The Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera was very popular back in the 1950s, and sold like hot-cakes for over a decade. They were cheap, easy to use, and produced sharp 3½ x 3½ prints from about 10′ to infinity with the non-focusing, internal meniscus lens. Baby Boomers and even younger people are getting acquainted with the camera their parents or grandparents used. These little cameras show up on eBay for around $5 to $15 depending on condition. There really isn’t much to go wrong with them, and they’re easily repaired by an amateur for common problems like slow or non functioning shutter, or cloudy lens etc.
The Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera was made for 620 medium format film, which is no longer commercially available. Don’t be troubled by this, as 120 film is still available, and is exactly the same as 620 film, the only difference is in the size of the spools. I’ll explain how you can easily modify 120 film to work in your Hawkeye.
As usual, I went overboard on this review, and it’s going to cover two long pages. This page will focus on the following, each with its own section;
Modifying 120 film
loading film and getting ready to shoot
Tips for best results
This review will cover the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye flash model from the 1950s. Kodak made this style Hawkeye camera without flash compatibility from 1949-1951. The flash compatible units were produced from 1950-1961, and were sold by themselves, or in an “outfit” which included a flash unit, film, batteries, bulbs and of course the camera.
Section one, Specifications.
Name; Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera flash model
Manufactured by; Eastman Kodak Company, in Rochester NY.
Date of manufacture; 1949-61, with minor modifications over the years such as metal to plastic winding knob, placement of opening lever from R/S to L/S, addition of viewfinder guide lines and flash attachment option (flash model).
Price; non-flash model $5.50, flash model $7.00 by itself, or around $15 for the outfit.
Build material; dark brown two-piece molded plastic body, or “Bakelite,” black plastic carrying handle, metal or plastic film advance knob, depending on year of manufacture, red plastic window in back for seeing the exposure numbers, metal film spool holders, a black plastic fake lens hood, Aluminum fascia and clear glass for the see-through parts.
Weight and size; early models, 16.03oz (463g), later models, 15.4oz (437g). Film and take up spool adds .9oz (25g).
Dimensions; 4.5″ (115mm) deep from back to front of lens hood, 3.75″ (95mm) wide, including winding knob, 3.9″ (100mm) tall, from bottom to top of latch, not including handle.
Aperture; approximately F/14.5-16, depending on where you measure from. The physical aperture is about 5.15mm wide, the length from the middle of the lens center to the film plane is 74mm, the length from the aperture hole to the film plane is 86mm, I’m using the middle of the lens to the film plane for the F/14.5 figure, I don’t know which method Kodak uses to determine the aperture or corresponding focal length.
Focusing distance; listed in manual to be 5′ to infinity, things are very soft at 5-10′ (1.5-3.0m). Real use seems to be 15′-20′ to infinity for the best sharpness. Close-up attachment works great from about 3.5′-4.5′ (1.1m-1.4m)
Original print size; standard oversize prints 3½” x 3½” at this size most shots look good. Today you’ll most likely get 4″ x 4″ and they look good too.
Approximate resolution; center area about equal to a 4.0MP fixed lens camera. See Sample images at bottom of page for more info.
Focal length; Probably 75mm, but could be 85mm, depending on which measurement is correct, see “Aperture” above. The camera “sees” about the same horizontal view as a 35mm camera “sees” with a 50mm lens.
Lens; glass for most of the run, though plastic was used the last couple of years. Uncoated meniscus with plastic collar and nib, which prevents installing lens backwards. Ass backwards installment by breaking off the nib means really bad pictures. Flat uncoated glass in front of lens is not the actual lens!
Shutter and speed; self-cocking (as you press), spring loaded rotary shutter. Speed of instantaneous setting about 1/30th second, bulb setting, as long as you hold down the shutter.
Features; Long or “B” (bulb) exposures made by pulling up the left button—as you hold the camera, see photos below. Flash attachment for use with Kodak proprietary flash units, and a bright 1.1″ or 27mm diagonal waist-level viewfinder.
Film; 12 6x6cm or 2¼”x2¼” exposures with 620 film, which is no longer produced, but 120 will fit most models if you use a 620 take-up spool. 120 film is exactly the same as 620 film, the difference is in the spools. The 120 spool is slightly longer, has slightly larger diameter ends, and a larger diameter axle. Re-spooling 120 film on 620 spools is not necessary in my experience, with using three different variations of the Hawkeye, from different years. I’ve heard some people have trouble using modified 120 film, usually the complaint is hard to advance film, but again, I’ve had no problems. All you have to do is cut down the spool ends a little bit, see review section covering loading.
Double exposure prevention; No, the shutter automatically cocks itself when you press the shutter button, and is independent from the film advance knob, this can be a problem for some people! Advance the film after every shot so you won’t forget.
Accessories for this model; Simulated leather (brown) Kodak field case, Kodak No. 13 close-up attachment, Kodak No. 13 cloud filter (yellow), and several flash units.
Crippling features and omissions; shutter speed too slow, so blurry shots are common, though blurry shots don’t show up much in small prints. No tripod socket, so sharp long exposures are pure luck. No double exposure prevention, see above. Uses 620 film, but that wasn’t a problem back in the day.
Good features; no need to worry about focus or aperture choices. Point and shoot camera! Easy to hold, lightweight, and has bright waist-level viewfinder.
Section two, product shots with descriptions.
This shot shows the lens opening, flush mounted shutter button, and the viewfinder lens. The slotted screws in front are not original, I had to replace them because of bad threads. The original screws are phillips head as seen on the model above this one, which has the plastic viewfinder with center markers, and is the last version of this type Hawkeye camera.
In back we have the red window that shows the exposure number, which is printed on backing paper that covers the actual film.
Underneath, you’ll see the absence of a tripod socket, which means you’ll have a tough time making good long exposure shots.
This view shows the differences in the older model, left, and newer model on the right. The older model has a metal winding knob, and the rotating latch on top is opposite of the newer model.
Kodak changed the markings for long exposure from a simple black “B” on the inside of the flush mounted button, to the word “LONG” written on the front of the button. I can’t see where this would clear up any misunderstanding, what would long mean? A telephoto shot etc. Also notice the rivets for holding the flash connections on the older model. The newer model uses self-setting inserts.
Starting at the top image, one of the last noticeable changes for the Hawkeye (probably around 1959) was the addition of what Kodak calls “corner markers” to the recessed brilliant viewfinder, which is now made out of plastic instead of the normal glass used on all other versions. These markers didn’t show the edge of the frame, but were used to bracket a center of interest, as the owner’s manual says. The lower shot shows us an internal change. The meniscus lens is now made entirely out of plastic (right image), instead of being glass with a black plastic band around the perimeter, like the older ones, left shot. With the last known version of the Hawkeye, the internal parts; lens, viewing lens, and viewfinder are now all plastic, except the mirror, which is still glass.
If you wanted all the necessities to start taking pictures, you’d get the “outfit.” This is outfit No. 177 E.
This No. 177 E outfit has the smaller flasholder for use with smaller, less expensive M-2 bulbs, as opposed to the larger No. 5 or No. 25 bulbs. Note; the more expensive No. 177 L outfit came with the larger flasholder, with two “C” batteries, two rolls of film, and eight No. 5 or No. 25 flash bulbs. There are more “outfits” than I’ve listed here, but the two mentioned are what I have, so I can confirm what they came with.
Check out all the goodies in what I believe to be an all original unmolested outfit from about 1959-60. You get the Hawkeye camera body, with “corner markers” in the brilliant viewfinder (on this particular version), Kodacolor color negative film, exp date Oct 1960, two AA photo flash batteries, the Kodalite midget flasholder with adapter for M-2 bulbs, and six Sylvania blue-dot M2 bulbs.
Section three; official Kodak accessories for the Hawkeye, as listed in the back of the owner’s manual.
The field case, No. 13 cloud filter, and No. 13 close-up attachment are shown. This is about all you need for this camera.
This shows the original boxes and cases for the filters. The price range for these filters was about $1.25-$1.85, the cloud filter being more expensive.
This is the front and back of the cloud filter sheet that comes in the box. I used this filter on Black and white film, clouds look slightly better, but it really doesn’t do much, so don’t bother with this accessory.
The close-up filter has this chart on the inside of the top cover, so you know what the optimal distance is. In the case of our “fixed” focus Hawkeye, it’s 42″ or 1.07m. I found the sweet spot to be about 48.” The owner’s manual says 3′ to 4.5′ (914mm-1372mm).
The field case is a snug fit, but allows you to turn the winding knob ok.
There’s room for the flasholder with the case mounted, and the red window in the back shows up nicely. The two buttons on top unsnap, and the front drops down and out of the way of picture taking.
The bottom of the case, with official Kodak nomenclature.
Below are different flasholders which can be used on this camera, there are some other ones not shown here.
This is the Kodalite flasholder, which uses large No. 5 or No. 25 bulbs, and are expensive to buy today. Notice me hanging from the ceiling in the reflector.
