Thinking Inside The Box: The Kodak No. 2!

Thinking Inside The Box: The Kodak No. 2 Cartridge Hawk-Eye Model C / Blog by Brian Moore

When released in 1900 the Kodak Brownie box camera made photography for the masses possible and gave rise to a new word: snapshot. For the first time in history ordinary people could record images of their lives and surroundings easily and relatively cheaply. It was a remarkable achievement for Mr. George Eastman.

Yet perhaps the most remarkable thing about these century old cameras is that so many of them are still around, and better yet still function!

Like many FPPers I like getting my hands on vintage cameras and in recent months the notion of shooting an old box camera began to gather appeal. So I started a casual, somewhat passive search. Then I saw a picture posted by one of my Flickr contacts (and FFP regular listener) Bill Millen.

Bill’s photo of the Drygate Flats and Concert Hall in Glasgow, a double-exposure shot with a Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model F and Ektar film is a wonderful abstract that proves 100 year-old cameras don’t belong in the dust heap.

Ektar 100
Drygate Flats & Concert Hall, by Bill Millen

Thanks to Bill, my casual search was suddenly intense; I now knew I needed an old Brownie, and I needed it now!

E-Bay soon led me to a "Kodak No. 2 Cartridge Hawk-Eye Model C," circa 1926-34. The Hawk-Eye isn’t a “Brownie” per se. Indeed, the original Hawk-Eyes weren’t even Kodaks. The name arrived via the Blair Camera Company, which became a division of Kodak in 1907. But the Hawk-Eye is certainly close enough in concept and execution to what I was looking for.   

Esthetically my Hawk-Eye is in near perfect condition. The leatherette is pristine, and the name brand embossed in its back cover is as fresh and crisp as it must have been the day it came out of the factory: “Eastman Kodak Co. Rochester New York. Use Film No. 120. ”  The leather handle and its embossing is near perfect, too. Indeed, it’s as if this camera had been hidden away unused for 90-odd years, like “new-old stock.”

A restoration job, perhaps? Maybe, but this doesn’t make total sense because the viewfinder is as dim as you might expect from an unrestored camera of this vintage.

Ilford HP5
Crane on Terminal Island, by Brian Moore

Using The Hawk-Eye Cartridge Model C

If you’re looking to shoot with an old Kodak camera you need to consider the film requirements of the various models. Kodak promoted a number of formats back in the day, and most have gone the way of the dodo bird. The Hawk-Eye uses 120 film, still readily available, and yielding eight 6x9 cm negatives.

I think my Hawk-Eye may have been for Kodak what today we’d call a “cost down” model. It has but one shutter speed. I think it’s about 1/40th (although I haven’t seen definitive statement on that yet). It also has but one aperture: f11.

Light reaches the film through a rotary shutter that sits in front of a meniscus lens. The shutter basically serves as a lens cap! But looking at these old cameras for the first time you may wonder—as I did—where’s the glass?

There is no tripod bushing, but you don’t need it, since you have no bulb mode and with its frugal f11 aperture this camera is made for daylight shots, even with today’s fast films.

Ektar 100
Rocks at White Point, by Brian Moore

There’s only a single viewfinder, positioned for a vertically oriented image. Portrait mode, I guess that would be. This to me is something of a limitation, since I prefer to shoot landscape-oriented images most of the time. I can still do that of course, but it’s a bit of a guess as to what I’ll get in the frame.

Fomapan 100
On Signal Hill, by Brian Moore

Focusing is simple, though. It’s fixed-focus you see, so you just need to make sure you stand back far enough from your subject. Anything eight feet away and beyond will be sharp, although Kodak suggested in the user’s manual that “objects as near as six feet, while not as sharp, will be sharp enough for all practical purposes.”

Ilford HP5
Joey, lobster fisherman, by Brian Moore
(I guess he was only six feet away.)

The shutter release on the Hawk-Eye is a single-throw lever. Push it down once, it trips the shutter; push it back up, it trips the shutter again. Winding to the next frame is done with a key next to the shutter lever.

It’s all very simple, and indeed that is by design. Because this camera, like the old box Brownies and others of the era, is a true point & shoot. It frees you up to stop worrying about exposure values; you can concentrate on the main thing: framing a good picture.

Image quality is remarkably good in my opinion. My particular camera seems to have a small film alignment problem, since the images aren’t precisely rectangular. I don’t care. It ads to the charm!

Ektar 100
A Few of the Chaps I play Soccer with, by Brian Moore

Box cameras abound on E-Bay, and you’re sure to see the occasional example in flea markets, garage sales, antique shops and the like. You should have no trouble picking up a working model for under $20.00. So why not get one? Save an antique and take some old-timey snapshots while you’re at it.

