Film Photography

Verichrome Pan in the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

I had such a nice time with the No. 2 Brownie that I immediately loaded another roll of film, this time some Verichrome Pan expired since June of 1982.

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

It felt so right to shoot that film in this camera. It was the film of Everyman for many decades, recording millions of family memories.

Moreover, unexposed Verichrome Pan has a great reputation for deteriorating slowly. When I mentioned to a film-photography friend that my VP was from 1982, he said, “Only 1982? It’s still fresh!”

When this box Brownie hits, it really hits. Just look! This is the statue before the Carnegie library in Thorntown, Indiana.

Carnegie Library, Thorntown

Yet I whiffed about half the photos on this roll thanks to camera shake and misframing. It’s very challenging to see whether a subject is level in the tiny viewfinders. I leveled subjects in Photoshop, but that tool can do nothing about motion blur.

Carnegie Library, Thorntown

Every distant subject I photographed ended up at the very bottom of the frame, with tons of sky above. I can’t tell whether that’s a fact of Brownie life or not. These cameras were designed with group shots in mind — Aunt Edna and Uncle Bill and Grandma and the cousins, at 15 feet. I never had any trouble framing subjects about that far away. Next time, when I shoot distant subjects I’ll try to compensate by moving them up in the frame.

IOOF Thorntown

It must be statute that every Indiana town have at least one building marked I.O.O.F., for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. I should do a series on Indiana Odd Fellows buildings. I’ve photographed dozens by now.

Downtown Thorntown

Downtown Thorntown is fairly plain. This building is in good shape but others could use a little love. There were few signs of life in the commercial district — I encountered nary a soul here. Speaking of souls…

Thorntown Presybterian Church

But it was a Saturday. The Presbyterians would have to wait one more day to corporately honor the glory of the Lord.

Thorntown Police

Coming upon the Thorntown Police Department reminded me of the time I nearly got a speeding ticket here, but my young and beautiful first wife got me out of it. Read that story here.

I shot this roll of Verichrome Pan the same day I finished the roll of Ektar I shared with you in this camera’s review. I sent both rolls to Old School Photo Lab, and I had the Ektar scans in a couple weeks. After two more weeks I inquired after my Verichrome Pan. The response: to get the best results from “the old stuff” they use a different developer and a special processing run, at no extra charge — and they were awaiting shipment of more developer. Color me impressed.

When I shot the Ektar, the frame numbers were in the very right edge of the ruby window, making accurate winding difficult. The Verichrome Pan frame numbers appeared smack dab in the middle of the ruby window — as if this film was made for an old box like this.

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Camera Reviews

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

We tend to think of medium format film as being for serious work with expensive gear. But its first use was in an inexpensive snapshot camera — this, the No. 2 Brownie.

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

This is actually the last of a long line of No. 2 Brownies. The first, its body made of cardboard, was introduced in 1901. Models B, C, D, and E followed. (I own a Model D, too; see my review here.) They all look like the original to me (though this page charts the minute changes). The Model F is different — not in form or function, but in construction, as its body is made of aluminum.

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

Model Fs rolled off Kodak’s assembly lines from 1924 to 1935. For some of those years you could get one in blue, brown, gray, green, or red! As you can see, mine is basic black. It is also a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras from David Ditta.

If you like old boxes, by the way, I’ve reviewed a couple others: the Ansco Shur Shot (here) and B-2 Cadet (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). A few other cameras I’ve reviewed are boxes, too, just in more modern packaging: the Agfa Clack (here), Kodak Baby Brownie (here), and the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here). You can check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

No. 2 Brownies are pretty hard to kill. They’re both so simple and robustly enough manufactured that even the jankiest one you find in the back of some dumpy junk store can probably still make images.

But these cameras can get so dirty after a century or so! I cleaned this camera’s lens and viewfinders before I put any film through it. The camera’s front plate is held on only by pressure on the sides, and it’s easy enough to pry the pressure points back. The front just falls off when you do that. It provides good access to the viewfinder glass and mirrors, which slide right out with a tweezers. Isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab made short work of 80 years of accumulated grime. Any No. 2 Brownie’s viewfinders will be dim even when clean, but when they’re dirty they’re useless.

The lens is a little harder to clean. To get at the back of the lens, remove the film insert by pulling the winding knob out and sliding the insert out. To get at the front of the lens, pull up the little tab on the top of the camera that’s to one side of the lens and flip the shutter lever — the shutter remains open until you flip the lever one more time. Again, I used a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol. Holy cow, was the front of the lens filthy.

The No. 2 Brownie offers three aperture settings, selected by pulling up the tab on top of the camera over the lens. I couldn’t begin to guess at what f stops these apertures represent, but a manual I found online says that the largest aperture (tab all the way down) is for snapshots outdoors in all but the brightest light, the middle aperture is for bright sunlight and indoor time exposures, and the smallest (tab all the way up) is for time exposures outdoors on cloudy days. I assume the shutter operates at something like 1/50 sec.

I loaded a roll of fresh Ektar. I mis-spooled it the first time and winding was so hard I feared I’d tear the film. I put the camera into my dark bag, removed the film, and started over. Then frustratingly the Ektar’s frame numbers sat at the far right edge of the ruby window. Actually, the window on mine has faded to a sickly yellow. Fearing light through the window would imprint the frame numbers onto the film, I covered the window with electrical tape and peeled it back only to wind.

Watch for Pedestrians

The Brownie focuses from about 10 feet. As you can see, the lens distorts a little and it is soft in the corners. Standard stuff for a one-element lens.

Marathon

The act of shooting a No. 2 Brownie is pleasant. You frame as best you can and gently move the shutter lever. The entire process is so quiet and gentle. You just have to accept that the teeny tiny viewfinders make it hard to tell whether your subject is level. Frame as best as you can and hope you got it right enough.

Welcome to Thorntown

Also, because of the slow shutter speed, camera shake can be a problem. The photo below shows it when you view it full size. Fortunately, the Model F offers a tripod mount. Previous models of the No. 2 Brownie lacked this useful feature.

Wrecks

See more photos from this camera in my Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F, gallery.

I love shooting with simple cameras like this. I have half a mind to shoot this camera exclusively for a time, maybe three or six months, to see what I learn. I will want to invest in my own film-processing equipment first, as it is just as expensive to have a roll of 120 processed and scanned as 35mm, to yield a quarter or a third of the number of images.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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