Thinking Inside The Box: The Kodak No. 2!

Posted: 05/24/2012

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.

drygate flats
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.

Hawk-Eye C HP5-005
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 100-1006
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.

Hawk-Eye C Foma100-003
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.”

Hawk-Eye C HP5-008
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 100-1003
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.




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