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A SHORT DIVE INTO A SQUARE PORTAL BACK TO 1931. TIPS FOR USING THE GREAT KODAK BROWNIE no.2 MODEL F!
Updated: Aug 25, 2022
Feast your Eyes on the lunchbox of cameras! A camera with a few different faces, a few different touches, very few features and a whole lotta history!
There are many Articles about this camera and its many renditions, so I’ll be brief. This is the first camera to use 120 roll film! The model I have has 3 apertures to choose from which really comes in handy. It has a Meniscus lens, a rotary shutter, and two view finders, one for portraits and one for landscapes. When people talk about simplicity of your gear and it not getting in the way, this is it! There are some things to consider though when picking one of these up.
Kodak Brownie no. 2 Model F
After a semi awkward film loading experience, where you pull out the knob, or the t bar or another kind of knob, you will be able to fully remove the whole internal mechanism.
This holds the new roll, the take up spool and the rollers the film will pass over. The easiest way I’ve found when loading is to put in your new roll, and pull the paper across to the take up spool while holding both spools. Once its in there, it’s about keeping the take up spool in place while thumbing it on either side to gently feed the film.
While doing that I hold the new roll with my fingers at the mechanisms underside. It takes some time, and you want to make sure that the film is centered when loading, but once you get it maybe even 4 full turns you are good for the last part. With your pointer finger and thumb you can hold the rollers and in doing so you are gently pinching the paper, most likely there is no film having been fed yet after four short turns. While pinching you can pick up the box and carefully put it back into the main body.
Push the advance knob back in, put the back on, and with the lens facing away from you start turning towards yourself. Look through that tiny little red window as arrow after arrow after dot scroll past, and you await your delicious first course.
Frame 1. What will it be? A portrait of your cat? A stranger cat near a tree? Your neighbor waving to you from across the street?
Only time will tell and you’ll have those images to re tell yourself once you’ve happily forgotten and gone on your merry little way.
I recommend putting a piece of electrical tape over the window when having film in. Makes for an easy peel, advance to the next frame, in dim light of course, then, re tape. I have never had issues with light leaks from anywhere on the camera, I just do the tape over the window as a precaution. The way the back attaches seems to work just fine on this Canadian made model F made in 1931.
If your red film exposure window is missing, just do what I did with one of my copies! Take a piece of color negative film you previously developed, not a section with an image, just a part that is that amber/red brown color. Cut out a small circle, doesn’t have to be exact, just big enough to fit. Take off the back and glue the edges of this circle to the inside of the back. Let it dry and wala! Easy peasy. Not the greatest but it does the trick and again, I’ve had mine like this for about 8 rolls and no light leaks what so ever.
It being the rectangle that it is makes it pretty easy to hold, even on long walks, but it also has no way to rest comfortably against the body. That makes for an interesting awareness of the thing you are toting around. The little windows are bright and easy to compose with, surprisingly so. The frame size is just under 6x9, a mighty frame.
Landscape finder that was replaced with Tape.
Another quick trick that seems weird but it really helps if you get a copy with a cracked, missing or just flat out destroyed viewfinder glass. Scotch tape is your friend! The cloudy looking tape, not the clear scotch. If you just pop the front plate off, you have access to the mirrors. Its really easy to take the front panel off, no unscrewing necessary. Then you can dust what needs dusting, clean the mirrors if they do exist and then just tape it. Take a length of tape that is longer than the opening, and one that is a little less long. Stick them together leaving the end sticky bits out. Those excess lengths stick to either side of the inside edge, holding it in place. Put some extra tape on both sides and a cut to size piece of shoe box cardboard holding the internal mirror to fit and hold it snug. There you have it! The image is reflected right onto the tape. It’s interesting too, because the quality of the image that comes through on the ground glass and what the tape shows are really similar in visual texture. Just be careful not to poke your fingies through the tape when maneuvering the camera.
Inside front panel, view of both viewing screens, with cardboard and tape.
One more thing about these cameras. When you find one in a thrift store or buy one online, be sure to check or maybe even rip off the old leather strap. It’s most likely dry, cracking and not reliable. Don’t expect it to be supported in anyway by those old dust straps. You can tie a little string or add a fancy strap if it has tightening loops to secure it.
Mostly, the shooting and carrying experience is easy and not so cumbersome once you realize none of its non features are out to get you. It’s really worth it to get your hands on one of these. I recommend the model I have. It has a metal body, which is nice and durable, as opposed to the earlier cardboard model. The glass 2 element lens is great, although it can be quite soft at the edges, while the center is surprisingly sharp. I don’t mind, it harkens back to a different shooting style, from a different time. Emphasis on the center subject. Sharp center while creating new texture out of beautiful distortions through the glass specific to these cameras. The whole thing feels classic and is, you just can’t beat it. A big leap in quality and a really a fun way to take another cinderblock shaped step into the world of photography.