Brian Moore has been a photography nut since his early teens when he got his first camera, a Polaroid 210 Automatic Land Camera. Many cameras have come and gone since then but Brian’s enthusiasm for the photographic craft, its history, and the little light-tight boxes that make it all possible remains.



Jason Powell's picture
Nice article! I have a Brownie No. 2 Model F that uses 120 and it's pretty great. You do have to watch out for light leaks though, as the rear door on mine isn't very secure. I've already had it fall open a couple of times! I think everyone interested in film should at least run a roll through a Brownie if they can. Get back to the birth of accessible photography.
Brian Moore's picture

Thank you for reading and commenting on my article Jason. I really appreciate it. Good for you for shooting with an old Brownie! Must be a huge bummer for the rear door to fall open when there's film in there. Have you tried gaffers tape to secure the rear door on it? Thanks again, Jason. 

cepwin's picture

Interesting article!! I was shocked at the quality of what you were able to get out of that old camera.

Brian Moore's picture

Thank you, cepwin,...I appreciate your comments. You can get good images with these old box cameras, and I think that would surprise many people. Thanks again. 

shakmati (shock the monkey)'s picture
Great article! I have an Ensign box camera - love it - takes 120 film and works pretty well, once you shoot a few test rolls to get used to it and the box camera's focusing (or lack thereof).
Brian Moore's picture

Thank you for your comments shakmati. Much appreciated. They're certainly fun to shoot, these old box cameras!

Antony Shepherd's picture
I've got a No.2 Brownie which I love using. Takes 120 film, and has two viewfinders one on the top and one on the side so you can do landscape or portrait format easily. Gives a nice old fashioned look to any picture It's WAY better than modern plastic rubbish like Holgas!!!
Brian Moore's picture

Thanks for your comments, Antony. Nice picture, too. (I expect your average Holga isn't likely to last a hundred years like so many Brownies have, but they provide a look that some find interesting and artistic. They have their place I think.) Thanks again. 

Derek Kennedy's picture
Nice! I recently loaded a similar box camera with 35mm film! I had a blast retro fitting the camera with a 35mm cartridge and shooting the roll of film then developing it my self.
Brian Moore's picture

Thank you, Derek. So you've retrofitted a Brownie or something like that to take 35mm? Good for you! (Sprocket holes in the images too I imagine?) Anyway, it's nice to hear of another old camera getting a new lease on life. Thanks again. 

Ted Kappes's picture
Thanks for the enjoyable post and images. This camera is the one that helped get me back into film. There was one that had sat in the our basement forever and when I noticed that it used 120 film I had to try it out. The results got me hooked on film again.
Brian Moore's picture

Thanks for your comments, Ted! And good for you for bringing that old camera back into the light of day. Would love to see some pictures from it. 

Ted Kappes's picture
Richard Kraneis's picture
Brian, Your blog post reminded me of the book on Jack London's photography named simply, "Jack London, Photographer". His photos in 1903 taken in London with his new Kodak 3A folding camera are to me amazing. Richard Kraneis Chicago, IL
Brian Moore's picture

Hi Richard. First, thank you for reading my article. Secondly, thank you for taking the time to post a comment. Finally, I'm not familiar with the book you mention regarding the photography of Jack London, nevertheless I am deeply appreciative of the comparison.

By the way, I took a brief look at your website and although I only had a moment to glance at it I have to say it sure looks like a fun read. I'll be looking at it more closely very soon. 

Thanks again, Richard. Your comments are much appreciated, and I'll soon be looking to find a copy of the Jack London book. 


Denis's picture
I have that very camera on my self...this post has me thinking of dusting it off and loading it with film!
Brian Moore's picture

Do it, Denis! And post some pics! 

