Photography

The Kodak Brownie Starmatic and Efke 100

efkeI got such beautifully colorful results when I shot with my Kodak Brownie Starmatic last year that I knew I’d want to try a roll of black-and-white film in it. At the time, Croatian film producer Efke still made a black-and-white stock in size 127, the last one in the world. I ordered two rolls. And then their equipment promptly broke down, and the company decided to throw in the towel. At least I decided to buy before the film became unavailable.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

The Starmatic was among the most expensive Brownies ever made, costing $34.50 in 1959. That’s equivalent to $277 in 2013. The Starmatic cost so much because it offered automatic exposure, an unheard-of luxury feature among Brownies. It used a selenium meter to vary aperture (down to only f/8) around its single shutter speed, which is probably 1/30 or 1/60 sec. It adjusted for the film speed you set using a dial atop the camera, from 32 to 125 ASA. The ISO 100 Efke seemed like a perfect match for this little plastic camera.

Yet after I shot the roll, I got a set of muddy, low-contrast prints back from the processor. I use Dwayne’s to process my 127 film, and they don’t scan 127 negatives. My scanner doesn’t handle 127 negatives, either, so I have Dwayne’s make prints, which I scan.

Last time I used the Starmatic I put ISO 160 Kodak Portra in it. I set the film speed to max, 125, and hoped for the best – and got very nicely exposed images. Perhaps the selenium meter in my Starmatic is a little weak, and I would get better results with the Efke 100 if I set the Starmatic to 80 or 64. I am also curious whether I’d get better results if I scanned my negatives rather than the prints. I’ve wanted a scanner that can handle medium-format negatives, as my Epson V300 is limited to 35mm; maybe now’s the time to finally buy.

I fiddled with my print scans in Photoshop Elements. This helped, but didn’t entirely solve the muddiness. Here are the photos I liked best from this roll. I shot this tire among the rolls of hay near an abandoned, unfinished bridge.

Tire and hay

My friend Dawn lives out in the boonies and she keeps two of her neighbor’s horses on her property. Here’s one of them.

Horse

When I walked the streets of Indianapolis with my Polaroid SX-70, I wore the Brownie around my neck, too. I thought this tree was dramatic, so I shot it.

Tree

I finished the roll at home after work, as the sun was starting to set.

Shadows

You can see more photos from this roll, as well as the roll of Portra 160 I shot, and a scan of a Kodacolor II print from another Starmatic I owned when I was a teenager, in my Kodak Brownie Starmatic gallery.

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12 thoughts on “The Kodak Brownie Starmatic and Efke 100

  1. Great to meet another film user. Out of all the cameras you’ve written about, which one is your favourite?
    I used to collect old cameras myself, but now I only work with 2 cameras – Nikon fm2 and Rolleicord iv. Occasionally, I’d do test shots with polaroid EE66.
    I’m trying to invest in a decent medium format camera. Hasselblad is too expensive for me. Any recommendation?

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    • Sounds like you are into the finer cameras. If you search around my blog, you’ll find I shoot mostly simpler consumer cameras. I have maybe 75 stashed around the joint and probably 10 that I want to use repeatedly. My go-to camera has been my Pentax ME – it’s a small, light, all-metal aperture-priority SLR and it never fails to please. As for medium format, I’d take John’s advice. My go-to medium-format camera is my Yashica-D TLR. I’ve written it up on this site; search for it in the search box at right.

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  2. I think you are definitely on the right track with your analysis. Judging by the sharpness of the images and your previous results, there is pretty clearly nothing wrong with that fine little camera. I think your main problem is that prints have a very limited range of tonality compared to the original negatives. While your editing software allows you to change the balance between shadows and highlights, scanning a print does not allow you to access the full spectrum of tonalities that the camera and film captured.

    I’ve been using the same old flatbed Epson 2450 photo scanner for about ten years. It lets me scan anything up to 4×5. I haven’t checked ebay lately, but I’d be surprised if you could not find one for well under a hundred dollars.

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    • My previous results were print scans too. While scanning the negatives would absolutely return better results, after visually examining the negatives from this roll I do think that my Starmatic’s light meter isn’t accurate anymore. I plan to shoot this camera/film combo again and set the camera to 80 or 64 and see what happens. I just wish Efke hadn’t gone defunct. There’s apparently a couple sources of color 127 film left, one of them this Bluefire Murano stuff that is available at the Frugal Photographer.

      Thanks for the tip on the 2450. I wonder if there’s still driver support on Windows 7 and 8. I checked eBay and the prices are right – some are available for under $50. For that price maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal to give it a try. I love how this scanner can even do 4×5, though I can’t imagine ever needing it.

      I’ve been eyeing the Canon CanoScan 9000F MK II because it handles 35mm and 120 and gets good reviews. For what little 127 I shoot I could probably just lay it on the scanner glass (as no holder for 127 comes with the scanner).

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  3. Jim: Do you know of anyone who still processes Kodak (or any other brand’s) 126 cartridges? I have several (as in 30) Instamatic brand cameras, most are in fair to excellent condition and several of them still have either print or slide film in the cameras. I also have a Kodak Reflex SLR camera which I used until local drug stores stopped processing my prints.

    I love the format…just can’t get anyone to print anything I take with the cameras!!

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  4. Even with your problems your images show that the Starmatic is a capable camera. I am glad that you are still shooting with this type of camera. Nowadays with the best film cameras selling so cheaply it is easy to forget the virtues of some of the old consumer level cameras.

    Just catching up with the internet after some problems with my ISP. Hard to believe that one can go down for almost two weeks. Still there aren’t many alternatives in a rural area.

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    • I’m really pleased with the Starmatic and really want to figure out how far off the meter is so I can shoot with it again. Sorry to hear about your Internet woes but glad you’re back.

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