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.
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 Its Bakelite plastic body probably looked modern and pleasant in those days, but certainly looked outdated in 1961 when this camera finally went out of production.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.
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.
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.
The roll features several shots of the falls.
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.
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!