Photography, Road Trips

A Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and expired film on the Mother Road

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash ModelYou’d better believe I took one of my old cameras along on my family’s Route 66 trip. Kodak’s 1950s Brownie Hawkeye undoubtedly shot millions of vacations in the middle of the last century, and it is relatively compact and dead simple to use. It seemed like the perfect companion for my family’s Route 66 vacation.

The previous owner of my Brownie Hawkeye thought it was a good vacation camera, too. This camera’s last use was to shoot a Niagara Falls vacation in the late 1960s – see those photos here.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and expired filmThe Brownie Hawkeye takes 620 film, which hasn’t been made in almost 20 years. I’ve been known to buy fresh film hand-respooled onto 620 spools.

But last year I bought a flatbed film scanner and scanned some negatives from a roll of Kodak Verichrome Pan I shot in 1976, when I was a lad of 10. See those photos here. Verichrome Pan was arguably the number one amateur black-and-white film in the United States from its introduction in 1956 to its discontinuation about four decades later. I itched to shoot one more roll, so I bought one on eBay. It expired in September, 1985.

This was strictly an exercise in nostalgia. There’s a happy contingent of film photographers who like expired film’s unpredictable results. I am not among them. Expired Verichrome Pan has a good reputation for returning usable images, and the roll I bought was advertised as having been stored cold, which should have preserved it. I was disappointed that this roll returned faint, noisy images. I monkeyed around with the scans in Photoshop to darken them up and bring out some contrast.

This is the 1932 Standard service station in Odell, Illinois. See more photos of it here.

1932 Standard station

Here’s a shot from the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri; see more photos here.

Wagon Wheel Motel

These dilapidated log cabins are part of John’s Modern Cabins, an abandoned motel of sorts on an abandoned stretch of the Mother Road west of Doolittle, Missouri. I’ll write more about these cabins in an upcoming post.

John's Modern Cabins

Not long ago, the Film Photography Project found a cache of 620 Kodak Gold 200 film in England, expired since June of 1996 but stored cold ever since. They offered it for sale; some is still available as I publish this post. Click here to buy some – but brace for impact, as it is not cheap. I bought two rolls and put one into my Brownie Hawkeye. Now, the Hawkeye was built for the slow films of the 1950s. Verichrome Pan, at ISO 125, was a pretty fast film at the time. So I figured that I’d get a whole roll of overexposed shots from this ISO 200 color film, and I was right. Fortunately, I know a couple Photoshop tricks that brought out color and detail in the washed-out images.

This photo is of the great sign of the Rest Haven Court on the Mother Road in Springfield, Missouri. I really like the color in this shot.

Rest Haven Court

Some thick clouds had rolled in when we reached Carthage, Missouri. They created quite a mood for this photograph.

66 Drive-In

This is Pops, which is out in the middle of nowhere east of Oklahoma City. (There’s a whole lot of middle of nowhere on Route 66 in Oklahoma.) I’ll write more about Pops in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, dig the 66-foot-tall pop-bottle sculpture.

Pops

Finally, when my sons and I stopped for the night at the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri, I took this dusk shot of the lit sign. I thought perhaps I’d get a usable low-light image because of the film’s relatively high speed. I cropped this shot to this size because the processor frustratingly put a sticker on this frame. (Yes, this sign is a brother of the Rest Haven Court sign; both were made by the same company.)

Munger Moss Motel

The Brownie Hawkeye is super easy to use. You hold it at bellybutton level and peer down into the viewfinder; when you like the framing, you gently press down the shutter button. I did lose three frames on the roll of Verichrome Pan when the latch gave way and the camera opened. And then I dropped the Brownie Hawkeye while photographing the Blue Whale of Catoosa; fortunately, this only scuffed the aluminum and chipped a tiny bit of the body. Even if the fall had irreparably damaged the Brownie Hawkeye, they remain plentiful and inexpensive.

