127 film was introduced in 1912 for Kodak’s game-changing Vest Pocket line of small (for the time) folding cameras. Yet the format’s negative was still large enough to make a small but usable contact print at 4×6.5 centimeters. 127’s popularity dwindled as 35mm film’s popularity rose. But Kodak gave 127 film a second wind in 1957 when it introduced its Brownie Star line of cameras, all of which made four-centimeter square negatives. The Kodak Brownie Starlet was among the first of them.

Kodak Brownie Starlet

The simplest of all Star cameras, the Starlet features an acrylic, single-element Dakon lens of f/8 or maybe f/11, set in a rotary shutter that fires at probably 1/50 sec. A switch at the bottom of the front plate changes the aperture between “color” (EV 13, wide open) and “B&W” (EV 14, one stop less of exposure). The prominent central viewfinder and the aluminum top plate gives this camera “that TLR look,” but it’s a viewfinder camera all the way. For flash photographs, a screw-and-pin connector on the side connects to all manner of Kodak flash units.

Kodak Brownie Starlet

There’s nothing to using the Starlet: wind the film, frame the shot, press the button. It had an unusual design in that the film transport is connected to the bottom plate, which you unlock and remove to load film.

Kodak Brownie Starlet

Arthur Crapsey designed the entire Brownie Star line. He designed a bunch of other Kodaks from the 1930s through the 1960s, as well.

This camera was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras by a longtime colleague, who found it among her father’s cameras after he passed away.

If you like 127 cameras, I’ve also reviewed the Kodak Baby Brownie (here) and the Kodak Brownie Starmatic (here). I also shot my first roll of film ever on a Kodak Brownie Starmatic II, which I wrote about here. You can see all of my camera reviews here.

It took years for the lesson to sink in, but I did finally learn it: simple cameras tend to have dirty lenses and sticky shutters. I cleaned this lens with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Sure enough, the shutter was sluggish, so I carefully squeezed two drops of lighter fluid onto it and fired it repeatedly until it seemed right again. That’s never a permanent fix, but it lasts long enough to get through a roll of film, or two if you don’t dawdle.

I bought a roll of Kodak Kodacolor Gold 200 film, expired since August of 1991, so I could shoot this camera. You never know what you’re going to get when you shoot expired film. What I got was 12 exposures all in shades of pink. Fortunately, Photoshop’s Auto Color and Auto Tone commands brought out better color. As you can see, this film is pretty degraded. Such are the vagaries of expired film.

Ann Dancing

Fortunately, these images are good enough to show what the Brownie Starlet can do. The lens is sharp in the center, but goes soft in the corners. Vignetting isn’t apparent, at least in the good light I had while shooting this roll.


Images show some distortion in the corners. Hard telling what the culprit is: abberations in the lens, a fault of the way the film transport curves the film, or some quality of the very old base material of this 30-year-old film.

One Nine Five

Light leaked onto a few images; this was the worst one. It leaked in from the bottom, which surprised me, as the way the bottom secures to the camera leaves barely a seam. But there that light leak is nevertheless.


These images remind me of well-worn postcards. This image in particular has a slight 3-D effect.

City Market

Brownie Star cameras in good nick are pleasant enough to shoot. The viewfinders are large but not generous, and they do a reasonable job of limiting parallax. The shutter button is neither too easy nor too hard to press down, and it’s in a good location on the front of the camera. The shutter is fast enough that a reasonable effort to hold the camera still avoids shake.

Black Dog Books

Focus is fixed. I’m guessing, as facts are scarce, but everything is in focus from probably 10 feet.

Fake tree on the porch

Shooting this Kodak Brownie Starlet flashed me back to the Brownie Starmatic II of my youth. They are much the same camera, except for details. It was nice to reconnect with my nine-year-old self making those first images with my first camera.

Geese on the road

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Brownie Starlet gallery.

I had a nice time shooting this Kodak Brownie Starlet. It’s no wonder the Brownie Star cameras sold by the bajillions in their day, and still turn up even today in antique shops and yard sales. Sadly, freshly manufactured 127 film has been hit or miss since the 1990s. As of this writing, Rera Pan 100, a black-and-white film, is available in 127. A couple people in the film community cut down fresh 120 film and spool it onto 127 spools, but it’ll cost you. (B&H carries some.) You can also try expired film, as I did, but there’s only a limited supply and results will vary.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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11 responses to “Kodak Brownie Starlet”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Since the first of these models was produced in 1957, it hard not to think that these were totally a branding project for Kodak to flood the baby boomers with “first” cameras, in affordable packages that were priced for birthday and Christmas gifts. My first camera was actually a hand-me-down Kodak 620 folder, and had results, both based on film size and glass lens quality, that were so superior to these, that I can’t imagine someone with even a little experience would have been happy with the output from these cameras. This might have been the first step by the marketing department, culminating with the 110 cameras and disc cameras, to see actually how little image quality the consumer would be willing to put up with! Kodak made millions of these, but I wonder how many of these were gifts that ended up being used a few times a year and then forgotten until yard sale time. I remember even seeing the prints from smaller plastic cameras when I was a kid and not being that interested in using the cameras that were responsible. The wild world of amateur camera development in the era of modern branding!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      So… you’re saying you’re not a fan? :-)

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        I actually think the film was a great “lost format”! Can you imagine a 127 rangefinder camera, similar to the Fuji 6×7, only half the size? I kick myself for passing on a “baby” Rollei for practically nothing back in the 80’s… Marc, below, brings up the great super slide format. At one time, I had both a 16 exposure 6×4.5 back, and a 16 exposure super slide back for my Hasselblads, including a film cutter that cut the super slide size right out of the film, and a box of super slide 2×2 frames with a heat mounter….all gone now…during a slide show, when one of those popped up, it was impressive!

  2. Marc Beebe Avatar

    I have of course had many, many 127 cameras and not just Brownie “Stars” or even Kodaks. It was a good film size for sure, but to see it at its best you need a Yashica 44 or similar. How else can you get ‘Super Slides’? The wide range of variations in the “Star” series makes them an interesting collectable in their own right.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope to find a Y44 one day that is at a price I’m willing to pay. Meanwhile, my Kodak Brownie Starmatic continues to perform reasonably well.

  3. Suzassippi Avatar

    These photographs had an ethereal look, like a watercolor in some, and more like acrylic or oil in others. That is the part that is fascinating to me, and especially those city images.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You never know what you’re going to get with expired film, but this time, yes, these images do look a little bit like paintings.

  4. Peter Miller Avatar
    Peter Miller

    In 1963 my mother said I needed a camera — whatever was in the Spiegel mail order catalog. It was a choice of a Kodak Instamatic, 126 film size or a Brownie, 127 film size. Should have bought the 126 Instamatic, the 127 frustrated me, I took OK pictures but it wasn’t until I scanned the negatives recently that I really saw details. Actually shot some Ektachrome slides with flash bulbs in 1967 and the square 127 slides in the standard 2×2 size are funky to look out. The slides don’t enlarge very well. She must have sensed my frustration with that camera because she decided that Summer of 1967 I needed a new camera, which was one of the Yashica Lynx models…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That Lynx was an enormous upgrade!

      If it’s any consolation, the lenses in the Instamatics weren’t any better, really.

  5. J P Avatar

    Looking at this, I wonder if this was the camera my grandma used all through the 1960s.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wouldn’t know, of course, but these were super common.

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