Only a fool would take an untested camera on vacation. Relying on a half-century old camera that may produce images that are out-of-focus, tear or fail to advance film, or simply not work at all to record vacation memories is lunacy.
Your Humble Filmosaur did it anyway.
The camera in question is my Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, introduced here a little while ago but until recently, unused. Iconic though it may be, the Brownie Hawkeye seemed a camera that would be best used in particular circumstances. A recent weekend trip to the southern coast of Maine seemed a perfect opportunity to break it in.
The film I chose to load was Kodak Ektar 100. Not the most forgiving film to shoot in a camera with fixed aperture (about f/16) and fixed shutter speed (somewhere around 1/30), but the weather was cooperative, so I figured as long as I was rolling the dice, I might as well double the stakes. If it worked, the exposures would be nice and vivid; not exactly Kodachrome, but about as close as we can get these days.
I’m still getting used to the square 6 x 6 format. I tried to frame scenes that would take advantage of it, but the fixed-focus Hawkeye forces one to make sure that anything expected to be in focus be at least 10 feet or so from the camera. No close-ups here; the Hawkeye is all about snapshots of the scenery, and maybe people, provided they don’t get too close.
After getting home and getting the film developed, I surveyed the results. The camera worked (this should have been readily apparent to you by now), and the frames were mostly a bit overexposed, but the effect is not a bad one. Ektar’s tendency to go a bit cyan with overexposure under blue skies didn’t really hurt the pictures. I’m calling it character.
The sharpness of the photos was never expected to be great, and it wasn’t. In spite of this Hawkeye being an early all-glass model, a simple meniscus lens can only do so much. Further practice may provide a more refined understanding of the camera’s tendencies, but this initial test suggests best focus is achieved in the middle distance (maybe 30-50 feet or so). There is no appreciable softening in the corners, but then the images are rather soft overall.
It’s a strange camera to use, at least for me. As mentioned here before, my preference is increasingly for cameras that offer the greatest degree of manual adjustibility possible; the Hawkeye offers nothing of the sort. But at the same time, this is not an automatic camera in the sense that there is no hidden, behind-the-scenes activity that determines the exposure; rather, it is a fully manual camera with no ability to alter the exposure settings. As I finished the roll of Ektar, I began to feel that using the Hawkeye was oddly freeing – knowing that there’s nothing you can do about manipulating the exposure on the camera, and that there’s no electronic wizardry to bail you out, you are forced to pay attention to those few things you can control: composing the photo and positioning yourself to take best advantage of the lighting conditions. Not a bad tool for getting back to basics, when you think about it.