Monday, June 4, 2007

My favorite cameras: Brownie Hawkeye Flash

Originally uploaded by aikithereska
You may know this already, but I'm an avid collector of cameras, and in a non-traditional way. A lot of my cameras, probably 80% of them, have little to no value at all. That works great for me because A) I like the results, and B) I can't afford a ton of decent cameras.

Lots of people find it more than a bit odd when I pull out an old Polaroid camera to take a picture. Sometimes I get odd looks, and just about always a lot of questions, which is fine with me. Most people today, even photographers, live in a purely digital world, ruled by megapixels, write speed, and zoom lenses. That's a wonderful thing - I have a digital SLR I use constantly, but there are plenty of things it doesn't do well that my cheap cameras do better.

Brownie Hawkeye Flash

Which brings me to the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, or BHF. It's a favorite camera of mine for many reasons. It's a bakelite box camera with a simple meniscus lens, takes medium format film, looks cool and takes great pictures, like the Statue of Liberty above. Best of all, they're common as dirt. Don't pay more than $10 for one.

The lowly Hawkeye has developed something of a cult following on the internet. People modify their BHF in many ways - most often by flipping the lens to distort the images. I hacked mine apart myself to add a tripod socket and cable release socket for increased stability during long exposures.

For snapshots, as long as you have enough light, just load it up with 100 speed film and you're golden. Everything takes care of itself. For indoors shots you'll need faster film, or use the bulb switch for exposures of a few seconds.

The results for a clean, normally-oriented lens are actually quite good - far better than those of other typical toy cameras such as the Holga or Diana. Flip the lens and sharpness falls off rapidly from the center, with focus being reduced to 2 to 5 feet instead of the usual 5 feet to infinity.

If you're looking to get into toy cameras, and want something simple to use you could do worse than a BHF. There's a great community on Flickr that is glad to educate folks about this wonder of plastic, so don't be afraid to get your feet wet!

Some Examples:

In the Bedroom
My Theme 2: Ann Arbor Architecture

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