flickr.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection!

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30 thoughts on “Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model

  1. Jim, I love this post! I picked up one of those cameras at a junk store in the1970’s – and had a blast using it! The pictures have an almost dreamlike quality. Will post the one surviving shot later. Your photos are great. When I get home from work today I’m checking out the photo rescue international link.

    Sadly, my mother got rid of the camera when I left home for college. My dad had a Minox, and that one disappeared, too. Still have a few old cameras — and they aren’t going anywhere ;-). Old cameras rock!

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    • These cameras are as plentiful as pennies even now! You should check out the link in the post above to the photos Ken Rockwell took with his — you’d never believe they came out of a simple box camera!

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  2. That’s so neat, finding a family’s old pictures in your camera. I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t take the film to the drugstore.

    P.S. I have a Brownie Hawkeye, but it doesn’t look as new as yours.

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  3. Nice review of this great little box camera, and wonderful recovered images.

    The biggest problem with the Hawkeye Flash, or any box camera, is holding it steady during the exposure, and the lack of a cable release and tripod socket don’t help. The lens is capable of surprising sharpness if you can overcome the wiggle.

    It is worth looking for the no.13 close-up attachment which makes portraits possible at about 3.5 feet distance. Otherwise, one wants to stay no closer than about 8 feet from the subject. Closer shots and interesting effects can also be had by reversing the lens.

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    • Fortunately, the shutter button works smoothly. My experience has been that a stiff shutter button is the leading cause of camera shake on these simple cameras!

      My Internet research on this camera echoes what you say about how close to get with this camera. It allegedly focuses from 5 feet, but others say that the focus is soft between 5 and 10 feet. This camera is all about group and landscape shots.

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  4. Lone Primate says:

    The woman in the middle of the group shot in front of the Falls looks like she’s saying “Wait a minute… where’s Bobby?” ?:D

    You’d have to be right about the time period. Those shots are on the Ontarian side of the river and predate the adoption of Metric in the early 70s. For a long time afterwards the signs would have had “km/h” under the numerals. Some still do.

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    • I’m guessing you’re concluding that these shots are from Ontario by the speed limit sign. I’m not wise to the ways of Canadian signage, and in the US things were a lot less standard then, so I wasn’t ready to make that leap. So your perspective is very helpful here.

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      • Lone Primate says:

        No, it’s the angles. For on thing, you can’t really see American Falls from the United States; they face Ontario. :) Facing the Falls, the view of Horseshoe Falls is on the left in Ontario, on the right in New York. I’ve been to the Falls over half a dozen times since the 80s and I know the views reasonably well… that’s why that golden shot of the Falls with just grass and trees and nothing else is just so jaw-dropping… it really looks like a shot from the 19th Century.

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        • Ah, clearly you are wise in the ways of the Falls. I only drove through the once, 20 years ago, and didn’t spend very much time.

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  5. I know very little about photography, but I had a Brownie and a couple other cameras of that type.

    For me, it’s less about the mechanics of the cameras than about a smaller, friendlier, more intimate America that seems to have disappeared. I miss it sometimes. Your blog brought back fond memories.

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  6. ryoko861 says:

    Oh oh, I have one of those!!! It was my father in laws. It sits in our curio cabinet. I took it out and snapped a picture of it for you. You can check it out here:

    Glad you shared this. I’ve learned something about this little camera! Thank you!

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    • Sweet! If you take off the back, look for a four-letter code printed on the inner works somewhere. (Mine is on the bottom where the film stretches past on its way to the takeup spool.) Then click the CAMEROSITY link in my post above and use it to decode when your Brownie Hawkeye was made!

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    • Yup, YARM is Feb. ’53! Yours is the slightly older brother of mine. Whenever you come across an old Kodak, if it has a four-letter code hidden within (many didn’t), you can know when it was made.

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  7. Logan says:

    I ended up buying one of these at a thrift store a month or so back, it seems to be the same model as yours (plastic winding knob.) Is it supposed to have only one spool inside? or two?

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  8. M Styborski says:

    You can probably use 120 film in this camera straight out of the box. I just picked one up at a thrift store and it looks as if the clearance is good for the wider spool ends. I can’t wait to try it!

    However, you’ll notice two bent tabs on the metal “spring” arms which hold the film in place. Kodak added these because back in the Fifties people were still buying and using the cheaper 120 film in this camera instead of the newer 620. The tabs prevent the camera from properly closing with 120 loaded but clipping or bending the tabs out of the way will allow the slightly longer spool to fit in the camera! It really depends on the brand of film.

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    • Kodak tweaked the insides of this camera a couple times during its manufacturing run, I gather, and it is easier to use 120 in the earlier cameras than the later. That said, I have an Agfa Clack, a similar camera, that natively takes 120 — I’m inclined to just use it!

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      • Ric says:

        I just recovered the one that my parents used starting at least from the mid- fifties. It’s the first caméra that I ever used as a boy . First generation, with the metal knob. However, no inscription inside to date it ! Thank you for the infos. I will try to use it, probably with 120 film. I also found two of these that expired in 1973. Might join the ” expired gang ” !!

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