Camera Reviews

Kodak Baby Brownie

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 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.

Kodak Baby Brownie

Noted industrial designer Walter Teague designed this clever little camera. Perhaps it reflected of the time, but much of his work involved streamlined and Art Deco 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.

If you like 127 cameras, by the way, also see my review of the Kodak Brownie Starmatic (here). I’ve also reviewed a couple other bakelite Kodak boxes, albeit for 620 film: the Brownie Hawkeye (here) and the Duaflex II (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

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 in the center.

Suburban shopping

The Baby Brownie delivers considerable softness and light falloff 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’ve ever used 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. Since these are the kinds of subjects I shoot, I’ll need to adapt. Also: notice how the markings on the film’s backing paper came through on this shot.

Wrecks

127 film is hard to come by, limiting the ability to shoot cameras like this. A few small companies offer 127 film, which I believe is larger format film cut down to 127 size. Try the Film Photography Store (here) to see what they have in stock. Frugal Photographer may also offer some 127; try here. I bought a roll of Kodak Ektar hand-cut and respooled from this eBay seller and gave it a whirl.

1957 in Knightstown

Given that my Baby Brownie didn’t leak light when I shot the Efke, I have to think the red areas on these images come thanks to the vagaries of cutting down and respooling film by hand. But when you ignore that, aren’t these colors terrific? I do love Ektar in old box cameras.

Centerville

I made these photos on a trip down the National Road in eastern Indiana, in Knightstown and Centerville. There’s plenty of good photo subjects on this historic road. The Baby Brownie was a fine little companion.

Centerville

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

Everything about using this Kodak 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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Standard
Film Photography

The Kodak Brownie Starmatic and Efke 100

efke

I got such beautifully colorful results when I shot with my Kodak Brownie Starmatic that I knew I’d want to try a roll of black-and-white film in it. At the time, Croatian film producer Efke still made a black-and-white stock in size 127, the last one in the world. I ordered two rolls. And then their equipment promptly broke down, and the company decided to throw in the towel. At least I decided to buy before the film became unavailable.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

The Starmatic was among the most expensive Brownies ever made, costing $34.50 in 1959. That’s equivalent to $277 in 2013. The Starmatic cost so much because it offered automatic exposure, an unheard-of luxury feature among Brownies. It used a selenium meter to vary aperture (down to only f/8) around its single shutter speed, which is probably 1/30 or 1/60 sec. It adjusted for the film speed you set using a dial atop the camera, from 32 to 125 ASA. The ISO 100 Efke seemed like a perfect match for this little plastic camera.

Yet after I shot the roll, I got a set of muddy, low-contrast prints back from the processor. I use Dwayne’s to process my 127 film, and they don’t scan 127 negatives. My scanner doesn’t handle 127 negatives, either, so I have Dwayne’s make prints, which I scan.

Last time I used the Starmatic I put ISO 160 Kodak Portra in it. I set the film speed to max, 125, and hoped for the best – and got very nicely exposed images. Perhaps the selenium meter in my Starmatic is a little weak, and I would get better results with the Efke 100 if I set the Starmatic to 80 or 64. I am also curious whether I’d get better results if I scanned my negatives rather than the prints. I’ve wanted a scanner that can handle medium-format negatives, as my Epson V300 is limited to 35mm; maybe now’s the time to finally buy.

I fiddled with my print scans in Photoshop Elements. This helped, but didn’t entirely solve the muddiness. Here are the photos I liked best from this roll. I shot this tire among the rolls of hay near an abandoned, unfinished bridge.

Tire and hay

My friend Dawn lives out in the boonies and she keeps two of her neighbor’s horses on her property. Here’s one of them.

Horse

When I walked the streets of Indianapolis with my Polaroid SX-70, I wore the Brownie around my neck, too. I thought this tree was dramatic, so I shot it.

Tree

I finished the roll at home after work, as the sun was starting to set.

Shadows

You can see more photos from this roll, as well as the roll of Portra 160 I shot, and a scan of a Kodacolor II print from another Starmatic I owned when I was a teenager, in my Kodak Brownie Starmatic gallery.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard