This is the cutest little camera you’ll ever see for film you can hardly get anymore. It’s too bad 127 film is so hard to come by, because the Kodak Baby Brownie is a lot of fun to use. Read my updated review here.
119 US 40, Centerville
Kodak Baby Brownie
Kodak Ektar 100
I sold my Kodak Baby Brownie recently, to someone who’d had one many years ago and wanted to relive old memories. You might recall this tiny camera had its turn in Operation Thin the Herd and I decided not to keep it. It languished on my For Sale page for months.
As I packed and shipped it I looked back at some of the images I made with it. I like the composition of this one, but the lab didn’t get the film flat before they scanned it. I find that most labs struggle to scan the odd sizes. I’ll bet they have to scan them by hand.
Then there are those light leaks. Could be the camera, could be the hand-cut and -rolled film I bought on eBay. I wanted to shoot Ektar in this tiny box, because Ektar has been a solid performer in every box I’ve put it into. My other options involved films I’d never shot before, one called Rera Pan and another called Rollei Crossbird — the last 127 films still manufactured.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s just so cute. And it fits into the palm of your hand. Meet the tiny 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.