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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Film Photography

I bought hand-cut and -rolled 127 film from eBay user jrdnmrk for my Kodak Baby Brownie (and for my Kodak Brownie Starmatic, pictures from which I’ll share in an upcoming post).

It was a pretty good experience. The film came rolled with proper tightness. The green tape seal was easy enough to remove. The backing paper came from either this or some other roll of film, and had 127 numbering hand-marked on it. The photos below illustrate; click to see any of them larger. The last two show the film numbering inside the Baby Brownie (eight photos) and the Brownie Starmatic (twelve photos), respectively.

 

At the end of each roll I found a Kodak sealing band, but too far up the backing paper. So I just removed it and affixed it where I wanted it to go. Dwayne’s processed each roll with no trouble.

Using hand-cut 127 film

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Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Baby Brownie

1957 in Knightstown

Isn’t this thing just cute? Made of Bakelite and aluminum, this palm-sized box camera from the late 1930s is almost certainly the smallest ever made to accept 127 film.

Kodak Baby Brownie

I’ve shot this camera but once. I put my last roll of Efke 100 through it. I wasn’t wowed with the results. The lens might have been dirty; that’s been a common problem with old boxes I’ve encountered. So before shooting it this time I swabbed it clean with rubbing alcohol. Or it could just be that I don’t like the look of Efke 100. This shot of my last house was by far the best of that roll.

Home sweet home

So this time I shot Ektar, which in my experience is the best film for testing an old box. Such cameras tend to operate at 1/50 sec. at f/8, or 1/40 sec at f/11, or some other similar aperture/shutter-speed combo. On a sunny day, ISO 100 film is a good fit. Ektar in particular has wide enough exposure latitude to make up for unsunny days and exposure vagaries from box to box.

Centerville

Kodak doesn’t make Ektar or any other film in 127; nobody does. But I found a fellow on eBay who cuts various 120 films down to 127’s width and respools the stuff onto 127 spools. His film flowed flawlessly through my Baby Brownie.

Centerville

As you can see, however, light leaked everywhere onto these frames. There was evidence of leaking light on my Efke 100 roll but not as strong as here. Given the hand-rolled nature of the film I can’t be sure something wasn’t perfect with the way the film was rolled, either. But I’m betting it’s the Brownie.

Centerville

This is such a wonderful little camera to use. Pop up the viewfinder, frame, and slide the shutter lever. You get used to its front-and-center placement in no time, and it moves easily. Shooting at close range, however, you can see this simple lens’s tendency toward barrel distortion.

1957 in Knightstown

I brought the Baby Brownie onto the National Road in eastern Indiana in August; these photos are from Centerville and Knightstown, Indiana. To see more from this little box, check out my Kodak Baby Brownie gallery.

Even though my Baby Brownie outing was pleasant, I’m not that likely to shoot very much 127 going forward. If I do, I know I’ll always get out my Kodak Brownie Starmatic. It’s even more pleasant to use, its lens is better, and it leaks considerably less light (as you’ll see in an upcoming Operation Thin the Herd review). I briefly considered keeping the Baby Brownie for display, but in the end decided it’s time to let it find its next owner.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Film Photography

Fresh 127 film is hard to come by. Kodak stopped making it in 1995. Croatian film producer Efke kept 127 alive until they ceased all film production in 2012. The two remaining sources are Rera Pan b/w film from Japan or the Bluefire Murano color film from Canada. But they’re often out of stock.

I found a fellow on eBay, user jrdnmark, who cuts 120 film down to 127 size. He makes his own backing paper but uses old 127 spools. He offers a whole bunch of popular films in 127: Ektar, Portra 400, Provia 100F, T-Max 100 and 400, Tri-X 400, Delta 100, and HP5 400.

I bought two rolls of Ektar from him to push through my two 127 cameras (both Kodaks: a Brownie Starmatic and a Baby Brownie) soon as part of Operation Thin the Herd.

custom127film

This fellow also offers hand-cut film in 16mm format for spy cameras, if that’s your jam. Do check out his eBay store if this appeals to you.

