My Brownie Experiment

I bought a new camera – new to me anyways. I came across some vintage cameras that a woman acquired, and was selling on a Facebook Buy and Sell page, and just knew that I wanted one. She had a handful of vintage Brown Box cameras from the 1920s, and I was so excited to get one.

Brown Box Camera

I chose one, a No.2 Brownie. Through my online research, I discovered a cool website ( devoted to Brownies, and that my camera was a No.2 Brownie Model E, introduced in 1919 and in production until 1924. My specific camera has a metal film carrier instead of wood, and includes the trigger guard that was added in 1920 – so this dates my camera between 1920 and 1924.

I fully intended on trying to take photos with it, and quickly found through more research, that my camera takes 120 film. Lo and behold, I was able to find some online. I quickly purchased 2 rolls – the first purely for experimenting, and the second to fine-tune any adjustments to exposure.

My film arrived, and I was beyond excited to try it out. I covered up the orange viewing window on the back of the camera (a tip I read online from another Brownie user) to avoid any light leaking inside. I loaded my camera with my first roll of film – only to find I left the shutter open! ugh… First exposure lost…oops! I wound my film to exposure 2 and headed outside with my kids to test it out.

I set up and took 3 great shots – forgetting to wind my film in between – another oops… maybe a cool triple exposure? Today’s modern DSLR cameras have us spoiled – no film winding and instant results!

I took a short break after cursing to myself, and wound my film to exposure 3. I took 6 more shots around my yard, only to find out my roll was done after exposure 8. Eight exposures?! …and now I need to take my film in and wait for it to be developed… I know, I know… First World problems. At $30 per roll to develop, this better be worth it.

I picked up my film, and was pleasantly surprised. For a camera that is nearing a century old, I actually got some nice shots! The first (my open shutter oops) one was a wash-out (expected).

My second was a strange triple exposure… I kinda like it, and I might play around with some double exposures as a future experiment.

My final 6 images turned out great. I discovered that my Brownie has a focus “sweet spot”. Most Brownie cameras suggest a focal distance of about 6-8 feet from your subject (which I was), so next time I will stand about 10-12 feet away.

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All in all, I am very happy with the results from this little camera. I plan to add a “sides” section to my session menu to include vintage photos to any session. Imagine having vintage black and white photos of your wedding, or recreating a beloved old photo of a cherished family member?

This little camera has been like a tiny time machine – taking me back to what life was like when each photo was a once-in-a-lifetime one-of-a-kind capture. Funny expressions, blurry faces…and they were perfectly cherished. Each exposure, caught on light-sensitive film, stored in a cardboard Brownie Box until all 8 photos were ready to be developed. No do-overs, no retakes. Only one moment, and one shot. Take me back to 1920.

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