Now, we need a moment of attention for one of the most important cameras in history.
The Brownie has been the first inexpensive camera to introduce photography to the masses (well, sort of). It has been from the beginning a very simple box camera, initially using 117 film, then switching to the more popular 120 film (the very same that we still load in our Dianas, Holgas and Mamiyas). It was introduced in 1900 and has been produced, in one form or another, until 1986 (again, sort of – the Brownie introduced in 1986 was produced only in Brasil and was using 110 film, it looked more like an Instamatic).
The model I have in my hands, the Brownie n° 2, was introduced in 1901 and was the first camera ever to use 120 mm format film. Lots of people still use the brownies, because of their dependability and their simplicity that allows one to focus on the photography rather than on the bell and whistles of the camera.
It is a very simple camera. A meniscus lens, projecting light into the box, hits the film mounted on the internal holding structure. Shutter is operated by a lever. There are three apertures available.
Here are some details:
approx. 100 mm lens
apertures f/11, f/16 and f/22
shutter speed: instant (1/50) and bulb
This camera gives its best in black and white photography, although any 120mm film can be used.
The rear of the camera. On the top right corner there’s a window, but that’s not the viewfinder (the viewfinders are located on the side and on the top front of the camera). That’s the film exposure counter window.
The metallic structure that holds the film in place inside the camera.
The structure of the camera itself is quite simple: there is an internal metallic film holder that slides out of the camera, in which you can put the film roll and the take up spool. A couple of metallic rotating pieces to make the film move without scratching it and that’s it. The rear panel is held in place by the leatherette itself, there are no hinges at all. Exposure counting is done via the classic red window on the back.
All in all, it’s a fun piece of equipment to play with and there’s plenty of good photography to be done. It is very similar to a toy camera, but for several reasons people tend take this more seriously than a Diana or a Holga. Like these two plastic wonders, though, the Brownie allows to focus most of your attention into composition and proper technique rather than a thousand gizmos.
Verdict: everyone should play with a Brownie at least once.
Some pictures I took with the Brownie: no controls at all mean that most of my pictures came out totally white or totally black, here’s a couple that survived.