 

A source of fresh 127 film

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Photography, Stories Told

My first roll of film

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

When my grandmother gave me a quarter to buy the old Kodak Brownie Starmite II at a garage sale, I don’t think either of us could have predicted that it would spark a lifelong love of cameras, which would lead to a growing interest in photography when I reached middle age.

It was August of 1976. The nation had just turned 200, and I was about to turn nine. I saved my allowance to buy a roll of film. Money in hand, I went to Hook’s Dependable Drugs to buy some Kodacolor II. The instructions said to load the camera in subdued light. Taking it a little too far, I first tried to load the camera in my pitch dark closet, where I couldn’t see a thing. So I moved to the bathroom and loaded the camera by night light. And then I went out to shoot. I wrote about the experience here.

Not long ago I dug out my negatives from that first roll of film and scanned them on my new photo and film scanner. I was eager to see some of these images again for the first time in 36 years, for when I got the prints back from Hook’s later that August, I gave most of them away to the children I photographed.

As you might imagine, my photographic skills were terrible! Among my first subjects was our beagle, George. I still have this print, but poor George is just a dot on it as I stood way too far back. My scanner let me enlarge the image.

George

Neighborhood children were my subjects on most of the roll, however. These little girls are Muffy and Dawn, and they came to my back yard to be photographed.

Meredith and Dawn

I was so mad at my brother Rick for stabbing his rubber knife into the frame just as I clicked the shutter on Darin, who is Dawn’s older brother. This negative shows some signs of age and rough treatment.

Darin

This is another neighborhood Dawn, the younger sister of Mike. My brother and Mike have been friends for 40 years now. Sadly, Dawn passed away several years ago. This photo also features the side of our garage and a little bit of my finger in the bottom right corner.

Dawn

One of the neighborhood girls was eager to try my camera, so I let her shoot me and another girl who I can’t identify. Perhaps if the camera had been held steadier I’d recognize her face!

Unidentified girl and me

Seeing these faces for the first time in 36 years was a delight. I wish I had shot more so I could have images of more of the many children in our neighborhood. Alas, we moved in October, and my next roll of film would be of children in our new neighborhood.

If you’d like to see all the images I scanned from this roll, click here to see the whole gallery.

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Brownie Reflex, Synchro Model

Because I’m way too busy getting ready for my wedding this Saturday, I’m doing some reruns this week. I thought you might enjoy the first camera review I ever wrote, published nine years ago today!

When I was a kid, a Kodak Brownie Reflex, Synchro Model, found its way into my hands. I think it might have been my uncle Jack’s. It was an ugly duckling of black plastic with hard corners and an aluminum faceplate. But I’d never seen a twin-lens camera before, and spent hours looking down into its viewfinder, considering its fisheyed world. I never ran film through it – the shutter button was sticky, and a crack ran up the body. It was useless.

Now that I’m gingerly collecting cameras again, my old friend Michael e-mailed me recently and said, “Hey, I saw your blog post that said you used to have a Brownie Reflex. I have one here doing nothing. Do you want it?”

Does a wino want a case of Thunderbird?

This one is crack-free and its shutter button slides on silk. It even came with a flash unit every bit as ugly as the camera itself. Everything on and in the camera was dirty, so last night I broke out the tiny screwdrivers, Q-tips, and rubbing alcohol and went inside. It cleaned up pretty nicely. The only thing I didn’t try to clean was the cloudy lens, which was behind the shutter works. I’ll do that on a day when I have the patience for intricate work.

Brownie Reflex, Synchro Model

Some stains wouldn’t come off the mirror inside the viewfinder, as this photo shows. Twin-lens cameras show mirror images in the viewfinder, which is disorienting until you get the hang of it.

Brownie Reflex viewfinder

The Kodak Brownie Reflex, Synchro Model, was made in the United States from 1941 to 1952. (A non-synchro model, which didn’t synchronize the flash with the shutter, was made from 1940 to 1941.) Its original price was $6. It took typical square photos on 127 rollfilm. Kodak made millions of these cameras, so they’re pretty easy to come by. For more information, including a PDF of this camera’s manual, go to the Brownie Camera Page.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all of my old-camera reviews!

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