This is the No. 775 “pocket flash” type B-1 that uses two AA batteries. It’s really small enough to fit in your pocket. It takes M-2, No. 5 or No. 25 bulbs and has a dial exposure calculator on the back. There’s another variation of this flash, but it uses a generator instead of batteries, see below.
If you don’t want to bother with using batteries, get the Kodak generator flasholder, No. 772. This one is a type 2, which uses a shoe bracket and cord. Get a type 1 for mounting on the Hawkeye. The directions say a three quarter spin is enough to fire the flash bulb. It also sports a built-in, pull-out flash guard for waist level finders, which will keep glass particles out of your eyes in case a bulb explodes. The price sticker says $14.95, from Hatton and Enright, pretty expensive back in the day, and about the same price as the whole camera “outfit.”
Section four; modifying 120 film to use in the Hawkeye.
At this point, you should inspect your camera for dirt, a foggy or dusty lens and proper shutter operation. Most likely, your camera will need cleaning, especially the lens and flat cover glass. Go here to learn how to properly clean your Hawkeye before shooting. The viewfinder condition is not so important to operation as is the lens and cover glass. Open the camera and hold the front part containing the lens up to a strong light source. Is the lens clear? If not, clean it first, otherwise, your pictures will not come out very good. To test the shutter operation, hold the complete locked camera, with the red window facing a strong light source, and look through the front of the lens. Push down on the shutter button and see if you can see a quick burst of red light. The shutter actuation should also make a sharp “clicking” sound, if it seems sticky, you’ll need to free it up by taking the camera apart.
Here’s the issue you’ll be dealing with as far as film goes. The above shot shows the differences in the spools. The 120 spool is longer and has larger diameter ends. For our purposes, longer is not much of a problem, it’s the larger ends that need to be trimmed to the basic size as the 620 spool ends.
Trim both spool ends with a pair of common household scissors, cutting the outline as you see above. Use the deepest part of the scissors, towards your hand and make short “cuts” until you’re all the way around. This image is of a Kodak spool, Fuji uses a slightly different design, but you still trim it the same amount.
The next concern is the length of the spool, which probably won’t cause any problems based on my experiences with three different variations of the Hawkeye.
The early models (like the one above) don’t have any length tabs, so there’s no modification necessary. If you have a mid-to-late model, which most people have, you may have to bend the tabs some, see below.
Kodak spent a lot of money marketing the “new” 620 film of the day, so when they learned some folks were using 120 film in their Hawkeye cameras, they added these tabs, and with the added length of the 120 spool, forced the tabs to move out, thus causing an obstruction when closing the back of the camera. You can simply bend the tabs in, or flatten them out so you can close and lock the back properly. I’ve never had much of a problem closing the backs even without bending the tabs, but then again, maybe most of these old Hawkeye cameras have been modified by the prior owners over the years!
Section Five; loading instructions.
Load the film like you see above. You feed the trimmed supply side 120 film (on left) over and down to the 620 take-up spool. You can put the take-up spool in the slot and then feed the backing paper through the slot, winding it using the knob, or leave the 620 spool out, then feed the backing paper, winding it by hand, then put it in the slot. Use whatever way works best for you. You should load the camera in subdued light. Only wind the take up (620) spool until the backing paper is taught, maybe two times around the axle, if you pull out too much paper, the actual film will start to come out, then you’ll ruin those shots. Next, put the back of the camera on properly, then begin winding, see below. Take note of the way the film is not laying flat across the chamber, which causes soft sides, there is no film pressure plate on this camera. See full sample (patio picture) down the page.
Kodak uses a series of arrows and the word “Kodak” to warn you of the upcoming No. 1 exposure. Wind slowly, when you see the word “Kodak,” the No. 1 is very close. Center the “1” in the red window, which will be sideways looking at the back of the camera in an upright manner. You are now ready to take pictures. Fuji uses a series of black dots to warn you of the next exposure.
Section six. Sample images.
Here are some resized, full images taken with three different Hawkeye cameras, all turned in the same results. The images above are about the same size as prints you’d get from your film developer.
The two top row shots show sun reflections coming from the upper right, and pretty much ruined the lighthouse shot.
The second row left shot shows what happens when you forget to advance the film, and the resulting double exposure. You can use this artistically if you want. On the right is a shot with the sun in the frame, which ruins the image.
The third row left shows a nice scene of a Saguaro studded canyon in Tucson, AZ. The right shot is a prickly pear cactus in bloom, with the close-up attachment used. Both look good enlarged.