I have one more roll of the expired Kodak Gold 200 left. I’d like to see how this film can really perform, so I plan to shoot it in a 620 camera that lets me adjust exposure and packs a fine lens, such as my Kodak Monitor Six-20.

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I have two other Brownies:
a Brownie Reflex and a Brownie Starmatic.

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Photography

Verichrome Pan memories

Welcome to the 500th post on Down the Road!

Shortly after I shot my first roll of film as a boy in 1976, my family moved from Rabbit Hill to a larger home on Erskine Boulevard. As summer faded into autumn I returned to Hook’s Dependable Drugs for more film, this time going for black-and-white Verichrome Pan.

Kodak designed Verichrome Pan to work in the simplest cameras for the unskilled photographer – like nine-year-old me with my Brownie Starmite II. This film had extremely wide exposure latitude, meaning it could get a usable image under a huge range of conditions.

I found those negatives recently and scanned them. This is my favorite shot from the roll. On the left is Kevin, a neighborhood boy and coincidentally the son of my family’s dentist. My brother’s on the right. They had been playing catch in the front yard, but I knew that my camera couldn’t freeze their motion. So I staged this shot by asking them to pose. Kevin passed away as a young adult, so it was a sad moment for me when this image emerged from the scanner, onto my monitor, and into my eyes for the first time in 36 years.

Verichrome Pan memories

This, the crispest shot on the roll, is of my brother in the front yard on a warmer day. My mom always patched the knees of our play jeans when they inevitably wore out. Those were more active times for youth. My sons, products of the video-game era, have never worn out the knees of their jeans.

Verichrome Pan memories

My brother took this blurry shot of me on the same day. We both had several of these tank tops, which were a staple of our play-clothes wardrobe. I am astonished by how much this reminds me of my youngest son – his hair, the shape of his jaw and chin, the facial expression, the way he stands. My arms are longer, though. I have unusually long arms. I constantly have to return long-sleeved sport shirts because the cuff doesn’t reach my wrist.

Verichrome Pan memories

A few shots remained on the roll after the leaves had fallen off the trees. I was wearing school clothes when my brother shot this. Mom loved to dress us in plaid pants. They were stylish in 1972, I guess, but by the time of this photo in 1976 they were just embarrassing! Most of our friends were allowed to wear jeans to school, but not us. Mom finally relented when we entered middle school. Note the fire hydrant. To celebrate the Bicentennial, every hydrant in South Bend was painted to look like a Revolutionary War soldier or a father of our country. I wish I had a better photo of the one in our yard. Most of them were replaced over time with plain yellow plugs, but a few of these hydrants may still lurk on side streets.

Verichrome Pan memories

By 1976, most casual photographers had upgraded to Instamatic cameras and were shooting color film. By the 1990s, most snapshooters were buying reasonably well specified 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras, even the simplest of which could get good exposure under most circumstances. There was little need for Verichrome Pan anymore, though Kodak doggedly kept producing it for many years. They finally stopped making it in 127 (for the Brownie that produced these images) in 1995. Soon you could get it only in good old 120, but even that ended in 2002.

I wish I had shot more of it back then. I wish I could shoot it in my simple old cameras now. It would just be right.

I shot black and white not long ago,
using modern T-Max film. Check it out!

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Camera Reviews

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model

I shy away from cameras that take 620 film. I own a few, as they’re plentiful; Kodak and other manufacturers puked out bazillions of them. But in 1995 Kodak discontinued 620 film, instantly orphaning them all.

620 film is nothing more than still-available 120 film wound onto thinner spools. This makes it still possible to shoot with 620 cameras, as all you need to do is re-roll 120 film onto a 620 spool (instructions here). You can also take your chances with expired 620 film, which can be found on eBay. Or you can buy fresh, hand-respooled 620 film, such as from the Film Photography Project (here).

