Cameras, Photography

Kodak No. 2 Brownie Model D

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I am impressed! This 100-year-old box camera is remarkably capable and can really deliver wonderful photographs. Meet the Kodak No. 2 Brownie Model D.

Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D

Kodak made the No. 2 Brownie from 1901 to 1935. Improvements over the years led to letter designations. The Model D was first issued in 1914. These were inexpensive cameras, costing between $2 and $3 when new. Of course, that was a lot more money in the early 20th century than it is now! Two 1914 dollars are worth almost $48 in 2014.

Eric over at Load Film in Subdued Light has shared several eye-popping photos from his No. 2 Model D. His best photos are on T-Max 400, but he’s gotten solid results from all sorts of expired color slide and print film. See everything he’s shared from this camera here. Seriously, go look.

When Eric mentioned that this Brownie takes readily available 120 film, I marched right onto eBay and bought one. I love the simplicity of box cameras, but the used market is flooded with ones that take defunct film sizes like 116, 122, and 620. But 120 is still made. As a matter of fact, the Brownie No. 2 was the first camera to take 120 film. It astonishes me that this film size has been in production for more than a century!

Because Kodak made bajillions of No. 2 Brownies, they’re plentiful and inexpensive today. I bought mine from a trusted vendor and paid a little extra for the privilege, about $30 shipped. If you like Eric’s work, or mine which I share below, go get one of these.

Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D

The No. 2 Model D is a cardboard box with a meniscus lens and a rotary shutter. It also offers a couple features that many box cameras don’t have: a choice of three apertures and a “bulb” setting that holds the shutter open as long as you like so you can take photos in low light. Pull-up tabs atop the camera at its front control both settings. The tab in front of the carry strap sets aperture and the narrower tab next to it enables timed exposures. I couldn’t begin to guess at what f stops these apertures represent, but a manual I found online says that the largest aperture (tab all the way down) is for snapshots outdoors in all but the brightest light, the middle aperture is for bright sunlight and indoor time exposures, and the smallest is for time exposures outdoors on cloudy days.

To take a picture, slide the shutter lever. It doesn’t spring back, so for the next photo you slide it in the opposite direction. If you pull up the bulb tab, you slide the lever once to open the shutter and again to close it.

Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model DThe innards have a nice feature: a flap that holds the film flat. When you load film, be sure the flap covers the backing paper. I gather that later Model Ds did away with this flap and also changed the sliding latch that holds the camera closed to a spring catch.

I happened to have a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 in the fridge, so I spooled it into the Brownie. I was out and about in suburbia with it and shot a bunch of colorful commercial buildings. And holy wow, look at what this camera and film did! The exposures are perfect, helped I’m sure by Ektar’s good exposure latitude. The color is wonderful even if the reds are oversaturated. The corners are soft, which is typical for this class of camera. But look at that sharpness in the center! It about pokes your eye out.

Bob Evans

That sharpness isn’t quite as good when you look at these photos at full scan size. But this camera’s 1914 mission was to provide snapshot-sized prints often no bigger than the negatives themselves. When you put Aunt Martha in the middle of the viewfinder and pushed the shutter button, the print would let you see right into her eyes. But I don’t have an Aunt Martha, and I was looking for colorful suburban scenes, so I kept shooting storefronts.

IHOP

I next tried T-Max 400 in the No. 2 Model D to see if I could replicate Eric’s good results. I didn’t have the stellar luck Eric routinely gets on this film, but a tiny bit of Photoshop tweaking of exposure and contrast brought out good detail.

Wrecks Inc

That wonderful center sharpness was still plenty in evidence, however. This, by the way, is the same Boston Market as in this post in which I considered the rapidly changing suburban built environment.

Boston Market

My No. 2 Model D does have a slight light leak that occasionally shows up in the bottom left corner. You can see it in this shot of Lafayette Road in northwest Indianapolis. It was built in the 1830s as part of Indiana’s early “state road” system, connecting Indianapolis to Lafayette. It became part of US 52 in 1927 and was upgraded to four lanes during the 1930s. But by the 1960s, US 52 was rerouted along the new I-465 beltway around the city, and Lafayette Road was turned over to the county. Today it’s just a lightly traveled road in a part of Indianapolis that still feels rural.

Lafayette Road / Old US 52

I was having a lot of fun with the Brownie and wanted to keep shooting, so I loaded a roll of Ilford Pan F Plus 50. I figured such a slow film would be just right given that films of the Brownie’s day were probably similarly slow. Unfortunately, all of the images were underexposed and required some Photoshop surgery to breathe life into them. This shot is from a little road trip to Terre Haute that my sons and I took along US 40 (the old National Road) one evening. I was shooting probably 20 degrees from directly into the setting sun, which did this photo no favors. Clabber Girl baking powder is made in Terre Haute. This sign has been welcoming visitors to town for many decades. I first saw it in 1984 when I visited the college I ultimately attended.

