The Joy of Using Vintage Cameras, Plus 3 of My Favorites! by Jennifer Stamps

3 vintage cameras - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Jennifer Stamps

You know what I love? Shooting with really old cameras.

The older, the simpler, the better in my opinion. Over the years, I’ve collected – and been gifted! – some amazing vintage cameras.

Often you can find them for very inexpensive at yard sales and thrift stores. You don’t know if they are in working condition, but cameras built 60, 70, 80 years ago were built to last – so chances are, they work.

Cameras, in their most basic form, are just boxes that take in light and leave an impression. Old cameras have less bells and whistles to malfunction and usually work for decades and decades. 

When I’m stuck in a rut, I find that picking up a very old camera is just what I need to gently get myself back to creating.

The Joy of Using Vintage Cameras
The Joy of Using Vintage Cameras
3 vintage cameras - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film

A Brief Introduction to Some of My Favorite Vintage Cameras

Kodak Hawkeye Brownie

Kodak made the Kodak Hawkeye Brownie, an awesome, art-deco-looking, box camera, from 1949 to 1961. They were advertised as a “Point and shoot – we’ll do the rest” camera.

You can even check out a vintage ad for them here.

The Kodak Brownie Hawkeye - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
The Kodak Brownie Hawkeye

The aperture is about f/16 and the focal length is best at 15’ and beyond. However, Kodak did make close-up lens filters that you can add to your Brownie.

The camera takes 620 film, or you can carefully add 120 film with a 620 take-up spool

Read more about how to use 120 film in a camera meant for 620 film here.

The Kodak Hawkeye Brownie is a self-winding camera, meaning you can easily take multiple exposures. It also has a bulb mode for long exposures and a tripod screw. The camera gives you 12 square images.

Find the Kodak Hawkeye Brownie on eBay.

Medium format film image of purple flowers - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye
Medium format film image of a fire zone sign - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye
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Kodak Brownie Starmatic 

The Kodak Brownie Starmatic camera is so cute and tiny!

It only takes 127 film which can be difficult to find and get developed – but it’s worth it. (Find 127 film on eBay.)

Kodak didn’t make this one for long: 1959-1963. As you can see from this commercial, Kodak advertised this camera as an updated, higher-end camera with automatic exposure.

The Kodak Starmatic - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
The Kodak Brownie Starmatic

All you have to do is change the dial at the top of the camera, point it at your subject, and it changes the shutter speed. 

This camera gives you 12 square images per roll of 127 film.

Find the Kodak Brownie Starmatic on eBay.

Medium format film image of a girl playing - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Brownie Starmatic
Medium format film image of a dog - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Brownie Starmatic

Kodak Tourist

The Kodak Tourist is a super cool folding camera with beautiful bellows and was built between 1948-1951.

It takes 620 rolls of film – and unlike some other 620 cameras, a 120 spool will not fit. So, you’ll need to buy respooled 120 film or re-spool it yourself in a darkroom bag

The Kodak Tourist - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
The Kodak Tourist

Unlike the previous two cameras I mentioned, you can change the aperture and shutter speed on this camera, giving you a more options.

This camera yields 8 large 6×9 images per roll.

Find the Kodak Tourist on eBay.

Film image of a girl spinning - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Tourist
Film image of leaves - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Tourist

Where to Find and Develop Film

The 620 rolls are relatively easy to find. If you don’t want to respool 120 film on 620 spools, you can find some already respooled on eBay or at most film supply companies.

And since it’s actually 120 film, you can develop at home like you would any other roll of 120, or send to a lab that develops medium format film.

If you do send your film out, just make sure you request to get that 620 spool back! 

Film image of a barn - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Tourist

127 film on the other hand is a little harder to come by. Kodak stopped making 127 film in 1995, and all but one manufacturer stopped shortly after that.

You can find expired 127 film on eBay, and you can also find cut and respooled 127 film at Film Photography Store and at B&H Photo.

If you develop at home with metal reels like me, you will not be able to develop 127 film. However, if you have the Paterson plastic reels, you should be able to develop the rolls at home.

Luckily, The Darkroom will develop 127 rolls, and Film Rescue International will develop expired 127 film. 

Medium format film image of a girl smiling - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Brownie Starmatic

A Part of History

There is something special about picking up a generations-old camera. What do you photograph? Birthdays, graduations, weddings, vacations, everyday moments you want to cherish.

So, what do you think people photographed 60 years ago? The same things… 

I love the idea that I’m photographing my kiddo on the same exact camera that someone 60 or even 70 years older than me also used to photograph their family.

It’s almost like all of the wonderful, happy moments are forever tattooed in the memory of the camera. 

Medium format film image of a bush - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye

The Joy of Shooting with Vintage Cameras

These vintage cameras each have their own set of quirks. Some have soft focus, some have lens distortion, others may have shutter lag.

They’re still functional, but you’re not going to get technically perfect images with many of them. For me, that’s where the joy lies.

When I am stuck, feeling like I’m not making art that speaks to me, often it’s because I’ve lost focus on what I really love – I’ve lost site on why I’m shooting.

Picking up an old, imperfect, well-loved camera is almost always the cure.

Medium format film image of sunlight through trees - The Joy of Vintage Cameras on Shoot It With Film
Photographed on the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye

Thank you so much, Jen! Jennifer is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and be sure to check out her other articles, like 5 Film Cameras Under $50 and Develop B&W Film with Coffee! A Caffenol Developing Tutorial.

You can also check out more of Jennifer’s work on her website and Instagram.

Leave your questions about using and experimenting with vintage cameras below in the comments, and you can pick up a vintage camera for yourself on eBay!

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Jennifer Stamps

Jennifer Stamps is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as Olympus OM-1 35mm Film Camera Review and 5 Film Cameras Under $50.

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Blog Comments

Hi, Jennifer, I’m a film fan. I have several stereo cameras, a Realist, a Kodak Stereo, a FED Stereo, a medium format Sputnik, a Nimslo plus a number of “disposables” that I reload. I used to process my own B&W. Color has become a problem as labs do not do 5 perf, and the places that used to do stereo aren’t around any more.
What can you write about stereoscopy?

Hi Jennifer! I have the Brownie Hawkeye. In fact, I have a roll of color 620 that needs exposing!
Thanks for the inspiration!

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