Camera Reviews

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 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 from David Ditta.

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. I assume the shutter 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. I put the camera into my dark bag, removed the film, and started 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. I will want to invest in my own film-processing equipment first, as it is just as expensive to have a roll of 120 processed and scanned as 35mm, to yield a quarter or a third of the number of images.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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41 thoughts on “Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

  1. 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!

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    • 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.

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  2. DougD says:

    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

    Like

  3. Heide says:

    “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.

    Like

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  5. 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.

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  7. 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!

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      • 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?

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  8. DougD says:

    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.

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    • 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.

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