Clabber Girl billboard

We had dinner at a rib joint right on the National Road, which is Terre Haute’s main drag and is better known there as Wabash Avenue. This photo of their catering van turned out the best of all of my shots on the Ilford film, with rich blacks and good detail.

Rick's Van

If you enjoyed these photos, check out my entire Kodak No.2 Brownie Model D gallery.

I’m glad I shot the Ektar first. This centenarian camera was born to shoot this modern film. If I had shot the Ilford first, I might not have had such excited feelings about this camera. But now I know: keep plenty of Ektar in the fridge just for this great little box camera.


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

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26 thoughts on “Kodak No. 2 Brownie Model D

    • Thanks John! The great thing about this camera is that with just a dollop of ability to compose, you can look brilliant. Of course, composing in those itty bitty viewfinders is challenging…

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  1. Steve Miller says:

    These shots deserve a solid “Gosh-a-rootie-Gee!” Who would have thought these results were still possible? Too bad 116 isn’t still available. I have my great-uncle Fred’s folding 3A (I think that’s the model) along with negatives he shot over a hundred years ago, which would provide an interesting comparison. Here’s one of Fred’s shots… http://www.shorpy.com/node/2993

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    • I’ll bet that if you got a couple 116 spools you could re-roll 120 onto one of them and have a go at using your No. 3A. You’d have to do a lot of guessing — how much to wind the film, how to frame a shot when the viewfinder shows more than the film will see — but it just might work and give you another connection to your great uncle Fred! How cool that you’re able to share images he took with his camera.

      I have a folding No. 3A too. https://blog.jimgrey.net/2012/01/09/no-3a-autographic-kodak/

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  2. I have a soft spot for this type of camera because it was my curiosity about a Brownie Hawk-eye Model C that got me back into using film. I do agree about the Ektar being made for this camera. I would never have guessed that your images were from a box brownie. Although I think it is a surprise to us today that these cameras can make good images I wonder if it should really be that big a surprise. After all they were wildly popular in their day and that was most likely because they did make good images.

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    • Isn’t it almost a paradox that a very modern film makes this centenarian camera sing?

      I’m so used to seeing old photos that are badly exposed and blurry that I guess I just assumed that most old cameras weren’t very capable. Maybe many of those old cameras werent. Maybe the photographers weren’t very capable. Maybe the images have degraded with time.

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  3. Wes C says:

    Very nice write-up as usual! The photos have a nice vintage look for sure… The picture of the Clabber Girl billboard appears that it could have been taken in the 1940’s.

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  4. Christopher Smith says:

    Nice photo’s Jim very well composed and the ektar certianly brings a great little camera to life, I must get a roll of ektar and try mine out but not sure they will come out as good as yours. I might have a bit of trouble composing as the mirrors in the viewing windows are a bit shot so can hardly see what I’m looking at so will be a bit guess work.

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    • One of the viewfinders in mine has a loose mirror that makes composing challenging. I just guessed as best I could. I got a lot of tilt in the storefront shots — I need to admit that I fixed that in Photoshop. But do get out your old box and shoot it!

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  5. Jim Cavanaugh says:

    Super cool, Jim. Somewhere in our family is one of these cameras, probably from the 20s, that recorded much of the early part of my mother’s family life. I never even dreamed that you could still get film for it. Just wow.

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  6. Thanks for the shout out, Jim! This is such a wonderful camera. Yours, however, is different from mine in the back. No idea why. Everything else is the same (including the broken and flopping mirror), but the back is very different.

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  7. Carole Grey says:

    The Brownie camera. Dang. It seemed everyone had one kicking around their house when I was growing up but no one would use it or throw it away. Little respect was given the Brownie as newer more sophisticated cameras were available, besides, serious amateur photographers would laugh. And, I suspect, film wasn’t nearly as good when the Brownie came out as the old photos of the time had to be taken in sunlight and seemed dark, lacking detail and were usually pretty boring. Your photos are wonderful and give new hope to others who may want to give great granddads camera a try. Great write-up.

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    • Truth is, old cameras are usually considered just junk, especially simple point-and-shoot cameras. Yet they were expensive enough when they were new that people are reluctant to just throw them away. Frequently, old cameras go to children. My older son has my first digital camera and uses it every once in a while. But I’m unlikely to shoot with it much if at all ever again.

      You may be right about film not being as good umpty-ump years ago. Films were super slow through about the 1950s I’d guess — 125 ISO or less. But these cameras were made for that. And the consumer films did have wide exposure latitude so you could get a usable, if not perfect, image in a range of available light.

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  8. Mark W says:

    Your color shots are an OMG moment. I have a NOS (new old stock) model F still in the yellow box and sporting an unused wooden take up spool. After seeing your spectacular results, I’m taking the ol’ girl off the shelf, out of the box and we are going to the dance!

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  9. Pingback: Kodak No. 2 Brownie Model D (1914) – Mike Eckman dot Com

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