The last row shows a blooming bougainvillea taken from 4′ (1.2m) away, using the close-up attachment. The left shot was very sharp, the right shot was very soft because of camera movement. You don’t notice the soft shot here because of the small viewing or print size. You can also see the light fall-off (left shot) caused by the close-up attachment.
Most shots show a thin, white band across the entire frame at the top, especially noticeable in the top left image, or bottom left image above. I don’t know what causes this, and it doesn’t happen in every shot, like the left second row image for example. This is easy to rectify, just crop the image slightly.
There’s strong barrel distortion with this camera, however, it isn’t noticeable unless you have straight lines near the image periphery.
Click the picture for a full sized (2384×2384, 1.2mp) image. The scan rate is probably a bit too high, so there’s no loss of quality with this image using compression. I had the scans saved as 16mb TIFF, and I noticed no difference when I adjusted and saved them to JPEG. You’ll get a good idea of the characteristics, and resolution of this camera by this one picture. This picture showed about the same resolution using the 4.0MP Olympus C-750UZ as the Hawkeye, but only in the central area.
I took this shot using a sturdy mount, and included objects close, at mid-range, and infinity. The chaise lounge back in about 11′ (3.4m) away, the brown roof post about 20′ (6.1m) away. I see strong color fringing on the left side in the transition zone from sun to shade. You can see the soft sides (right side most visible here) very clearly, and this is indicative of what you’ll get with most shots, although some images show the sides a little sharper than others. The reason for this is the camera uses no film pressure plate, which is used to keep the film flat and even across the frame, so without it, the film does not lay perfectly flat, and therefore doesn’t focus properly on the loose sides. See the first picture in “loading instructions,” (top part of picture) where the film backing is not laying even and flat, (to illustrate what I’m talking about). Such is the problems with cheap cameras.
Click for full sized image, same as first shot, though only 818kb. This image was taken with the close-up attachment installed, with the center of the plant about 4′ (1.2m) away. The main subject looks nice and sharp here, the limited depth of field softens the area around the plant, which is fine.
The two crops above are comparisons of the Kodak Hawkeye, and the 4.0mp Olympus C-750UZ camera, taken at the same distance, and same basic focal length. Both are cropped from the central area. It looks to me like the overall resolution is about the same. The Olympus is using more sharpening, and smoothing out some details, (see wood grain in back) while the Hawkeye has some film grain visible, and appears slightly softer in certain areas. Also consider I held down the shutter button continuously on the Kodak for a 30 sec exposure, using the close-up attachment. The Olympus exposure was 1 sec at F/4, ISO 50 at the highest quality setting. The two bottle labels are about 4′ (1.2m) away from the lens. The dark band down the middle is a mullion.
Bottom line; the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye has about the same resolution, with, and without the close-up attachment as the 4.0MP Olympus C-750UZ, (or similar camera) but only in the central area, the sides are obviously softer on the Kodak.
Section seven, tips for the best pictures.
Load film in low light.
Advance film immediately after taking a picture, that way you won’t get double exposures.
Make sure the shutter works properly, and the lens and front glass are clean, go here for instructions.
Use film with a speed of ISO 160 to ISO 200. ISO 100 is too slow for anything but very bright sunny days.
I used Kodak Portra 160NC, I like it, nice grain but dull colors, Fujifilm Superia 100, just ok, Kodak Tmax 100, good, but why bother with black and white? Finally, Fujifilm Pro 160C, wild colors, especially the reds, almost over-the-top saturation, my favorite film.
To avoid soft sides, turn the camera sideways and shoot, it’s the same aspect ratio, and the soft sides end up at the top and bottom, where you won’t notice it.
Hold the camera very steady, preferably on a steady support. Small images look fine and won’t show camera shake, but if you get your negatives scanned, and look at them blown way up on your computer screen, you’ll notice movement.
Prints and scans from your developer will probably need to be adjusted, especially from highlight blow-out, which is easily recoverable on color negative film. Don’t expect your developed film to look as good as a digital camera picture without being adjusted. That’s why you may want to get your negatives scanned.
Don’t use the close-up attachment for anything farther than 5′ (1.5m) or you’ll get blurry shots.
Don’t shoot closer than 10′ (3m) from your subject, it’s just too blurry. Small prints may be OK.
Don’t shoot with the sun close to the front of the camera lens.
Polarizer use is fine, just hold it up to the viewfinder lens, adjust, then move it down in front of the regular lens.
Keep the camera out of the direct sun as much as possible, otherwise you may get light streaks from a leaky box or shutter system.
Remove film in low light, then wrap in foil and take to your developer, also remind them to return the 620 spool!!