The Kodak Brownie Hawkeye - Box Cameras with Style!
The Kodak Brownie Hawkeye was one of a long list of cameras called Brownie that Kodak manufactured beginning in 1900 and lasting throughout most of the 20th Century. The Hawkeye model debuted in 1949 and production lasted through 1951.
In 1950, however, Kodak introduced the Flash model which lasted through 1961. The Flash model allowed the use of the accessory “Kodalite Flasholder,” which synchronized with the shutter. Otherwise the two models were the same.
The Hawkeye was a Bakelite box camera designed to produce twelve 2¼ by 2¼ images on 620 film. Boxy though it may be it’s a handsome little camera, with fluted sides, rounded corners and a built-in handle. It’s all very Deco in its styling.
It’s solid too, and presents a good weight in the hand without feeling over-hefty or awkward.
You compose the image by holding the camera at waist level and viewing the scene through the brilliant finder in the camera’s top.
Focus is 5 feet to infinity, although a close up attachment was available that would allow you to get a subject in focus from 3 to 4½ feet. (Close-Up Attachment No. 13.) A skylight filter was available too.
Equipped with a single-element meniscus lens and a simple rotary shutter, there’s nothing complex about the Hawkeye. Indeed, the camera is minimalist: No meter, a fixed aperture estimated at about f11, a shutter speed of about 1/30th, and a “B” (sometimes “L”) mode for long exposures.
The shutter only stays open in the long exposure mode as long you hold your finger on the shutter release. There’s no tripod mount, so camera movement or finger cramp would seem hard to avoid over an extended period. Nevertheless, the Hawkeye’s boxy shape has the virtue of providing a stable platform when you want to shoot in dim light.
Although designed to use 620 film, one of this camera’s delightful attributes is that you can use 120 without modification or re-spooling. The 120 spools fit nicely in the film delivery side, but they’re too fat for the take-up side so you have to use the thinner 620 spool there.
This isn’t a problem if you develop your own film, but if you send away for processing, be sure to request your 620 spool back. (I read on somebody’s website that later versions of the Brownie Hawkeye Flash were re-designed to prevent the use of 120 film. Fortunately all three of mine accept 120; I’d guess most do.)
What to Expect if you Get One
You’ll probably find that your newly-acquired Hawkeye needs a good cleaning. Half a century of airborne grime can render the lens and the brilliant finder less than brilliant.
Cleaning is simple, though. The viewfinder glass and mirror are easy to get to, as is the glass that protects the shutter. They’re all held in place by an aluminum plate secured by 4 Phillips head screws.
(Be sure to use a properly-fitting screwdriver, as sometimes the screws can be very tight.)
Getting the lens out is a bit more tricky, as it’s located behind the shutter. You have to remove the film transport bulkhead from inside the camera. But this is pretty easy also as it’s held in position by a pair of Phillips screws.
All the glass will clean up well with a little soapy water.
For cleaning and disassembly I would recommend viewing the Flickr photostream of Kenneth Dwain Harrelson (Flickr handle: HaarFager), who has posted a very nice set of images showing the Hawkeye in various stages of disassembly. See the link at the end of the article.
For general use and explanation of the Hawkeye you can view or download for free a copy of the Flash model user’s manual from The Brownie Camera Page. See below for the link.
Common Modifications - Flip That Lens!
I’ve seen some mods that include installing a cable release, or a tripod mount, and even electronic flash. Google what tickles your fancy and you’ll probably find somebody who has done that. Perhaps the most common mod, however, is the lens flip.
Flipping the lens is easy to do, even if you don’t intend to, as was my first experience. On the Hawkeye the concave side of the lens normally faces outward. This was counter-intuitive to me at the time, so when I reinstalled my freshly cleaned lens (convex side facing out—as I thought it should be) I ended up with pronounced distortion on my first roll of images. Details on how to flip the lens HERE.
Surprised? Yes. But also delighted as I found I quite liked the look.
When it was introduced in the middle of the last century retail price for the Brownie Hawkeye Flash was $6.95. More than 60 years later you’ll find plenty of them on E-Bay or Craigslist, usually perfectly functional, for prices hovering around $10. Often less.
Find yourself a Brownie Hawkeye, give it a good clean-up, and shoot with it. You’ll discover it to be an efficient, fun and reliable example of mid-century Kodak design, and you'll be helping to keep film photography alive.
Oh yeah,...you’ll find its capable of decent pictures too!
620 Film for your Hawkeye Flash HERE!
FPP Tested Vintage 620 Film Cameras HERE!
Link to Kenneth Dwain Harrelson’s (HaarFager) images on disassembly and cleaning
Link to the Hawkeye Flash User’s Manual on The Brownie Page
About Brian Moore: Brian writes mostly about soccer, in particular the European soccer leagues and especially the English Premier League. However, he has been an unapologetic camera nut since his early teens and although he never fully engaged with the digital camera world, he is delighted that he has recently been reawakened to the virtues of ﬁlm photography.