The Kodak Brownie Hawkeye takes 620 film. It is a glorified box camera, but such was the state of proletarian photography for much of the 20th century. Many collectors report that some Brownie Hawkeyes accept 120 film on the supply spool, which would certainly make it less of a hassle to shoot with this camera.

I love it when a simple camera gets good results, and so I was charmed when I saw the great images well-known camera guy Ken Rockwell got with a Brownie Hawkeye on Route 66. I immediately bought one.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model

The Brownie Hawkeye was introduced in 1949; the flash model followed in 1950. They cost $5.50 and $7, respectively, which is about $60 and $75 today. Its Bakelite plastic body probably looked modern and pleasant in those days, but certainly looked outdated in 1961 when this camera finally went out of production. It sports a single-element meniscus lens with an aperture somewhere around f/14 or f/16. Pressing the ridged gray button that wraps around the camera’s top right corner fires the shutter, which stays open for about 1/30 second. If you pull up the smooth gray button that wraps around the camera’s top left corner, the shutter stays open as long as you hold the shutter button down. The flash model has two pins on the side that accept several Kodak flash units.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model

To load film, clip in a new roll up top, thread the film around the back, and insert the film leader into a takeup spool on the bottom. Put the back on the camera, lock it closed with the little slider on top under the handle, and slowly turn the winding knob until 1 appears in the little red window on the camera’s back. To frame a shot, hold the camera in front of your torso and look down into the viewfinder. Press the shutter button when you’re ready. The shutter button doesn’t lock after you press it, so if you press it again you’ll get a double exposure.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Flash Model

The Brownie Hawkeye had a number of running changes during its 11-year run. Early cameras had metal winding knobs and little rivets next to the flash pins. Kodak fitted glass lenses and viewfinders at first, but switched to plastic in later cameras. The button for long exposures has various markings, from B (for bulb) to L (for long) to LONG, depending on when the camera was made. Mine has a CAMEROSITY code of CYRM, meaning it was made in November, 1953. Its winding knob is plastic, and its lens and viewfinder are glass. Its long exposure button is marked L.

If you like simple cameras like this, check out my reviews of the Agfa Clack (here), the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), the Kodak Duaflex II (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

A special gift was hidden inside this Brownie Hawkeye – a roll of exposed Verichrome Pan film. I sent it right off to Film Rescue International, which specializes in getting images from long-expired film. I was delighted when they returned several good images. Judging by the cars and the scenery, it appears that this family visited Niagara Falls in the late 1960s.

Rescued film

The roll features several shots of the falls. My experience with small waist-level viewfinders is that framing a level shot can be challenging. This photographer would probably agree – if he or she could see these photos.

Rescued film

I hope someone someday comes upon this post and recognizes this family. I’d like to reconnect them with their photographs!

Rescued film

When I took my sons on a Route 66 vacation, I thought I’d follow in Ken Rockwell’s footsteps and bring the Brownie Hawkeye along. I first loaded some 620 Kodak Verichrome Pan that expired in September of 1985. I…did not get the stunning results Rockwell did. Here’s the Standard service station in Odell, IL.

1932 Standard station

Ah, the vagaries of expired film. The Brownie Hawkeye was pleasant to use, though: walk up, frame the shot, push the button. The button has nice travel and requires only moderate finger pressure. The below photo from the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, MO, looks like an illustration from a dystopian novel.

Wagon Wheel Motel

I also shot a roll of 620 Kodak Gold 200 expired since June of 1996, making this among the last rolls of 620 film Kodak produced. These look better to me than any of my Verichrome Pan work, but they are all underexposed and suffer from heavy color shifting. This is the Wagon Wheel Motel again, with our car parked outside.

Wagon Wheel Motel

My film choices aside, the Brownie Hawkeye did its job fine, delivering good sharpness even out into the corners.

66 Drive-In

This is the best photo I made with the Brownie Hawkeye. I tweaked it heavily in Photoshop to reduce haze and boost contrast. The color shifts make the shot in this case. You’ll find this sign in Springfield, MO.

