This small unassuming black box is a Kodak Six-20 “Brownie” Model D and out of my ever expanding collection of old cameras (and some new), it is my favourite. This is quite a bold statement to make about a camera that looks permanently surprised, but one I would like to try and explain in the rest of this little article. This isn’t going to be a hugely in depth article but more a little taster of what shooting with a “Brownie” involves.
So let’s begin…
With a lot of current DSLRs it would be much quicker to list what features they don’t have than the ones they do but with the “Brownie” it is a modest list, so here it goes:
– Viewfinder Quite handy for seeing what you are taking a picture of, although its accuracy is debatable so it’s always best to leave a little “breathing space” around your subject. The Brownie has two: one for portrait orientation and one for landscape.)
– Lens This is 100mm (45mm equivalent) and fixed at f11
– Shutter with two speeds, I for Instant and T for timed. The I setting gives you approximately a 1/40th – 1/60th of a second and the T lets you hold the shutter open for as long as you like)
And that’s is about it!
My particular “Brownie”, which is a Model D, also has a little slide that will move the focus between two settings, 10ft – Infinity and 3ft – 6ft. The 3ft – 6ft setting is mostly for close ups and head and shoulder portraits.
As you can see we’re not really pushing the boundaries of technology here but that is the joy of using a camera like this and what makes the Kodak “Brownie” so very special. Everything that isn’t critical to taking a picture has been stripped away leaving you to concentrate on the act of photography. Composition and timing suddenly become easier when you don’t have to think about what “picture mode” you are in or whether you need to set your white balance to cloudy or sunny and certainly no “chimping” with this camera! All that you have on the back is a little red window to see how many exposures you have left.
“But what about exposure?” I hear you ask! Well, when your aperture and shutter speed is pretty much fixed you only really have one variable that has any affect on exposure (other than the light) and that is ISO. My standard procedure is to think about the conditions that I will be shooting in and guess. I wish I could give you a more scientific answer but I’m afraid that is it. Nothing more, nothing less… If I’m likely to be shooting in very overcast, typically British weather, then I tend to err on the side of caution and choose either Kodak Tri X or Portra 800, it’s extremely difficult to overexpose colour negative film so this is the safest bet if you think you might get some sunny spells. As for Tri X I will sometimes push or pull the film in development if I think it needs it but most of the time I let it be.
I know a lot of photographers over in sunnier climbs that regularly use Kodak Ektar successfully but I’ll save my experiments with that particular film for the one day of summer we get over here.
Whilst we are on the subject of film I’d like to mention that my “Brownie” and quite a few others take 620 film. This is basically 120 film on a smaller spool. I have used dedicated 620 spools in my camera but I find that by clipping the edge (flange) off of a standard plastic 120 spool it fits in just as well (I may even make a small tutorial of this at some point) and saves time and money sourcing now hard to find 620 spools. For your trouble you will get 8 exposures on your roll of film and that will make you selective. I’ve had more keepers from rolls shot with a Model D than any other camera. This camera will make you a better photographer!
So, what are you waiting for? Go out and track down a Kodak “Brownie” and don’t look back!
Here are a few links that might help you reach “Brownie” nirvana 😉
Kodak Brownie Fans Facebook Group – A lovely group full of great people.
The Brownie Camera Page – Contains a huge amount of information about the various “Brownie” cameras.
Below are a few images shot using this camera: