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