Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

We tend to think of medium format film as being for serious work with expensive gear. But its first use was in an inexpensive snapshot camera — this, the Kodak No. 2 Brownie.

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

This is actually the last of a long line of No. 2 Brownies. The first, its body made of cardboard, was introduced in 1901. Models B, C, D, and E followed. (I own a Model D, too; see my review here.) They all look like the original to me (though this page charts the minute changes). The Model F is different — not in form or function, but in construction, as its body is made of aluminum.

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

Model Fs rolled off Kodak’s assembly lines from 1924 to 1935. For some of those years you could get one in blue, brown, gray, green, or red! As you can see, mine is basic black. It is also a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.

If you like old boxes, by the way, I’ve reviewed a couple others: the Ansco Shur Shot (here) and B-2 Cadet (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). A few other cameras I’ve reviewed are boxes, too, just in more modern packaging: the Agfa Clack (here), Kodak Baby Brownie (here), and the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here). You can check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

No. 2 Brownies are pretty hard to kill. They’re both so simple and robustly enough manufactured that even the jankiest one you find in the back of some dumpy junk store can probably still make images.

But these cameras can get so dirty after a century or so! I cleaned this camera’s lens and viewfinders before I put any film through it. The camera’s front plate is held on only by pressure on the sides, and it’s easy enough to pry the pressure points back. The front just falls off when you do that. It provides good access to the viewfinder glass and mirrors, which slide right out with a tweezers. Isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab made short work of 80 years of accumulated grime. Any No. 2 Brownie’s viewfinders will be dim even when clean, but when they’re dirty they’re useless.

The lens is a little harder to clean. To get at the back of the lens, remove the film insert by pulling the winding knob out and sliding the insert out. To get at the front of the lens, pull up the little tab on the top of the camera that’s to one side of the lens and flip the shutter lever — the shutter remains open until you flip the lever one more time. Again, I used a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol. Holy cow, was the front of the lens filthy.

The No. 2 Brownie offers three aperture settings, selected by pulling up the tab on top of the camera over the lens. 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 (tab all the way up) is for time exposures outdoors on cloudy days. The shutter probably operates at something like 1/50 sec.

I loaded a roll of fresh Ektar. I mis-spooled it the first time and winding was so hard I feared I’d tear the film. Into the dark bag went the camera so I could remove the film and start over. Then frustratingly the Ektar’s frame numbers sat at the far right edge of the ruby window. Actually, the window on mine has faded to a sickly yellow. Fearing light through the window would imprint the frame numbers onto the film, I covered the window with electrical tape and peeled it back only to wind.

Watch for Pedestrians

The Brownie focuses from about 10 feet. As you can see, the lens distorts a little and it is soft in the corners. Standard stuff for a one-element lens.

Marathon

The act of shooting a No. 2 Brownie is pleasant. You frame as best you can and gently move the shutter lever. The entire process is so quiet and gentle. You just have to accept that the teeny tiny viewfinders make it hard to tell whether your subject is level. Frame as best as you can and hope you got it right enough.

Welcome to Thorntown

Also, because of the slow shutter speed, camera shake can be a problem. The photo below shows it when you view it full size. Fortunately, the Model F offers a tripod mount. Previous models of the No. 2 Brownie lacked this useful feature.

Wrecks

See more photos from this camera in my Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F, gallery.

I love shooting with simple cameras like this. I have half a mind to shoot this camera exclusively for a time, maybe three or six months, to see what I learn.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Comments

48 responses to “Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F”

  1. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    So, I’ve seen that “Wrecks” sign from other outings and I really like this version. I also really like that first image.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The Wrecks sign is about a mile from my house as the crow files, so it’s an easy subject!

      1. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

        It’s a great subject.

  2. Dan James Avatar

    Great colours Jim, I love that “Marathon” shop especially. Amazing that images this crisp and colourful are possible from an 80+ year old box.

    It would have been good to see a before and after picture of the lens (indeed the whole camera), to see how much you did clean off. Maybe next time you rejuvenate an old camera?

    It would very very interesting to seeing how you got on shooting with just such a camera for three or six months, or even one month. Hope you try this!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Kodak knew what it was doing with those meniscus lenses. The corners are soft as heck but so what, the idea was to center your subject with these.

      I’d like to get b/w processing gear and chemicals before embarking on a project to shoot one of these for a time, as it costs $17 to have one roll of 120 processed — I’d rack up some serious processing bills in no time.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        Yes, and I’m sure with the kind of holiday snaps and family portraits these cameras were used for most, a little softness at the edges was irrelevant, in fact perhaps even enhanced the viewer’s focus on the central subject in the image.

        Yeh that sounds pricey. Hope you go the home developing route.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Plan to as the winter weather starts to clear. Going to try monobath development because it’s easy.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            This will make a great series to read about, I hope/anticipate you’ll keep us posted along your journey into monobathing?

            1. Jim Grey Avatar

              p.s. – Stay tuned for more photos from this camera, on expired Verichrome Pan film!

        2. Jim Grey Avatar

          You bet – it’ll be great blog fodder.

      2. Dan James Avatar

        Shooting with such a pure and simple camera – and one with such historic significance – is hugely appealing to me. Just a shame about the cost.

  3. DougD Avatar
    DougD

    Very cool, I am the slow methodical type so I really like how intentional and gentle you have to be with the brownie.

    And a dark bag! Of course, I had no idea such things existed but it’s so simple

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I just got my dark bag late last year. I don’t know why I waited so long.

  4. Heide Avatar
    Heide

    “But these cameras can get so dirty after a century or so!” Ha ha! Well … kudos on your mad cleaning skillz, Jim, because you’ve gotten some wonderful images out of this old gem.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you H! The Q-tips were black with schmutz.

