Thursday, May 7, 2009

Toy and Box Cameras

Agfa Click II

Many younger photographers who grew up with digital photography get their first introduction to film by using cheap toy cameras like Holga and Diana. These medium format toy cameras are attractive to them because of the recent hype over their quirkiness and the “artsy” images they can produce. Their main appeal is their low-tech qualities and simple construction, an anti-thesis to the mostly auto hi-tech digital cameras. The simple lens of these cameras can produce soft focused images, unpredictable exposures and vignettes. Many times the cameras also have light leaks. All these technical imperfections make these cameras appealing to those who like to experiment with their images. Because of the craze over them recently, however, their prices have gone up more than what they are really worth.

I must confess the quirkiness of these cameras appeal to me too. I like their simple design and very minimal exposure and focus control. You mostly just point and shoot. They also shoot large 120 medium format film.

Instead of trying the Holgas and Dianas I thought I try the original point and shoot vintage cameras of the 1940s and 50s. They can be gotten from Ebay or flea markets much cheaper than the Holga and Diana cameras and are better constructed.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash

The first one I got was the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, a simple bakelite box camera from the 1950s. It has a simple meniscus lens with one aperture, approximately f16 or f22, two shutter speeds, about 1/30 of a second and a B setting for timed exposure. The image is viewed through a small bubble window on top reflected though a polished mirror in front of the camera.

The camera is designed to take the practically discontinued 620 medium format film, however, my Brownie Hawkeye can take 120 film rolls provided the 620 take-up spool is used at the receiving end. It produces 12 6X6cm images. An accessory flash gun (hence the name), close-up attachment and yellow filter are also originally available with these cameras.

Below are some sample shots from my Brownie Hawkeye Flash.

Face on the Wall

Frozen Creek, shot with a home made acetate soft filter

Lil Feet, I flipped the lens inside out.

JV Shock 77, shot with flipped lens.


Another box camera I acquired recently is the Zeiss Ikon Box-Tengor 56/2. Made in Germany, the 56/2 model is the final one of the series of Box-Tengors. Unlike the Brownie Hawkeye, this camera is designed to take 120 film rolls but produces 8 6X9cm images.
The camera has a simple Goerz Frontar lens with three switchable apertures, f/9, f/11 and f/16, two shutter speeds, 1/30 of a second and timed exposure. Focusing can be controlled with a distance switch marked 1-2 meters, 2-8 meters and 8 to infinity.

The camera is made of metal and is heftier than the Brownie Hawkeye. It has two finders, one on top and one on the right side of the camera. The image is viewed on top for vertical shots and the camera is turned on the side for horizontal shots. Unfortunately the bubbled viewfinders of this camera are smaller than the Hawkeye’s and are harder to compose with. The camera also has a double exposure prevention lock, to take the next shot you must wind the film first. It also has a tripod socket at the bottom of the camera and a provision for a cable release, very handy for timed exposures.

The Goerz Frontar lens is much sharper and produces better contrast than Hawkeye’s meniscus lens.
I was surprised at the high resolution images this camera produced.

Below are some sample shots of my Box-Tengor.


Painted Car Sculpture

Sculpture Park

One more vintage camera I recently added to my collection is the Agfa ClickII (shown on top of the page). It can be classified as a toy camera and is closer in style to the Holga and Diana cameras but is better made. The Click II has two aperture settings marked as sunny and cloudy which translate to about f 11 and f8. It only has one shutter speed however, at 1/30 of a second and no timed exposures. It also has a tripod socket but no provision for a cable release.
The viewfinder is viewed at eye level so it is much better to compose the image with.
It also has a provision to use it’s own accessory flash unit which I don’t have.

I’m still working on my first roll of film with this camera but I will post the photos once they are ready.

These old cameras are primarily designed for early snap-shooters. They are still usable today because 120 roll films are still readily available. There are many models of these type of cameras out there that can be gotten very cheaply. They can be fun to use and sometimes you will be surprise how good are the images you can get from them.

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