Rest Haven Court

To see more from this camera, check out my Brownie Hawkeye gallery.

If you like simple box cameras and are willing to deal with the 620 film problem, you’ll like the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. It’s a pleasant shooter that delivers good results.

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

Kodak Six-20

Kodak Six-20

I love vintage folding cameras. They’re great for any camera collector because models can be had at any price. The better ones are, of course, more expensive. But to the untrained eye one old folder looks much like another and gives off a great vintage air.

Unfortunately, so many vintage folders take discontinued film sizes. Here’s a list of all of them.

A great many old folders take 620 film. Even though that film was discontinued in 1995, it is the same stuff as 120 film, except that it is wound around a narrower spool. 120 is still made and, as the professional standard, is widely available. Because you can roll 120 film onto a 620 spool — or just buy it pre-respooled from the Film Photography Project — any working 620 camera can still take photos.

Kodak is the undisputed king of folding cameras, and some of the ones they produced are extra lovely with Art Deco details. Like this one, the Six-20, which I found in good cosmetic condition on eBay for $30. Nab!

Kodak Six-20

The Kodak Six-20 was manufactured from 1932 to 1937. It cost $38 when new, which is equivalent north of $600 today. It packs a 100mm f/6.3 Kodak Anastigmat lens, which is probably a three-element Cooke triplet type. It was considered a good quality lens at the time. The Kodon shutter is nothing special, though, with speeds of 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 sec. and bulb.

The camera sports two viewfinders. The first is a small “brilliant” type attached to the lens assembly that swivels to frame portrait and landscape photos. The second is a gunsight type attached to the camera body; it frames only landscape photos. As you can see, my Six-20’s brilliant finder is foggy.

Kodak Six-20

What really set the Six-20 apart was its art deco styling. This photo shows not only some of those details, but that I needed to do a better job of wiping the dust off my camera before I photographed it. The button next to the film winder opens the self-erecting bellows.

Kodak Six-20

Even the folding mechanism is attractive on the Six-20.

Kodak Six-20

By the way, if you like old folders I’ve reviewed several others, including the Voigtländer Bessa (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), and the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

The Kodak Six-20 takes eight rectangular photos on every roll of 620 film. I loaded some Kodak Plus-X and went to town, albeit briefly, as it takes little time to snap eight shots. I shot using the Sunny 16 rule. Aside from the foggy brilliant viewfinder, the camera itself functioned well.

Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis

But I’m not happy with the scans I got back from the processor. Actually, they didn’t make scans – they photographed the negatives with a digital camera and reversed the images in Photoshop. The negatives look better than these images. I think I’ll use a different processor next time! But my habit is to show you photos from the first roll I shoot, and so here you go.

Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis

This is the shed in my back yard. I had to do some fancy footwork in post processing to make the images look this good.

Barn

I put this camera on a nearby shelf where I could gaze upon its beauty. I kept meaning to shoot it again, but six years passed before I did. First, I disassembled the lens and cleaned it. Then I bought a roll of expired (1/2004), cold-stored, hand-respooled Kodak Verichrome Pan from the Film Photography Project store and spooled it into this octogenarian camera. I got much better results this time.

Church building

This may be a good looking camera, and it may have been expensive in its day, but its lens and especially its shutter weren’t among the finest Kodak had to offer. I’ll bet the shutter is just a simple leaf as found in Kodak’s box cameras, as it requires no cocking.

Graeter's

I shot the Six-20 on a tripod this time in a bid to tame camera shake and to level the camera better than my bare hands can. It helped, but it could not tame this lens’s tendency to flare.

Meridian Street bridge

Things that should have been in focus tended to come out soft, as well. Perhaps the lens needed to be collimated.

Starbucks

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Six-20 gallery.

Even though I was disappointed in these results, I have no regrets. But I can’t imagine using this camera regularly. There are simply too many folders out there that do better work.

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