Derek Kennedy's picture
Cameras are NOT meant to sit on a shelf to collect dust! Get that baby loaded with film and get out and shoot! Brian: Yes, loaded a Brownie six-16 with 35mm, here is a link to one of the photos I got - sprocket holes and everything (something went wrong with the film loading but I wont get into that!!):!i=1819403083&k=xC8nd85&lb=1&s=A
Richard's picture
The Kodak No. 2 I'm not sure but I think I'm now the proud owner of at least 3 of these cameras. I purchased a camera lot for $100 in Elmhurst, IL and found several box cameras in the bottom of a huge chest. They all look like the Kodak No. 2 in your photo. In time I'll get to learn how to use them. Also a thank you to all the nice people from the Film Photography Project who have visited my blog at during the last month. I just checked my Google Analytics and I had 76 visitors from this website. That reminds me, I need to insert Film Photography Project onto my favorite blog list on my website. Thanks for inspiring smaller websites like mine to continue.
Derek Kennedy's picture
Brian: I made some mistakes that I will include here lol! I was really wanting to do three things when i loaded 35mm film into my Kodak Brownie Six-16: use 35m in the wrong camera just purely for the fun of it, and to get a loooong negative vs a normaly 35mm neg which this camera would provide, and also to expose ALL of the film so Id get sprocket holes too. The Kodak Brownie six-16 fit the bill nicely. I had to center the 35mm cartridge so I used some plastic from a bic pen (white one), cut both to length - one longer than the other - and taped the leader to a 120 spool so that it wouldnt unravel when I try to advance the film. Im thinking that maybe the bic pen plastic needs a rethink as the cartridge sat in the camera a little loosely still. So maybe this was mistake number 1. maybe a larger diameter plastic or other material would be better but this was what i had handy. I took the 35mm cartridge and put into place but then IN THE DARK I took the take up spool and pulled out enough film to be able to snap the spool into position. Mistake two: I forgot to tape up the red window. So, tape up the window before you start :P My thinking was if i did the above step in the dark, I wouldnt waste so much film (the film that would be your second exposure) but then ruined it anyway due to not taping the window. Now, before I did all this I grabbed a strip of film that I already had handy (from my sacrificial roll of film I practice with) and held it into place between the rollers (where the film would be in place to be exposed when you trip the shutter) and counted the sprockets, also so I could do a practice run to advance the film so I would have a good idea how many turns so I wouldnt have overlapping negs. I dont recall at this time how many turns i had to do... So now I have a 35mm roll of film where you would normally place the fresh roll of 120 film, pulled out around the camera, and taped to the take up spool (and by now the red window taped up). The take up spool is now snapped into position. Putting the camera back together and making sure it was together properly, I took it out of the darkroom into the light - headed out and took some photos. Not sure what happened but mistake number three was that I decided NOT to develop the ENTIRE strip of film - I cut off and threw out the first third of the roll thinking that this part of the film was ruined. In the end I only got two long photos on that film and was sure I took many more so - well, develop the entire roll people! Now of course you need to take the film out in total darkness as the film has no backing paper so back into the closet (darkroom) to open up the camera, remove the film and place it into the developing tank - might as well do it all in one step. You could also just re roll the film back into the cartridge and cut off the 120 take up spool to develop at a later date, that would work too. On another site, a guy made strips of paper to extend the film leader so he wouldnt waste any film which is a good idea but i thought i could get away without doing this step - either way would work I guess but he was also using a modern camera that once you put the film back onto the camera it automatically advanced the (120) film to the proper position and I was using an older camera that was totally manual. One more caveat: since the film was centered in the camera, when looking through the viewfinder I had to remember to only use the center third or so of the viewfinder to set up the shot. In the end, mistakes and all, I had a lot of fun. From setting up the film and camera, to taking the photos to developing the film. Again - mistakes and all :) I thought about taking photos of the set up as I did all this but in the end I didnt take any, now I wish I had. Cameras are beautiful things that in my opinion shouldnt be sitting on a shelf. The fact that you cant get film for them anymore shouldnt be any reason not to use them still. Load them up with whats available and get out there and shoot! And most of all: have fun doing it!
Brian Moore's picture

Derek,...thank you for the lengthy and detailed explanation. I really appreciate that you took the time. You've given me some ideas. Also, I really like your philosophy regarding cameras designed to shoot now unavailable film. There's probably always some way to make a current film work. Thanks again. 

Alexis's picture
what kind of film do you need to use? i have one but it's the 50th anniversary editon.. i want to use it but i dont know where to get the film! or what kind! i'd love if you could answer :)
Brian Moore's picture

Alexis,...if your camera is the same as mine it takes 120 film, which is available at good local camera shops nationwide, or suppliers such as Freestyle, B&H, Adorama and so on. However, check to be sure your camera actually uses 120 film. Some old box cameras were designed to take 620 film. If the camera itself doesn't have a label or some embossing on it telling you what film, cross-check on the web using the name/model number of your camera. You'll find the answer pretty quick. Thanks for your questions.

Suzanne's picture
Wonderful photos! I have just inherited a No. 2 Hawk-eye Model C, and hope that it works as well as this one. I have just put my first roll of film in, and one problem I am having is that the counter isn't displaying, so I am not sure how much I should be winding on between shots. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Otherwise it is just going to be trial and error (and hopefully not to much wasted or ruined film). Many thanks, Suzanne
Brian Moore's picture

Thanks for your comments, Suzanne.

The counter isn't displaying? Hmmm...

You shouldn't need to resort to trial and error. The frame numbers are on the backing paper of the film. If the film is loaded properly, and if the little red window through which you see the numbers is not somehow obscured, you should see film markings as you advance the film. 

There's actually quite a lot of leader on a 120 spool. Perhaps you just need to wind on further for the markings to become visible?  

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