Photography with a 103-year-old box camera

A couple of months ago I took on a project that has frankly consumed my free energy and time, and so I have neglected the blog a bit. But a couple of weeks ago I decided to pack up a bagful of old cameras from my collection for some local photography. One of them was this 1913 Kodak Hawkeye No. 2 Model C, which is basically a cardboard box with a shutter built into it and a switch to operate the shutter.

Kodak No. 2 Hawkeye Model C Box Camera

There are no adjustments, just a simple 1/50-ish shutter located just behind an open hole.  The lens is actually behind the shutter, held in place by a piece of wood – probably about f/16 or so to ensure sharpness at most distances.  I loaded a roll of Kodak TMax 100 black and white film, size 120.

I had never shot with this camera before, but interestingly, this particular model was reissued briefly in 1930 as Kodak’s 50th anniversary camera – exactly the same, except the leatherette was changed to brown, the metal knobs and latches were changed to “gold”, and a foil anniversary seal was placed on the side.  552,000 of them were given away to children turning 12 that year (500,000 in the U.S. and 52,000 in Canada).  They were gone in days.  Since I owned two of them, I used a design from a 1929 photography magazine to turn them into a 3-D camera.  You can read more about that here.

I’m a bit out of practice when it comes to developing film, so I was a little concerned about whether the film would turn out.  As I unrolled the film, I was initially disappointed because the first few pictures were completely black.  But then it turns out the following four pictures (8 exposures on a roll) were just fine.

So here are those four photos:





I’m always impressed how these old, extremely simple cameras can produce such detailed, sharp and correctly-exposed photos. I am guessing the four exposures that were ruined were the result of having accidentally opened the camera up at some point – if you look carefully at the first photo above, you can see where the numbers on the backing paper (they are printed in black on light-colored backing paper that should be opaque) are barely readable across the center of the photo.  But still – 100 years?  Not bad!

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