  5. […] Grey at Down the Road takes a look at the No. 2 Kodak Brownie.  While this is a camera I’ve shot and reviewed before, it’s always good to see other […]

  6. Mike Avatar

    That’s a convincing demonstration of the quality that simple box cameras can deliver. I’ve certainly enjoyed mine, and I think they have produced some of my best work.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Mike! I’m thinking about leaning into old boxes for a while. Stay tuned, soon I’ll have some images I shot with this camera on Verichrome Pan.

  7. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Nice images Jim I really love using Brownies/Box cameras, are you going to post any of your images here
    https://www.brownie-camera.com/brownie-camera-day/

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ooh, that would be fun! But I shot these images in early January, unfortunately. I’m sure nobody would know if I didn’t tell them, but … I’d know.

  8. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Still time to shoot another roll. I’m going to try and shoot a roll this weekend

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah! Maybe I can make it yet.

  9. Stuart Templeton Avatar

    Those images are very impressive Jim – It says a lot for the quality of the camera and your skill in using it.
    I’ll be very interested in reading about your adventures into self processing – it’s something I’ve always fancied doing.
    And looking forward to more boxes!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Stuart! I’m only moving into processing my own because of cost — I don’t think I’m going to love the task. I’ve scanned my own negs in the past and don’t much love that either.

      1. Stuart Templeton Avatar

        Oh I totally get that – I feel the same. I have (sorry, my wife has) an old tea chest full of 120 and 620 cameras – Browies, boxes, folders – all sorts. I’d love to shoot them (and your lovely pictures on this post increases that feeling) but don’t due to the processing cost.
        What are you planning to do – just process the negs and then scan?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Yep. I’m going to invest in the equipment and then buy a monobath developer (to make it easy). I have a Canon Canoscan 9000 Mk II scanner; I’ll buy Silverfast for it and scan in the negs. Fortunately with 120 film the scanning is less onerous because it’s just 8 or 12 frames.

          1. Stuart Templeton Avatar

            Sounds like a plan – I’ll be watching with interest.

  10. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Love the colors in that Marathon building!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Me too! An unexpected gem in this tired little town.

  11. Peggy Avatar

    Those pictures look great. I haven’t tried a Box camera, it I will look out for one now.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Tips: look for those that take 120 film, as so many took 620, which isn’t made anymore. Also, the bigger the viewfinder(s) the easier these things are to use.

      1. Peggy Avatar

        I saw that as I did a search, a lot of the 120 ones are really 620 just mis-posted. Not sure I will get a clean one though.

  12. Olli Thomson Avatar

    A lovely old camera. My grandparents had one of these or something like it when I was a kid. It’s long gone now, which is a shame.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If you ever want to relive old times, eBay probably has 100 of these for sale right now.

  13. DougD Avatar
    DougD

    Hey Jim, I was down in my parents’ basement the other day, and I saw… a Brownie #2 model camera. I think it was a B model, with separate portrait attachment. I doubt it’s a family heirloom, as our family immigrated in the 1950’s and didn’t have a camera before then. Probably Dad picked it up at a rummage sale in the 1970’s.

    You are right, the viewfinder was horribly dim. Any pointers to where to start should I wish to clean it up and put a roll through it?

    Thanks for posting this, I must have seen that camera a thousand times without it registering.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah. The front plate is attached only by pressure. Inspect it to find the pressure points and gently pull them back to pull the front plate off. This will give you access to the viewfinders. They’re simple: a piece of glass and a mirror. Both come right out. Clean them with rubbing alcohol and put them back in, and push the front plate back on. I’d also clean the lens. Pull up the tab on the top plate that’s to one side of the lens to activate Bulb mode. Dip a Qtip in rubbing alcohol and stick it through the hole and swab away. Keep doing this until a freshly dipped Qtip comes back clear. Pull out the film transport and swab the back of the lens too.

  14. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    I love this camera though I don’t own one yet. The simplicity is such that I’m surprised no one has tried to make replicas. This is one of the best entry-level ways into medium format photography, and looks sooooo much better than the Holga/Diana shots!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You should get one! They aren’t expensive on eBay. And yes, these are far more capable than Holgas and Dianas.

      1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

        I remember seeing so many in antique shops for $20 or less…I’m hoping to come across one this way, which is why I don’t own one yet: I’m not yet to the point where I’ll actively seek one out.

  15. […] became interested in trying this camera after reading this great review. When I saw the photos Jim obtained I wanted to try one and kept looking on eBay for a decent […]

  16. David Ditta Avatar
    David Ditta

    So happy that you shot with that, I doubt I would have gotten around to it. Am amazed by the results.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      One by one, David, I’m shooting all of the cameras you sent me that work. I’ve also shot the Retinette and the two Hawk-Eye boxes, so far.

  17. […] tell you everything you may want to know about the camera. I also particularly enjoyed reading of Jim Grey’s adventures with his Brownie, and of course I’d love it if you’d check out Peggy’s blog post about the Brownie. […]

  18. Daryl Frost Avatar
    Daryl Frost

    Just bought a Kodak brownie #2 model f with carring case and orginal instruction book,can you tell me how much it’s worth, in excellent condition.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I can’t, I don’t trade in cameras enough. But the best bet is to go to eBay, search for Brownie No. 2 Model F, and then find the “Sold Listings” checkbox and check it. You’ll then see what this camera has sold for recently, as a guide.

  19. […] : Review, PhotosNo. 2 Brownie, Model D : Review, PhotosNo. 2 Brownie, Model F : Review, PhotosNo. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C: ReviewNo. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak Edition: […]

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