I shy away from cameras that take 620 film. I own a few, as they’re plentiful; Kodak and other manufacturers puked out bazillions of them. But in 1995 Kodak discontinued 620 film, instantly orphaning them all.
620 film is nothing more than still-available 120 film wound onto thinner spools. This makes it still possible to shoot with 620 cameras, as all you need to do is re-roll 120 film onto a 620 spool (instructions here). You can also take your chances with expired 620 film, which can be found on eBay. Or you can buy fresh, hand-respooled 620 film, such as from the Film Photography Project (here).
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. Many collectors report that some Brownie Hawkeyes accept 120 film on the supply spool, which would certainly make it less of a hassle to shoot with this camera.
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 on Route 66. I immediately bought one.
The Brownie Hawkeye was introduced in 1949; the flash model followed in 1950. They cost $5.50 and $7, respectively, which is about $60 and $75 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 Its Bakelite plastic body probably looked modern and pleasant in those days, but certainly looked outdated in 1961 when this camera finally went out of production.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 with an aperture somewhere around f/14 or f/16. Pressing the ridged gray button that wraps around the camera’s top right corner fires the shutter, which stays open for about 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.
If you like simple cameras like this, check out my reviews of the Agfa Clack (here), the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), the Kodak Duaflex II (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
A special gift was hidden inside this Brownie Hawkeye – 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.
I hope someone someday comes upon this post and recognizes this family. I’d like to reconnect them with their photographs!
When I took my sons on a Route 66 vacation, I thought I’d follow in Ken Rockwell’s footsteps and bring the Brownie Hawkeye along. I first loaded some 620 Kodak Verichrome Pan that expired in September of 1985. I…did not get the stunning results Rockwell did. Here’s the Standard service station in Odell, IL.
Ah, the vagaries of expired film. The Brownie Hawkeye was pleasant to use, though: walk up, frame the shot, push the button. The button has nice travel and requires only moderate finger pressure. The below photo from the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, MO, looks like an illustration from a dystopian novel.
I also shot a roll of 620 Kodak Gold 200 expired since June of 1996, making this among the last rolls of 620 film Kodak produced. These look better to me than any of my Verichrome Pan work, but they are all underexposed and suffer from heavy color shifting. This is the Wagon Wheel Motel again, with our car parked outside.
My film choices aside, the Brownie Hawkeye did its job fine, delivering good sharpness even out into the corners.
This is the best photo I made with the Brownie Hawkeye. I tweaked it heavily in Photoshop to reduce haze and boost contrast. The color shifts make the shot in this case. You’ll find this sign in Springfield, MO.
To see more from this camera, check out my Brownie Hawkeye gallery.
If you like simple box cameras and are willing to deal with the 620 film problem, you’ll like the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. It’s a pleasant shooter that delivers good results.