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.

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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

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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Camera Reviews

Kodak Baby Brownie

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It’s just so cute. And it fits into the palm of your hand. Meet the tiny Kodak Baby Brownie.

Kodak Baby Brownie

Produced from 1934 to 1941 in the United States and from 1948 to 1952 in the United Kingdom, the Baby Brownie is about as simple as a camera can be. Made of Bakelite, it features a glass meniscus (single-element) lens and a rotary shutter. I’d bet that this combo is something like f/11 at 1/40 sec., or maybe f/8 at 1/60, or f/16 at 1/30, so the camera can capture a usable image outdoors under most lighting conditions.

Kodak Baby BrownieKodak Baby BrownieKodak Baby Brownie

The Baby Brownie produces eight 4×6 photographs on 127 roll film. To take photos, you pop up the viewfinder, frame the scene, and then slide the lever under the lens to the left to fire the shutter. The lever springs back. Wind the film to the next frame right away so you don’t forget, because nothing about this camera prevents double exposure.

Noted industrial designer Walter Teague designed this clever little camera. Perhaps it was a reflection of the time, but much of his work reflected streamlined and art-moderne sensibilities. But his designs were also practical and functional. To wit, on the Baby Brownie, the lever on the bottom separates the camera so you can load film. The spool clips are up front; you thread the film around the back.

Kodak Baby Brownie

When new, the Baby Brownie cost just $1. That’s equivalent to about $18 today. I checked Amazon, by the way, and you can get a new digital camera for under $20. But the reviews say you won’t like it very much — faulty software and lousy image quality. And none of those cameras are made by a company you’d recognize, let alone the number one consumer camera maker in the world.

I’m on a jag to use up the oldest films in my fridge. That’s why I bought this camera — my final roll of Efke 100 in 127 size had been in there for a couple years and it was past time to shoot it. I could have shot this roll in my Kodak Brownie Starmatic, but I’d done that before and wasn’t excited about the results. I was a little happier with the photos I got back from the Baby Brownie. They had pretty good clarity and detail.

Suburban shopping

The Baby Brownie delivers considerable softness and distortion in the corners, however, but that’s pretty normal for such a simple camera. It also probably didn’t matter when this camera was new, as it was advertised as making 1 5/8 x 2 1/2 inch prints — essentially contact prints off the negatives.

Home sweet home

Here’s the building I work in. Fans of the show Parks and Recreation might recognize it as the Gryzzl building. I kind of wish I hadn’t used the whole roll taking landscape and architectural shots, and had gathered a couple friends to shoot them from about 10 or 15 feet away. I’ll bet that’s the kind of photograph this camera was made for.

Gryzzl

All of the 127 cameras I ever shot delivered square photos. It was novel to get 4×6 photos from the Baby Brownie. But the pop-up viewfinder shows considerably less than what the camera sees. When I framed this shot, the Wrecks sign filled much, much more of the frame. The photo above of my house filled the viewfinder from left to right. If I shoot the Baby Brownie again, I’ll choose subjects 10 to 15 feet away and see how it behaves. I’m betting Kodak designed this camera to favor family photos rather than landscapes.

Wrecks

When I next shoot this Baby Brownie, I’ll cover the red window with black electrical tape. In the shot above, you can just make out the frame numbers printed on the film’s backing paper. This was much more pronounced on one other shot from the roll. To see more photos from this roll, check out my Kodak Baby Brownie gallery.

Everything about using this Baby Brownie was a delight and a pleasure, starting with when I first held it in my hands. I couldn’t get over how small it was! And then it was so easy to carry with me. I even found the shutter lever to be intuitive and easy, despite its unusual left-right action and placement under the lens.

I’d like to shoot this camera again. But even though Efke stopped making film a few years ago, all is not lost: as of 2015, a few 127 films are available. You can buy Ilford HP5 Plus cut down from 120 and hand spooled at B&H Photo. Or you can buy one of the three newish films specially made in 127: an ISO 100 black-and-white film called Rera Pan, available at B&H and at Freestyle, as well as color films at ISO 160 and 400 called Bluefire Murano, available from Frugal Photographer. These films are all pricey a bit north of $10 a roll, but that they are available at all today is remarkable.


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

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