- Johnny Wilson
I shot with a SEVENTY year old camera: the Kodak Six-20 Brownie D
Kodak Box Brownies are pretty much a fixture at any Antiques Centre, there was literally millions of the varying different models churned out whilst they were in production and given that they were pretty decently well made, there are still loads of them around that have survived to modern day. Owing to their kind of art-deco, vintage-esque looking appearance they tend to be kept around and put out on the shop floor on the off chance they might turn over a sale and they aren't particularly hard to find. Unfortunately most of them are usually in pretty poor condition, either beaten up, rusty, or broken and potentially better as ornaments than they are workable cameras! But to be honest some of them are coming up to nearly 80, 90 years old at this point. However, last year whilst on holiday for a weekend in Bridgnorth I spotted a Brownie Model D for sale in The Old Mill Antiques Centre that was in really good condition. Still had the original box with it! Although the box had seen better days... but the camera itself was otherwise in great condition! I did a bit of Googling and I've dated it to - at earliest - 1953 making it a 70 year old camera!
After giving it a check over in the shop to make sure everything worked as it should I picked it up for just £12!! I didn't already own a Brownie before now and knowing in advance that I could buy a roll of 620 film from the great people at Film Photography Project who specialise in supporting slightly more obscure film and motion video formats I thought it was time to add it to the collection. I ended up choosing a roll of "620 Basic Film" - a black & white panchromatic film with a sensitivity of 100 ISO to test it with and a few weeks ago, I took it away with me for a long weekend in Suffolk!
I had zero expectations going into this. I was fully prepared to get 8 shots of nothing but dust specs and noise back, but to be honest I'm really impressed with the photos I got back! Let's keep in mind this is a 70 year old camera and although I checked it and cleaned it up a bit there was still a chance it would light leak or the shutter would stick or something similar but... no... no all seems to be good to be honest! I think there are some slight light leaks going on but I'm not necessarily unhappy about that and I'm really pleased with how most my shots turned out! They are alot shaper than I expected and the highlights are a little bit blown out but for me, but that's part of the appeal with using a camera this old.
There is incredibly little that can go wrong with these early Brownie cameras. They have two shutter settings: "I" for standard normal shots at 1/40 shutter speed (this is a bit slow so you still have to hold it steady) and "B" for long exposures: so long as the shutter release is held down, the shutter will stay open. The lens has an aperture of f11 and a focal length of 100mm. The Model D also comes with a slideable "closeup" lens that you can put into place for close up exposures within 3-6ft. Handily there are also 2 viewfinders for portrait and landscape pictures. I found the Brownie mostly easy to use although it was a bit tricky to line up a composition right in the viewfinder and a bit difficult to angle the camera level and not have wonky photos although despite my best efforts I still managed to mess up a couple of shots!
If I have any complaints, it's that, retrospectively, you only get 8 shots out of a roll of film. With the film costing me £20 after shipping and then nearly another £19 to get it processed it's a very expensive camera to shoot with nowadays! But at the time, it was championed for making photography more accessible and I guess I should be grateful for the dedicated folks at Film Photography Project who make it possible to still shoot with these cameras in the 21st Century! But I can't see it being a regular fixture in my photography game when it's costing me nearly £5 per exposure!
I really enjoyed playing with the Brownie though, even if I only got 8 photos out of it! It was really easy to carry around, bit too bulky to fit in my pocket... but really light, and sturdy enough that you can just stick in your bag and not worry about it too much. Having now got my test film and confirming that it works, I am planning to use it a little bit more, albeit sparingly! And planning to put a colour film through it next time to see how that turns out. I feel quite lucky to have found one in pretty decent condition and will definitely hold on to it and have it on display once I get my own photography space set up!