Kodak Brownie Bull’s-Eye Camera

I was fortunate enough to come across a flea market in the Flatiron District this past weekend where I found a beautiful, working Brownie Bull’s-Eye Camera. The camera dates back to the 1950s and has the following characteristics:

  • Bakelite housing. Thick, durable plastic body. Front plate and some internal parts made of metal.
  • 2 ¼ x 3 ¼ in. images. 8 images on 620 roll film. Standard 120 roll film can be used with modification to the film spool or by re-spooling to 620 spools.
  • Shutter speed is approximately 1/50 sec. on the “Instant” setting. Bulb is available on the “Long” setting.
  • Aperture is approximately f/11.
  • Focusing is set by estimating the distance to the subject. The lens can be set from 4 ft to INF (infinity). Alternatively, the photographer who finds distance estimation challenging, can use the “Close-ups,” “Groups,” or “Scenes” labels and simply turn the lens focusing ring distance indicator to one of those settings (see Figure 1). The viewfinder does not reflect the lens focus.
  • There is a safety feature that prevents multiple-exposures. The winding knob must be turned to the next frame after the shutter is released. A red “lightning bolt” also appears in the viewfinder, reminding the photographer to advance the film.
  • Connectors on one side allow for the attachment of a Kodalite Flasholder (see Figure 2).
Figure 1.  Brownie Bull's-Eye Camera, front and left side view.

Figure 1. Brownie Bull’s-Eye Camera, front and side view.

 

Figure 2.  Brownie Bull's-Eye Camera, back and side view.

Figure 2. Brownie Bull’s-Eye Camera, back and side view.

The camera’s frame counter (frame number indicator) window’s red cover on my camera was missing so I had to improvise. I cut a small square of Rosco red gel and taped it to the hole where the red filter would have been. This helps keep too much visible light from leaking into the camera and recording on the film.

Cleaning the Lens

I noticed that the camera’s lens and viewfinder were spotted with what was probably mold that had developed over several decades. It wasn’t that bad, but I wanted to get the lens elements as clean as possible. That was easy enough. I simply removed the four small screws on the front faceplate and pulled the faceplate off. On the back side of the plate, a simple twist of the retainer ring is all that it took to detach the rear lens element from the front (see Figure 3 for sequence). I used a cotton swab (and the tail of my t-shirt) to wipe off any debris. After that, I put it all back together.

Figure 3.  Disassembling and cleaning the lens.

Figure 3. Disassembling and cleaning the lens.

Loading the Film

The camera was designed to use 620 roll film, which is no longer manufactured. It turns out that 120 roll film (still in wide use) can be used if it is re-spooled onto 620 type film spools. If you choose not to do this yourself, you can purchase re-spooled film. Alternatively, you can simply trim the plastic 120 spools down and load the film as is (see Figure 4). My camera came with a metal 620 type spool that I didn’t want to part with, so I made sure to tell the processing lab to return it with my negatives.  You’ll at least need a good 620 spool to serve as the take-up spool.  Without it, the nub on the end of the turning knob (inside the camera) might not have enough traction to turn the spool, since the holes on the 120 spools are wider.  This is not an issue with the nub in the other chamber because it simply needs to seat the spool, not turn it.

Figure 4.  Trim a standard 120 roll spool to fit in the film chamber.

Figure 4. Trim a standard 120 roll spool to fit in the film chamber.

Actually loading the film is easy. Place the fresh roll of film in the bottom chamber, pull the film paper leader up to the top take-up spool, insert the leader into the take-up spool notch, and wind a few turns. After you replace the back cover and turn the cover lock, just keep winding the knob until a number “1″ appears in the little red window. This takes quite a few turns and sometimes the number “1″ looks more like a thin line than a number.

brownie-film-load-1

Figure 5. Place the fresh roll of film in the chamber and pull the leader. Note the camera is turned upside down.

 

Figure 6.  Pull the film leader to the other side (take-up spool), insert, and begin winding to secure.

Figure 6. Pull the film leader to the other side (take-up spool), insert, and begin winding to secure.

 

Figure 7.  Film is now secure and you are ready to replace the back of the camera.

Figure 7. Film is now secure and you are ready to replace the back of the camera.

You’ll get only 7-8 images off that 120 roll (the negatives are large). When you get to the end, keep advancing the roll until it’s all on the take-up spool. Take it out carefully and secure it with the included adhesive strip or some tape.

Later this week, I’ll present some example shots and discuss the camera’s performance in terms of quality and exposure.

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3 Comments

FranP

This article brought back memories! My first camera was one my dad gave me that was his…a Kodak Baby Brownie special. It was similar to the Bulls Eye, but shorter. I know it has mold specks inside, but now I might try to work on it, since you were able to take care of it on yours. I wouldn’t know where to get the film (127), and finding a developer might be tricky as well. I used to make double exposures by blocking half the lens with masking tape, then moving my subject and switching the tape to the other side.

Michael Messina

Ed…I’m totally loving your article on using the old Brownie Bullseye camera. I have the same camera along with a handful of Brownies dating from the 1940′s, 50′s, and 60′s. I miss that old film look. Your article has spurred my interest in resurrecting some of these cameras (that are in great shape by the way) by re-spooling them for 120 film as you had discussed. What type of film images are you looking to created with your Bullseye?

Ed Verosky

Michael, that sounds exciting! As for me, I plan on doing outdoor scenes and portraits.

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