Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Brownie Starmatic

Wheeler Mision

Arthur Crapsey designed scads of Kodak cameras starting in the late 1940s, including an entire line of 127 cameras with Star in the names. This one, the Starmatic, sits atop the Star food chain with a coupled light meter, a pretty astonishing feature upon this camera’s 1959 introduction. It was especially astonishing given that this is just a box camera.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

The primitive mechanical metering works well as long as the selenium in the meter is strong. The shutter operates at 1/40 sec, I’m guessing. The meter reads the light and pushes a mechanical stop into place. This stop limits the aperture — as you press the shutter, the aperture blades close until the closing mechanism reaches that stop. Since “wide open” is f/8, this camera biases toward plenty of depth of field. That’s what I got when I shot my first roll through this Starmatic on Portra 160. I had to shoot it at EI 125 as that’s as fast as the Starmatic can go. But Portra has enough exposure latitude that it didn’t matter.

Kayaks

I’ve used this camera quite a bit, for one that takes film that isn’t made anymore. It’s just so easy and pleasant to use. Here’s a shot I made on Efke 100.

Tire and hay

Most Star cameras are fully point and shoot. The Starmatic is point and shoot, too, but only after you put the camera in automatic mode and set the film’s ISO. That’s what the two dials atop the camera are for. (Taking the Starmatic out of automatic mode sets it for flash photography, if you attach a flashgun.) For this outing I loaded some Ektar 100 that I bought pre-cut and -rolled from a user on eBay. Ektar is great in simple cameras.

Musicians Local

I blew through the whole roll in 20 minutes walking along Delaware Avenue in Downtown Indianapolis. I’ve always really enjoyed shooting this camera and this time was no different.

Roberts Park Church

This lens has a wide-angle feel. Nothing on the camera itself gives away its focal length, but you sure see a lot in the viewfinder window. When you’re far away from your subject you’ll get a lot of foreground in the shot.

Bail Bonds

You can see it a little in the two shots above, and a lot in the shot below, but this lens has some pretty wicked barrel distortion. Also, the viewfinder isn’t very well matched to the lens as I centered this door in my frame.

Door

The Starmatic almost certainly uses a single-element meniscus lens. It delivers sufficient sharpness for snapshot-sized prints, but if you look at any of these images at full scan size they are as soft as Wonder bread.

Park

There was a little leaked light on the last shots of the roll. I don’t know whether to blame the camera or the hand-rolled film.

$5

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Kodak Brownie Starmatic gallery!

I want to keep one 127 camera in my collection, and what better one to keep than one I enjoy shooting this much? I feel fortunate that the selenium meter in this Starmatic is still strong enough that it yields good exposures within my film’s exposure latitude. As this camera remains in my collection, I’ll keep it bundled up in its ever-ready case so that light doesn’t rob that selenium of its sensitivity.

Verdict: Keep

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18 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Brownie Starmatic

  1. Pingback: Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Brownie Starmatic — Down the Road https://blog.jimgrey.net/2018/11/07/operation-thin-the-herd-kodak-brownie-starmatic/ – „Ingerii sunt spirite inaripate, prietene cu spiritul tau inaripat.“

  2. Some great results Jim, especially the colour ones. That little Starmatic sounds great fun.

    Regarding the viewfinder not lining up, could you take a couple of test frames against a wall with lines/dimensions marked, then use the resultant photos to figure out the edges and the centre of the frame in relation to the viewfinder? Then perhaps you could mark the “actual” centre on the viewfinder, so future compositions will be all centred properly?

    I remember taking a similar, if more improvised approach with a super basic Superheadz Black Slim Devil camera with a 22mm lens whose viewfinder only showed perhaps a 35mm field of view, and wasn’t quite centred either. Once you figure it out once, you can be far more accurate with your framing and centring from then on.

    Oh and thanks for teaching me a new word today – scads. Though it sounds like slang for some kind of unpleasant skin condition!

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    • In this case I believe this to be a parallax problem, and so the amount of “off” will vary with distance to subject. I think the real lesson for simple cameras like this is not to move in close. Medium and long distances are what cameras like this are designed for.

      Lol, “scads” is definitely North American slang!

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      • Ah yes, of course. Yes that’s probably a good approach with such cameras generally, there’s a reason they usually don’t have a very close minimum focus!

        That aside, still capable of some great pictures.

        I’m sure there’s all kinds of English slang I could baffle you with Jim!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Good choice. That camera has made a lot of fine images for you. The 127 format produced nice results even with simple cameras. I’ve still got half a bulk roll of Portra in the refrigerator, so I need to start rolling again.

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  4. Kurt Ingham says:

    Pretty impressive results from such a simple unit. I love 127- a great size for the way I use film these days (sparingly and slowly). and
    amazing array of cameras.

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  5. Joshua Fast says:

    Great post! I love simple cameras, reduces it down to just shooting.

    After talking with a few camera techs i’m starting to believe that selenium cells do not lose sensitivity over time and exposure to light. Most cases of dead meters involved a connected or soldered joint coming loose.

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    • That’s interesting and useful to know, about selenium meters. My experience has been that selenium-metered cameras that have lived in their cases tend to work, and those that haven’t, don’t. But perhaps the former case speaks more to better care than to the resiliency of the selenium.

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  6. Really impressed with the work you’ve done here with this simple Kodak!

    I’ve also been told that it’s best to keep selenium meters and selenium-metered cameras in their cases and away from bright light…but maybe that’s just an old photographer’s tale.

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    • Thanks! This is a fun little camera to use. Nothing to it.

      I’ve always bought selenium-metered cameras only when they’ve been stored in a case or in an original box, and that’s always served me well. Whenever I find such a camera in a junk shop with the meter exposed it never works. Correlation isn’t causation but man, every time I find one with an uncovered meter it’s dead.

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  7. Hi Jim:
    I share your enthusiasm for the Kodak Starxxxx line. I have a Starmeter (made in Canada!), which was the first camera I ever reviewed for my web site. I love shooting the thing, but the lack of colour 127 film is the main reason it stays in a drawer. C’mon Lomo–do the 127 revival for us!

    Gary

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